My Female Characters
It is no secret that I am a male; this has been my reality since day one. Growing up, I had the typical boy experience, and fortunately, I had a wonderful mother, sister, and one close female friend, Tara. These fantastic women helped me understand the female perspective. We had many conversations where they took the time to explain what women were thinking and what mistakes I was making.
In college, the ratio was seven males to one, and I did not get into the dating scene until three years after I graduated. These women (and my wife) revealed a vastly expanded view of the differences, problems, and issues women faced.
I used this foundation to develop female characters. I tried to give my female characters the most realistic persona possible, but writing about the opposite sex is complicated. Females have complex emotions and a different outlook than my own. Unsurprisingly, female readers share these traits, and they universally dislike poorly portrayed female characters.
There is one area I pay close attention to. My female characters are never ditsy, submissive, promiscuous, dumb, or weak. Their will may falter, and they can have shortcomings, but no more. For example, a female character would never say, “I guess I’m stupid.” “I don’t have the guts to try that.” “No woman could ever do that.” “It takes a man to…”
I feel that portraying weak women is not realistic. In real life, women (and men) have issues, but they work to overcome them. Yes, they can fail, but they keep trying. If this were not true, we would not have been born. Motherhood is difficult; perhaps the most testing challenge a woman will ever tackle.
What about a woman who uses kung fu to smack some people around? I would consider such a woman to be a strong or superhuman character, meaning they have superior skills to the rest of us.
I’m not fond of larger-than-life characters because I cannot relate to them. How about somebody that can fly by holding their arms out, bend a big steel bar with their mind, or use kung fu to defeat ten bad people? I have never interacted with people like that, and I am sure that if I tried to create such a character, it would not read well.
Yet, an ordinary woman can learn kung fu and have superb skills. However, a writer must explain that her skills took years to develop.
All my characters (at least in my mind) are the kind of people I could (potentially) interact with. Their strength comes from rising to the occasion and overcoming their obstacles. They have an inner strength, yet are ordinary people.
What about a female character that does not grow or rise to the occasion? In a book, explaining why a character behaves the way they do is essential. For example, in an upcoming book, I have an abusive and disliked female supervisor. I explain that she is going through a divorce and this external pressure is the reason behind her poor attitude.
I’m not too fond of blank characters who do not have obvious motives. Yes, I know that people can be jerks for no reason, but readers need an anchor. The author must fill in the blanks because readers cannot ask questions.
What about the female mind? I draw from my life experiences and develop characters act how I observe women. To help this effort, I also ask women questions about how they would act in a fictional situation.
My mother helped with the female perspective, especially in my first book. She pointed out that I was missing several core aspects of my female characters. In one discussion, I asked her why the main character decided, and she answered, “Because she’s a woman, and women use what they have to survive. They always have.” A powerful statement perfectly captured (defined) her (the main character) essence.
Does my attitude make me a “male feminist?” Honestly, I cannot relate to that term. I do my best to treat men and women decently, and I reflect this attitude in my writing. However, when I see a female character that is poorly written, I want to yell, “What is with you? Don’t you realize you are angering half your audience?” Hollywood certainly has not listened to my screams.
John Steinbeck wrote, “The only women I understand are the ones I invent for my books, and half the time, I don’t understand them, either.” I think that is an excellent end to this article. I like it when my female characters succeed, but I have much to learn.

You’re the best -Bill
August 22, 2018 Updated July 29, 2023

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