February 18, 2015

Writing Club Wednesday: Writing Girls

I've seen a lot of talk about this, lately. Last fall at Salt Lake Comic Con, I easily attended 4 or 5 (or more) panels specifically talking about how to write girls & women. Honestly, I didn't think this was a difficult thing - we're people, right? Apparently I was wrong.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend Courtney Alameda's launch party for her debut, SHUTTER. (It was pretty awesome, I have to say.) I ended up spending a large portion of the night talking to one of her young teen fans about all things writing. Process, character development, plot lines. This young fan was a writer just getting started, and she was eager for anything and everything I could tell her. Towards the end of the night (or rather, the signing line), she asked a question I think she'd been waiting all night to ask me.

How do you write female characters?

Before I could swallow the shock (a girl asking how to write girls?) she went on to explain, and it suddenly made sense to me. This wasn't a problem of girls not understanding how to write girls. This was yet another side of the continual diversity issue. Not how do we write girls, but how do we write girls that can do stuff that has traditionally been reserved for guys.

Because here was what she told me: I usually write male characters, because they can do stuff.

Talk about heartbreaking. But I understood. Video game heroes? Almost all men, almost always rescuing a helpless damsel (we're sorry, your princess is in another castle!). (And most of the women are so sexified that I could never stand playing as them. Thank you Bioware, for making actual women in armor, and Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix for the reboot of Lara Croft.) Action movie heroes? Again, almost all men. Terminator, Die Hard, Bourne Identity, James Bond... Do I even need to continue? The really kick-ass main characters in most books that have shaped us? Male. (I mean, look at Tolkein. I love him, but there are only 3 women all of the Hobbit & LotR combined, and they're side characters. Love Harry Potter, but Hermione basically saved him in every book, yet Harry is the hero. I could go on.) So of course it's hard to imagine anything else.

So here was my advice to her, advice that we were told time and again at Comic Con, by both male and female writers in the fields of TV, movies, books, and gaming. Write good characters. Forget about girls are supposed to do, supposed to be. Forget about what guys are supposed to do and be. Just write good characters, who can do anything, be anything, succeed and fail at anything. And then make them girls. We've grown up in a world with so few solid female leads, either on screen, in game, or in book, and the only way that will change is if we write more of them.

So stop relegating girls to just 'traditional' roles, and let them be whoever you want them to be. Take a page from Buffy, and write a cheerleader who saves the world, or a prom queen who rules the underworld. Write characters who have depth and feeling, and just happen to be female.

Let's let our girls kick ass.


Sarah Hipple said...

Huh. Chuck Wendig just did a post about this this week as well. As with most of his posts, there's a bit of swearing, but he goes into some detail about the various "tests" if you need them. I was particularly amused (saddened?) by the "Sexy Lamp" Test, i.e, if you can replace a female with a sexy lamp and have it serve the same functional purpose, you need some more female character development.

Not sure how to make links work in the comments, but this is the post:

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