Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Female Characters, pt. 3: Love and marriage, real boys and vampires

More blog reader discussion:

"Then again, I was raised in a household that read comic books like Xmen, Spawn, etc., where kick-ass females were more than costumed heroines. They had tragic pasts, bad romances, and they triumphed. also remember watching cartoons with bad-ass/strong female leads like in Thunder Cats. There was also She-Ra and to some degree even Rainbow Bright had kick-ass-ness with, um, unicorns thrown in for good glitter measure. >:D And let's not forget Miss April O'Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She didn't know kung-fu, but she usually handled herself even when in the Shredder's clutches."

I guess my issue is not just quality, but also quantity? I mean, April is only one girl and there were FOUR ninja turtles. Plus a male villain and a male mentor. I will admit, though, that there are some comic books that really excel with the female characters. X-Men had more guys than girls, but the girls they did have were pretty awesome. I always liked the early Claremont years of X-Men and I love Kitty Pryde's character, and Storm too. I even liked Jean Grey/Phoenix, although being from an earlier era she always had that role as "Cyclops's girlfriend".

I've often said that indie fantasy comics are my favorite stories, for so many reasons, and they have great female characters too. Elfquest, Thieves and Kings, Bone, Castle Waiting...two created by men, two created by women, both with really great characters of both genders, and not just your standard character tropes either.

"What amuses me further about that is I've pointedly used the SAME voice for a female character as a male. The male gets way more praise for being snarky and funny and the females are called "bitchy" and "cold". The things is, to some degree, I AM those voices. They are the products of my experiences. They are how I see things, so when people say my female characters are bitches, I tend to take that pretty damn personally."

That is true. I've heard this complaint from more than one female writer. Girls don't get as much slack when they're having a bad day, a bad year, or a bad life. Although there are certainly some bitchy women in successful popular literature. Maybe it's a matter of reader taste.

Maggie Desmond O'Brien says:
"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!"
Kirsten says:
"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."

This brings up the question, for me, again...so what does a boy sound like? I'm not saying that women don't write unrealistically girly boys sometimes, and that it should not be a consideration! After all, I've certainly read books by men about women that made me cringe. OTOH, I do worry sometimes when I see writers discussing "how to write a boy" with tips like "boys don't talk about their emotions" or "boys don't think, they act!" Sometimes I worry this will produce not real boys, but "typical" boys.

As for writing girls that are too much like oneself, does anyone find this diminishes the more they write? I find that the more stories I write, the more I have to force myself to think of new sorts of characters so they aren't all the same in every book, and it gets me moving outside my box...not to say that I don't have "types" I keep coming back to.

"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. 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?"

No! Or maybe... I admit the love plot has always been my favorite, and when I was little I dreamed of getting married (which I never actually DID, but close enough), but...I think the problem is if you're dreaming about marriage for the sake of marriage--because you feel obligated by society or are concerned about being an "old maid"...which were real concerns for women in past history but are not as big a concern anymore. (It still exists, of course, but both men and women now worry about missing their chance to marry and sometimes start a family, it's no longer a question of "will a girl be stuck at home with her aging parents and be a burden to them?" This is now just a concern of people who play MMORPGs. ^_~) When I dreamed of marriage, I was really dreaming of having a partner, someone I loved to share my life with, like my parents had, and it wasn't my sole dream for myself. But all of us crave companionship. I think that's what good love stories are about, to me.

But to some other girls, a good love story seems to be about a man desiring a woman...sometimes even to an unhealthy point. Possessing, obsessing, dominating, even stalking. I think a lot of relationships, whether or not you actually have some dominatrix thing going on ;D have some level of domination and submission going on that the couple falls into naturally. We've all run into the guy with the bitchy girlfriend who wants to keep tabs on him every two seconds, or the girl who always bows to her boyfriend's wishes with some lame excuse...but I think even happier couples have some degree of it. But in a story where we could portray any sort of relationship, do women really want a man watching them sleep or following them around, even (or especially) a sexy vampire/angel/demon/whatever? Really?? Or is it harmless? Just women writing fantasy scenarios for other women? I will end this post with a bunch of unanswered questions for dramatic effect!!! =D


  1. Hey. found your blog from Maggie Stievater's site--I love her!! This is a great blog as well. )

    You made some great points. I think the whole stalker thing in YA books is a little creepy actually. haha...Edward sneaking in Bella's room before she knew he was there totally freaked me out.

    It's funny--I actually have two MC's who tell the story from alternating POV's and I have a WAY easier time writing from my male. I've had a very difficult time getting a handle on my female character--in fact, I only recently started to get it together with her, when she stopped being all in love with the guy and started to realize he wasn't treating her right. Now that she has more backbone she's easier to write. lol.

    Oh, btw, my name is Callie. I help run a site called chimera critiques. we're having a cool contest right now if you want to stop by--you just add a line of lyric to our musical story. Just go to wwww.chimeracritiques.com and click the blog link. The prize is a $25.00 I-Tunes card. :)

    Anyway, nice to "meet" you. thanks for the thought provoking post!

  2. Who doesn't love Maggie? and I can't believe how many hits I got from her comments!!

    Yeah, guys are easier to write for me too...or maybe that's starting to change. It might be about even for me now. It sounds like you're getting somewhere with figuring out why that girl wasn't working, though.

    Your contest was fun!