The call for more dynamic and interesting female characters in literature


In Kelsey McKinney’s article for The Atlantic, she questions Western literature canon and even modern books that are being published inasmuch as they not only lack females as the main character, but even when they are the main character, they’re seeking love from men or are otherwise guided by men. Admittedly, I am not as well-versed in Western literature cannon or the literature of today as I should be, so I defer to her appraisal of the situation.

That said, just taking a gander at my own books on my shelves, I’d be hard-pressed to find many books that featured a female character as the lead. There’s Twilight and the Hunger Games, but both Bella and Katniss, respectively, seek love; although, I would contend Katniss is a bit more nuanced about it. In fact, I believe Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee is the only contender with a strong female lead in the character Martha, whom is not seeking love; if anything, she seeks its dismantling.

McKinney makes some brilliant points throughout her article. Speaking of the canonized books with female characters as leads, she says, “These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery.”

I mean, that is peculiar, isn’t? I’m a purveyor of the same clichés. In my first attempt at writing a female as a lead in a story, she sought love. She was a character dealing with the lack of a mother, an awkward relationship with her father, and being confined to a wheel chair, yet I made her search for love the primary focus. I’m frustrated about that, as I reflect upon such a decision. Why are all these interesting, complex female characters dwindled down to dependence upon a male character to work and develop? They shouldn’t be, right? Women live lives sans the constant quest for love and mating.

I’m setting a new challenge for myself to craft a story with a female lead that has no love angle. Granted, I don’t want to force it; I’m of the mindset that characters and stories ought to go organically, but nevertheless, I just again, to use the same word, find it peculiar, how underrepresented women are in literature and in a meaningful way.

7 thoughts

  1. I don’t know, is searching for love such a bad thing? It’s a basic instinct, the majority of people don’t want to be alone. And while I personally don’t think I would be brave enough to stop a war (that does not sound like fun), I can certainly relate to wanting to fall in love.


    1. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I agree with the author of the article too in that I love a great romance story. In fact, most of my males lead characters in stories I write about our searching for love too. It’s a great subject to work with. I just think it’s interesting that that there isn’t at least more diversity among female lead characters in novels in that they shouldn’t always be seeking love.

      I appreciate the feedback!


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