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How To Write Female Leads Like A Professional Screenwriter


With the Oscar result due any moment, I’m in the curious state of being conflicted over which to root for this year, for the coveted Best Picture award! There are some genuinely diverse, interesting films up for the 2017 … a far cry from recent years. And long may that continue as far as B2W is concerned.

However, if someone really twisted my arm? I would have to put my vote in for ARRIVAL. I’ve long been an admirer of Eric Heisserer’s work – I’d watched with interest his struggles to get the film greenlit, with Eric having to work on spec for most of it.

Based on Ted change’s legendary short novella, Story of Your Life, it was a massive undertaking for Heisserer to get people on board … This is despite Eric having a writer’s resumé most of us would kill for — a reminder to all Bang2writers that sometimes, you just have to go for it! 

So, Eric’s efforts have paid off, big style and it’s VERY much deserved. If you follow him as @Highzurrer on Twitter, you’ll know Eric regularly offers up nuggets of screenwriting gold … plus he’s very passionate on the subject of female leads, so this is always something B2W is always keen to exploit!

Below, you’ll find a tweet discussion between me and Eric about female leads, with reference to two movies we both enjoyed in 2014, GRAVITY and LUCY. I love Eric’s insights here – if you’ve seen ARRIVAL, then you’ll know he takes his own advice with his protagionist, Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams)! Enjoy …

By The Way!

I did a case study on Eric’s criminally underrated drama, HOURS in my Writing And Selling Drama Screenplays book. Eric also directed the movie, which was the last film of the late Paul Walker.

HOURS is a beautiful, poignant story of fatherhood and the efforts we go to for our children. In some ways, it’s an excellent flip side for ARRIVAL. Make sure you give it a watch!


One last thing …

I do an in-depth breakdown of Story of Your Life and ARRIVAL, over at my book blog. To read it, CLICK HERE or on the picture below. Let us know which you prefer!


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6 thoughts on “How To Write Female Leads Like A Professional Screenwriter”

  1. “Women as problem-solvers instead of kickass hotties” is now my fav phrase, haha ^^

    Loved the discussion and totally agree with U; not that I’m actively against kickass hotties, they still R fun to watch to me, but seeing a women using her head instead of her boobies and her guns R even better.

    Now, I’d like to drop a question here: how do I write a vulnerable protagonist (yes, she’s a woman, but it doesn’t matter because men R vulnerable IRL too)? I mean, she does grow and become a psychologicaly strong character in the end of the story but in the start she’s very weak and sensible to other’s opinion and may even cry if she’s on her worst days ’cause some other mouth said that she’s weak and dependable and such… so I was wondering if it would be realistic if she starts as a crybaby (she’s a crybaby, really) but ends knowing her shit and such. And how do I do this.

    P.S.: I’m really sorry if I’m not being clear here. ENG is not my native language and I just started my english school… I’m really sorry!

    1. Vulnerability in characterisation is very difficult to portray, it’s true. I wouldn’t recommend a ‘crybaby’ character though – I see crying women in specs all the time and it rarely works. Instead, I would recommend doing your research and seeing what characters in films and TV have portrayed this before and see how they do it.

    2. Check out Sarah Connor, protagonist of the first Terminator movie – she’s really vulnerable and downtrodden at the outset, but grows into the role of resistance fighter during the course of the film. Then there’s Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. She’s an assassin with a crush on a colleague. She reveals her vulnerability in her 2nd scene with him – Zoe Saldana played it perfectly, allowing her voice to crack just at that moment. Or if comedy is your thing, check out Bridesmaids. It may be a comedy, yet through most of the film the protagonist is depressed and battling low self-esteem issues.

      I read somewhere – possibly on Lucy’s blog – that you can give a female protagonist an air of vulnerability by making her terribly afraid of something (think Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes).

  2. My female protag afraid, hesitates at fighting her antithesis over wrongful accusation of likelihood to sleep with her man. She goes streetwise to imbibe her accuser’s attitude; transforms her Harvard trained etiquettes into an investigative panache over love object’s kidnap. Environment: Africa; Ambience: Corporate politics soaked. ENOUGH TRANSFORMATION?

    1. As I always say, I never know for definite without actually reading a script, but sounds like you’re on track! 🙂

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