Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 25, 2019

How To Make Dominant Female Characters Like-Able

by Lisa Hall-Wilson

Many of us love to create female characters who are in charge. They are the boss, the leader, the take-charge and kick ass types who keep everything from the local PTA to an entire country running just the way they like it. They don’t ask permission, they act.

The alpha female character often comes off as bossy, bitchy, too masculine. Whether they start off that way or circumstances force them into the role of an alpha female, characters like Princess Leia (Star Wars), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Cat Crawfield (Night Huntress Novels), Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Battlestar Galactica), Lisbeth Salander (The Millenium Trilogy), Sansa and Arya Stark or Cersei Lanister (Game of Thrones), and Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) are fun to read (and write) about, but we wouldn’t always want to hang around with them in real life! 

Common Ground

The path to like-ability is common ground. What do your readers have in common with your character who may deny many traditional female qualities?

Do they bottle up their feelings? Do they feel like a fraud, an outcast, like they don’t belong? Do they hate being alone? Do they overthink things? Are they overlooked? Forced into a role they hate to get ahead?

K.M. Weiland, in her critique of the Avengers: Infinity War movie, pointed out that we come to love Gamora even more because we get a much bigger glimpse of her past, how her relationship with Thanos began, how she can both love and loathe her adopted father.

Ever been in a situation where you hate the things someone does, but can’t help yourself from loving who they are because you see their true heart?

Are They Lovable?

Everyone loves something and someone. Katniss loves her sister Prim. Anne Shirley loves Gilbert Blithe. But do they exhibit qualities that others find worthy of love? Let them be loved by someone else.

Marcy Kennedy writes, “In The Hunger Games, Katniss furiously attacks Peeta after the interview where he confesses his crush on her. Haymitch (their mentor) tells her that Peeta did her a favor—he made her desirable.

"In loving her, Peeta sent the implicit message that she’s worth loving. If he loves her, maybe the reader should love her too. (And so should the sponsors who could make the difference between Katniss living or dying.)”

Pit Them Against Impossible Odds

Katniss is fighting the Capital. Jane Eyre is fighting society and a vindictive aunt. Lisbeth Salander is fighting corruption in the secret police and the Russian mob. Everyone cheers for the underdog because they’re fighting for something the reader can cheer on.

Now, all my romance-writing friends are rolling their eyes. There are no impossible odds in our genre. Not true my friends, not true. The hero is not the antagonist in romance.

The bank is foreclosing on the farm if she can’t get the crops off and sold—FAST. The hero, rock-hard-abs farmhand might be a pain in the you know what and limitlessly lovable by the end; however, the heroine gets to be the David to the unfeeling bank (or bank manager’s) Goliath. Because the hero loves her, readers get to see why she’s worth loving too.

Overlooked Truths Of Female Alpha-hood

Being a female alpha isn’t a “you are or you aren’t” thing. It’s not like being pregnant. Alpha-ness is a spectrum, and where your character finds herself on that spectrum will vary by circumstance, location, setting, even groups of people.

A woman could be the alpha in the home but be a subordinate in the office or vice versa. She may be the alpha only with a particular group of people or a particular circumstance (her area of expertise perhaps).

A character can grow into her alpha role in any situation either by default or opportunity.

Female alphas are social glue and grease. Women navigate social situations better with an alpha female around (aka, there’s less drama). Everyone relaxes and gets along because she keeps things moving and people connected. Female alphas are like a queen bee.

When a subordinate leaves a conversation, the other women fill in the gap like she wasn’t there. When the alpha leaves, there’s a lull in the conversation, people stare awkwardly up or down, nervous laughter might follow, and eventually the group disperses if a new alpha doesn’t step in. High school or teen rom-coms are maybe the best places to see this in exaggerated forms.

Body Language Of Alpha Females

In a group of females, the alpha female will use the same power poses as men do. I wrote about dominant men here. However, in a group of mixed genders, often the alpha female loses her power.

Alpha females are often attracted to alpha males if they’re seeking excitement or protection. In order to attract an alpha male, females will often adopt submissive body language (make themselves small, scrunch, round shoulders, pull arms and legs in, expose their neck *cough* hair flipping *cough* etc.). It’s socially conditioned, so even alpha females will do this without realizing it.

Where alpha females are happy to let the alpha male be in charge at home, they don’t want to be rescued, instructed, fixed, or stroke egos. However, alpha males aren’t often attracted to alpha females (according to research) because they want to be the dominant personality in a relationship. More commonly, opposites attract.

If you’re writing an alpha female/alpha male romance, be sure the reader knows why they’re attracted to one another.

Do you have a favorite alpha-female character, either in your book or someone else's? If you’re writing one of these characters, how are you making them like-able?

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About Lisa

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Lisa Hall-Wilson was a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels.

Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers,  at www.lisahallwilson.com.

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20 comments on “How To Make Dominant Female Characters Like-Able”

    1. I love those J.D. Robb books. I discovered them when she was on book 2 or 3 and they are some of my favorite. She's so layered and cranky and their relationship is wonderful.

  1. My fave is Scarlett O'Hara. She only acts submissive, then does what she damned will pleases. She's one who walked a very fine line, but she has several 'save the cat' moments that keep her from tipping to unlikeable. Like when she took care of Melanie when she was pregnant. And you had to respect her ties to the land.

    1. I cried my eyes out in that book because she was never, ever going to be able to change. However, by the end of the book, the reader admired her for that exact tenacity.

  2. I'm going to be a little cliche and point out the awesomeness of alpha female character Hermoine Granger! She was overbearing and arrogant at times, but we also got to see her bravery, her friendships, and her passion for others (e.g., her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). And when she finally gets her romance at the end, no one is surprised that Ron fell for her. Of course he did! Thanks for all the great tips, Lisa!

    1. Ooh boy - so I have to come clean and say that I've never read Harry Potter. Not sure why. The story just never grabbed me enough to pick it up. I've heard lots of great things about Hermoine though.

    2. My daughter LOVES Hermione. She was absolutely her favorite character in the series, even though she had a crush on Harry. Emma Watson acted her brilliantly in the movies. And in the final one, when she offers to go to the forest with Harry? Oh man, did I cry.

  3. Strong female characters -- give them the kind of heart you want them to have and let them act accordingly in the face of those "impossible odds." They'll be winners in the eyes of your readers.

    1. Every character needs to be well-rounded, have agency, and face overwhelming odds. Period. An alpha character is a particular kind of character, I think. When you look at psychology, there are some interesting traits expressed by an alpha male or female that seem unique.

  4. Thanks for having me back (and no longer under the "guest blogger" heading woop!)
    I loved Tris from the Divergent series - well, not as much in bk 2, but certainly in bk1 and 3.

    I love Dorothy Gale and Mary Poppins and Jo March and Jane Eyre.

    I love Belle and Jasmine and Fiona.

    Eowyn - she might be one of my heros (and Tauriel, I don't care that she wasn't in the book).

    I love Patricia Briggs' character Anna (from the Alpha and Omega series). She isn't an alpha in every sphere of her life and somehow (to me) that makes her more likeable because she has to give and take, tiptoe sometimes and at other times put her foot down and say - this is how it's going to be!

    gah - I'm geeking out. lol I'll stop here.

  5. An example of relationships between male and female alphas that springs to my mind is a movie! Two, actually. The “Jurassic World' movies. Both the relationship between Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Clare Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) AND between Grady and the famale velociraptor Blue. The dynamics work, even across species.

    1. Maybe I'm remembering incorrectly, but I don't think Claire and Owen had a relationship. They tried dating and it ended spectacularly. They just fought and bickered until they had a common problem dinosaur foe and worked together.

      1. Indeed, they did not relate well in the traditional romantic sense, but were forced into a working relationship with begrudging mutual respect in both movies. And Owen's relationship with Blue was obviously not romantic but much concerned with power.

  6. In my first novel about wildland firefighting, I have an alpha female and alpha male attracted and why they're attracted. It's easy to create conflict with her always telling him she doesn't need rescuing and can handle things on her own. So I used this for the black moment where, if he didn't rescue her, her life would have ended. Helped her growth arc. I love writing alpha females.

  7. Elizabeth Bennet turned down two proposals--one would have preserved her family's security and home for the future because of the entailment and the other would have given her wealth, though she didn't know how much at that moment--in a time when women in her society couldn't be independent and choose love over marriage. She wanted to marry for love or not at all.


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