On Writing Strong Female Protagonists

Strong female protagonists are nothing new in literature. From Nancy Drew to Katniss Everdeen, teen girls have always had strong role models—if they knew where to look. But something has shifted in the last decade. I feel we’ve entered an era where teens have an endless supply of strong female protagonists, and I’m hopeful that the day of the simpering damsel in distress is long gone. Or if she simpers, she has a reason beyond “the love interest expects that behavior.”

I think today’s political climate has made women proud to be strong, and that’s reflected in our literature. Not that we didn’t have it before, but it’s as if we’ve been given permission to speak our minds and not be afraid to appear pushy or demanding. There are a lot of angry women in this country right now and it’s like we all realized that if we don’t speak up for ourselves, no one else is going to do it. And that comes across in our writing. I couldn’t imagine writing a character who sits down and shuts up when inside she’s screaming to be heard.

When an early reader of The Slope Rules declared that Cally is a bad@ss, it filled me with warm fuzzies. She’s a strong character who learns to stand up for herself—all while doing tricks on skis that I can only dream of doing—but I didn’t think of her as a role model until others started using those words. I didn’t intend to write a role model, but I realize now that’s what she is. She stands up to bullies. She defends what’s important to her. She knows what she wants and will do what it takes to get it—with honor.

Kind of like Katniss on skis.

I write to entertain people. I hope that readers carry my stories with them long after they’ve finished the book, but there’s a lot of competition for readers’ attention and I know the odds of my words sticking with them is unlikely. But if one girl (or one hundred) reads Cally’s story and finds the courage to stick up for herself or stand up to the mean girls, then my work here is done.

Until the next book.

 

This post originally appeared on Zerina Blossom’s Books.

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About Melanie Hooyenga

Writer. Designer. Jock. Reader. Wife. Puppy-Mama.
SCBWI member since 2015.

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