Five Tips for Creating a Strong, Female Literary Character

When it comes to storytelling, exceptional characters hold the key to a powerful narrative that readers can connect with. In the world of fiction, strong and inspiring female characters should linger in the minds of readers. They are the characters who have us turning the pages long into the night and waking up thinking of the story while we’re getting ready for work.

la guancha de ponce

I love characters who are able to overcome obstacles despite outside pressures and injustices, and inner doubts and fears; they characterize my stories. The protagonist of my historical novel, A Decent Woman, is Ana Belén, a strong, colorful, and feisty Afro-Cuban midwife, who drives the story forward, and I’m thrilled to say readers have connected with Ana and her story in profound ways. She was a joy to write and care about, and she will have a special place in my heart forever.

Yma Johnson, a short story writer and journalist, had this to say about my novel: “A Decent Woman embodies the genre of women’s fiction in the most complete sense of the word by exploring the lives of women – young and old, dark- and light-skinned, poor and rich. This is an outstanding read and an important book about a little known corner of women’s history.”

Here are my top suggestions for creating a strong female literary character:

  1. If you wouldn’t be your character, don’t create her.
  2. Build her into a complicated, formidable, and unforgettable character. Show a particular quirk, an interesting habit, a sense of humor, or a not-so-endearing belief or characteristic that is later changed. Show us the journey that changed her.
  3. Allow her to be capable, wise, and she must have a sense of purpose. When you sit down to write, ask yourself early on what your character wants and make sure you let your readers know early on, as well.
  4. Take her on a quest–throw in insurmountable odds, challenges, and show us her victories, her falls and missteps.
  5. She can be a tough cookie, but she must also show vulnerability, make mistakes, and she should be a little damaged. No one likes reading about perfect people. It is through our imperfections that we grow and shine, and what makes our life journey more interesting.

Ana Belén is such a character—a strong female character. Best of luck with your writing!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist and painter, Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Her passion for travel and adventure, combined with her careers as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, and a Spanish language social worker and refugee case worker inspire her writing. She loves introducing readers to Latina characters and stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she enjoys facilitating The Artist’s Way creativity groups, and has taught creative writing to children and adults. Eleanor shares her passion for telling stories at her blog, The Writing Life and her website,

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut historical novel, has garnered rave reviews from readers, and was selected as the 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor has two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia.

A Decent Woman is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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