Let’s make something crystal clear: Creating a female character is not different than creating a male character. It shouldn’t be hard for anyone – anyone – to create a GOOD female character, but many seem to tell themselves that it is, men and women alike. These kind of writers tell themselves that women are two-dimensional, daft, weak, emotional, good for only one thing (sex, motherhood, secretary, the goofy sister, the reliable flawless girlfriend, etc.) and if she somehow juggles several things at once, it’s a matter of time before she falls apart. It’s strange how no one worries about the same thing for men.
They tell themselves women are too mysterious so they write them as mysterious creatures. Maybe some of us are, maybe some are mysterious (for personal reasons), but keep in mind, there are a lot of us and we’re all different from one another. For instance, once you start looking at the women you got in your life, do you find them mysterious? Does anyone fit any of the stereotypical archetypes you’ve read or seen or even created? Some might. To a degree. But what about those who don’t? What do you think about them? How do you think these women would appear to a reader if you decided to write a book with them as characters? How would you portray the women in your life?
Writing “strong women” doesn’t cut it. What does it even mean? “Strong women.” I always picture a muscle-chick who handles a huge machine gun as though she goes to bed with it and who has few other personality traits. I know many strong women myself; none of them looks like that. If you think acting like a (hyper-masculine) man, talking like a man, dressing like a man, capable of beating the shit out of anybody, then you fail to see what makes a human being strong.
This comes from years of pent-up frustration. And ever since I began my novel, I have become increasingly more aware of my responsibility as a writer and as a woman. The reason I’m talking about this now is because I recently read a blog post talking about how there’s an obvious lack of women with good roles in books. And not just women, but blacks, Latinos, lesbians, gays… basically anyone who isn’t a white, straight man. One of the points the author Laine Cunningham makes is: “Authors first and foremost must transfer themselves into other people. They have to expand their compassion and their intellect to see, feel, hear, taste and smell the world as some other. So when men don’t write women and white people don’t write Latino characters and straight authors ignore gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning folks, they fail. They fail their stories and their readers. They fail our society, because nothing helps us reach across boundaries better than great fiction.”
In response, I wrote to Cunningham:
Some writers seem to forget that the characters in their story aren’t just “characters,” they’re people (or impressions of people). So when an author fails to successfully portray a woman or a non-white person – anyone who can be referred to as “the Other” – then we’re not getting a good sense of how this individual functions, who he or she is, ect.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you find yourself in the dark, not knowing how to write a certain character, simply become more knowledgeable about that person’s demographic, culture, possible background and so forth. Google, visit the library, talk to people, just expand your horizon.
For example: At the moment, I’m in the process of creating this lesbian couple who lives in London in the beginning of the 21st century; one of the two women grew up in England with a British mother and a Russian father. The father moved to England in the late 60’s; keeping that in mind, ask yourself, how has this man influenced this woman growing up? What kind of man is he? How does her sexuality affect the relationship? Here it doesn’t hurt to look up facts about Russian culture and family dynamics. There are several other things to consider, such as the British law prohibiting gay marriage until 2013 and the (lenient) Civil Partnership Act of 2004; how will that affect these women’s relationship? How are they treated by friends, by outsiders? Then you got the traditional stuff to figure out, of course, like personality traits, common interests, habits, pet peeves, ect etc.
You see my point, right? If you’re creating a person unlike yourself and you find yourself knowing nothing outside your norm, research, research, RESEARCH.
Like Cunningham says in the post, the reason behind the demand for women (and everyone else) in literature doesn’t stem from mere lack thereof. I believe diversity reflects real life. I believe two people with the same ethnicity background won’t be the same at heart. I believe two people from different countries can discover that they have at least three meaningful things in common. I believe we can read stories written a thousand years ago and still relate to its characters in some way. I believe we tell and read stories, because we want to enter someone else’s mind if only for a little while and see what it’s like.
So when a writer repeats the same story with the same type of characters, we learn nothing new. We don’t grow. We get stuck in our little worlds. We get stuck in our heads.
“THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.”