Thoughts on Writing A Good Female Character
I had intended to spend this week’s blog on another Point of Light, but upon opening my newspaper on Monday morning, I came across something that caught my attention. It was an article on the lack of a successful super-heroine film, a fact that as a comic fan I can readily attest to. As I read the article, I found myself musing on the problems not only with women in comics, but also the problems I faced writing women into Lightrider. Therefore, this week’s entry will be my journey to write good female characters (as well as some notes on the lack of said women in comic books films).
Women in Media and in Lightrider
As I mentioned, I can easily attest to the lack of good super-heroine films from comics. While Thor and Batman bring in money hand over fist, Wonder Woman remains in development hell, while atrocities like Catwoman and Supergirl are released to worldwide disdain, further burying the concept of female heroes. Most women in these films are either damsels (Vicky Vale), or brought in to be part of a team (Black Widow), or just as eye candy (take your pick). I will readily admit part of the problem is that these characters have to compete in a male-driven world (as I mentioned in my piece on Mary-sues, female characters are often wrongly accused of being Mary-Sues when they are presented as strong characters). Even when there are acceptable strong female characters, they are almost always given some level of sex appeal to grab male readership (see Starfire in early Titans; a sweet, gentle, yet powerful alien with a model’s body that didn’t always wear clothes). Even Wonder Woman, the greatest heroine of all time, suffers from this problem, as she is best known for fighting crime in a star-spangled one piece that has changed in size various times over the years (and despite this, most men are so uncomfortable with her mission to educate the destructive race of man in the ways of peace it has hindered her film debt). As such, most comic book movie heroines have to try to relate to women and appeal to men, and usually fail on their own.
While I won’t try to claim that I never noticed or somewhat enjoyed the sexualization of women in comics, I can say that I have a much greater attachment to female characters that actually HAVE character. As a child, I never understood why so many of my favorite cartoons omitted the girls from their toyline (or at least didn’t give them the big weapons the men had). As I got older, I latched onto many strong female characters (Katara and Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Raven and Starfire from Teen Titans, Cassandra Cain (Batgirl) from the Batman comics), and rolled my eyes at attempts to sexualize them (I still cringe at Starfire’s early days in Red Hood and the Outlaws.) But at the same time, I was also creating the Knights in Lightrider, and despite my understanding of good female characters, I originally wrote all the Knights as men.
I can’t really say why I did this. To some degree, I think I was afraid I would be unable to really write an accurate female character. And perhaps some part of it was the large amount of male-centric media I’d been exposed to. But as I began to show my work around, I heard from a friend, “Why aren’t some of them women?” It was a comment I heard more then once, enough that I began to seriously think about it. I decided that I needed to really asses what a good female character was before I could begin such a massive overwrite. So I looked over the characters I mentioned above, long with others I had seen as a child, and began to analyze why they worked as female heroes. But as I worked, I realized something. I cared about Katara and Toph because they were upbeat, strong, characters that had overcome personal hardships and were bravely fighting an unwinnable war. I cared about Raven and Starfire because despite all their powers, at their cores, I saw people I could relate to and understand. I cared about Cassandra Cain because she was trying overcome the shadow of her assassin father. And I found similar traits in every other female character I researched. And so I realized this- I cared about these women because they were characters first.
And thus, I had my answer. I went back to the book and chose the Knights I could change (some were simply too male to be effectively changed), made the alterations, and made a group that was not only more balanced, but was still the group of unique characters I had intended them to be. So in conclusion, for writers who want to create good female characters, to movie executives and comic writers trying to make a real heroine movie/comic, and finally, I say this- Before you think of them as a woman, make sure you think of them as characters. Because characters lasts a lot longer than a skin tight costume or the sex driven attention span of men.