Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: strong female characters

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday, which means it’s me, Cait Reynolds, coming to you with special guest blogger Lisa Hall-Wilson. It’s a good thing I have a co-blogger today, because I’m on day 14 of a cold and feel like lukewarm coffee – just ugh and barely effective.

Denny Basenji doesn’t like it when I sneeze, so he spends most of his time hiding in his blanket fort.

Denny: Why get a cave bed when you can have your mama custom-drape a blanket fort for you?

If I had the energy, I’d actually be really excited about today’s guest blog post because Lisa and I are also teaching a workshop on this topic in September. We are going to be talking about how to create strong, authentic female characters in fiction. Lisa is specifically focusing on how to avoid extremes, tropes, and types. I will be talking about how to TRULY get into the mindset of historical female characters and what defines strong for them (which is going to be another blog post).

Okay, over to Lisa!

Character, not caricature.

Lisa here! Portraying strong women authentically is tricky. Most of the time, I find strong female characters are caricatures of an extreme: the dim-witted blond, the stock-in-trade man with boobs, the femme fatale. These are stereotypes sure, but what they really are is extreme examples of real life. Can you find an example from history of a female warrior in a male-dominated society – sure, but she’s an outlier. If you want to write an outlier character that’s fine, but let the traits that make her an outlier be the source of her strength not her ability to wield a sword.

Let’s look at a real-world example, Malala Yousafzai. She’s a strong woman, but is she strong because she survived a bullet wound to the head? Yes, partly, but moreso she’s strong because of the choices that led to her being targeted, and the friends and family who empowered her to follow her heart.

Are you able to portray women without these extremes that’s both likable (or at least worthy of cheering for) and surprises readers? That’s the tricky part.

Brave, not dumb.

I love to study Amazons, that mythical race of female warriors written of by the Greeks. The truth is that Amazons were a cautionary tale for their times. This is what might happen if women could make their own decisions about marriage, family, war or the economy. Exotic? Dangerous? Lust-worthy? Absolutely. But in nearly every Greek tale, the Amazons inevitably rush headlong into battle over pride or vanity and are overwhelmingly outnumbered against a professional army. That’s not heroic, it’s stupid. Most women, especially strong women, are not stupid.


The danger with the extremes is that characters become one-dimensional. The only reason that character exists is because the hero needs a woman to encourage him. You have no story-based reason for making that character female other than you liked that idea, needed a victim to motivate a male character to act, a reason to insert sex, etc. There was nothing about being female that placed obstacles in her path or helped that character succeed.

Ever did that experiment where you write on a coffee filter with a black marker, get the filter wet and see the variety of colors that went into making black? Strength is like the colors that make up that black marker. Strength is not one thing or act, just like black is not a primary color, but it’s your job as the writer to show all the different colors that make up that character’s strength.

Truth is a subtle strength.

Let’s look at Veronica Roth’s Tris. One of the first things we learn about her is that she chooses to leave Abnegation and join Dauntless because she knows herself and must be true to that. She makes that choice knowing what some of the consequences will be. That’s strength. There are a lot of natural obstacles in her way (one of them being female without any athletic training competing against guys), but she’s not afraid to make friends or find an ally. Being a lone wolf can represent strength but it’s also a self-protection mechanism rooted in fear.

I love 100. I know a lot of people point to Clarke as a strong character, but personally I’m more drawn to Octavia and Raven. These are girls who have fought their way to influence in a variety of ways and through painful personal sacrifices. We’ve seen them as outliers and leaders, run from pain, lash out in anger, deny their own desires, and escape from life. They are intelligent, courageous, fighters, who love, grieve, chase, hate, forgive – the whole spectrum. And each time they get knocked down, they blunder and stumble, but then they get stronger. That’s real life.

Female characters need to be strong, but they need to be real, varied, unique, and as individual as possible.

Want to get more in depth?

Check out the workshop that Lisa and I are offering in September!

Now and Then: Strong Female Characters in Historical and Contemporary Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds and Lisa Hall-Wilson

Price: $70.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

WhenSaturday, September 9, 2017. “Historical not Hysterical” 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. EST. “Beyond Lipstick and Swords” 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST

From fainting virgins to sexually-empowered widows, the ‘historical heroine’ attempts to accomplish the near-impossible: capture the sensibility and reality of the times while keeping the heroine relatable to modern readers.

Until we get time machines, we have to rely on research and our imaginations in order to create authentic, sympathetic historical heroines. The amount of research required can seem daunting, but this class is designed to give you a ‘jump start’ with some basic facts, tricks for getting into your heroine’s head, and hints on how to research efficiently and with confidence.

This class will cover the following topics – and much more:

  • Vital statistics: how to determine the correct age for your female character based on time period;
  • The Three E’s: Education, Entertainment, and Etiquette;
  • Dressing the part: how to capture the feel of an era’s fashions without Mary Sue shopping sprees;
  • Housekeeping from princesses to privy pots;
  • The Three F’s: Faith, Fierceness, and Fiancés. What your female character believes is her destiny and what actually is her destiny;
  • Tips and tricks for quick research.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.


Want to create strong female characters with depth and vitality but avoid clichés and tired tropes? This class will explore the pitfalls and old ruts writers fall into when creating strong female characters, and what to strive for instead. Because what if your character doesn’t wield a sword or own a power suit – are they still strong?

Learn what’s missing from many depictions of strong female characters and how to write them in a realistic way even if you’re writing fantasy! Joss Whedon isn’t the only one who can write strong female characters – and Wonder Woman isn’t the only type of strong female character you can write.

Some of what you’ll learn:

  • What makes women strong;
  • Making female warriors believable;
  • Shaping societal forces;
  • Women are not men;
  • Women in community;
  • Character agency.

Lisa Hall-Wilson is an award-winning journalist and novelist, and writing teacher. She grew up watching and reading about women like Wonder Woman, Princess Allura, Jo March, She-Ra, Catherine Chandler, Jessica Fletcher, and other less notable characters. After realizing she was repeating all of the tired tropes and stereotypes she hated, Lisa spent months studying strong female characters and learning what makes them authentic and real.

How This Class Works…

After registering, you’ll be sent an email confirmation which will provide you with login information for the online classroom we’ll be using. This class will be recorded so if you’re not able to make it in person you’ll have the recording within two or three days. Come prepared with a sense of humor and a notepad. Yes, this class will be recorded if you can’t make it live, but you want to be there!

About the Instructor

Lisa Hall-Wilson is an Award-Winning Author and Journalist and she LOVES to mentor writers. She’s been a freelance writer for ten years turning her love of words into an income. Her passion is to help beginning writers hone their skills and become published storytellers, so look for her classes to go beyond basics and challenge you.



All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

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Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong females

I am a sucker for a strong female character and these gun-wielding, sword-swinging gals are skyrocketing in popularity both in books and film. 2017 has served up both Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde, two characters who are as different as Amarillo and the moon, and this has given me a lot of food for thought.

What makes a female character truly bad@$$?

Last week I watched the pilot for Midnight, Texas and, like most shows, I’m undecided how I feel about it. It usually takes at least three episodes for me to get a clear picture of whether I want to remain or bail.

I loved True Blood and am a fan of Charlaine Harris. As a Texan and an author who writes stories set in Texas, this series of course piqued my interest.

Overall I enjoyed the pilot, but there was one scene that bugged the dickens out of me and thus prompted me to write a post about creating strong female characters.

More about Midnight later and what hit the sour note.

There’s No Mystery Why the Bad@$$ Female Has Gained Appeal

Being an older gal, I remember a time when every woman in every show twisted an ankle. She huddled in a corner panicking and weeping waiting for a man to save her instead of standing up and being useful instead of just decorative. I also recall being a seriously ticked off five-year-old.

Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong females

Why was she just sobbing in a pile instead of picking up the gun? Tire iron? Whatever.

As a kid of the 80s our female action heroines were Charlie’s Angels *rolls eyes* but it was a start…even though this magazine cover (below) gives me gun safety apoplexy.

*Kristen breathes into paper bag*

Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong females

But back in the day it was a fresh idea. Take some pretty women with lots of lipgloss and even more hairspray, hand them guns and —> POWER.


Terminator & The Tectonic Shift

For me, Terminator 2 was a tectonic shift in how women could be viewed in terms of an “action hero” especially since I was the only girl in 1985 taking martial arts instead of ballet. When I initially competed in karate, there were no “girls” divisions so I competed against boys.

With T2, finally there was a female action hero for me!

Yet, it seemed like Hollywood completely missed the point of Sarah Connor. Yes, in T2 she is all buff and devoid of emotion, fixated on a singular objective and willing to use any means to get there.

But that was because the STORY compelled such a character. After what Sarah endured, witnessed and survived in T1, she inadvertently became the very thing she sought to destroy. In her desire to defeat the Terminator, she’d become the very thing she hated.

Kyle Reese gives us the foreshadowing of this in T1.

It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!

He says these words regarding the Terminator, yet this is eerily prophetic regarding Sarah in T2.

The Sarah Connor of T2 was a METAPHOR, not the singular template for what makes a bad@$$ female action hero.

Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong females

Yet, T2 set the pattern for over two decades of one-dimensional, bitter, unfeeling and often unlikable female action heroes from Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, to Evelyn Salt in Salt, to the female assassin Fox in Wanted and now we get Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde.

Will This Change?

Though I haven’t seen Atomic Blonde yet, I’ve watched enough clips and trailers to know she’s basically John Wick with boobs. Which *shrugs* is cool.

To be clear, I watch and enjoy a lot of these movies and I think they have a place. For instance, no one expects James Bond or Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) to be dimensional.

We expect these guys to have fast cars, cool gadgets, woo beautiful and often dangerous women, and take out the bad guy in new and creative ways. I’m certain Atomic Blonde will deliver the same, because that’s the movie’s goal.

Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong females

Yet, in my POV, the female action hero who can shoot and fight as well or better than any man has gone from breaking ground (and glass ceilings) and devolved into a die cut trope. In short, this assembly-line character is low-hanging fruit when it comes to storytelling.

I’m sure Atomic Blonde will have all kinds of cool fight scenes and I’m beyond impressed with Charlize Theron and what she did to prepare for the role. Atomic Blonde is groundbreaking for me in that Hollywood cast an over-forty female and not some twenty-something Megan Fox clone.

For that? They get major applause from me.

I know Lorraine Broughton will thrill and electrify me. She will not, however, be my hero which makes me wonder WHY?

Why Wonder Woman is STILL My Hero

Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong femalesOne of the many reasons the newest rendition of Wonder Woman had me in tears through most of the movie is the creators ignored the low-hanging fruit and reached higher…MUCH MUCH higher.

We weren’t handed (yet again) what boiled down essentially to a man with girl parts. We had a fully realized and definitively feminine heroine. Additionally, her femininity didn’t “lessen” her.

The story showed us that a woman wasn’t required to become a man in order to be powerful.

THIS is what I feel is a superlative example of a female action hero. Yes, she is amazing with her fighting skills and ability with weapons etc. but the creators didn’t stop there. What made Diana even more powerful (to me) was she possessed innocence and naivete and was motivated by love and compassion not some bitter backstory.

For me, Wonder Woman demonstrated more power in a singular act of undeserved mercy than every Jolie female bad@$$ combined. Being powerful is more than the ability to be violent.

In fact, authentic power is often the opposite.

Back to Midnight, Texas

Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong females

As mentioned earlier, I enjoyed the pilot and look forward to more episodes, but one scene really rubbed me the wrong way and if the show wants me to root for Olivia, they are off to a bad start. There’s a scene where the band of “supers” for lack of a better word, need to detain protagonist Manfred Bernardo to pepper him with questions when he unexpectedly moves to the town.

Okay, fair enough.

But Manfred is a psychic with the demeanor and physical prowess of a high school English teacher. Why then did Olivia (resident female bad@$$) find it necessary to sucker punch him in the face with brass knuckles to knock him out/detain him?

First of all, no one bothered, I dunno, asking him to come for a chat. Maybe start there? Over some chips and salsa? Even some salsa dosed with Benadryl?

Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong females

With so many other options, why brass knuckles? Brass knuckles would have crushed his nose and likely cracked orbital sockets and cheekbones. The sheer factual inaccuracy of the results of such a blow irritated me.

Manfred wouldn’t have been simply rendered unconscious, he’d more likely be in surgery to cobble his face back together with wire and bone grafts.

Also, sucker punching a man who’s done nothing wrong (and who’s only been amiable) in the face with brass knuckles was overkill. It was needless and not what truly powerful characters do, especially ones I’m supposed to root for.

Compassion…Strong Enough for a Man AND a Woman

Olivia can show off all she wants with throwing knives and shooting arrows indoors and all of her b*^%iness and brooding doesn’t make her a better character, it makes her a tiresome trope. And authentic bad@$$es don’t ambush unarmed people who’ve done nothing wrong and assault them.

Kristen Lamb, femme fatale, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, writing strong females, writing badass female action heroes, writing strong females

Though so far I like the story concept and other characters, this gal is off to a real bad start with me.

I dislike Olivia for the same reasons I stopped rooting for Arya Stark (though Game of Thrones is chock full of despicable characters). I was on Arya’s side and could ignore a lot of bad things she did (she was a survivor). I was able to overlook a lot of brutality…until she was needlessly cruel, then?

I’m good. Bye, Felicia.

In the end, there will always be audiences eager for the emotionless femme fatale who’s as volatile as she is violent. But, I feel there is great opportunity for writers to dig deeper and reach higher and offer us a wider range of female bad@$$es. If we don’t, then we are like painters who only use black paint, and thus are limiting what we can create.

Wonder Woman has shown us there is a middle-ground between the helpless victim and the pointless brute.

For me? I desire to create strong female bad@$$es characters I wouldn’t mind little girls aspiring to be, and I feel we need more of these women. I would want my daughter to be like Wonder Woman. Evelyn Salt? Atomic Blonde?

Um, yeah. No thanks.

What are your thoughts? Do you have mixed feelings about many of the female bad@$$es? I don’t mind them, but come on! Can we get something different? What do you think makes a female character powerful?

Who are your favorites? Did you cry all through Wonder Woman too? Hollywood portrayed my childhood role model so brilliantly. And I loved that all the Amazons were different ages, shapes, sizes, races and that’s another post. But WOW!

I love hearing from you! And I am not above bribery to hear your thoughts 😀 .

For the month of JULY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

****And MAKE SURE to check out the NEW CLASSES classes below (including writing layered characters and strong females) and sign up!

Summer school! YAY! We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

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