Over the past three weeks of How To Tuesdays concerning characters we have talked about how to find characters, how to name them, and how to develop characters. This week, is not necessarily a new How To, it is an addition to the rest of the information we have talked about.
This week, we are going to talk about female characters and how to write great female characters. For a lot of people, this lesson will come as news, just because it’s one of those things that some writers do not realize until it is pointed out for you, and for others some of it might be obvious, but some of it might not be so obvious.
So without further ado: Writing Female Characters
Write Them as People
For as long as people have been writing characters, they have been writing women. The difference is the idea that women are people. Some writers write their female characters as stepping stones for their male characters or plot devices to move other characters forward. This is not the way to write female characters. They deserve to be people in your work and not just a plot device for your male characters. An example of what not to do is called the Sexy Lamp Test.
The Sexy Lamp Test is easy. If you can replace your female character with a lamp and the plot stays exactly the same with no changes, then you really should rewrite your female characters.
Another common theme is to write female characters as a plot advancement for your main character. The most common way that I have seen is to kill the female character, usually a mother or a lover that motivates the main male character to go after the villain or learn a new skill, etc. This needs to stop in popular media, but it needs to be noticed by writers, readers and viewers first.
If you write your female characters as people, your work will shine, and you will avoid the usual cliches of female characters as cardboard cutouts.
Give Them Their Own Goals and Motivation
Just like any other character, your female characters need goals and motivation too. This will help a lot with making them feel like real people. Everyone has goals and motivation, whether it is something huge like to be a scientist, or a master shopper, or a small goal like wanting to wake up on time the next morning to not be late for work.
When you don’t give characters goals, whatever their gender, you create them as cardboard cutouts just revolving around a plot. However, there is an extra element to female characters if you leave out their goals and motivations. They become cardboard cutouts with sex appeal, and this is not necessarily what you want for your female characters.
Another issue about goals and motivations. Please don’t make your female characters only goal to get laid or be laid by the main character. Yes, it is a goal, but they should have more goals than to just be a sex object for the main character.
Give your characters goals and motivations and let them exist in your story not just for your main characters, but next to them.
Make Them Show Emotion and Change Throughout the Story
There is nothing worse than a character that does not react or change during the plot and action of a story. Whether they are male or female or anything in between, if they don’t change and react, then they might as well be a cardboard cutout or a lamp. This is especially important for female characters, because so often they are just there as plot devices and motivation for other characters.
Let your female characters react as people, let them show ugly emotions like anger and hate and let them react as real people would. Don’t keep them shiny and pretty, let them get dirty and downright ugly. Let them react and show them as you would a male character. Make them cry, or scream, or yell and be more than just sex appeal.
Make them change throughout their story, but make them change for the right reasons. If the only reason your character changes is because they get into a romantic relationship, then you need to examine your plot and try something new. This plot device is so overused, and so not the message we want to send to our young people. This is a common theme in teen romances that it needs to be corrected somehow. It starts with us, the next generation of writers and authors and creators.
Let your characters, whether male, female, or anything in between, be human and your writing will be the best it has ever been.