5 Compelling Female Character Traits

A compelling female character isn’t hard to find. She is probably overrepresented across a plethora of genres, particularly in commercial fiction. Her character traits are irresistible to readers who want to find her in different books again and again. So how do you create your own compelling female protagonist? In this article I am going to highlight five key character traits a writer needs to develop in order to create a gripping female protagonist.

I once read a commercial fiction book centred around what I thought was a compelling female character. In the story her best friend and boyfriend had slept together and by the end, she eventually found it in herself to forgive her friend and rekindle her romantic relationship with her man. As a reader I was bewildered. I felt unsatisfied with that conclusion, one which in my eyes didn’t point to the strength or growth of the character. I was new to writing at the time and thought, is that how it really goes? What I had wanted was one of two conclusions: the first being my female protagonist having kicked both of their butts before saying good riddance, having realised her self-worth. The second of my preferable conclusions would have been that she made peace with those who had hurt her but refused to take back the cheater, (perhaps) wishing him well instead.

You see, we tend to enjoy the learning curves of characters. A large part of fiction writing is conveying the growth of the protagonist. Even a perpetual doormat needs to stand up for themselves, lest the readers eventually abandon them. As a writer, I can’t think of anything juicier than concocting how my potentially compelling female character might gear up to collect their self-esteem off the floor and take their power back. Of course, in Literary fiction, this doesn’t always need to be the case as happy endings aren’t guaranteed. However generally speaking, female protagonists must be compelling. I have outlined the five traits of the most captivating types of women in fiction.

Imperfection

The imperfections of characters add to a reader’s intrigue.

Nobody likes a perfect character. After all, what would be the point of a story if it was driven by somebody’s total perfection? Stories where everything goes right for the main character aren’t the ones we tend to read. On the contrary, the most compelling stories see our heroines fighting through the issues they face. Imperfection is a virtue. Considering that none of us are perfect in real life, imperfection is a relatable trait. Whether it’s a physical flaw that might bring on self-consciousness and a need for gradual self-acceptance or a poor habit like persistent lateness, readers tend to become attached to characters they see themselves in. Habits such as clumsiness, paranoia, laziness, overtalking and overthinking are traits which humanise characters and bring them to life.

Humour

One of the 5 compelling female character traits.

What is life without humour? Dull, that’s what. A character who can look at the bright side of life, offers dimension to a story. They have the ability to make light of their disappointments, even if momentarily. Additionally, humour is seen as a character strength in our society; a bit like intelligence or athleticism, it’s yet another item to add to the bag of tricks that we carry with us through life. Furthermore an easy-going character who doesn’t take everything so seriously makes it that bit easier to carry a storyline.

Check out this article which links laughter with likeability.

Integrity

Integrity is a character trait worthy of applause. Particularly for female characters who choose to project their voices.

Integrity is a trait that has earned many a character the respect of their audience. A protagonist who has unwavering morals is a memorable one. Standing up for what they believe in: Piping up at the racist joke in the office, refusing to be somebody’s booty call when they want a boyfriend or not taking back a cheating partner are all examples. Of course, they don’t have to start out so strong and ballsy, we are all human with weaknesses. Integrity is often borne out of challenges and adversity and it is always rewarding to see a character learning to have more integrity. This leads me to my next trait…

Vulnerability

Vulnerability is a relatible trait in fictional characters.

We all have weaknesses and some of us are more vocal about this than others. I love the fact that so many public figures are open about their insecurities. Especially after years of the media having made them feed us the narrative that they were perfect. This is no different to characters in a storyline. Vulnerability is an emotion that we can all relate to and it often resonates with us when we see others experiencing the same.  

Inquisitiveness

Inquisitiveness is a trait that many compelling female characters possess.

Female protagonists who are naturally inquisitive about the environments they encounter make us want to go on a journey with them. Imagine a story where nothing piqued the character’s interest: not a job advertisement, nor that handsome stranger or the opportunity to travel: things would get boring pretty quickly.  Inquisitiveness can act as a catalyst for a character’s journey, thus the overall plot, making for a more intriguing read.       

Check out some of my reads here.

What character traits do you like to see in fictional female characters?                                                                                       

16 thoughts on “5 Compelling Female Character Traits

  1. Jaya Avendel

    I love how neatly you sum up the traits that make up most of the women in romance novels. It opens my eyes when creative writers mix and match the traits with things like selfishness or greed to create flaws or good bonds, and I love it when the female character is paired with people that are uniquely different from her yet end up bringing out the best or worse in each other.

    Reply
    1. Writerlygem Post author

      Yes! As a writer I enjoy creating a dynamic between characters based on their differing traits or even mixing traits in the same character, as you mentioned. We all have our flaws and virtues so it makes sense to transfer these intricacies to fictional characters.

      Reply
  2. Lisa

    I agree with you about inquisitiveness and integrity. But I also like to see a female lead who doesn’t have to rely on a man for a happy ending. Maleficent and Frozen are two great examples of this 🙂

    Reply
    1. Writerlygem Post author

      Definitely! It’s less of a given in Literary Fiction but in many other popular genres there does seem to be a heavy
      reliance on men for a happy ending. It would be refreshing to see an upsurge in endings like the ones you mentioned!

      Reply
  3. Jenny in Neverland

    Love all these traits in a female character! I hate all the bog standard stereotypes of female characters in women’s fiction. I’d have hated the conclusion to that book you mentioned too!

    Reply
  4. Sophie Wentworth

    Yes!! My favourite characters are always the ones that look like they have it all together but then show some imperfection and vulnerability. Inquisitiveness and integrity are great traits too, depending on the genre of the book I don’t always find those essential. Humour is always beneficial. All of them together sounds like it would be a great character x

    Sophie

    Reply
  5. Baby Boomer Super Saver

    I really enjoyed this post! As you described the learning curve and growth of the central female character, it reminded me also of “coming of age” stories, when young people are just beginning to figure out who they are and what direction to go in life. There is usually some problem or challenge to overcome. Many of the character traits you mentioned come into play in coming of age stories, too. Resourcefulness is another one.

    Reply
    1. Writerlygem Post author

      Thank you, I love coming of age stories! Though I don’t read them too often as I find the host of emotions that they have to go through overwhelming at times. Resourcefulness of course is an invaluable trait also!

      Reply
  6. Unwanted Life

    Perfect characters suck, they’re too unrealistic and too hard to identify with let alone care about. I’m not sure what I really look for in a female character to be honest, I’m not sure what I’d want from a make one either. I guess I’d prefer my female characters to be independent, as I don’t like to see subservient female characters

    Reply
    1. Writerlygem Post author

      I’m not too hot on perfect characters either! And if they are going to be subservient, there needs to be a massive learning curve in the middle so that they can eventually stand up for themselves.

      Reply
  7. Jess

    I’m a major reader and totally agree! I would add that I love to see my female characters learn a deep lesson or being open to learn their lesson

    Reply
  8. KD

    I like to see someone who has more than just “strength of character.” I want her to have characteristics that were well thought out. I like to see character flaws that keep from achieving her goals. And I like her actions to correspond with how she is described in the book.

    Reply

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