Announcements: So I was pretty sick the past week (I finally got rid of all my tissues) and my house is once again full of people so last Friday I dropped the ball. I will try to finish my mermaid story tomorrow before May is over.
Today in honor of Wonder Woman (again) and to continue on with my writing/story telling advice I wanted to talk about female characters. Now, everybody and their step father have their ideas about what it takes to make/be a strong female character. In Hollywood the standard formula seems to be make sure she can kick just enough ass to outshine the guys, while making sure she never actually does out shine them when it counts, and to get the tough but vulnerable ratio just right. Vulnerable is definitely a buzzword I’ve heard from actresses time and time again to assure us the audience that while fill in the blank action girl is a fighter she’s also still soft too.
No shade, but I’m pretty sure Zoe Saldana’s described all these characters as strong but vulnerable…
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it’s clearly a recognizable pattern by now and by no means original. It stands out especially in landscape where there seems to be room for only one female character per franchise. Of course being aware of this cliché is half the battle. How does one self correct this? Well for starters I’d suggest you stop thinking about stereotypes surrounding women as the enemy. Too often I see women and men alike (although to be honest mostly men) try to create a character based solely on subverting stereotypes and they don’t end up making an actual believable person, just someone who isn’t a ‘girly girl’.
Google Search: Strong Female Character
Before anything else women are people (it sounds so simple but people fuck this up anyway). Therefore they’re going to have flaws and they’re going to mess up sometimes. This is okay. Whether you’re writing realistic fiction fiction or high fantasy don’t be concerned with whether or not your female character is likable. Trust me it’s a losing fight. I’ve consumed so much media where we’re supposed to follow and like a male lead in spite of the fact that he’s a terrible person. Audiences own bias makes them harder on female characters than their male counter parts. So at the end of the day you’re better off making a real person than a fantasy with no personality.
Not a good guy, and he doesn’t have to be to capture an audiences attention.
Moving on to what you should be doing! The old adage is true: write what you know. If you don’t know any women, first of all what the hell, and second of all find/meet some then. The creators of the cartoon Avatar the Last Airbender mentioned in an interview that a lot of the women in the show were a result of knowing/ being related to cool women in real life. To this day some of the most diverse and amazing female characters I’ve ever seen (especially written by guys) comes from that show. Yes many of them are fighters (due to the nature of the cartoon), but even the one shot girls who weren’t had personality and importance and that matters.
Bask in it!!!!!!
Now that you’ve got some rough idea’s here’s some advice that can apply to writing about a person of a different culture than you as well. If you are a man think about the role your gender plays in your life. Think about the things you’ve been told to do or think or feel because of that. Now, whether the woman you are writing is cis or trans imagine all of those things and think about what women are told in turn. For example, growing up my mother told me several times that as a woman I needed to be hyper aware in public spaces and to use the buddy system. I know a lot of guys don’t really have to think that way because the perceived danger they face is a violent criminal not necessarily Joe Shmoe who couldn’t take no for an answer. Obviously situations vary but I’m talking about averages not specifics. Regardless of where your story takes place think about day to day life and what it means to be a woman in that space. This is particularly true if the story is in a patriarchal society. If it’s not, then I would recommend researching matriarchal societies in real life to see how they function. It might hurt to hear but it’s true, I’ve yet to see/read a man get a matriarchal/amazon society right. It’s not just the reverse of the patriarchy nor is it your dominatrix fantasy land.
Google Search: Wonder Woman Amazons
Another great piece of advice for writing women is that the pressure for one girl to be perfect is taken off the moment you decide your story should have more than one important female character. One of the big reasons people pick apart franchises with only one female lead, or a female lead that’s surrounded by men is because there’s no buffer. All of our expectations are one one person, and despite the idea that prevails that women are a hive mind, there’s no one female character that’s relatable to all. If you can’t think of a reason that will hold up against basic scrutiny for having only one women in your story than it’s probably a good idea for you to reconsider.
This is actually false.
So you’ve finally created her. The elusive 3-D female character. Now how would you describe her? Pro tip. DO NOT MENTION HER BREASTS! Do I think about my boobs from time to time? Yes. Does society put certain expectations on women that might cause some insecurity there? Sure. However I can guarantee you, that most women do not think about their tits the way I’ve seen male authors describe them. When I first meet a woman her chest isn’t really the first thing that comes to mind, like at all. I’d also advise both men and women who write stories that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a black woman reading (and yes this is real) that a character is beautiful because they have blonde hair and blue eyes is an instant turn off (and makes me think of Nazis). A character can be beautiful and have those features but I too often see (and women do this too) a character being described as desirable because of very euro-centric traits that really don’t tell me much about how the character actually looks. Basically, women are diverse and should not be described tits first.
Diversity according to google and Huffington Post apparently.
There’s probably bucket loads of advice I could give that I’m currently missing, but like I mentioned two weeks ago that’s what research is for! My job is done, if you want more you gotta find it yourself. I promise you the more you know the less scary and intimidating it becomes. I’ve got a shit ton of characters in my brain and I know that I always second guess when it comes to writing male characters or non-binary ones. Hell I even fell into the ‘strong female character’ cliché trap when I got started. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and take responsibility for your work. See you maybe tomorrow, possibly Wednesday and definitely Friday!!!!! Stay Informed.
***Featured Image: It turns out the Strongest Female Character™ was me!!!!!!!!!!! This is my art….