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Strong Female Character Cliches to Avoid (In Writing and Beyond)

Strong Female Character Cliches to Avoid (In Writing and Beyond)

By Hannah Bauman 

Hannah is the owner of Between the Lines Editorial, a small business that provides indie editing and writing services. To find out more, check out her website at btleditorial.com or email her at hannah@btleditorial.com.


Whether you’re writing a short story, a novella, or an epic fantasy novel, having a strong protagonist is important. When your manuscript has a female lead, there are various cliches you should avoid.

When you think of a feminist character in modern literature, you probably imagine the likes of Katniss Everdeen and other heroines. Strong, smart women who kick ass, take names, and don’t apologize for trying to better their world. As Samantha’s blog points out, though, there’s not one way to be a feminist, and strong female characters can break out of that stereotypical mold too!

1.) Hating feminine things. 

To each their own, of course, but hating “girly” things just because they’re feminine doesn’t make a female strong. Liking girly things is not a weakness (same goes for real life). Your female protagonist can adore makeup, flouncy dresses, and going to the spa without sacrificing her strength as a character.

2.) Being a love interest. 

Great stories include human elements, and romance is a common theme in stories. However, having a strong female character doesn’t mean she has to be stuck in a love triangle or is the prize to be won by another character. Feel free to give her a love interest, but ensure that’s not the only point of her character. She should affect the plot in major ways and have a goal to work towards besides winning the heart of someone else.

3.) Being good at stereotypical guy stuff. 

This one always gets me and harkens back to hating feminine things. Being inexplicably good at guy stuff and being masculine doesn’t mean your character is strong. In fact, many people confuse “strong” with “masculine.” If you look at a character like Katniss Everdeen, she’s good at “masculine” things like hunting because she learned that skill out of necessity. Awesome! But if you’re giving your female protagonist masculine skills just to make her strong, you’re doing it all wrong.

4.) Creating a Mary Sue. 

If you don’t know what a Mary Sue is, it’s an idealized/perfect character who typically saves the day even though they’re unqualified to do so. This relates to my previous point but isn’t limited to “dude” stuff. Any character you create should have flaws and struggles, and any skills they do have should be logical and reasonable. It’s fine to have the underdog help save the world, but don’t make them the only hero because they’re magically good at everything they try to do. Boring!

5.) Having a difficult past and being a jerk. 

If you’ve created a female character who struggles to show emotion, acts like a robot, and is a jerk to anyone outside of her friend circle because hey, she has a troubled past, you’ll want to rework your character. Having a difficult past or upbringing affects people in different ways, and making your character a jerk because of it isn’t only cliche, but hurts that character’s strength. Consider the character’s backstory and how it might shape a real human.

No matter what character you’re creating, you must remember that characters are human and humans are flawed. We’re all imperfect, we all struggle with different things, and our experiences shape us in different ways. Be sure to consider all of these things when creating characters, and take care to avoid these cliches when imaging your next female protagonist.


You can find Ms. Hannah and all of her great work at  btleditorial.com.

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