When I attended the International Thriller Writers' Conference in New York City during the Summer of 2009, those who registered for the AgentFest portion of the event were allowed to pitch themselves and their work one-on-one, face-to-face with literary agents.
As I courageously pitched my current fiction manuscript, Wiggle Room, to a beautiful female Manhattan agent, she asked, "Do you have any strong female characters in your manuscript?"
Suddenly, I was struck by what many agents, publishers, and readers are seeking ... strong female characters. I answered the agent truthfully, "No, but I can fix that!"
Luckily, I was recently able to pose my own question to freelance editor and author Helen Ginger on The Blood-Red Pencil blog . I asked Can you define a strong female character?
Ginger's detailed answer and the comments to follow have been
enlightening. I invite you to the link: http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/ ;
however this specific blog post written by Helen Ginger is reprinted below:
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 Ask the Editor: Strong Female Characters
Darden North, MD, sent in this question:
It seems that some agents and publishers are looking for fictional works that feature strong female characters. Can you define a strong female character?
Not only are publishers looking for strong female leads, readers (both women and men) are as well. Readers today tend to want characters they can relate to and who are realistic. Of course, we’re not talking fantasy, erotica, or other genres where characters, both female and male are intentionally “over the top.”
A “strong female character” can be different things. There are many characteristics, but no one character would have them all. If you want your female lead or supporting character to be “strong,” then see if you can incorporate some of these (in no particular order):
Sense of self
Not perfect, has flaws
Strong in her femininity
Doesn’t do stupid things
Doesn’t belittle others
Can have a tragic weakness
Not black or white, but shadows of gray
Can change and grow
May or may not be in a committed relationship
Will most likely have women friends
Has a backbone
Look around at the women in your life - at home, at work, your neighbors, in your extended family - and decide what it is about each one that you like. Find a woman whose judgment you trust and ask her to look at the women in her life and tell you what she admires or respects about each.
Keep in mind that situations you put your characters in can change the way she behaves. Let’s say, your female character is asleep. She’s awakened by a strange noise. Her heart quickens. She eases down the hallway until she locates the source of the noise - the basement. Easing open the door, she reaches for the light switch, but it doesn’t work.
What does a woman do?
If she’s in the movies, she tiptoes down the stairs and gets clobbered over the head by an axe toting serial killer.
If she’s a strong, realistic, female character, she may whip out her cell and call the police. She may divert to the kitchen for a flashlight, especially since she’s probably already tried to turn on lights and thus knows the electricity is out. Or she may hesitate, pondering her options, hear the voice of her four-year-old crying, “Help me, Mommy,” and she forgets all caution and thunders down into the darkness.
Being a strong female doesn’t mean she free of weaknesses. Just like any character, to be believable she must have a flaw or two.
The strength of a female character seldom comes via muscles. It comes from within.
Thank you, Darden, for your question.
Darden North writes medical thrillers and murder mysteries. To date, he has authored and published three novels, which have been awarded nationally. In his third and current novel, Fresh Frozen (October 2008, hardcover), someone wants to steal a movie star’s embryos as the boundary between good and evil medicine blurs and reality replaces science fiction. Under the eye of an Internet voyeur, a policeman and his tormented wife discover that human reproductive tissue can lead to murder.
Helen Ginger is an author and freelance editor. You can visit her website and blog, "Straight From Hel," follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to her free newsletter, "Doing It Write," now in its eleventh year of publication.