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Thursday, April 9, 2015

How To Write Female Characters: Part Two: What Is A Strong Female Character

In my previous post on this topic we talked about what makes a female character, or any character, sexist and, by extension, bad. In this part we will talk about the qualities that make up a good, well put together female character and what some examples look like.

First and foremost, the most important thing about your female characters is that they must be human (even if they are a different race). This may seem stupid as what else would they be? Well, despite the fact that this statement may seem obvious it is easy to get caught up in the mindset that, in order to make a good female character you must put emphasis on the female aspect.

Why is that a problem, you may ask? After all, despite that fact that women and men are both human beings that deserve equal treatment there are differences between the two that are more than jut physical. Shouldn't I show those differences?

Yes. You should have your female characters be womanly. For example let us look at a character like Hermione from Harry Potter,

Hermione is smart and clever. She is a problem solver and she is a dedicated individual. Not only that but, honestly, she is twice the wizard Harry is. Yet Hermione is emotional, sometimes erratically. She is motherly and encourages the boys. Often times she is their strength when all else has failed, just as they are hers when she has been hurt.

For example, despite her knowledge and levelheadedness, when Ron is cavorting with another girl she weeps and, when he shows up, he sicks a flock of birds on him in anger. Now, these are not qualities that are specifically womanly qualities, yet they are ones that a person would associate with a woman.

It is through the character of Hermione that we see there is strength in being a woman and yet none of that strength comes at the cost of her womanhood.

Or, for another example, the character of Buffy Summers from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. She is strong-willed and, due to magic stuffs, she can kick the living shit out of anyone. Buffy, unlike Hermione, is not the studious type. That is not to say that she is stupid, but rather that she would rather go in guns-ablazing and see what happens. Buffy is kind and caring, yet she has been cold and, when the time comes, will cut anyone out of her life like a dead limb.

She is also broken up when rejected by prospects of romance and can tend to think of these as her fault. Yet again, these are not the qualities of only women, yet the way in which they are portrayed make it clear that she is fully in touch with her feminine side. Strong and smart as either of these characters may be, none of that it comes at the cost of what makes them a woman. The psychology is right and works with them rather than against them in terms of gender.

So, what does this mean for your characters? Well, my advice would be to study the works of Joss Whedon and his ilk so as to better understand what a well-rounded female character looks like.

However, that is not to say that you should not include boy obsessed characters or motherly characters that are women, just as you should not exclude the same qualities from your male characters. However, to make that motherly side of them the only thing that defines them leads to a bad character.

To put it another way, perhaps your mother character is not good with a sword or gun or whatever. In fact, she has never killed anything. She reads and enjoys taking care of her children. She has her hobbies, perhaps she gardens and teaches. Yet, what happens when her house is invaded and her children threatened? Perhaps she is motherly and nurturing, but does that mean she can not be a cold tactician with the kind of steel nerve to poison a man who has threatened her life? Of course not, and though that side is not often shown, it makes sense she would have it. She is a teacher, after all, and a mother would want to protect her children. So, therefore, this side of her that is not at all motherly exists and thrives, yet does not have an out let.

Granted that the above is a simple example but always remember that the characters are the life blood of your story and it is important to make them all well rounded and include many different sorts of people. Especially when it comes female characters because, as I have said, fantasy and science fiction have been very lacking in that regard and it is up to us to make these things better, rather than continue exclude and perpetuate sexism in something that we all love.

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