You know what I love? Strong characters.
(Willow Rosenberg from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Have you ever read a book, or a comic, or even watched a movie and couldn’t help but feel irked by a certain character? A lot of times, it is obvious when a character had little to no effort put into their creation.
I’m not sure what it is about breasts that suddenly make it hard to create a convincing character, but all types of writers, from film to television to book to comic, seem to have issues with this. That isn’t to say there aren’t horribly written male characters out there, because trust me, there are plenty. But there seem to be consistent problems with horribly written female characters, and these same problems pop up over and over and over.
(Ellen Ripley from Alien)
I wanted to talk about what I believe makes a well-written female character, and since this is my blog and I can do whatever the hell I want, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
First of all, it depends entirely on the type of character you’re trying to write. And NO, I don’t mean, “Is this character a girl or a boy?” I mean things like:
- Is your character ill-tempered, or patient?
- Are they physically strong, mentally strong, or a combination?
- Does your character have any disabilities?
- What role do they play in their society?
(Nancy Thompson, from A Nightmare on Elm Street)
A character is just that; a character. Before you decide what gender you want your character to be, decide what kind of person you want them to be. Because it is obvious when the script called for a “girl who (insert physical attributes here)” and the character you get is more bland than a soggy piece of cardboard.
The genre of the piece can also play a major role in what a character will be like. If this is action oriented, and the environment surrounding your characters calls for danger at every corner and a lot of physical challenges, they’re going to need to have a specific set of attributes in order to fit their surroundings.
(Lara Croft from Tomb Raider)
And just because they’re a woman doesn’t mean they need to wear short shorts, a crop top or even boob armor (fucking boob armor, who thought that made any fucking sense), and don’t take it aggressively in the other direction either, thinking they need to be masculine as all hell in order to be strong. Sure, they can be whatever you want, but they need to be realistic.
There are women who prefer to be more masculine and there are women who prefer to be more feminine; hell, there are those who strut between the two. Just don’t turn them into a caricature.
For simple characters, like civilians, I believe my few rules from above are the central core to making sure your female character is strong. Focus on what makes that individual themselves. An example:
(Lois Lane, from DC Comics)
The modern Lois Lane is a tough-as-nails reporter for the Daily Planet who rarely needs to be rescued, and is very strongly opinion oriented.
Oh yeah, and she’s a lady.
Your character needs agency, to make the plot move forward, not just to be an object in the setting. They need to be relatable (as in, they feel real, they can be a shitty person and still be relatable). They need to have integrity, and they need to defy any stereotypes or cliches.
This can be applied to any type of female character: hero, villain, civilian, teenager, young adult, policewoman, clerk, you name it. This should also be applied to writing characters of color, because the color of a person’s skin does not dictate the role they would play in society.
(Buffy Summers, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Joss Whedon once said, when asked why he writes such strong female characters, “Because you keep asking me that question.”
God, I love you Joss.
So, if you’re learning how to write, or you write for fun and have always struggled with writing female characters or characters of color or other diversity, I hope this helps a little.