It can be hard to write a good female character.
So, as a female, I’m here to help you out.
Women are complex, just like anybody else. We aren’t damsels in distress, and we aren’t all-powerful super humans.
A lot of people say, “We want strong female characters.” But what does that mean?
It means a female character who is fully developed and allowed to make her own choices.
This post isn’t just for guys. Girls need to learn these things too.
In July, I worked with three young writers, and each of them had a different problem with the women in their story. All three writers were girls.
So let’s debunk some myths about female characters and how to write them.
5. Every Woman Secretly Wants a Boyfriend
In books, women say, “I don’t need a man.” They’re focused on staying single. But by the end, they’re dating.
Sure, there are a lot of women who want to be in a relationship. But a lot of us are okay with the single life.
If a girl is interested in a relationship, it’s okay for her to be open about it. She can look for a guy. She can try to flirt (if that fits her personality).
If a girl doesn’t want to date, please let her stay single. Don’t give her a boyfriend for the sake of the plot.
4. She Wins Every Fight (Without Even Trying)
This is not meant to insult Black Widow! I love her and I can’t wait for the Black Widow movie to come out in November.
But this is a very frequent (and predictable) stereotype.
You may know this woman from literally every single action movie EVER.
- Black Widow
- Captain Marvel
She’s a fighter, she can beat up every guy in a ten mile radius and escape without a scratch.
There’s nothing bad about this. It’s just…. a very predictable cliche.
The female warrior is used by Hollywood to gain publicity. But so many times, the writers forget to develop the character all the way.
Give her an oppressive backstory, and now she can kick every guy in the balls, and everyone will love her. Right?
Not every woman has to be a fighter. Not every woman wants to be a fighter.
How about a woman who is emotionally strong? Or mentally strong?
A character’s strength should come from their personality. Some strength will come from their backstory, but not all of it.
A woman doesn’t have to kill people in order to be important.
I’ll say it again: a woman doesn’t have to kill people in order to be important.
- But if you must have a female warrior, keep the fight realistic. Let her get hurt. It’s much more realistic if the fight actually affects her. Otherwise, there’s no stakes.
3. “I’m Not Like Other Girls”
Said every fictional girl ever.
In real life, you probably know this girl.
- An introvert who feels LeFt OuT and **gasp** reads books
- Or a girl who loves fairy lights and flowers and is secretly dealing with depression
If a girl says “I’m not like other girls,” that means she is exactly like every other girl ever.
Sure, they may feel left out. But there’s always someone else who’s gone through the exact same thing.
It’s kind of like if you tell a joke and then say, “I’m really funny.” By pointing it out, you’re just making it awkward.
Do teen girls say this in real life? Absolutely. Does it have to be in your story? Nope.
3.5 Feeling Fancy
I had a ton of points about fashion that I wanted to cover, so let me cram them into one section.
- Not every girl wears makeup.
- Makeup can take anywhere from five minutes (for everyday looks) to an hour (for special events).
- You don’t have to show the characters putting on makeup. That type of scene is incredibly boring (unless something important happens at the same time).
- As soon as the event is over and pictures are taken, the makeup is coming off.
- Nail polish smudges and chips, sometimes right after you put it on.
- It’s okay for black women to have long hair, and it’s okay for white women to have short hair. It’s okay for women to have purple hair. Or no hair.
- Change it up so your characters have different hair styles.
- If your character has frizzy hair, she’ll probably put it in a ponytail or a bun 99% of the time.
- Any time the character has an updo, it won’t come out easily. There are 14 trillion bobby pins in her hair, plus a ton of hair spray. It takes a long time to undo an updo.
- Shampooing your hair isn’t sensual like it is in commercials. It’s just a shower.
Them Heels Though 👠
- Heels are very hard on your feet, so most women don’t wear them 24/7.
- If you break the heels off, they won’t become flats.
- Walking downhill in hills? Hard. Running in heels? Even harder.
- Fighting in heels? Impossible. If she’s wearing heels, have your character kick them off before the fight.
Okay, enough about fashion. Let’s move on to the next point.
2. She Always Thinks About Her Breasts
For most women, when we look in the mirror, we focus on our hair, makeup / lack of makeup, and our clothes.
We don’t consciously think about our boobs.
We do not compare our breasts to fruit. Especially not melons.
The chest area is just another part of the body.
Your female character should rarely (if ever) think about her boobs. There are certain exceptions to this, but when in doubt, just don’t.
And last but not least, the final cliche…
1. She Wants to Have a Career and Nothing Else
Don’t get me wrong, every woman should have ambitions in life.
I want to work in the publishing industry. I’ve spent years on my education to reach that goal. (Heading back to school this week!) I like working with authors, as you can probably tell, and I love a well-written story.
But I have other goals too.
Some day I would like to be a foster mom, own a dog, and fix my health issues so I can run a 5k without hurting myself.
Often, characters don’t have enough goals, or their goals feel tacked on at the last minute.
- Your character should have more than one hobby that is unrelated to her career.
For example, I want to own a dog because I volunteered at the animal shelter and I fell in love with the puppies. It’s not important to my career. I just love puppies.
Give your female characters lots of goals, dreams, aspirations, and hobbies.
Their career is one goal, but what else do they want to accomplish in life?
Remember, science people can enjoy artsy things, and vise versa. The worlds of art and science can (and should) overlap.
Don’t be afraid to give your character tons of ambitions and hobbies in life.
Since women’s rights is a hot button topic, I hope more writers take the time to fully develop all of their characters, especially the girls.
I don’t believe we need more representation of women in literature. We need better representation.
I know there are a lot of other cliches out there, so if you think of any that I missed, please leave a comment.
If I do a part 2, and I mention your comment, I’ll give you a shout-out!
Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with a new post next week!