Women tend to be vastly underrepresented in many sides of popular media, including video games (a recent study found that only 10-15% of primary and secondary characters were female) and movies (see: Bechdel test).
So to me it’s really no wonder that some writers find it difficult to write women that either don’t fall into familiar tropes or are more than 2D slightly cartoonish representations of women. From an early age, girls are taught to identify with their boy counterparts, especially if they like stereo-typically “Boy” things. Boys are more taught to shy away from “girl” things, and sometimes they are even perceived as weak or lesser for liking such things.
None of this is okay, but at the same time, it’s understandable that some writers feel like it’s hard to write female characters and write them well. I’m a woman, I grew up and live with a female perspective and there are times even I stumble into bad tropes or poor characterization with my female characters.
I could continue to talk about why the problem exists, but I’d rather focus on how to fix the problem. Here are some beginning steps that should help you write better female characters, and really, better characters over all (A lot of this advice could be extended to writing all sorts of characters that may have different life experiences than you have). Because after all, women are just people. Like everyone else.
1. Look at the women in your own life. Write down some of their character traits. Analyze why each woman is different and look at the similarities they share as well. Sometimes taking traits and mannerisms from real people can help make your characters more real as well.
2. Watch/read/enjoy media written by women about women. This is not me saying go watch a bunch of chick flicks. Find stories written by women in genres you enjoy and see what they come up with. A lot of times people assume that women only write and want to read romance, but there is so much more out there that women enjoy writing about. Planes, trains and automobiles. The awesome thing about the day and age we’re living in, is that more and more women are in different genres and different types of publications. I’m a huge comics fan, and right now the gettin’ is good. I’ve got a lot of voices from both men and women to read from.
3. Also talk to the women in your life. Talk about their experiences, ask them about what it was it was like being a teenage girl if you’re writing a novel about a teenage girl. There are times that my husband and I talk about our youth, and it’s amazing to see how different our perspectives were, and even how different they continue to be.
4. Remember that strength isn’t just physical. At 46 my mother lost my father, her husband, to pancreatic cancer. Prior to that, they had been married for 23 years, during which my father at times struggled with Bipolar disorder. Many marriages where one person has Biploar end in divorce (Some stats say about 90%). Now, she’s a little thing that I stand a good 5 inches taller than, I wouldn’t consider her to be stereo-typically strong (at least, not like Jean-Claude Van Damme Strong). But that woman has endured and supported the people she loved. I strongly believe that her strength and support is one of the key reasons my father was able to live a happy and productive life, including completing Medical School and two medical residencies. Strength isn’t just being able to lift something, or fight someone, and I think with a lot of women that emotional strength shows more often than physical.
So, there are some things to get started. In Part 2, I plan to talk about some common tropes, especially ones that are seen in comics books and other forms of fiction writing.