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Creating 3D Female Characters

Many thanks to Charlie Boddington who rounded up Aunty script reader NuttyNatter aka Katie B’s thoughts from Twitter on the BBC Writers’ Academy sample scripts this this year. Haven’t seen them? Check out the post here.

Some of the more experienced amongst you will see the “usual” things bandied about – distinctive voice, strong dialogue, etc, plus the notion “structure can be taught”. Bang2writers often express UTTER DISBELIEF to me when various scripts they’ve read get attention on the basis they’re a shambles, but in real terms, there is that elusive “je ne se quois” sometimes that gets a writer through. Call it what you want – a spark, talent, etc – but end result is the same. If you read a lot of scripts – and the likes of me and Katie B have read a LOT of scripts – then there is that fact you “just know” what the good stuff is ‘cos it smacks you in the face. (Not that this is any crumb of comfort of course to those writers left out in the cold – and I have been by the BBC Writers Academy, it smarts, but hey ho! Dust yourself down and move on. After all, who goes into this TRYING to write the most pedestrian script they can? Answer: no one).

It’s disappointing but not unusual to see female characters are *STILL* being defined wholly by their sexuality – or lack of it. It’s important to note too that it’s NOT just male writers who create this dodgy female characters, but WOMEN WRITERS AS WELL. I always wonder why scribes should imagine women are *so* about sex, when the male characters I see are generally much more varied and/or flawed. Here’s my thoughts on how to avoid the “usual” female character archetypes:

1) How do you describe her? If it’s by her looks, breast size (or lack of them), hair colour or whatever, GET RID. Instead think, “how does my character FEEL about her life? How would she describe herself? What is her job? What are her hopes, fears and ambitions? Who are the important people in her life? Why?”

2) What is her goal? If her goal centres around OTHER PEOPLE – most notably a man or child – think again. Does she *really* put herself in second place as part of her CHARACTERISATION and/or to make a story point or because you’ve put her in that place automatically?

3) What does she DO? Yes, hotties that kick ass are fun. And yes, damsels in distress have their place; arguably we’d never have liked Ripley so much had she not shown so much compassion to Lambert in the first Alien movie. But these are two opposite ends of the spectrum – and roles that *could* be occupied by male characters too (Hudson in ALIENS was essentially only Lambert from ALIEN in his hysteria, after all). But give your female character SKILLZ – either literal OR metaphorical. All *real* women have them, from feminine wiles to building electronic gadgets out of household items; they don’t just nag or scream. Think about the skillz of the important women in your life, how can you translate them to your characters?

4) How do I create equal opportunities for my characters? When I did teacher training, one of the valuable things they instilled in us was the notion that it is NOT that “equal opportunities = treating everyone the same”. Different people have different needs, thus we must take these needs into account when assessing what needs to be done in our classrooms. As writers, we can do the same with our characters. I see WAY too many female characters that are simply men with their genders reversed and this is particularly yawnsome. Men and women ARE different, we’re not the same and to pretend otherwise is foolhardy as our work ends up untruthful and 2D. You don’t need to make value judgements – just look at those elements where men and women have different approaches or ideas. Why not?

5) “Strong” or “Good” – what do these mean? We hear a lot about “strong women” or “good female characters” and sometimes writers approach these notions a little simplistically. When a reader or audience member wants either of these, they don’t necessarily mean they want a kick-ass Sarah Connor type, nor do they necessarily mean they want an Angel-type either. WE WANT VARIED, FLAWED WOMEN – just like we get varied, flawed men. Your female character can do ANYTHING and be ANYONE. She can be as great as you want; she can be as vile as you want. She can have altruistic ambitions or evil plans to destroy the world.

But whatever you do: avoid stereotype and MAKE HER 3D.

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3 thoughts on “Creating 3D Female Characters”

  1. I believe as a society have to get pass the 2D stereotypes but I think we are all guilty of viewing women a certain way. Then we can get pass the wired bias we can look at our female characters in deep and get that across. I personally had to overcome just writing these great male characters and having the female characters being overbearing or lackluster. I think I was trying too hard at times too and it came across as a male dressed up as a female. So great subject you addressed there.

  2. Thanks JL, I think it's something we *all* do in some way – people get pigeon-holed a certain way and we have to stop and think our way of the "expected" mindset. I think it's particularly prevalent with female characters because of the way the media portrays women, via often very sexual imagery. But even if one doesn't think that's true, IMHO it's like all things scriptwriting-related: never go for the easy option by presenting the "expected" in your characterisation, go for the "surprising, yet recognisable".

  3. Pingback: Writing women right. | Damian Trasler's Secret Blog – Do Not Read!

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