A while back, I posted a snippet of my thoughts on the whole “strong female heroine character” thing. Soon after, the post prompted a discussion betwixt me and another Danielle E. with whom I’m friends on Facebook, in which I feel some worthwhile things were said. So (with my fellow D.E.’s permission, of course), I’m posting a transcription of our chat here to join the ongoing dialogue re: female characters.
Why I personally think this is a conversation worth having: Because it really shouldn’t be this hard, guys. Female characters are just characters, so you’d think anyone who could write an awesome dude could write an equally awesome chick. Gosh knows there are cool chicks aplenty in the real world. So why are they so tricky to come by in writing? (And that’s me preaching to my own self, too, since I’ve taken note of this as one of my creative challenges.) Until such time as crafting satisfactory females comes naturally, then, the conversation goes on. Here’s what a couple of Danielles had to add.
DEC: When I think “strong female heroine”, I don’t think physical strength; I mean “well rounded female character”, which is hard to come by. Doesn’t mean they’re strong, or brave, or that I even like them. Just means that they are as rounded and whole as any male character, which can be rare, and I value that.
I like to practice something when I create a character. I write them as both genders for practice. I ask myself, “Would changing so-and-so’s gender ruin them?” If the answer is “yes”, then that’s exactly what I do. I write them as the opposite gender. It really reveals a lot about them, and my own perceptions on how each gender “should” be.
DES: It’s awful, but I find it less bothersome creating girl characters if I can manage to not think of them as girls. It’s not that I don’t feel I can have girl charries do as much as boy charries; I just… don’t generally enjoy hanging out with fictional females as much. In real life, I’m more comfortable chatting with girls. In my head, I much prefer guys. Have fun with that, psychiatrists.
DEC: I think that’s because there’s such a lack of likeable female characters in literature. I’m that way too. ‘Tis why I’m trying to change that in myself.
DES: Quite probable. After all, I know more about writing from reading than from living. Of course, then there’s the objection that it’s not necessarily a female character’s job to be “likeable” – that there has, perhaps, been more pressure on them to be likeable than male characters receive. The question then arises, are there as many ways for female characters to be likeable as there are for males? That is, how many variations of personhood can a character display and still be liked by the reader, and how do those numbers stack up for women vs. men?
DEC: I think for me the reason I don’t like female characters as much isn’t because they aren’t sweet … they’re TOO sweet. They feel shallow, one dimensional. There isn’t anything they’re hiding … no darkness. It feels like they are a puddle, while their male companions are oceans. That’s what I don’t like. I guess I don’t like them because the creators are trying too hard to make me like them? XDDD
DES: *nods* Puddles vs. oceans. I think you may be onto something.
DEC: Even if they’re NOT sweet, they’re still shallow. It’s like they can only be one thing … either they’re sweet and dumb, smart and sassy, or tough and cold. In reality, a woman can be all of those things, wrapped up in a complex package.
DES: Analogy that popped into my brain: “Women aren’t just Lizzie Bennett. They can be Mr. Darcy, too.” That man came off as cold and rude, then gave a total #fail of a love confession, and in general kept people wondering, What in the world is wrong with this jerk? But by the end, reasons were provided in such a way that readers everywhere swoon at the mention of his name. Women characters, mayhap, are less frequently provided the sort of context that (at most) excuses or (at least) explains their behavior. They’re just made to be whatever the author requires of them at the time; are more devices than they are fully understood people. And readers can feel that, even if they can’t consciously articulate what’s going on.
DEC: YES, THANK YOU. Women and men, we’re both equally complex, both equally persons. I need to see more of that in literature.
DES: I’ll try to work on it. X)
DEC: Me, too; I’m certainly not innocent, ha!
Any thoughts from you, readers? It’s open mic time; join the conversation in the comments!