WHAT Women Want?

‘Strong’. ‘Flawed’. ‘Complex’. Everyone has an opinion on what female characters should BE, right down to counting how many there are and what they’re talking about; whether having a boyfriend ‘weakens’ them or not; or what ‘strength’ actually means! Hell, this blog is no different.

In the past five or six years, female characterisation has gone from being sidelined to the forefront of writing discussion. This is obviously great, but has its problems too. After all, it’s pretty ironic when those wanting more varied characterisation, themes or storyworlds can’t always recognise it, even when it’s staring at them in the FACE.

So maybe it’s time to think about WHY?

It’s true that there have been some fantastic female characters lately. But a good dose of VARIETY is still not something we see as standard when it comes to female characters, which is probably why sooooo much femcrit is yet to catch up.

After all, like most of the male characters before them, most of these great representations of female leads are:

  • White
  • Straight
  • Able-Bodied

But they’re also one other thing too … a single word. Which is:

… ‘Beautiful’

That’s right – ‘Beautiful’ is the WORD OF DOOM! It’s the word I see most often when I read female character introductions in screenplays (a lot of unpublished novels too, now I’m on the subject).

Confused?? After all, ‘beautiful’ is a compliment, right? Well think on it this way. Female characters are often described by HOW THEY LOOK *over* WHAT THEY DO. Yet characters *are* supposed to be what they do … Their behaviour is supposed to be what drives them, not how good-looking they are.

Remember, a male lead might be good-looking too, but this is a given … They’re still more likely to be introduced by their character traits, than how they look. Gnash!!! Feminism aside, this is NOT good writing. (BTW, we may also see other variants of this word too, ranging from ‘pretty’ to ‘sexy’, so don’t be letting yourself off the hook yet).

So, this means female characters are unfairly burdened by writers (and filmmakers) from the page UPWARDS. Eeeek!!! But hey, don’t take *my* word for it. Check out what actress Amber Heard has to say on the matter in a recent Vanity Fair article.

Oh, and CastingCallWoe over on Tumblr and Twitter.

And @femscriptintros.


Here’s What Writers Can DO

Stop introducing female characters by the way they LOOK. Just stop it.

Look, no one’s saying your female characters *can’t* be hot, or that you’re an automatic misogynist if you use these words. Hell, I’ve done it myself. But that’s the point – WE ALL HAVE. And politics aside, it’s DULL.

So, just do what you do what you do for your male characters … dig deep. Consider their inner attributes. Their personality traits. Their BEHAVIOUR.

‘Cos great characters are what they DO.

Good Luck!

More on great characterisation:

Writing Adages Explained: ‘Characters Are What They Do’

5 Ways To Write A Strong Female Character

Why Strength Is The Missing Ingredient In Female Leads

Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters

10 Quick Tips For Writing Female Characters (plus free Cheat Sheet to download)

12 Character Archetypes And How To Use Them

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6 Responses to 1 Word That Will Kill Your Female Characters DEAD

  1. Lilia F says:

    How about “JANE (25), flawless – on the outside”?

  2. John Connell says:

    I like it. Full of defects – on the inside.

  3. Sam Salt says:

    I often describe what a character is wearing whether male or female as it gives you an idea of their personality or status in a situation. (I’ve noticed this happens a lot in crime fiction). I might describe someone’s physical characteristics if relevant but I wouldn’t use adjectives like “beautiful.” I agree character is mostly revealed through the person’s actions.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Beware of ‘laundry list’ character intros too … Contrary to popular belief, clothes do NOT maketh the (wo)man when it comes to charactetisation either.

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