You’d think, being female, that writing female characters would be easy, but I’ve found myself second guessing. From personal experience, women can be less forgiving of female behavior than men. At least I know I share that vice and it’s an unfortunate double standard. I often wonder: does the character sounds too much like a nagging wife? Does she seem like too much of a bi@$h? Wait, is she too helpless? Does she sound intelligent enough?
Sometimes the treatment of female characters can be done very clumsily, and it becomes the waving red flag in the room when that women is only significant female character in a story (but that’s another problem for another day).
Some female portrayals in fantasy that rankle me:
- She’s really a man – female body parts were assigned by the author but the character doesn’t really seem believable as a woman.
- The spoiled princess – She will intimidate men with no consideration for their feelings and get whatever she wants. It’s all a facade, and you know the princess will quiver in fear when things get grim, demonstrating her vulnerability, and require saving by a man, no less. Either that, or it’s not a facade, and she just bullies everyone into submission.
- The teenage male fantasy – beautiful, big breasted… you get the idea?
- She only cares about his looks – She falls in love with the main character because he’s handsome. This may be valid depending on the context, but in most cases it’s just a symptom of poor relationship development within the plot.
- The jealous one – the beautiful other woman, whose only preoccupation is getting her man despite the consequences for everyone involved in the story.
- The remorseless killer – this just goes back to flat character development more than anything.
Lately there’s been a trend towards kick-ass female characters. I do love these kick ass women! Still, there are times I think it’s a bit of cheating on the part of the author: See! I have provided you a physically strong woman, and you cannot blame me for how I treat the other female characters in the book. Really I think badly written female characters are the result of two things: not paying attention to stereotypes, and incomplete character development.
I recently read this article on Women Who Don’t Kick Ass and I completely agree. Strength can come in many forms, not just physical. If writers focus more on developing well rounded, multi-dimensional characters, most of these pitfalls would be avoided.
Here are memorable female characters from books I’ve read:
- Morgaine from The Mists of Avalon – She’s flawed, and not conventionally pretty. Though she’s treated as the villain in most stories, here you see her as a woman who’s just trying to do the right thing. At times she fails and other times she succeeds.
- Claire Beauchamp from Outlander – She swears, she drinks, she’s funny, she’s smart and she cares for people. She keeps her composure despite being lost and confused in a dangerous world.
- Empress Alixiana from The Sarantine Mosaic – She loves her husband, she is smart, politically savvy, and poised, despite the rumors about where she came from.
Hmm, it’s funny, none of these women I listed fit the kick-ass type, but there’s no denying they’re all strong, complex, women.
Who are some of your favorite female characters?