Writing about Strong Women in Sagas

The saga usually has a strong woman as the main character - who must succeed against all the odds. She can be found fighting to deal with the issue in question, and possibly also the poverty of her surroundings. She may aspire to break out of the lower class in order to better herself, or she might be battling against the restrictions and prejudices of the time, as well as the conflict brought about by her antagonist or her own inner flaws.

Her heroic achievement must pit good against evil and, unlike in real life, she must win through in the end, no matter what she has suffered or lost along the way. She needs to be a woman of her time, confined by the moral mores, the traditions, and tenets of her upbringing. Yet she must also have the strength and courage to appeal to a modern readership. It’s a fine balance and if you read Catherine Cookson, you will see that the females in her books managed to do both rather splendidly.

Whatever her problem, she must have the core of strength necessary to allow her to resolve it, whether she is ahead of her time, a rebel, or simply has grit. She must suffer, sink all the way down, be beaten by the prejudices and restrictions of the time, her antagonists, fate, and whatever conflicts you can throw at her. Then she must bring herself back up again and win through, thus making a stand for all women. Your heroine must grow stronger in spirit than she was at the start of the story.

We know that in today’s world we must not attempt to radicalise or be politically incorrect. Being set in the past, you need to reveal that attitudes were very different. Obviously, some issues, such as murder, rape, child abuse, etc., cannot be justified on any account. But it is sometimes necessary to give a slightly modern twang to the problem, or to your main character.

E,g: Illegitimacy, as Cookson made clear, was considered wrong at one time, but not any more. A mixed marriage was also looked upon as wrong in certain areas, even back in WWII. The issue can be objected to by some people in your story, while others consider it to be perfectly fine. You need to be politically correct by showing points of view from both sides. Where possible look for a balance.

An element of your character can be a modern woman, forward thinking for her time so that your readers can empathise with her. In a way, women have always been a bit modern in their way of thinking. They’ve always fought for what they believe in, battled against hard times, done several jobs at once, held their families together and aspired for a better future for their children. Take care though, not to overdo it. Make sure you do not allow your heroine to become an anachronism. Don’t have her knowing or understanding things she couldn’t possibly have known in the period in which she lives.

Women’s rights have always been vital ingredients of the saga. Write with your heart and passion and make her real.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this Freda, thank you for posting. Your heroines educate and entertain too. Please, keep them coming!
    Sheila :)

  2. Hi Freda - Thanks for this post you've summed this up perfectly.

  3. A great post, Freda, one we can all relate to, I think most of us have strong women in our family history, my Spanish grandmother for one!

    1. MY Grandma too. We can learn a lot from family heroines.