April 4, 2012
Posted In: Blogfest

D is for Damsel in Distress

Today’s A-Z post coincides with my Insecure Writer’s Support Group post.
No one wants their female protagonist to be the girl who’s always tied to the rail road tracks, or Princess Peach—whose only role is to be kidnapped by Bowser and rescued by Mario. This leads to an unspoken rule that women in fiction need to be strong and super-empowered or else they’re anti-feminist. 

I’m insecure when it comes to writing strong female protagonists because I enjoy a story about a hero saving the damsel in distress just as much as the girl saving herself.

I really like Megara from “Hercules” because she ‘s independent, but I also love Sleeping Beauty who is a doormat character who gets her HEA by sleeping and letting Prince Phillip do all the hard work in killing dragon and waking her up with his kiss. 

Below is a list I’ve made of things that are often paired with a strong female protagonist, but which do not actually constitute a SFP:

*Attraction to Bad Boys—this  just means they had poor male role models growing up and have no respect for themselves. A SFP should have self-esteem whether or not she’s strapped to a Rube Goldberg death contraption.

*Combat Boots— unless paired with a uniform and rank, this is a fashion statement and does not indicate anything about one’s military success or prowess.

*Cussing—I’ve seen elementary kids with appalling language, so a female character who swears isn’t much of a shocker.

*Drinking/Smoking—last I checked most of these habits were detrimental to health and should lead to a weaker character, not a stronger one.

*Leather—Leather is a type of fabric. It tells me more about a person’s income than their personality.

*Motorcycles—My Honda 250 cc gets 80 mpg. When I ride it, it’s because I’m being more frugal,  not stronger.

*Promiscuity—For both men and women, the number of people they sleep with doesn’t make them stronger in my opinion, it just means they’re more likely to get and STD.
*Tattoos—getting a tattoo or body piercing doesn’t make someone stronger, especially if the tattoo is of kittens or puppies.


  1. Connie Keller

    I really appreciate this post because I feel the same way. I like a SFP, but I like a woman being rescued too–somebody willing to risk their life for mine (oops, the MC's life). It's not always weakness that's being shown, sometimes it's love.

  2. Brinda

    It's a tough gig being strong all the time. It's nice to have a SFP who has some vulnerabilities.

  3. Dani

    I have a hard time writing a weak female character. Most of my females are tough and rough. I'm an anti Bella character. I don't mind a accident prone female (cause I'm that way) but a damsel has always been a struggle for me to write.

  4. Sarah Ahiers

    Ooh, great post! i struggle a bit with this in the my current MS, just because my FMC is ill through most of it, so there's a bit of damsel in distress. Hopefully, though, i make up for it later

  5. Sarah Ahiers

    Also, i totally forgot about insecure writer's this month…

  6. No One

    I love your list. I have one story where my FMC is not too bright, but she still carries most of the action of the story. So she's sort of strong in a…simple way. Yeah, it's probably pretty non-PC. Oh, well.

  7. Weaver

    This is a great list!

    I'm personally off the hook. I used to wear combat boots, but they were part of my Army uniform. I told my kids that if anyone tried to dis them and say their mother wore combat boots (used to be an insult) they could just say, "Yeah, so what?" 😉

  8. Misha Gerrick

    I so agree with you. Strength comes from inside the character, not what they wear, what they drink or smoke or how many or who they sleep with. Stupid that people even think that way.

  9. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    I like that list! Hey, I'm scared of motorcycles, so you're being a brave and strong woman to me.
    Fiona from Shrek is a happy medium between the two.

  10. Lydia Kang

    So true. Leather and boots are just clothes! It's the actions that speak louder than, er, wardrobe. 🙂

  11. Jackie

    I think I tend to write my FMC's as those who consider themselves strong, but then they realize they need help, only to learn they were strong all along. They just needed a little push. Does that even make sense? LOL
    Nice list!

  12. Jaycee DeLorenzo

    Great list and even greater reasonings behind them!

    Happy Hump Day!
    My D

  13. Anonymous

    What a great list. And I think you should write us a story about a SFP with ALL of those characteristics.

  14. Timothy S. Brannan

    I don't like weak female characters at all. If they appear weak then I like to think that maybe it's just they have some quiet reserve strength that they are choose not to use. Reality? No, but that's why I read and write.

    Looking forward to seeing what you do all month!

    The Other Side
    The Freedom of Nonbelief

  15. Golden Eagle

    I completely agree with your list! Female protagonists with those traits, while realistic enough under some circumstances, should not have them just because the writer wanted them to seem tough.

  16. S. L. Hennessy

    I like fairytales, which often constitutes a damsel in distress, but a strong female protagonist is always better. My FAVORITE is The Terminator, because you can see her development from damsel to kick butt hero.
    Great post and happy A-Z blogging!

  17. Bushman

    I can honestly say I've never had a main female character in my writings. Hard to write about being a girl when your a guy. I'll have to give it a try and see how it turns out.

  18. Sari Webb

    Love the list, Kimberlee. I don't actually have a problem with a female MC being associated with some of these, as long as it's not being used as a crutch to make her strong, and if you took that element away she'd still be a SFC. If she's an SFC regardless then these elements just become a character trait, and possibly a more intricate character (is she attracted to bad boys? Maybe she did have terrible male role models and it's an interesting part of her backstory).

  19. vic caswell

    ARGH!!!! this is a pet peeve of mine.
    i don't want to rant!
    stories can be about ALL different kinds of people.
    i don't get the whole morality of lacking diversity.
    strong women (and men) come in freaking different packages with freaking different psyches, moralities, aesthetics, and preferences.
    i think we should worry more that the reasoning and psychology behind our characters and their choices are strong, rather than what society will interpret them as being. because, honestly, society is still regrettably narrow-minded.

  20. Kimberlee Turley

    I'm writing my first male protagonist and I love it! Of course, I'll have to have a bunch of guys read it and tell me if he sounds legit.

  21. Botanist

    Great thoughts. Strength is in the content, not the packaging.

    Hmmm…make me wonder now what you think of Shayla! And you really must meet Chalwen, my Imperial Chief of Security.

  22. Cynthia

    Great post! I'd also like to add to your list and say that a "strong female" is not one who has a nasty attitude towards others, regardless of what reality TV might lead others to think.

Who is Kimberlee Turley?

Kimberlee Turley grew up in California where she earned a degree in Fashion Design from FIDM in 2005. Soon after, she married her husband, who was neither Mr. Darcy nor Edward Cullen, but he’d read her atrocious first novel and said it was “good” with a straight face.

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