Image credit: Belovodchenko Anton
That’s it. I’ve had it. I’ve seen her too many times on the big screen, small screen and in the pages of otherwise awesome books. I’ve even seen her in some of my own writing. The Strong Female Lead is dominating Western culture, and she needs to die.
I’m not saying that your main character can’t be an awesome, butt-kicking woman… but she can’t be just like every other female lead who’s been popping up everywhere for the past twenty years. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Beatrice “Tris” Prior from the Divergent trilogy to Arya Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire, even to Marvel’s Black Widow and Once Upon A Time’s Emma Swan. . . female lead characters have become more and more cliche and predictable. I will list her traits below. If you recognize this woman in your own novel, you should either (preferably) kill her outright and cut her from your writing or make dramatic changes to her.
Physical Appearance: She has a good figure, though she’s a bit smaller than most. She doesn’t look at all muscular but is incredibly nimble and flexible. She’s usually blonde, but not always. She is also usually in her teens or early twenties, though there are occasional exceptions.
Skill Sets: SFL (Strong Female Lead) can aim better than any man. This goes for both guns and archery. She is incredibly fast and flexible and light on her feet. In addition, she is intelligent without being bookish and great at coming up with plans at the last moment. She might not be perfect at improvising but usually can use her charm to get by. She is fearless and will not hesitate to kill anyone in her way (unless she can see the good in the person and is obligated to spare him or her).
Morality: This woman has a free and wild spirit. She follows her heart and does what she thinks is right, even if it means going against societal custom or breaking the law. She is very emotionally driven and often acts on impulse. She refuses to be bound either to a normal life or (more likely) to the heroic life she is forced into largely against her will.
Emotions: SFL starts out being more tender and naive but becomes hardened by her experiences. She is hesitant to reveal her emotions to anyone and usually will only break down from guilt after doing something she changes her mind about later. She is NOT a sissy, but she does get sentimental at times thinking about her dreamy past.
Flaws: Well, she certainly won’t pick her nose or anything, but of course our SFL isn’t perfect. She is too independent and stubborn for her own good, too willing to give of herself to protect and save others. She doesn’t know the value of her own life. She also doesn’t have a problem going to extremes to get what she wants (which is always for the good of everyone around her). She only has the most heroic of flaws. You can’t expect her to face an addiction or mental illness or eating disorder (because who’d want to read about that?).
I know many people who love this woman, girls who try to emulate her in every way and young women who talk about her nonstop. But she’s not a good character. She’s so predictable and always exactly the same. I listed only a few examples above of the many, many SFL’s who have claimed pop culture, and I say it’s time for a breath of fresh air. Why not have a heroine who’s aging or struggling to manage her weight? Why not make super-girl squeamish at the sight of blood or downright terrible at fighting?
Your novel will come off much better written if your characters are distinct and separate from the filler heroes that are so common. Please share your thoughts below in the comments section–I’d love to hear from you!