The pressure to write a powerful super woman MC

I have new novel ideas now that I’ve finished my other story, but when thinking of a female MC, I got a little stuck. I feel like readers are expecting every woman to be this powerful force of nature, like there has to be SOMEthing amazing about her. If she isn’t sword fighting, then she’s a science/tech genius, or a finger snappin’ sassy sexy femme fatale, or she’s some steel heart’s emotional support? Which is cool, but I feel like there are plenty of ladies who are, well, average? Women who just go to a job that isn’t their passion, and their lives aren’t that glamorous? And they don’t have some special skill/personality trait?

But maybe that’s the point. People don’t want to read about “regular” people. I feel like it isn’t acceptable anymore for women in stories to be good at traditionally expected norms for their gender. Things like cooking, sewing, being a caregiver etc. bc then she’s automatically “oppressed”? :thinking: Do people only want to read about a woman who lives to fight the patriarchy? :laughing:

To be clear, I’m all for girl power. But I also feel like people equate things like being a good cook as something less than a tech genius. I mean sure, some skills are def more difficult, but let me tell ya, to be a good cook, like one that actually makes everything from scratch all the time - that’s not easy! :laughing: It’s still a skill. Anyway, I ramble. Thoughts?


The problem for me is that superior people are written badly. If a woman is excellent, she’s going to have peers. A peerless woman is boring.

My Assassin series is about a very talented woman who is just starting to explore what she can do in areas she hadn’t studied, but has a good grasp on what she has learned, and is frustrated by those who have more experience, ahead of her. She still Mary Sues the crap out of everything, too often, but it’s definitely layered, and she has failures.

Here’s an exercise to try: write an MC who is great at everything, but in every field, there’s someone ahead of her, that she can’t touch. Make her a Jack of All trades, Master of None.


Sounds like you need to read different books. There’s a lot of great female protagonists, and side-characters, who are just as awesome as blade-Weidling female protagonists.

It’s pretty standard, in any novel, that the protagonist of the story is in some way special. Whether it be through personality, action, or ability. Protagonists lead and guide the story, they’re the ones who the reader is seeing the world from–and so it’s kind of critical you make the protagonist somehow compelling. Which you can do no matter their origin or status in life, be it homemaker or assassin. In this case, perhaps ‘special’ isn’t the right word, but more ‘unique’.

Everyone knows what it is to live a regular life, so when you’re portraying a protagonist through the filter of a regular person, it’s not going to come off as compelling unless there’s some storytelling element to offset this. Perhaps they’re the only regular person in a sea of crazy, that sort of thing. In some way, in the story-world, the protagonist’s unique insight is what leads to readers liking them which leads to them wanting to read more about them, as they genuinely care about where their story ends.

Take Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle. She’s probably the most ‘regular’ protagonist in fantasy, however, everyone loves her because it’s her personality that’s unique. Sure, her curse is interesting, but the only reason people continue reading to learn how the curse is broken is because they like her–they root for Sophie, and they want the curse to be broken because she deserves it. Sophie, throughout most of the book and movie, acts as a homemaker/maid/servant for Howl.

The standard for female protagonists is often harsher, but I believe in modern times the structure of writing them has improved greatly. Writers don’t get away with Mary Sue’s anymore, as they’re heavily criticized, and the same goes for Femme Fatales.

Point is: It really doesn’t matter what your female character does, as long as her personality is compelling, and her place within the story is well-rounded and built up, then there’s no problem what-so-ever if she’s glamorous or homly.

As for your ‘cook’ and ‘tech genius’ comparison, that doesn’t really hold up. If a book is about a technologically advanced society, then it would be strange to have a main protagonist as a cook. Same with if a book was about a cooking competition, it would be strange to have a main protagonist as a tech genius. Like I said: I think you need to be reading different books.


You can be interesting without having to be ab action hero. Marceline spends a lot of her story manipulating and lying to others to survive, doesn’t mean she isn’t a strong character.


I forgot about Sophie! The book and the movie are very different, but yes, in both she’s cursed, and she acts as Howl’s help/cook/better conscience. In the book though, she is “special” in a way that isn’t let on at the start of the story. I’m assuming you read the book, and aren’t worried about spoilers, but for others, I’ll post my thoughts below:

In the book, she’s actually a witch herself, and has no idea. She has magic where she talks to things, and those things just… come into being I think with her words? At first, she’s just a hat maker who’s kind of left behind by her sisters who want to do other stuff, and her mother? I think mother, who has found some rich dude I guess and is so into her romance, she doesn’t really care about the hat shop anymore. But Sophie wants to keep it going, and she’s lonely. So she talks to her hats as she makes them. The people that buy the hats end up with fates that she’d spoken, like one hat she said something like, you’re not very pretty, but you’re going to find a rich husband or something, and the person who bought that hat really did! So the witch that curses her did so out of jealousy due to her powerful magic that Sophie is totally clueless she has. And Howl knows it as soon as he sees her, that she has magic. And he spends the entire book trying to remove the curse even during times when Sophie thought he was being a selfish, air-headed jerk, there were subtle ways he was trying to protect/help her. And all the clues/breadcrumbs come together in the end, and it’s like holy crap! I love the book so much haha I own it. It’s one of my favorites. :smile: Anyway, Sophie I think pretty much removes her own curse? And Howl’s who was acting like a turd because the witch had his heart, so he couldn’t feel emotions like he should, but even without them, he was falling for her. Anyway, so while I think Sophie starts off as a “regular boring hat making lady”, she IS special in that she’s a powerful witch. :thinking:

So the things I want to avoid are plain Janes (women who have “nothing” special about them but somehow all the dominos in their lives just line up perfectly for them by pure luck?) or Mary Sues (who are “too perfect” because they’re everything, smart, beautiful, they get the hot guy, have no substance etc.)?

I agree what with you’re saying about the cook/tech and their respective universes. Although I’d argue that even in a technologically advanced society, there will always be those who aren’t as savvy, or just can’t. I mean, this us usually older folks, but it can be others who just… can’t I guess? My dad can barely operate his cell phone, while my cousin, she’s more “savvy” but when compared to troubleshooting or anything too advanced, she gets frustrated and throws up her hands like BAH! :laughing: Not everyone’s brains/bodies can keep up with whatever the universe/society expects of them. Although that would be a good idea for an MC too. The odd one out. :thinking:

Anyway, I think skimming through Howl’s Moving Castle can help, or the rest of the author’s books. I have a few, I’ve just been slacking. But thanks for the idea! :crossed_fingers:

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What do you have to say?

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Woops I accidentally deleted like a whole paragraph I wrote. :laughing: Let me try that again.

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Speaking of tech savvy, I deleted my post by accident. :laughing:

Anyway, long story short, I was saying you gave me an idea. I used to read VC Andrews books as a teen, which were not age appropriate at the time, but had all this dark drama/taboo family beef. One book made me hate the MC’s mother so much bc she was a vile, evil woman. She was just MEAN. I read a prequel after about a woman who goes through all this harsh stuff, and I feel so bad for her, and then I realize… it’s the evil, vile woman when she’s younger. :open_mouth: Anyway, these women were just “normal” women in the books, but the fact that I got such strong reactions to them, might be worth revisiting. :thinking:

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An MC good at everything? I’m not sure if I have the skill to write that. :laughing: I’m not good at everything and I’d have to figure out what “everything” entailed in the first place. :thinking: Unless it’s within a specific field. Like someone in the construction business who builds houses, and they dabble in this, dabble in that, but isn’t an expert in anything, and always has to call in said expertise to build the house?

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Something like that isn’t too hard for me because I’m one of those that had a good bit of talent on everything I tried, so I remember what it looked and felt like to be quietly competent and not think much about it.

Except dancing–no ability. I could handle just below average on volleyball and softball, but I never joined any teams. Never had the drive to be competitive like that.

What it’s like when I’m above average enough to be noticed, there’s always someone else who is acknowledged before me.

Except for the areas where there was no competition. That was singing. So powerful a voice that I had trouble blending. I held back through most of highschool. By college, that changed because those people who had talent in music and went to get an education in it weren’t fooling around like I was. That and there’s going to be a handful of powerful singers at any given University.

The arrogance of it is not recognizing those who don’t perform on my level. The laid-back angle is not spending too much time focusing on those who are ahead of me either.

It’s a lot different, now that I’m 40. You get perspective on how you can lose talent over time, and how those who are behind you can shoot past you, as well as a lot of fields not really needing talent. You can learn that your identity isn’t wrapped up in what you can do.
.so, there’s a lot that can be done with this: aggravation of rivals, coasting until life smacks you in the face, huberis, chronic stress due to perfectionism, not enough time in the day to do everything that there’s ability for, and easily giving up on something that you don’t show a knack for immediately because you’re not used to working for achievements, absolutely shattered when you miss a crucial step and will be penalized, a worry over being more recognized for failures (that don’t happen) than for success, never wanting to admit a lack of talent in a rare thing you can’t figure out on your own, willingness to fail if it means not having to work, difficulty in being taught because the standards keep raising, exhaustion, sensitivity to parents trying to not overfavor you, deciding that achievements are unimportant because if you can get them, anyone can.

I wasn’t a drama queen about it, but there are times when being like this is a burden. And again, I’m 40, so almost nothing from this still applies.


Actually, it’s the opposite. It is very hard to get people to read books with an actually strong female main. Everyone wants poor average relatable vulnerable girls who are preferably victimized and are totally helpless without The Man to save them. When you write an adventurer, and you end up with ‘not another girl who isn’t like other girls…’ ‘she’s too much like a man’… ‘I can’t relate to her’… ‘I don’t like her…’

I keep trying and trying to write the vulnerable and helpless female leads to get more people on board, but I can never get them down nearly enough.

There was that gal with millions of reads on her books who kept complaining how people criticized her female lead, and how she just wanted to write a gentle woman. Well, for twelve chapters straight her protagonist was battered, page after page, after page… and then when she finally managed to earn a little bit of money she bought the guy who beat her a watch as a gift. At that point I ran away from that book, knowing that if that’s what it takes to get million reads, I would never have them. I just can’t portray women like that.


Are these criticisms that you’re personally facing? Because I think the issue is a little broader than them being the problem. Why criticism towards female leads tends to be much harsher than their male counterparts, that’s not to say that the criticisms leveled at them are invalid. There are tons of stories with very strong, powerful female leads who are not gentle. Katniss, for example, Jude from Cruel Prince, even Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. These women are very strong female characters, and yet they represent the idea of ‘femineity’ in pretty non-traditional ways (given the proper historical context/lens, ofc).

A lot of authors get wrapped up into the idea of creating a female character “not like the others” which then creates a weird relationship with them and the audience. They’re trying so hard not to be something that they end up being and representing nothing. The ideas on femininity, or women being physically strong, are not wrong. Nor are ideas about her being gentle. Perhaps it’s best to focus on writing a character then it is writing a female character.


It really depends on the audience. There is this thin line of expectations.

For example, Katniss was an ignorant child who couldn’t keep up with the politics that everyone wove around her, always a step behind: often deliberately left so. So, she was a strong woman with a fatal flaw of severe ineptitude which made sure to keep her “in her place” of being a helpless woman that the more politically savy people with less strength had to help. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t 100% blatant. She got things. It was also a decent plot device to hide twists in the story behind. It was also hidden as a virtue of being one who wouldn’t decive people (making her a saintess trope).

I read the first book on a vacation. Think I read the 2nd too, and I can remember thinking: this kid is damned lucky for the support she has or she’d be dead because she’s not smart enough to pull the story off., Although not a truly dumb character.

But it’s what made her relatable as a weak woman with the general audience.

And it’s pretty consistent to find a strong character having story arcs where she’s treated as a fluff piece without abilities. I’m sure I write that way without noticing, on occasion.

But for it to be easily seen, you have to go through chapter by chapter:

  1. Label all the times when the character is the last to know something.
  2. Label all the times they are used as a pawn without their consent.
  3. If both things are done at the same time, this character is being treated as weak and inept by those who claim to esteem them.
  4. The character emotionally falls apart at such use, even with a righteous reason.

It’s not necessarily bad writing, but it is writing a strong character as a weakling–which appeals to people.


I have a n emotionally vulnerable female lead, but helpless is not the best descriptor because she can manipulate light and gravity. She can explode houses on accident.


Hmm be careful when writing super powerful women. Sure, they’ve lovable, but you don’t want them to become a mary sue, you know? Then they’re just kind of annoying to read :sweat_smile: But, on the other side of that, everyone has their own interests. So long as you write your character in a way that you believe in, whether others think it’s “special” or not, you’ve done your job because there will always be someone who wants to read it. Whether they be an old granny sword fighting or a regular old mum going about daily life, it’s your story and your choice. I mean, everyone is super in their own way, right? And if that “super” is being an amazing mum to your kids, that’s just as amazing as any fight


Just write whatever you want to write and don’t be brainwashed into making a certain group a certain way.


Have you read Granny Thayer, Demon Slayer on Wattpad? Your phrase is the exact premise of it xD It was an ONC 2022 entry and such good comedy satire :joy:
i’ll go back to lurking now.


Yes, that’s the criticisms I am personally facing. I love writing larger than life, force of nature, cut-throat female leads who’re athletic and/or fighters (and intellectual/mage/priest male love interests). I often write matriarchies. People don’t like that. So, I keep vunerabiling them up to try to fit with the modern likes.

It’s hard because, personally, I love campy Mary Sues who kick ass and take names. I love my power-hungry witches who know what they want in life and go get it for themselves. If they fall for a guy, it’s because they like him, not because they hitch all of their hopes of a brighter life upon The Man.

What I can’t stand are Pity Sues, but I feel very alone in my basically 90’s preferences of the mains. So, yeah, keep backsliding into that and have to remind myself it’s effing 2022. Women must be relatably weak with all that traditional feminine stuff not to be mocked.

What I’m saying, is that the audiences actually no longer are looking for ‘strong female protagonist’. It now works against you as a writer. The market simply became saturated. It’s too bad I wasn’t here for the brief flourishing of them, but that’s life. A writer must have an ear to the ground and fit with the times.

but, I can’t emphasize it enough. Writing a hard-ass female character is writing a character. It’s not some cop-out or laziness. It’s what you like in the kaleidoscope of the humanity. There are women like flint. Survivals. Ambitious like hell. I love portraying them.


Talk to a woman. Talk to anyone. A lot of people have special skills, special interests, special hobbies. Passions. Something they love. Something that makes their eyes light up when you ask them about it. Things like that are what flesh out a character. A lot of “average-seeming” characters are really just underdeveloped, because the author hasn’t bothered to bring to light those things that would make a character stand out.

This… isn’t a thing. In real life or in fiction. I cook, bake, sew, do arts&crafts, babysit, etc. I like pretty things and dresses. No one tells me I’m “oppressed” because of this. Same thing for fiction—I’ve got female MCs with “traditionally” feminine skills/interests and more masculine skills/interests. Never gotten any backlash either way. That’s because personality doesn’t necessarily match interests. It’s not that everyone only wants to read about a woman who lives to fight the patriarchy. I think people are just bored of reading about the same woman over and over again.

I don’t really get what you’re going for with this comparison?? “Tech Genius” is way more impressive than good cook. Genius is in the description. Gourmet, professional chef and tech genius I’d say are about equal in usefulness. A gourmet chef could probably keep you alive and fed in an apocalypse. A tech genius can navigate you through that sci-fi-type dilemma. They’re well-suited to different scenarios. Right now we live in a tech-driven society in an age of fast food and restaurants, so yeah, we’re gonna emphasize the tech skill more. I don’t think it has to do with gender roles, it’s just how the world is running.


I’m not too concerned, my female main in my latest work mostly survives by her “cowardice”, lying to the right people and seeking security.

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