Simple Tips To Avoid Making Your Character A Damsel In Distress
Damsels in distress are frequently disparaged, and for good reasons: they're often boring, come off as unrealistic, and can even feel alienating to female audiences. So if you're looking for help trying to avoid making your character a damsel in distress, or if you're worrying whether your character might be one, read on!
First of all, simply being captured or endangered and needing help to get out of some situation does not automatically make your character a damsel in distress. It's a fact of life that sometimes, people end up in situations that they can't get themselves out of and need help. It happens to everyone at least once in awhile. So yes, it's okay if your character needs bailed out now and then - even by a love interest! Where you run into problems is when the character constantly needs bailed out of things (especially when no one else needs that sort of help), or when the character's competence suddenly takes a nosedive so the character can be bailed out.
When you're planning the character, ask yourself if there are any useful skills your character could have. Are there any skills you could give your character that could help solve problems and progress the story? Among the skills your character already has, are there any that, though they might not seem useful or badass at first glance, could be used in an unusual or creative way to further the plot?
Eliminate the middleman. Rather than having your character tell someone else how to do something or give someone a tool to do something, have your character do it personally if there's no particular (IE, plot-related) reason not to. A classic example of the kind of thing to avoid is that thing where a woman picks up a gun and passes it to a man to shoot a bad guy with, instead of picking it up and shooting the bad guy herself.
Avoid contrived threats. For example, "random encounter" scenarios where a character walking along is suddenly attacked by some creep out of the blue, scenarios where the character is menaced by some one-in-a-million danger that has very little to do with the actual plot, plots where the character is put into an improbably high number of dangerous situations, or plots where a series of highly improbable events put the character into danger.
Ask yourself what having your character put into danger is supposed to achieve to progress the story, then ask yourself if there's anything else you could do to achieve the same goal. If there is, consider using that instead - especially if your character has already ended up needing rescued frequently or recently.
Pretend that this character is the main character (or only main character) for the moment, and that there is absolutely no one who will get your character out of any given predicament. What might this character do to get out? If you can easily come up with a plausible answer, then that's probably what this character should be doing. And remember that even if there's no way for your character to succeed, your character should still at least try.
Spread the savings around. Let your character do some of the saving, too. And instead of one character (such as a love interest) always saving your character, perhaps other people (friends, family, etc.) could do it at times, too. Think of it in terms of doing it more how these things tend to work out in real life - help usually ends up going both ways over time, and different people end up helping with different things depending on skill, knowledge, availability, etc.
Make your character more proactive in general. Doing this makes it easier to avoid many of the problems that often contribute to a character ending up as a damsel in distress. Check out Grail Character Syndrome: How To Be The Center Of Attention And Yet Be A Total Bore and Alexis Feynman's Guide To Writing Proactive Characters for more on this topic.
Come up with at least one core drive that motivates the character to take action. It's easier to be proactive when one has something to be proactive about! Check out Core Drives: What They Are, And Why Your Characters Need Them for more information.
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