Things We Need More In Female Characters & Their Stories
The following is a list of tropes and elements that are lacking in female characters in fiction (particularly in the Internet fiction I find) these days that would be nice to see more often.
Now, I want to clear one thing up - don’t think that a character or story must embody each and every one of these items to be good, or that incorporating these items will automatically make a story or character good, or that any story that fails any of these points is automatically bad. They’re just elements that right now are woefully uncommon in female characters and stories about female characters.
Table of Contents
- Female characters with plot-progressing skills and traits that actually exist in the real world.
- Female protagonists who are not once described as beautiful, or as being portrayed as even better or more desirable because of their beauty.
- Female characters with meaningful duties and responsibilities.
- Female characters with big dreams and ambitions that don’t involve romance and don’t utterly go up in smoke if/when romance happens.
- Better-handled romances and relationships.
- Stories with little to no focus on romantic relationships.
Female characters with plot-progressing skills and traits that actually exist in the real world.
Even in fantasy stories. Especially in fantasy stories. It’s so common to see heroines who wouldn’t really be notable, interesting, or even capable of moving a plot anywhere at if it weren’t for some fantastic trait - eg, having some special secret heritage that gives them mystical abilities or superpowers that bring them to the attention of Important Characters.
Consider this: when you create a character with admirable traits and skills that actually exist in the real world, you create a character who can potentially give others something positive to aspire to. When you create a character whose desirable traits only exist in a fantasy world, you only give people something they can dream about and wish they had.
Now, I am not saying that your fantasy and sci-fi heroines can have no fantastic skills or traits. Not at all! However, if your character does have fantastic traits or skills, you need to ask yourself: if you took away your heroine’s fantastic traits, would she still be able to drive an interesting plot and make things happen and change in the world around her? For example, Katara would probably still fight the Fire Nation even if she wasn’t a waterbender. Hermione Granger would still seek out knowledge and be passionate about civil rights even if she wasn’t a witch, and could potentially live a very interesting non-magical life. On the other hand, if you took away Bella Swan’s amazing smell and her ability not to have her mind read, you’d have a character who’d most likely sit around and do next to nothing indefinitely, and so nothing interesting would ever happen around or to her.
Female protagonists who are not once described as beautiful, or as being portrayed as even better or more desirable because of their beauty.
Your character needn’t necessarily be described as a stick in the mud (though, an honest-to-goodness homely character would be fine, too), but we do need more characters who aren’t explicitly gorgeous. If you want to make your character stand out in a positive way, then try having your character do something positive.
Female characters with meaningful duties and responsibilities.
In a lot of fiction I see on the Internet, protagonists are frequently put into positions that command respect and authority (or are training to take a position that would command respect and authority), but they aren't really shown having to shoulder any real responsibility or deal with any difficult problems that would arise from being in this position.
If you are going to put a character (especially a main character) into a position of rank or authority, then show that there are meaningful responsibilities and challenges that come with that position as well as serious consequences and repercussions if she doesn’t deal with them. For example, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic does fairly well in showing that Princess Celestia’s position as ruler of Equestria is a genuine job that can be stressful and difficult for reasons involving the challenges of running a country rather than simply showing petty inconveniences such as having too many suitors, having to look pretty, or having to attend borrrring social events.
If you intend to write a royal character, then Tips To Write Better Royalty, Nobility, & Other Upper-Class & Important Characters might be of interest to you.
Female characters with big dreams and ambitions that don’t involve romance and don’t utterly go up in smoke if/when romance happens.
Your character’s big dreams could be anything. Maybe she wants to write an awesome book, own a store, or free a country. Maybe she wants to make a scientific breakthrough, explore space, or start a community garden. In any case, we need more stories that are focused on heroines striving for something big. Tiana in The Princess and the Frog is a fairly good example of this - romance happens, but she still gets to open the restaurant she’d always wanted at the end.
Better-handled romances and relationships.
There are so, so many glaring problems with how the romances and relationships of the main characters are handled. Here are some of the biggies:
- The minute the protagonist finds a romantic partner or a potential romantic partner, everything else going on the story is shuffled off to the background and rendered unimportant. Even things that are extremely important or allegedly urgent or dangerous in-universe are all but ignored, handwaved off, or taken care of with absurdly convenient ease.
- The characters are so obsessed with each other that responsibilities and other relationships go ignored, or are even treated as unimportant compared to their blossoming romance.
- The protagonist attracts an absolute hunk of a guy to her, despite the fact that she has all the charm and personality of a lump of gray putty.
- One or both of the romantic leads are swept away by the other at first meet, and this is treated as True Love, rather than infatuation. (Which can eventually lead to true love, but isn't the same thing.) Extra blargh points if one or both of the characters are utterly baffled at the initial attraction to the other.
- Characters who are perceived by their intended love interests as totally unique special snowflakes for traits that aren't really that odd in the grand scheme of things - eg, being a bookish introvert with somewhat "nerdy" or esoteric tastes and interests, and it's not because their intended love interests just haven't met many people yet. (See also: On Writing Misfits, Loners, & Malcontents.)
- Characters in fantasy worlds who attract love interests primarily through traits that only exist in fantasy worlds, rather than actual, real personality traits and behavior. The former only gives people something to daydream about; the latter can be potentially encouraging and inspiring. (See also: So You Want To Have An Attractive Character?)
If you're looking to write romance, the Relationships, Romance, & Shipping section might help you.
Stories with little to no focus on romantic relationships.
For those who want to read stories about female protagonists with little to no romance in them, there are few options out there. There are people out there who want stories that focus more on other things - adventure, exploration, solving problems, shaking up the status quo, and even non-romantic relationships.
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