Demon of the Underground

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lame Female Characters

Types of lame female characters:

---The damsel in distress - comes in a wide variety of disgusting flavors.

---The damsel in imminent danger (she doesn't need to be saved *yet* - but she is a target, and the story revolves around the men keeping her protected. Lite version of the Damsel in Distress.)

---The woman who "stays at home" while the men go off to have an adventure (fyi, this includes the ever popular woman who insists on going with the men, is told to stay back, goes anyway, gets in trouble, and then has to be saved by the men)

---The static female character who exists as a foil so the dynamic male character can grow, develop, and find himself.

---The woman who exists as a pawn and/or bargaining chip to be used by the men of the story.

---The woman who is talented and useful - but NEVER as talented or useful as the men of the story

---The woman who is the constant supplier of fan service for male readers/watchers

---The woman who's included in the story just so the story would have a woman

---The token female in an ensemble. Descriptions of the main characters are usually along the lines of "shy and bookish Dave, charismatic overachiever Jon, witty slacker Steve, and sexy Valerie" - because "sexy" is the only character trait that many writers care to ascribe to women

---The woman who's dead before the story starts and is an idealized memory that symbolizes the male character's previously happy life.

---The lead woman who blindly and unconditionally supports/follows the lead male and doesn't have any aspirations of her own.

---The woman who falls in love with the hero, but the villain wants to marry her. (Sometimes female characters become sucky not just through their own personalities, but through the situations that the writer decides to put them in. See also: damsel in distress)

---The hysterical girl who does nothing but shriek and throw fits

---The woman who is a "female version" of one of the male characters

---The "sweet and gentle" girl. (She's good with children and animals. That's usually the extent of her character development.)

---The one-dimensional nurse/healer/nurturer (similar to the above)

---The fragile woman who breaks easily (always crying on the man's shoulder, seeking reassurance, unable to support herself emotionally)

---The woman whose sexuality is her main weapon. (Any woman for whom sexuality is their main weapon clearly doesn't have any other worthwhile talents.)

---The sheltered woman who waits around for a man to show her a "new world," an adventure, true love, etc.

---The woman whom aaaaall the men in the story have a crush on. (Usually the hero gets her; after all, that's why he's the hero. It's all about trophies and bragging rights.)

---The woman who represents negative female personality stereotypes - catty, manipulative, PMS-y, sets "traps" for the men, etc. - rather than *real* character flaws that aren't so misogynistic

---The beautiful woman who belongs to a society that's under attack by the male lead, who then falls in love with the male lead and convinces him to spare her people. (It all boils down to the woman being at the mercy of the man, and the woman only has an impact on the man because she's sexually attractive.)

---The beautiful and/or popular woman who's out of the male lead's league - but he gets her anyway. (Because men are supposed to win the prize, and women are supposed to settle.)

---The super awesome chick who, through the course of the story, transforms into any of the above. To me, this is the worst of all!

General Comments:

---For the most part, female characters are infinitely cooler, more realistic, and more capable in children's/young adult stories than they are in stories with an adult audience. I think one reason for this is because the characters themselves are often underage, so the writer doesn't have the option of turning them into sex objects. Also, many of those stories are actually written for a female audience. In the end, it's nice that so many children's and young adult novels teach girls that they are talented and capable, before they grow up and Hollywood tells them that they're worthless unless they're sexually attractive.

---Too often, when writers want to tell a story about a universal human condition, they use a male lead. When they want to tell a story about a female/feminine condition, they use a female lead. I wish more writers would use female leads to tell stories with universal meaning.

---Along those lines, movies with female leads are often automatically labeled "chick flicks." It suggests that regardless of theme, too many men have no interest in hearing about a woman's point of view. (For example, I don't know why so many people call Erin Brockovich a chick flick. How is it a "girly" story?)

---The women I know and like in real life are universally cooler than any fictional female I can think of (because so many female characters are written badly and are not based on any form of reality)

---There is a difference between a "cool woman" and a "cool female character." Interesting characters are not necessarily people you'd like or admire (or want to sleep with!) in real life.

---It's a lot easier to find cool female characters here on the ground level (self-published works). Somewhere between here and Hollywood/Marvel/DC/other major publishers, the cool girls get weeded out.

---Just for the record, there's ALSO a lot of really crappy male characters out there. But I'll let the guys talk about which male characters do them a disservice.

---In my opinion, it's better to have no female characters than to have only crappy female characters.

SUPER RARE and awesome things I'd like to see more of:

---Female leads who are not "girlfriend material." Books, movies, and comics have a wide variety of male characters, but it seems like all leading ladies are required to be cute, sexy, sweet, or otherwise the kind of girl that the average guy would want to sleep with

---Female leads who actually provide a unique talent or point of view to an ensemble, other than just providing the token female point of view

---Female characters who are realistically flawed. (And I'm talking about flaws other than "dumb blond," "sex worker," or other stereotypical crap.)

---Female anti-heroes

---Dynamic female characters who grow and go through a mental/emotional journey that has nothing to do with romantic love

---A female lead who doesn't have a crush, fall in love, have a significant other, or have a guy who's crushing on her

---A female character who is presented as a human rather than a woman

---Female characters who are as unique and varied as the women I know and talk to in real life

---Adventure stories with female leads - or basically any depiction of a woman having an actual adventure (that doesn't involve becoming a damsel in distress or needing a man to *give* her an adventure)

---Lesbians who are neither (a) villains out to destroy men, nor (b) essentially straight girls who kiss other girls just to turn guys on. (FYI, "lesbian" isn't a personality trait in and of itself. Too many writers think it is.)

While DOTU is obviously very male-heavy, I do have other stories in the works where women are more prominent. (Ludwig the Rock, for example.) In any case, I can promise that NONE of my female leads will fall into that top list.

Eh... Long-winded much, Bob?


  1. Awesome post as always. I've spent a lot of time considering this myself. In fact, it became one of the whole reasons I changed directions in how CoC was being written because I felt like one of my main female characters was getting shafted by being "the girlfriend" and I liked her too much to put her character in a totally disposable position. I honestly don't know if I handled my solution ideally, but the only way I felt I could make it work would be if my female protagonists got their own spotlight separate from the male protagonists story, not even meeting the boys for a long time, and dividing the chapters up between the sets of characters. I hope to give the girls a chance to display their individual personalities.

    I ended up cutting out a good chunk of the girls' part, largely because page count was just getting too out of hand and I felt like the story was going to lose itself. I admitted to myself that it just isn't possible for me to take into account every issue of gender, race, sexuality, classism, etc. as much as I wish I could. The story is just too cemented in its place and I just hope that the choices I've made do a service to the female characters.

    It's good to keep these issues in mind. Besides, I want to see well rounded characters in general. Subverting character expectations by humanizing and developing a supporting cast makes for more interesting reading in general even if your main cast isn't female centric. And now you've made me want to write a blog post on that.

  2. @CJ Joughin That's really interesting, and I'm curious to see the women of CoC! It *is* tough to figure out the best way to handle this sort of thing, and I commend anyone who even puts thought into solving the puzzle rather than resorting to stock characters. I don't claim to be a master, either!

    I sympathize with you on having to cut out the girls' part of your story. Sometimes the story just isn't *about* the girls, and I see nothing wrong with that. (Have you seen any girls in DOTU yet? Er... besides Annie.) The characters need to serve the story rather than take away from it, after all. I read plenty of stories that aren't about women; I just refuse to read stories about women who suck. ^_^ And I do think that even when women have very little screen time, it's possible to at least imply that they are complex, real people with minds of their own.

    I can tell by reading what you have of CoC so far that you're a considerate character developer and you put a lot of thought behind what you write, and I appreciate that! A lot of times I dread reading a new story because I'm scared of what chauvinistic story elements might pop up, but I didn't feel any of that dread with your writing.

    (sorry if you get this comment twice! Computer is wonky)

  3. I wish I could comment more, but I just wanted to let you know that this whole entry is amazing, and I agree 100% on everything! This is perhaps the reason why I really understand shippers (mostly m/m), even though I'm not much of a shipper myself (well uh, I try not to, but sometimes it's hard ahah). Because why would you want to cheer the male character to get together with a boring/stereotypical/flat/etc female character, when a relationship between two, better developed male characters would be much more interesting? Since this one is very unlikely to happen either, in that case I would prefer not seeing any romantical relationships at all...

    All I am asking is that the both parties in the relationship, no matter what their sex is, are interesting, well developed characters. Because that's when the character dynamics work the best. Sadly interesting female characters are just so rare!

    Errr my reply is only about romantical relationships, but of course this would apply to any kind of relationships. Just my two cents! Thank you for the very thoughtful post :)

  4. @Kajoi Thanks for the comment! I know what you mean about shippers, although I never made the connection before! But now that you mention it, it totally makes sense. I myself rarely get excited about or root for canon couples because they're almost never interesting, and I'm usually more interested by the dynamic between other stronger characters in the story.

  5. See, I love DOTU. I honestly just skimmed your blog on a whim today, and came across this post. Seriously, you've earned a whole new level of respect from me, sir. Well done. <3

  6. @gogglesandlace Thanks dude! That really means a lot! :)

  7. This was a great read. I just discovered your webcomic today and couldn't stop reading it. Then I saw you're an artist at Dreamspinner Press where I have a novel published and had to come peek at your blog. The whole thing is fascinating, but this is what I reread a couple of times. It's very thought-provoking, and I wish more people would consider these points.

    Personally I love real women, but rarely fictional ones. The few I've truly found fascinating were ones who couldn't be construed as sex objects exactly: Katniss in the Hunger Games stories, Lisbeth in the Millennium Trilogy, or Margaret Atwood's heroines. There's an element of sexuality to them all, but it's secondary to their essential humanity and their will to survive.

    1. Yay, another Dreamspinner Press author! (I do cover art there under my real name but also write under a pen name.) What's your novel called? It's all right if you don't want to tell me, but I'd love to take a look! And thanks for reading the comic, and this blog entry.

      I couldn't agree more on what you said about loving real women, but not most fictional ones. I'm a little behind the times so I've only just bought the first Hunger Games book, but I'm looking forward to starting it. Eventually, I'd like to write some general fiction with awesome female leads, but it seems I first need to get all the 20 million m/m ideas down on paper. ;)

    2. My novel's co-written with my Clancy Nacht and called The WASPs. It's sort of a tongue-in-cheek modern re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice, like "What if there'd never been a Lizzie, Darcy and Bingley acted on that mad bromance, and also everyone was exactly as vain and spoiled as endless money can make East Coast socialites?" Some people love it and get it's a comedy; some people hate it and wonder why everyone's so bratty. Either way, I enjoyed writing it.

      I'm so with you on needing to get all the m/m ideas out first. I have grand ambitions for "someday" but right now, the subversive glee of writing gay romances while so many people still hesitate to admit gay people can have a True Love makes me happy.

      Webcomics tell stories, and this one is elaborate and intriguing, but it's awesome to hear you've written something I can read more of in one go. Where might one find your short stories/novels?

    3. The WASPs sounds really interesting! Hm, it seems like the people who didn't get it didn't realize the connection with Pride and Prejudice... My "to read" list is getting out of control, but I feel I must add this! Although I think maybe I should actually finish reading Pride and Prejudice first...? I got it on audiobook while I was stuck with a long daily commute; then I left my job and haven't finished listening.

      Right now I have one short story out. It's called The Dragon Tamer, but I should warn you it's bittersweet. I also have a novel (Art of Death) due out in July or August, which is HEA and more similar in mood to DOTU. I can't wait! I happen to be working on the cover right now, haha.

      And that's so true about some people not wanting to admit gay people can have a true love - or that the experience of love can be vastly different from one gay man to the next. I'm happy to see so many people now exploring so many different types of m/m relationships.

      What gets me too is how people don't think a gay lead can have all the diversity in life experiences a straight person has. As in, not everything they do in life revolves around them being gay (or gay bashed or dying of AIDS - all important stories, but not the only story). Part of what I wanted with The Dragon Tamer was to show that even if a gay character's story doesn't have a happy ending, he can be in control of his own destiny and not wind up a victim due to his sexuality.

      Ack, the ramble monster is taking over! OK, I'll stop now. But wait, one more thing - will there be more books from you in the future? :hopeful:

    4. Oh definitely yes. We usually publish with Loose Id, though. If you check my website ( you'll see links to everything I've got out right now. We've got another contracted right now that we're waiting for the first round of edits back, and another (the sequel to our first and biggest seller, Black Gold) at 45k words on the first draft. Also, apparently, we're going to GayRomLit this October. I'll have to check out your story! I love bittersweet endings. I started writing in fandoms and people didn't always expect a happy ending. Moving to commercial romance involved a significant change of viewpoint.

    5. Okay just bought Dragon Tamer. Reading it pronto. AND if you want a copy of the WASPs, I will hook you up with one gratis for being awesome.

    6. Oh yay, more books! And dude, I'm going to GayRomLit too, so I'll see you there! :) Thank you so much for buying The Dragon Tamer; I really hope you like it! And no need to get me a free copy of WASPs; I plan to pick it up today, but I want you to get your royalties!

      That's interesting that you didn't have the happy ending expectation in fandom. And if I remember correctly, Loose Id requires happy endings, right? It seems like most but not all romance publishers do.

    7. Awesome! It'll be fun to get a chance to meet you! I don't know many people in the industry at all, so I've been nervous, but having at least one person I plan to talk to will help.

      In fandom, some people expect HEA, but most people just want it to be in character. If it feels true to the 'verse, they're content. Most romance pubs, though, want novels to be HEA or at least Happy For Now. You can get around it sometimes with shorter fiction but for novels most romance readers want a specific formula and predictable outcome.

      As a result, Clancy and I like to write things a little over the top and have fun with it. Why pretend to total realism if everything is going to be happy forever at the end?

    8. Just letting you know quick that I picked up The WASPs! I do want to finish reading Pride and Prejudice before I dive in, but hopefully I'll get to it sooner rather than later. And I'll look forward to seeing you at GayRomLit! (and hopefully around the internet as well)