Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Female Characters, pt. 2: Wimps, Ass-kickers and Princesses

First, some discussion from the comments...

"I've always found female characters easier to write. I was an 80s child too, but I loved the princesses and being a girly girl. To me boys were dirty and icky."

I can understand that! I like many aspects of the girly girl. I don't think Nimira is a girly-girl per se but she's not an ass-kicker either. She's not a princess, but...she could be. OTOH, I never thought of boys as dirty and icky. As a little girl, I tended to gravitate toward friendships with gentle nerd boys who sometimes turned out to be gay, and my dad was the kind of guy who never watched sports but would get sucked into The Joy Luck Club.

Are girls who like writing about guys affected by the males in their lives, or is it just as often wish fulfillment, I wonder?

Memory: "I think there's a lot more pressure when one tries to write female characters because there's such emphasis on avoiding the cliches and creating complex personalities. I don't feel like this is really the case where male characters are concerned."

That's an interesting point. I'd never thought of this; I guess I do feel pressure to write strong women moreso than to write men any certain way, but I always felt it came less from society and more from my own awareness that my female characters were inadequate. But I guess it's probably both.

Redcrest (among other things Redcrest says...we could probably have a pretty lengthy discussion just between ourselves): "And yes, “the girl” could never be the cool, smart-alecky one or stand alone w/o a love interest. Having a girl on the team apparently set off a certain expectation—“She shall be someone’s love interest”—like introducing a gun in the first act of a play immediately signaled “someone will get shot by the end of the play.”"

It's true, the token girl is also often the love interest, and it is a bit irksome when people defend female characters in a story by mentioning the love interest(s). In LOST, for instance (which I loved, btw) I think the girls definitely were more defined by their love stories. That's a show where you notice it less because it's a large cast and the characters are well-rounded, but as a group, the boys definitely do more. And it's not just a flaw of stories written by men. I think Harry Potter had a similar problem--there were cool girls in Harry Potter, but there were more boy characters of importance and weight.

olmue: "I'm a girl, so I do tend to relate to female characters more than males (in general). I've mostly written female MCs. However, I do find that it's also harder for me to separate myself from my character, and to really make her rounded, when I'm writing female. I did write one book entirely from a male perspective, and I found out all kinds of things about the character that I maybe wouldn't have been forced to think about had I been on default female. And then I was able to apply some of that when revising a girl MC book, so it was doubly helpful. I've been giving some thought to doing a dual POV, one guy, one girl, because I don't know if I'm quite ready to give up that interesting perspective yet."

Yes, I too find it harder to separate girl characters from myself...or is it a question of conveying myself in an interesting way? The guys definitely have a lot of me in them, too, but they're easier to make interesting. Back when I couldn't write many interesting girl characters, one girl I did love to write was Leslie Teller, who was extremely different from me. She was playful and fun and boy-crazy and very outgoing and flirtatious and had a rather wounded past and was frankly, kind of a ditz...not much for the book-learnin', anyway, but she had some considerable creative talent. She could have been a cliche but I think part of the fun was unearthing her layers. It's harder to write a girl like Olivia who is not me, but has enough in common with me to be my friend. Leslie probably wouldn't be my friend.

One concept we keep coming back to is the important of avoiding cliches in writing women. The history of female characters is a bit like the history of feminism itself--first women were mostly wives and mothers, then with the rise of feminism, it became all about "career" and stay-at-home moms started to feel looked down upon. Girls in books, too, started as love interests and moms, and then became tough, unemotional ass-kickers around the 80s, but now I think we're starting to see a wide range of girls. Girly girls have inner strength, warrior women aren't just guys with boobs...but we're still very conscious of the cliches and concerned about our portrayals of women.


  1. What a great post! Lots to think about. =) I haven't tried too hard to write characters from guys' perspectives before - I just can't imagine what life would actually be like inside a guy's head. But I agree that it's difficult to separate myself from my female characters sometimes! I guess this is something I will explore more as I write more. Thank you for writing this!

  2. For me, the pressure in writing female characters comes from trying not to make them sound exactly like me. At the same time, I'm so used to writing a female MC (in tight first person) that my most recent attempt at a male MC (also in tight first person) didn't really sound like a real boy. Practice, I guess, makes perfect. Same with female MCs: women do obviously have very distinct voices, and while it's easy to make them cliche, there are so many possibilities.

    Great post!

  3. You bring up a lot of interesting points here, J-chan. The first thing that struck me is what you said about “do girls who write male MCs do it b/c of the male influence in their life or is it wish fulfillment?” Don’t know in general, but for myself, I’m guessing it’s mostly the latter. Like Miyazaki once commented on how all his heroes & heroines before Chihiro were “unreal; people I *wished* existed,” I think the majority of my heroes are folks that I wish existed, including male charas who are thoughtful, sensitive, respectful of women and not necessarily too strong physically. Sorry, that’s not to say that such men don’t exist in real life, but I feel like in popular, mainstream YA, I don’t seem to find these kinds of charas, or at least, not the precise sort of iteration of them that appeals to me. So my male heroes, in a sense, are “wish fulfillment” (well, you’ve gotta like your own characters, right?).

    On the other hand, like you mentioned in some of your replies, my guy characters are drawn largely from my own personality, so it’s not quite the type of “wish fulfillment” that (flat, pointless, excessively perfect and completely unfleshed-out) characters like Edward Cullen are, for example. Oddly enough, now that I think about it, my male heroes are much more like me personality-wise than any of my female characters. The women tend to be either the sorts of women I think are really cool/great role models (and again, not often seen in mainstream YA, so they’re also “wish fulfillment”), or more girly archetypes that I just feel should be there (for fan shipping purposes--just kidding!! XD) because I’ve known/am familiar with quite a few of them in reality and feel that they should be included. Though actually, maybe these girls are also a form of “wish fulfillment” for me in that I want them to be members of those archetypes that I typically don’t care much for, but add qualities to them that are striking/unusual and flesh them out in a way that would also appeal to me. (So basically… ALL my characters are wish fulfillment? =__=;; Hmm…)

    Last thing—I agree that the flat, defined-only-by-love-plotline girl characters are definitely not a problem of male-authored stories—not by a long shot. In fact, I get the feeling that the majority of female-authored stories include or even center on the love life of the heroine. Although it riles me terribly to think it, sometimes I wonder if Grand Misogynist First Class Kishimoto (the author of “Naruto”) wasn’t actually onto something when he made that horribly condescending statement that, “12-year-old girls are just more interested in romance than other things” when explaining why his heroine was so weak despite being a ninja-in-training, and why she was always going on and on about her crush instead of training properly like the boys. It takes me back to that stereotype of boys’ and girls’ dreams—the boys typically dream about what career they’d like to have in the future (“astronaut!” “rock star!”) while the girls dream about what kind of prince charming they’d like to marry… Do you think the majority of girls are really like that?

  4. Argh, another horrible typo (why don't I edit before pressing the submit button??)--I meant to say that "defined-only-by-love-plotline girl characters are definitely not a problem of male-authored stories EXCLUSIVELY"-- diminishing the roles of women in fiction is an equal-opportunity venture, after all...

  5. This is a great post, Jackie! I have such a hard time separating myself from my female characters.