Word Of DOOM
NEWSFLASH – there’s a single word that could be undoing your great female characterisation. Do you have it in your writing?
Before I reveal what this CLANGER word is, let’s first consider what GOOD words there are to describe female characters.
- Strong. This word has been bandied about a lot. Probably too much, which ‘strong female character’ has become a reductive label.
- Flawed. This one is much better. Flaws make a character interesting. That said, there is a certain level judgement attached to flaws. When female characters are accused of being ‘Mary Sues’ and ‘Anti Sues’ by Dudeflakes so often, this can be an issue too.
- Complex. Now THIS is more like it! Complexity as a word is neutral, plus it can be scaled up and scaled down, dependant on the type of character and story we are writing. Finally!
What Women WANT?
Everyone has an opinion on what female characters should BE … This might include:
- counting how many women in the story
- what they’re talking about
- whether having a boyfriend ‘weakens’ them or not
- or what ‘strength’ actually means!
Hell, this blog is no different.
In the past five or six years, female characterisation has gone from being sidelined to the forefront of writing discussion. This is obviously great, but has its problems too.
After all, it’s pretty ironic when those wanting more varied characterisation, themes or storyworlds can’t always recognise it … Even when it’s staring at them in the FACE.
So maybe it’s time to think about WHY?
It’s true that there have been some fantastic female characters lately. But a good dose of VARIETY is still not something we see as standard when it comes to female characters, which is probably why sooooo much femcrit is yet to catch up.
After all, like most of the male characters before them, most of these great representations of female leads are:
But they’re also one other thing too … a single word. Which is:
That’s right – ‘Beautiful’ is the WORD OF DOOM! It’s the word I see most often when I read female character introductions in screenplays (a lot of unpublished novels too, now I’m on the subject).
Confused?? After all, ‘beautiful’ is a compliment, right? Well think on it this way. Female characters are often described by HOW THEY LOOK *over* WHAT THEY DO. Yet characters *are* supposed to be what they do … Their behaviour is supposed to be what drives them, not how good-looking they are.
Remember, a male lead might be good-looking too, but this is a given … They’re still more likely to be introduced by their character traits, than how they look. Gnash!!! Feminism aside, this is NOT good writing. (BTW, we may also see other variants of this word too, ranging from ‘pretty’ to ‘sexy’, so don’t be letting yourself off the hook yet).
So, this means female characters are unfairly burdened by writers (and filmmakers) from the page UPWARDS. Eeeek!!! But hey, don’t take *my* word for it. Check out what actress Amber Heard has to say on the matter in a recent Vanity Fair article.
Oh, and CastingCallWoe over on Tumblr and Twitter.
Yeah … bad, innit. THIS IS JUST FOR STARTERS, PEOPLE.
Here’s What Writers Can DO
Stop introducing female characters by the way they LOOK. Just stop it.
Look, no one’s saying your female characters *can’t* be hot, or that you’re an automatic misogynist if you use these words. Hell, I’ve done it myself. But that’s the point – WE ALL HAVE. And politics aside, it’s DULL.
So, just do what you do what you do for your male characters … dig deep. Consider their inner attributes. Their personality traits. Their BEHAVIOUR.
‘Cos great characters are what they DO.
More on great characterisation:
Writing Adages Explained: ‘Characters Are What They Do’
5 Ways To Write A Strong Female Character
Why Strength Is The Missing Ingredient In Female Leads
Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters
10 Quick Tips For Writing Female Characters (plus free Cheat Sheet to download)
How about “JANE (25), flawless – on the outside”?
That’s describing her by her appearance again
I like it. Full of defects – on the inside.
I LIKE the flip, nicely done!
I often describe what a character is wearing whether male or female as it gives you an idea of their personality or status in a situation. (I’ve noticed this happens a lot in crime fiction). I might describe someone’s physical characteristics if relevant but I wouldn’t use adjectives like “beautiful.” I agree character is mostly revealed through the person’s actions.
Beware of ‘laundry list’ character intros too … Contrary to popular belief, clothes do NOT maketh the (wo)man when it comes to charactetisation either.
This something I’ve been wrestling with recently. I’m currently writing a fantasy comedy and my female lead is cursed with an enchantment that makes most males become infatuated with her. I sidestepped “beautiful” long ago but still want to infer her allure. I currently have “striking” pencilled in and know I have to move quickly to show this is an issue for her. It’s a real challenge though….
My lead is beautiful but this is part of a deeper issue related to plot. The first story to feature her is largely from another’s POV so the description is his. Subsequently we learn from her perspective that this has always been a problem: from predators in her childhood to the way she’s written off as an adult. She therefore uses other’s stereotypical assumptions about her to her own advantage, is very uncomfortable with her attractiveness to the point of not wearing make-up and masculine, utilitarian clothing. I think in this instance it works well.
Write what you know – if you don’t know, find out, then write about it. If you can’t figure it out at first, write about figuring it out too – it’s part of your character’s journey. Lewis Carol was on to something when he dropped his lead character down a rabbit hole… Just because you write it doesn’t mean it has to be in your final draft!
Things flow here so, but the one thing that doesn’t change is your character’s existence, even as they change, in the story.