How to Create a Compelling Female Lead for Book

Ever felt mesmerized by a female character in a book? Like how Hayden Lane from Jude Deveraux’s Remembrance was totally obsessed with her lead character? What comes to your mind when you think of fiction books’ female leads? A superwoman or a charmer? A realist or a dreamer? Do you want to write a compelling female lead for your book that this generation’s readers will relate to? Here are our tips on how to create a compelling female lead for book and make her realistic and believable. These tips will make your self-publishing journey easy, even without an editor. 

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Fiction books’ heroines are the hardest to write, especially in today’s time when people enjoy a challenging woman who can conquer the world with her brain yet cannot toast bread. 

However, it is much easier to fall into the cliches of fiction writing when trying to create a compelling female lead for your book. Cliches will make your novel boring and unrelatable, regardless of an interesting plot and unique idea. 

As a book publishing company, we publish and read more than fifty fiction books a year. And we say this with enough conviction that a compelling female lead actually could bring home the bacon if you avoid the overused stereotypical tropes mentioned here:

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The Damsel in Distress

We are well versed with this typical heroine who exists in most fiction novels. But they come in two versions – a young girl who is too naïve to understand the modern world and is at risk of being ravished by the roguish and not-so-innocent male leads or antagonists. 

And the second one is a weak and reliant modern-day woman who always falls in danger even though she earns her food and needs a knight in shining armor to rescue her. 

Although the lead hero may be besotted with her and might love her dearly, she is completely submissive and dependent on the men. 

The Heartless Seductress

She is the opposite of the innocent and pure female lead. She knows her way around men and can expertly lure them into potential danger through seduction. Think of Katerina from the Vampire Diaries. She is powerful and extremely strong, with an unbeatable aura and air of mystery around her. 

The Perfect, Flawless Queen 

This is the most ridiculous theory of creating a compelling female lead for a book. It not only creates physical and social insecurity among the female readers but also sets high expectations for the male readers. 

The perfect, flawless queen of a heroine may be tall and slim with nice sharp features, clear skin, and lustrous hair. She is properly dressed, has impeccable habits, and is very good at her work. 

But… she is unaware of this until the male lead shows her. This is very unrealistic. 

The Ruthless and Emotionless 

Okay, so you don’t appreciate an innocent female lead anymore? Let us create heartless and unemotional ones. Unfortunately, writers get this one wrong too. This popular type of fiction book heroine is ruthless, mean, unemotional, and standoffish.

She will remind you of a lead antagonist – a burned past that doesn’t allow her to be vulnerable – someone like Daenerys Targaryen – until the male lead makes her realize her inner beauty and breaks down her walls. Umm. Jon Snow? 

While this works at times, and probably worked in the past decade, this category of fiction books’ female leads has become very repetitive. 

Hundreds of thousands of fiction books are published in the book publishing industry every year. And 90% of the book’s female leads resemble one of the above cliches. 

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So how do you Create a strong and compelling female lead for your book? 

The answer is pretty simple: finding the right pitch between the common female character cliches we mentioned above. 

You need to create a dynamic woman who would inspire you – not make you conscious or insecure. 

Modern-day female leads are not flawless, slim, pretty, always righteous, and unemotional – they are you. They can be complicated, messy, and foolish, yet courageous, empowering, and three-dimensional. 

Surprisingly, Katie from What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge remains one of our favorite female characters of all time, despite being published in the 19th century. 

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Tips to Create a Compelling Female Lead For Book

The process of writing a strong heroine is the same as the process of creating a male lead – give her strength, but give her flaws too. Giver her motivation and a supporting backstory.  

Give her achievable ambitions and a likable personality. She should be a person that the readers can relate to easily. Here are tips for writing a compelling and strong female lead for your next book. 

Give Her Flaws and Weaknesses

In the book Gilmore Girls, Lorelai and Rory don’t know to cook – their breakfasts are literally pop-tarts, while pizza and burgers make their lunches. Their rooms are messy, and their dreams are cluttered. Lorelai has several unfulfilled relationships before she marries Luke. Her equation with her parents isn’t picture-perfect either.

On the other hand, Rory is indecisive, and despite being the brightest student at Yale and a great writer, she doesn’t know what she wants for a career. 

Similarly, Sansa Stark, who becomes the north’s queen, is gullible, selfish, and even obnoxious. 

Flaws are important because that’s human. Flaws can be internal or external, and you must add flaws your readers can identify with.  

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Give Her Strength of Character 

A likable female lead of a book will have easily achievable strengths.

Despite too many flaws, we all loved the Gilmore Girls because they are righteous, humble, independent, and caring. 

For instance, after all the ups and downs, debts, and hard work Lorelai Gilmore establishes her dream inn and runs it with confidence and ease. She is also one of the funniest characters you will ever come across in a book. 

Rory quits her well-paying, reputed job as a newspaper editor to become an editor of a small-town magazine and a book writer. 

And regardless of her pettiness and selfish reasons, Sansa Stark emerged beautifully to become one of the dynamic and level-headed characters. 

Strength doesn’t mean physical strength but qualities that inspire people, such as charisma, selflessness, intuitiveness, courage, confidence, humor, and intelligence. These strengths are unexpected, which readers can seldom see. They don’t impress the readers immediately, but eventually, at the right time. 

Give Her Good Friends 

Friends make lead characters complete. Like how Samwise is to Frodo and Sam is to Jon, the female lead of a book also needs an ally or companion. 

Introduce characters like Harry and Ron, Missandei, and Jack for your Hermione, Daenerys, and Bella. 

Supporting characters in the form of friends can establish realistic dynamics in your character’s relationship, making your heroine independent from the men. This will also make them seem more like a real human.

Give Her a Good Backstory, Motivation, and Goals

Usually, it’s the men in the book who have a compelling backstory, genuine motivation, and a goal to achieve. This is how the fiction book publishing industry has been operating these many years.  But things are changing for the better. Your readers have changed. 

If you are self-publishing a book for this generation, you must realize that your customers are the flag-bearers of gender equality and feminism. 

So, make sure your fiction book’s female lead also has a great backstory and a motivation to achieve something that is not driven by her marriage or romantic relationship with the hero. 

Do not write her actions and words to improve the male character’s plot, do not make her exist because she has to support the hero’s story arc, and do not sacrifice her plot development for that of your hero or villain. 

Build her character arc. She should play an active role in the plot – like how Elena plays in the Vampire Diaries, and Cerci plays in Game of Thrones. 

In fact, take a cue from George R R Martin. His women are complex, strong, and independent humans – even if we take out the male lead from the picture, their story arcs will still make sense.  

Don’t Make Her Emotions Over-Dramatic

In the book publishing realm, heroines are often written as overemotional. In reality, women are more expressive than men. That said, when creating the female lead of your book, make sure you don’t add too much of anything. On the other hand, don’t show that having emotions is considered a flaw either. 

While you must make readers realize that being emotional is normal, don’t overdramatize it. On the other hand, don’t underplay it, either. 

For example, it would make no sense if your female lead doesn’t feel anything when they witness a death. Elena literally burns her house down and turns her emotions off when she hears about her brother’s death. 

That’s heartbreak and grief, speaking, and it’s perfectly normal. 

Don’t Overexaggerate Her Appearance

Take any historical novel, and you will see paragraph after paragraph describing the heroine’s beautiful features, flawless skin, large eyes, and whatnot. 

Unfortunately, authors paid attention to the external beauty so much so that the female lead’s intelligence, wit, and any other skill were often undermined. 

This makes us wonder whether only beautiful, slim women get good matches and whether men don’t appreciate humor, challenge, or intelligence?

Don’t choose this route. Rather than creating shallow men who run after external appearances, describe your fiction book’s heroine in a way that readers can visualize her, not just by her appearance but also by her personality. 

There are so many ways you can write a compelling female lead for your book. All you need to do is avoid the cliches and make her more real – someone you can relate to or someone you’d like to date if you are a male writer. 

If you struggle to create a compelling female lead for book, find inspiration from someone you know – your mom, sister, best friend, favorite sportsperson, or entrepreneur. 

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