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On Writing Female Characters

Updated on May 30, 2015
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Writers, new and old, want believable women in their stories. They want to write inspirational women, not women that are ridiculed and ignored.They just don't know how.

Because of this, people often struggle to write believable female characters. Many times, they end up creating caricatures of women, instead of women people can identify with. This is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue at hand.

Yet, creating female characters is a simple, two-and-a-half step process. These steps are designed to create believable women across any genre. That way, you will spend less time focusing on the character's gender and more time developing your story.

1. Make the Character

Your character is a person first. Establishing the person before looking at her gender makes the character more developed. Otherwise, the character's gender becomes the focus, which, in most cases, isn't the goal at all.

To write a meaningful character, make sure you've considered the following questions:

  • Who is your character? More importantly, why are they a part of the story? Make sure your character has a specific role to play, or else they have little reason to be around.
  • What are her flaws? A perfect character is a boring character. She needs to have problems that your readers can relate with.
  • What are her motivations? Without the proper motivation, there's no reason for the character to be in the story. Her participation will be overshadowed by more interesting characters.
  • How do they react to change? You'll need this information once you begin writing character arcs. Character growth plays a huge role in how relatable a character is.

These questions establish your knowledge of who your character is. If you don't understand who your character is, your character will be confusing, not compelling.

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2. Make Them Female

After making your character, you then assign her gender. For most people, this only means using the correct "she/her" pronouns. Then, they leave it at that. But, this leaves out another aspect of your character to explore: how society views women.

Being a woman comes with its own connotations in society, just as being a man does. Certain ideas are attached to these connotations, creating social expectations for the whole gender. Failing to meet these expectations can come with social penalties. But what these expectations are depends on the society itself.

To narrow down your fictional society's influence on your character, you must consider these four questions:

  • How does your story's society view women? This can vary widely. For example, a post-apocalyptic society would ignore gender roles, whereas an aristocratic society in the Victorian era would emphasize them.
  • How well does your female character fit into these societal expectations? Does she fit into these expectations perfectly, or does she not match to any of them?
  • What are the penalties for not conforming to societal expectations? This can be as simple as becoming a social outcast, to as complicated as facing legal trouble.
  • How does this affect your female character? A woman who fits into the societal norms would move about easily, while a woman who does not would not.

As you can see, how you approach this can change your story dramatically. These types of questions can affect your characters interactions with others, her views on her society, and even her backstory. This has the potential to play a huge role your story. Or, it can play no role at all. It depends on what you want out of your story.

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2.5 Avoid Bad Female Stereotypes

For one reason or another, there are a wide variety of female stereotypes. These should be avoided as much as possible. These stereotypes can stunt the growth of even the most well-developed women. They limit the impact she can make on your story by turning her into a predictable cliché.

This weakens your narrative as a whole.

To help you make sure your story is free of clichéd characters, here's a list of the worst stereotypes. If your female character falls under one of these tropes, do yourself a favor. Redesign the character.

1. She's a Physically-Strong Tomboyish Rouge:

  • If a female character adopts "male" stereotypes to be unique, she's still a stereotype. Doing "masculine" things doesn't change the fact that she lacks the depth of an actual person. Rewrite the character with a balance of interests first to avoid this problem.

2. She's Just a Love Interest:

  • If your female character is only a love interest, then you need to rewrite the character. No human being exists to be loved. Your character needs to have goals and aspirations outside of her significant other.

3. She Is Hyper-Sexual:

  • Having a flirty character is perfectly fine. It could just be a part of her personality. But, having a character that does only flirts and appears sexy fall shouldn't exist. She needs a purpose outside of flirting.

4. She Needs To Be Rescued:

  • Your character should have some way of taking care of herself. Even if she finds herself in a difficult situation, she should make a legitimate attempt to free herself. Otherwise, she's not believable at all.

5. She Is a Passive Character

  • If the woman in your story is passive, she'll be overshadowed by more active characters. She must strive to take more action in the story, rather than let things happen to her. Otherwise, she'll fade into the background, losing purpose.

You may have noticed a trend here; none of these stereotypes are bad on their own. But, when combined with a one-dimensional character, these stereotypes create clichéd female characters. You are better off avoiding them than risking a badly-written character.

Writing female characters isn't difficult process. You simply need to write a character, make her female, and then avoid all the bad stereotypes associated with women. After doing that, you should have a well-developed, interesting female character.

How do you write female characters? Leave a comment below!

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    • NBYomi profile image

      N B Yomi 3 months ago from Dallas, TX

      Huh, now that I know that this exist, I can write my hub criticizing the writing of female Superheroes in Marvel Comics... Well their comics division anyway... At the risk of sounding like a braggart, as a guy who's been writing female characters since he was fifteen, I don't see the process being that difficult. Though to be fair, I drew from my experiences with women. I'm left with the impression that's not the case with these female writers.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting hub about writing on female characters. Your tips are very useful and good to be applied. Voted up.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I don't think efficiency's got anything to do with it Nicole - I think it's just that we all have different ways of writing and whichever way works for you is probably the right way. You like planning. I don't like planning. So it's all good.

    • Nicole Grizzle profile image
      Author

      Nicole Grizzle 2 years ago from Georgia

      @FatBoyThin Thanks for the comment. Planning can kill creativity, but it can also enhance it if you do it right. So long as they rules aren't strict, they give you the opportunity to explore things you never would have considered. It really helps me understand the world, the people, and the story I'm writing about.

      But hey, I know plenty of people who don't need such things, and you're probably one of them. You are much more efficient than I.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Hi Nicole, another great Hub! Lots of good points here, particularly the idea of how a character fits into her society. Nevertheless, I never plan any of my characters like this, female or otherwise, as I believe it stunts creativity. I write, and my babies emerge, and so far, I think they're doing okay.