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Our Leading Ladies

A post over at Inkspelled Faery got me thinking today about my female leads. Granted, I have only written two novellas so far, but over the years I have written many stories with many different leading ladies.

I do my best to fit my characters into the world they live in and develop them in a way that would suit their surroundings. In my second novella my female lead, Marie, is from a privileged family in medieval-themed times. She wanted for nothing, got everything she wanted and has never had to lift a finger in her life to do anything. So, thinking of that, I tried to make her personality reflect this: she is a little proud, knows her own mind and is not afraid of speaking it. But she is also not cruel or overly ‘feisty’ in any way. She can’t fight, she wasn’t allowed to help in politics etc, because that time period didn’t allow it.

In my stories, I do my best to make my characters feel real for the setting. High-status women in medieval times rarely disputed arranged marriages, because they were brought up knowing that was their fate. They may not have liked it, but they knew it would happen. They weren’t taught to fight like men, or act like men. So, my female lead doesn’t act that way. Yet, I hope she is a strong female for the other traits I have given her.

Now, having said all of that, my next novella’s heroine will be a woman of physical strength and skill as well as personal ones. It is going to be a historical story, based in a real setting in a real time period but the character will not be of her time. She never would have existed because women never acted the way she is going to. But it’s a story and the story focuses on having her act this way, after all, stories are for fun 😀

But still, how can I make her read like she existed in this time?

It is going to be a great and fun challenge. This story is one I have had in my head for a couple of years, and was originally going to be a comic. Now though, it is turning into a novella and I am super excited! I have never truly written a warrior-woman before, and never a truly historical story either.

I guess what I was trying to get across in this post was, I like my leading ladies to feel real. Warrior women, princesses, modern business women… no matter who they are I want them to read as though they’ve grown in the environment they’re set in, even if they don’t conform to the norm of that time.

Some women may be able to brandish a weapon better than a man, but that doesn‘t have to be the only way to show her strength or force of character. She doesn’t always have argue or get angry every time things don’t go her way to show that she is strong; adapting to circumstances we can’t control or go against what we wish is another great strength in personality.

And, yes, even the strongest of women sometimes have a damsel-in-distress moment. That doesn’t make them weak, it makes them real. Think of Elizabeth Bennett, a great female lead who is independent and strong, but who accepts the help of Darcy when she needs it without compromising any of her strength or personality!

Do you have a favourite female lead? What is your current female lead you’re writing like? I’d love to her what she’s like 🙂 (If you’re writing one).

Progress Report

Status of Second Manuscript: With proof-readers (1 out of 3 returned).

March E-Book Review: Choosing book.

42 thoughts on “Our Leading Ladies

  1. I think female characters are really tricky to write. I tend to make them far too passive and boring. They’re never very driven. Proper, yes, but not interesting at all.
    I’m working on improving my female MC right now…

    • It is difficult, especially trying to make them interesting without them being annoying! But it’s all good practice 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  2. My female lead was high spirited even in adversity and driven to succeed. She was every independent, living on her own in the 1950s at the age of twenty-two. Casual sex was acceptable to her. I have been accused of not getting her emotionally involved enough in her relationships….but would she have been who she was had been been sappy and emotional?

    • Exactly 🙂 A person who is one way, isn’t suddenly going to behave a way that they wouldn’t, just to suit the plotline, otherwise it might break the story!

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  3. I think, generally, it’s hard to write any characters that properly portray what their upbringing, social status, and inner self are. We tend to want to show who we want them to be, situation be damned.

    I’m currently wrestling with my female lead, or really, with myself. I’ve finished my first draft and am now reading back over it and I find that I’ve turned her into me somehow even though we come from different parts of the world, have different upbringings and see the world in a different way. I have to admit, I was shocked when I’d realized what had happened. I hope, when all is said and done, that I can get my act together and properly portray who she is and what she is going through.

    • I think it’s pretty common to insert a bit of yourself into a character. I know I do it without realising 😀 Though it tends to be my male characters who pick up some of my traits the most 😀

      I’m sure you will manage it though but if the character works better the way you have written her, then that’s just the way it is!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting 🙂

  4. Great post! I guess my favourite female leads are probably Tess Durbeyfield; outspoken yet vulnerable, she refuses to be a victim and ultimately manages to take charge of her own life, and Hermione Granger because she made it cool to be a bit of a swat so long as your heart is in the right place and she is in no way inferior to her male counterparts 🙂

    The female lead I’m writing at the moment is caring at heart but has a lot of resentment and confusion in her life that is tearing her up. She’s in a bit of turmoil, which is difficult but fun to write! She’s not physically strong but is having to quickly become emotionally strong to handle her circumstances 🙂

    • Having a character overcome things to become emotionally strong is a great character to write, I love reading stories about that 😀

      Hermione was a good character, again she was independent and not afraid to be who she was, but had friends and others she went to for help when needed 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  5. Your new female character sounds fascinating, the kind I’d love to spend time with between the pages of a book (or novella in this case). I can’t wait to learn more about her as your journey continues.

    I have two female protagonists on the go; one who has suffered abuse at the hands of those she loved, and the other who discovers her world is not her own.

    The first is a challenge. She’s strong and independent, whilst at the same time emotionally scarred. It’s not an easy balance, so I’ve struggled with it. Especially with dialogue and how she reacts to the environment around her.

    The second has been fun because I originally wrote the story in third person, and as I began to edit it, I decided to try retelling it in first person. The female lead has a strong voice and a strong personality and I think the POV suits her.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    • Oh, your characters sound very different but very interesting! I can see how your first one would be a bit more difficult to write, being independent but also fragile on the inside sounds like a tough thing to put down on paper 😀

      You just got to go with the flow, I think. And it’s good you will change POV if it suits the character and story more, going with your gut feeling on things like that always turn out for the best.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      • As a man, its even tricker writing a realistic leading lady!

        In my novels (which are dark fantasy) One of my leading ladies is a Queen, and I wrote her a bit like Judy Dentch’s ‘M’ or even Margaret Thatcher!. She is a powerful woman, who rules a country, does not back off when it comes to making hard decisons and will use people to do the dirty work. Judy Dench as ‘M’ had 007 to use, my Queen has her bodyguard who is a werewolf. And yes, she wears sensiable clothes, there are no iron bikinis in any of my work lol.

        You can make a woman strong and powerful in fantasy setting without her wielding a sword or being fiesty or any of the other cliche’s that are found in certain books. You just have to make her tough and strong in a poltical way.


      • A werewolf bodyguard? Well, that certainly piqued my interest 😀

        You are right though, women don’t need to have weapons to wield power 🙂

      • It did allow me to introduce intresting storylines and ideas for example – you have the beast (the werewolf) the man (when he is in human form) and the woman – who has the power? The woman may have tamed the beast but can she tame the man?

        Add in the fact that they were lovers for a short period of time, and have a daughter together who does not know her father is her mothers bodyguard. You have the basic plot behind “Echoes of a Storm” my first novel.

  6. Rather than physical strength I always enjoy a good story where the leading lady takes some form of calculated revenge… it’s a fun a approach. 😉

  7. Kudos to you. Warrior heroine really sounds like a challenge to write, at least for me. My characters tend to think a lot. My current FMC is a bit better in that department. She’s lost her family but hasn’t really had the time nor the luxury to mourn. She’s had to step up and take care of everyone else. I fear I’m too much of a softie though and can’t bring myself to keep the hits coming at her. I need to be meaner to my characters. LOL

    • I know what you mean, sometimes we’re so cruel to our characters 😀 But sometimes that’s where the best plot points come from!

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  8. Interesting, I’m struggling at the moment with one of my stories. I’m writing short ‘ghost’ stories set in the Victorian era and I’ve run into a problem. My first person narrator is male, but he comes into contact with a woman who helps him to understand what is going on. Problem is I need them to communicate but her being female and him being male and they only just having been introduced is a problem. The rules of polite society means they can’t really have private talks and she can’t be too upfront or flirty, but they fancy each other. I’m actually rewriting it from an earlier short story I wrote partly because I wasn’t happy with her. She was just too wishy washy. She needs to be stronger, though she is weighed down by her circumstances. It’s a fine balancing act.

    • Yeah, keeping a character in line with the time and social rules of wherever you set them can be challenging. But when it all comes together (and I’m sure it will!) it will all be worth it 🙂

  9. I’m sure its tough to write a female historical fiction character that would appeal to women of today. Even if women in those days had strong personalities (Eleanor of Aquitane comes to mind), it was uncommon and in much different situations than ours. So it has to be tricky. I want to write historical fiction one day, and I’m sure it won’t be an easy task.

    • It definitely is a challenge, but it’s fun 🙂 But it’s true, our leading ladies need to appeal to today’s readers as well. Shrinking wallflowers won’t always do that, even if they fit the time period. So it is careful balance.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  10. I have a difficult time writing female characters. I pick a personality characteristic and tend to exaggerate it, take it over the top. Make it her strength and her weakness.

  11. I like the way your writing fits your character needs, rather than vice versa. When I first started to write a novel years ago, I let the characters speak to me and tell me what they were doing and why. As a writer, I found it very empowering. I think you let your characters lead you too, and therefore your writing should be all the more fantastic for it.

  12. Love the post on the leading ladies! My MC is a young woman from the city in the 1880s – brought up the way a “proper” young lady of the Victorian era should. She is gentle, beautiful and intelligent, (although intelligence was not looked for in a woman in those days) and is therefore very naive about the ways of the world when she ventures westward. She is proving a difficult woman for me to write because she is forced to question her own genteel raising amidst harsh elements of fight or flight survival and it leaves her in a state of shock, confusion and fear. The men I am writing for the book are much easier; perhaps because the depth of their characters are not quite so layered. The balance of the woman’s fragility and deep-seated inner strength make her a character of soft inner strength instead of the physical kind. I think one of the things that make it difficult to write a female historical character is that readers today may try to place themselves in the characters situation, but the old ways of thinking do not mesh with the modern world because women were expected to be meek, mild and fragile instead of strong-willed free-thinking individuals as we are today.

    • I think it is more difficult to write a character who fits with older time periods, as you say, they had traits that women today would not want. But you certainly sound like you know your character very well, so no problems there 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  13. The women I write are always strong, but usually they don’t realize just how strong they are until they’ve taken enough bad treatment or need to protect their child…but it’s usually some type of survival Then their inner tiger comes out fiercely and and usually surprises even themselves.

    The novella you’re currently writing sounds especially interesting… I love anything medieval. 🙂 Great post!

    • I like characters who realise their own strength when they have to protect something, that’s usually when a character truly realises what they can do. Your characters sounds pretty awesome ladies 😀

      I hope the novella is interesting, still waiting for the manuscripts to get back from proof-readers, bit nerve-wracking!

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  14. I’ve always been intrigued by Boudica, Queen of the Iceni who led an uprising against the Romans. One day I hope to write a story about her but in the meantime I have to finish the three WiPs I have now 😉

  15. Hi Harliqueen, my leading lady is like the driver on Foyle’s War. Honeysuckle Weeks is her real name. Do you know the one I mean? Independent, but feminine as well, hopefully.

    • I’ve never seen it, though that is a really lovely name! But yeah, I do really like female characters who are strong but don’t try to mimic men, still feminine 🙂

  16. Pingback: Strong Female Characters and Other Heroines | Francis James Franklin (Alina Meridon)

  17. Your new leading lady sounds quite interesting. I like it when characters don’t fit a stereotype. Give me a non-conformist anytime! 😀

    I like the female leads in Octavia E. Butler’s novels. For now, my favourite leading lady is Hermione Granger. 🙂

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