On having a female protagonist

A couple of my favorite books you’ve never heard of are James Strickland’s “Looking Glass” and “Irreconcilable Differences”. And while we’re mentioning esoteric cyberpunk authors, I also appreciate Marc Giller’s “Hammerjack” and “Prodigal”. Aside from the fact both those authors were completely gracious to a newb writer, their novels feature strong female leads. Something I appreciate and am emulating to some degree in Clar1ty Wars. Seeb, the street-smart Iranian woman who fenced the black market Clar1ty shipment is in the center of this vulgar little brawl that’s spilling out into the streets, and I want her to be a tough but captivating character.

As a male writer, the challenge is to avoid rendering her as some androgynous drone, or worse, a man with boobs. I need info on how/where to get intelligent advice on creating a distinctly strong, female lead. Any input would help. Thanks.

6 Comments on “On having a female protagonist

  1. I think writer’s need to be able to “become” the opposite sex. How to get to a point where one can do that…I’m not sure. Perhaps, read as many novels as you can with female protags? I wish I had a good answer. I don’t so I’ll say this: Trust your instincts and just write, then recruit a half dozen female beta readers.

    • Thanks. And I think you’re right, That and focusing on a common humanity is the best I can hope for.

      I suspect I’ll never capture the subtleties of femininity, being a guy and all.

  2. This might seem entirely too obvious, but you should look around you and watch different types of women and examine the way they act, try to figure out their motivations. Loosely model your protag on a woman of similar personality (to what you have in mind for your protag), and allow your protag to develop her own personality from there. Remember that women are just human beings with human motivations and dreams and desires, even if their approach differs from a male approach.

    • I hear you. The major female character in RB was based off specific, and exaggerated aspects of friend’s wife who had spent time in the military and as a D.I. at troubled youth boot camps. (she was also a friend…)

      That character was easier, as I had her for a model, and reasoned the character was competing in a male-dominated profession and one some level felt she had to ‘out-alpha male the alpha males’ all the time.

      I also think my writer’s radar is constantly sifting people around me for character fodder, consciously or not. I just don’t know any hot, young Iranian babes who deal in stolen goods.

  3. One element that assists is ensuring that you think about her motivations above and beyond the story. Just like a male character will have things in their life other than defeating the enemy, so should the female. Try to link emotionally into those elements, and have them become part of the story.

    For me, one of my most praised female characters was also an anthropologist. As a result, I played up those elements, tying them into her story line. I then also used some phrases and topics of study that several of my female colleagues used. Beyond that, ditto Jilldomschot on watch some of the women around you and see how they react.

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