6 Tips to Writing Great Female Characters: An Open Letter to My Male Allies

Creating female characters that defy sexist clichés is one of the easiest ways to write original material. A very talented artist who’s currently studying in my writing-directing lab was working on a farcical action film. Every one of his characters was distinct and hilarious in his own way – and every one of them was male.

This artist genuinely asked me for help with that. He said that when he writes male characters, he feels free to be creative: the characters are corky, weird, outrageous, ridiculous, odd-looking. But when he tries to write a female character he runs into one cliché after another. I was moved by the writer’s open admission, and decided to write, in response, a few tips to writing great female characters.

Let’s begin with a survey of the most common sexist clichés that we see on the screen over and over again:

A.    The femme fatale vixen type – who you should never trust! (Although sometimes if you have sex with her, that really turns her around and she ends up on your side.)
B.    The nurturing motherly type – She devotes her whole life to you, but depending on the genre of your film, she could be annoying and deserving to be the butt of all jokes.
C.    The damsel in distress who needs saving – and by saving I mean that you need to kiss her or have sex with her, depending on the rating, but really you having your way with her sexually is for sure the best and only way to help the poor girl out of her shell.
D.    The care-free “pixie” who rescues the depressed guy –  The purpose of her existence in this world is to pop a brooding, lonely guy out of his shit (see video link below)
E.    The tight-leather black-belt “liberated” woman with zingy and ironic one-liners, who can knock out twenty large guys by herself, do it on high heels, and her hair and lipstick still look totally perfect afterwards – sometimes even better.

That last one is particularly annoying because it comes with a shroud of pretense that the “kick-ass” woman is the beacon of liberation to us all because look, women aren’t weak after all! Beloved male allies: the tight leather lady on heels who kicks ass is nothing more than another boring fantasy that no woman could ever live up to – or should – because real people are way more interesting and complex and exciting than vacant and repetitive fantasies. In other words, whereas women used to have to be perfectly selfless and nurturing while having skin with no pores and body proportions that would keep them from being able to walk, now the criteria to being a desirable female includes a black belt.

So how do we improve our writing by defying these clichés?


1. Base your female characters on someone you know
The women you actually know aren’t anything like the women in the movies. The writer who spurred me to write this based one of his female characters on his teenage niece and BOOM – out came this totally corky and unique character.

Read the rest of 6 Tips to Writing Great Female Characters: An Open Letter to My Male Allies, originally found on Healing From Capitalism.