More Than Just Her Gender: Writing Female Protagonists

At this point, I am nowhere near an expert on writing. I’m working on launching my first novel and am about to begin revising my second. However, something that they both have in common is that they feature women in the lead roles. As I wrap up my first year of getting into writing fiction, I wanted to look back on what I’ve learned about writing female protagonists, especially since I am a male author.

The biggest trick when it comes to writing female leads is that there is no trick at all. Women are whole people with personalities, dreams, goals, and past experiences. The process for creating a well-rounded character is the same whether that character is a man, woman, black, white, etc. Characters need a whole list of personality traits, goals, family members, hobbies, and anything else that paints a full picture. For each female protagonist that I create, being a woman is a part of who she is, however, she is more than just her gender. As examples, we can look at the protagonists of my first two books.

Kayla Falk, from The Azrael Initiative, starts her story as an engineering student. She is intelligent, but like many her age, unsure of where she wants to go in life. Her personality is a bit on the reserved side, but she does enjoy hanging out with her best friend, Olivia. Together, the two of them have sparring matches several times a week. Kayla also has a much younger brother, whom she loves deeply. Her peaceful life is upturned after a couple of terrorist attacks, and she evolves into someone who is capable, physically, mentally, and emotionally, of taking the fight to ISIS.

Nereyda, from Storm Raven, is a pirate captain. After the previous captain died, she was elected to be his successor due to her skills at piloting a ship. She is a confident and capable fighter who carries herself with swagger. While she cares very much about her crew, she is apathetic toward politics and what’s happening outside of the bubble of her ship. Nereyda’s character story is fundamentally about how she handles losing the control she is used to having over her life, along with how she reacts when she’s forced to care about what’s happening in the world around her.

In both of these characters, I’ve strived to create deep, fleshed-out characters who experience personal growth in their stories. Their gender, however, still does have an impact on their stories. Kayla goes undercover in ISIS-controlled territory, which presents challenges and threats due being a woman. Nereyda is well-respected by her crew, but other captains and crews tend to underestimate and look down on her. That said, they are still not defined by being women. There are many interesting aspects of their character, and being female is only one part.

In writing your characters, their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. should not define who they are. Remember to give them depth through their personalities, dreams, and backgrounds. Even in stories that deal with issues of identity, your characters will feel more realistic and relatable if they have more to them. It can also be helpful to read stories that are written in a voice similar to what you are attempting to achieve. For instance, I’ve learned a lot about writing in a female voice by reading books by Sarah Maas and Leigh Bardugo, who feature female protagonists in their fantasy books.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look into my creative process and that you can take something away for your own writing.

Also, if you want to see my characters in action, you can read the first three chapters of The Azrael Initiative to get to know a bit more about Kayla and an excerpt from Storm Raven for an introduction to Nereyda.

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