So, carrying on with my Top 5 Mistakes series, I thought I’d return to what many of you come to B2W – female characterisation! But let’s flip it for a change – rather than, say, 5 Ways To Write A Strong Female Character, let’s look at how NOT to write her … Enjoy!
1) Define her by the men in her life
Repeat after me: women have their own lives, thoughts and problems … And very often, we’ll see male characters defined as such in spec screenplays, yet female characters? Forget it. They’ll end up as sounding boards, facilitating male emotion. Le YAWN.
NEWSFLASH: Audiences don’t want this kind of cardboard cut-out characterisation, they want female characters that feel whole, rounded, authentic and fresh. So stop skimping on the wimminz and make ’em 3D! MORE: 5 Ways To Write A Complex Female Character
2) Make her fly solo just for the sake of it
Yeah, don’t give her a husband or a boyfriend cos this totally weakens her … WHOA! Stop right there. Oh look, we’re at the other end of the scale … Funny, that.
Look, We hear lots about the apparently “sexist” wife and girlfriend character role function. But those commentators who claim being a WAG is automatically sexist are forgetting a helluva lot of women in real life are undertaking these very roles, right bloody now, including moi. BACDEFUCUP!
So no, the character role function of WAG is not sexist … The fact there are so few roles that AREN’T this role function, however? BINGO. Now we’re talking. But that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Conflating the two is not productive.
So, in the meantime, if your character is a wife, or a girlfriend? It’s not necessarily time for you to sit on the naughty step (unless of course you’ve written her as number 1 on this list, of course). MORE: Stop Saying “Diversity”. Start Writing VARIETY!
3) Use handy short cuts
Look, we’re not reinventing the wheel, here. Just like any other character, your female ones need to have a REASON to be in the story. They need motivations of their own, but more importantly, they need a ROLE FUNCTION. Sticking them in the story – especially on the end of the phone, yuk! – to appease imagined femcrit bloggers and advance audiences on Twitter will NOT work, trust me.
Oh and while we’re on the subject, let’s just retire the rape/revenge motivation and the whole traumatic past / dead relatives / Daddy issues back story, yeah? MORE: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters
4) Make her a ‘Kick Ass Hottie’
Whether your female character is a bitch and flaming everyone with her scorched tongue, or LITERALLY kicking ass with a boot to the face (or both), the spec script has got this female character DOWN. Same with the female character who floats about in her underwear (again).
In other words: if that’s the ONLY thing your character does? THAT’S WHEN she ends up feeling two dimensional again. DOH!
So, because she IS kick ass, even IN her underwear?? Doesn’t mean she has to be a crappy character either. Remember, Ripley spent the denouement of ALIEN in her scanties, so what! Again, there’s no need to be either/or, dudes! MORE: 5 Modern Kickass Hotties Who Are Also Great Characters
5) Make her POSITIVE!
Hey, don’t you know that women have to have good intentions on screen, otherwise it’s MISOGYNY?? If you write female antagonists or secondary female characters with less than stellar motivations, you hate women (obvs). Yay equality … Erm no. JUST NO, PEOPLE! MORE: 33 Experts Share What They Want Next From Female Characters
So, concluding – REMEMBER:
Want MORE on how NOT to write female characters?
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Plus you can sign up for B2W email updates HERE (or on any of the pix in this post) and get a FREE 28 page ebook (PDF), The B2W Ultimate Blueprint On How Not To Write Female Characters. Enjoy!
Blarg this can be infuriating, especially #1. It seems like every female is either listening to a man, fighting another female about a man, debasing herself for a man, giving up everything to help a man, falling into a pit of depression because of a man… Or they’ve sworn off men and are kicking ass in boobshirts because of a man in her past. HOLY CRAP STOP.
Hahaa.. You’ve just killed 99% of films and series with the final paragraph of #3, even some award-winning hits.
Oops … you don’t get it do ya
I actually do, Lucy… They wouldn’t be top 5 if no one has seen those mistakes even in the best movies and series. Scandal is an example of a leading lady with daddy issues and a traumatic past yet it somehow works because they don’t overdo it. Mad Max has an example of a lady kicking ass in… (I won’t say it). The top 5 mainly become mistakes when overdone not for the sake of story and character but ratings and sales. Amber said it in her comment. Point is, I agree with you. It’s only in the last few years that things have begun changing.
Well, I call BS. Especially when it comes to “traumatic past.” The TRUTH is everyone can have a TRAUMATIC PAST. Men and Women. You could turn the cards around and complain about how male characters are written. I’m currently working on a script based on an ex girlfriend, and sorry, but her TRAUMATIC past screwed her up and was the #1 issue in her life that defined who she was and how she behaved towards the world. Of course not every woman or man has a traumatic past, but maybe their stories are not that interesting or inspiring to write about.
“… but her TRAUMATIC past screwed her up and was the #1 issue in her life that defined who she was and how she behaved towards the world”
Again, YAWN. Seen it a gazillion times before. Besides, people are *more* than the sum of ONE horrible event in their lives. Time for writers to catch up!
One event can define a person. We do it all the time in movies. It is known as an Inciting Incident.
Nope, that’s plot-based. Try again – we’re talking CHARACTERISATION. The headline kinda gives it away.
lol…You are looking at it from an academic angle whereas creatively the plot and character of a good screenplay are intertwined. When you write, one informs the other and vice versa. If you are looking at a character, she/he has a story that affected her/him personally. That’s an internal plot in itself. The same plot can be exported to different characters and the story transforms.
Nope, you *think* I’m looking at it academically. Characterisation and plotting are indeed intertwined, but characterisation – and what it means – also evolves as audiences become more media literate and decode various tropes faster and faster. This is why certain character elements that once felt fresh, become stale and old. Nowadays, the notion of a traumatic past – especially for female leads – feels boring and overused. Audiences can also now cope with complicated back stories for characters that do not impact directly on the plotting – for example, gay characters don’t HAVE to be part of coming out stories, or worthy dramas. Now, characters can be *incidentally* gay. This is a huge step forward in a very short amount of time and builds into the current conversation on diversity, which is now gripping the *creative* world. This is why writers have to catch up, stat.
Cool. I see your point of view but you were too quick to dismiss a woman with a traumatic past as boring. Yes, it can be…or not. It depends on how relevant it is to the story as you highlighted at the end of your article. Rules, no matter how you post them, are black and white but the creative avenue is a grey area, tweak one thing and you can tell a great story. I might agree with Jim Jones case, despite his ‘I call BS’ comment, it might be relevant. You and I don’t know, depends on what caused the trauma. One may say the Hollywood superhero genre is overdone yet one small twist can refresh the character and draw the masses e.g. Deadpool, Hancock.
Hancock was a hot mess and polluted Smith’s brand, no one can hold that up as a ‘good’ example. As for DEAD POOL, he’s very far from your ‘average’ angsty superhero like WOLVERINE – but sure, he was fresh and new not because of his trauma via cancer, but because of the TONE … In a sea of superheroes taking themselves way too seriously, here’s one playing it for laughs again (at last!). But overall, the points I’m making are not ‘rules’ (you can’t have been reading this blog long, I hate rules) – just know that re: traumatic pasts BLOODY EVERYONE IS DOING THEM, so this makes it more difficult to stand out. What’s more, when everyone’s doing them, it’s easier to fall into trophy boring shite. B
It’s sadly a case of same but different because we are human beings. I can count truly unique films in the past two decades on one hand. In any case, stick to your story. If it’s real, the audience responds. Hancock connected despite bad reviews. The plot of Deadpool is crappy but the character holds it up. As I said, one thing… But sure, the sameness is more likely to keep you at the bottom of the pile than the difference. Trick is to keep writing and a goldmine will eventually shine.
That’s because nobody wants unique. We all want ‘the same, but different’ … But new writers focus on what’s the same, then wonder why lesser work gets out there. Because it’s DIFFERENT! It stands out! Creativity is endless paradox.
I like Hancock. That’s my contribution to the conversation 🙂