The characters we create are a reflection of the world we live in, regardless of the fantastical or mundane setting.
One dimensional characterizations have always made me want to scream. Too butch, too feminine, too effeminate, too brawny, too brainy, too sexy, the list could go on. By not giving the character room change, you are not being fair to your readers. A memorable character has a little bit of everything, making them interesting. I take a lot of my character building lessons from Joss Whedon. He is known for his strong, ‘badass’ female and strong male characters in television and film. They have codes of honor they live by no matter which side they fall on.
Amy Rose Davis, a regular contributor to Fantasy-Fiction.com, wrote a list of traits every character should have whether they are male or female. The original post was specifically talking about feminism in fantasy, parts one and two are well worth the read.
In order to answer that question thoroughly, we have to look first at what we mean by a “strong” character. To me, these are the hallmarks of a strong character of either gender:
Makes choices in response to internal motivations. It’s okay to react and respond to external forces, but I want to see the character occasionally act on his/her own motivations.
Pursues different interests. A character who only ever talks about any one thing becomes boring very quickly. While it might be fine to have sidekicks and minor characters who are more one-dimensional, main characters should be more than just one thing and have more than just one interest.
Uses a clear, distinct voice when compared to other characters in the story. When a strong character talks, I often don’t even need a dialogue tag to know who’s speaking. I like characters whose voices stand out on the page.
Drives the plot. Fantasy often easily falls into plot-driven traps. If you want your plots to be more compelling, let the characters drive them. Plots that arise from character decisions, actions, and choices are far more compelling than plots that just feel like a long string of Events That Must Take Place.
A strong character doesn’t have to be a warrior, and a warrior isn’t automatically a strong character.
I can have a myriad of plot devices or amazing locations, but none of it is worth the effort if I don’t have characters that will carry the story.