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My Male Chauvinistic writing style

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by srebak, Feb 4, 2014.

  1. srebak

    srebak Troubadour

    I'll just cut right to the point, i'm starting to think that i don't know how to write strong female characters (lead or supporting). In fact, I'm starting to think that my writing style is pretty biased towards women (either there aren't many female characters or they're just there to be the love interest or rescue victim) and really don't want that to be the case. In this day and age, it's pretty obvious that women are capable of doing anything a man can do (maybe even more so), yet whenever i try to imagine a story, i end up thinking of lines and scenes that could definitely be considered anti-feminist or sexist; them being objects of beauty, them needing a "big, strong man" to come rescue them or them just being the generic love interest and nothing more. I repeat, i don't want that to be the case, especially when i'm thinking about new ways to handle a show or movie that has a strong admirable female lead.

    The worst part of it is, i think this stems from my favorite animation company, Disney. A lot of their earlier movies had pretty weak female leads. You would think that since i was born during the time when that was starting to change, this wouldn't be a problem, but it kind of is.

    I want to believe that since i can acknowledge something as sexist and anti-feminist, that means i'm not a sexist myself, but i just don't know.

    Any thoughts?
  2. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    A good experiment would be to try to write one short story in which the main character is female. See how it turns out, and keep an eye out for anything that goes wrong.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2014
  3. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I don't necessarily have a problem with writing female characters who are warriors or who can otherwise take care of themselves, but I will admit that one of my major reasons for having prominent female characters in the first place could be interpreted as "male gaze": namely, I like having sexy ladies in my stories. What can I say, I am a lusty young male.
    Nameback likes this.
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    You know... I'm a woman and I don't really write strong female leads either. But I get what you're saying. Most of my female characters are tough, but they aren't warriors. They have been through the wringer emotionally, but most are lonely, frightened, secretive, sometimes even conniving. They aren't heroes, they're normal women who have to survive.

    If you want to maybe see female characters in a different way, consider how best to portray them. Do you enjoy any female movie characters? Try writing some fun things like a female bounty hunter, a female knight, a female monster hunter. Get a feel for what kinds of tactics a woman might have to use rather than a man. I mean... most men aren't the hulking brutes they're portrayed as in some fiction, either. Most of my male characters aren't brawny beefcakes, but average joes that need to work hard and be a little smarter than they thought, to survive.

    If you are going for realism, think about the things women CAN do well. I'm a small female and I definitely am at a disadvantage when I sword fight against taller, stronger and more experienced men. But, on the archery field, I'm at no disadvantage. I can shoot targets as well my male friends, even with my weaker bow. How about a magic fight? I'd imagine I'd be a better healer than most people due to my empathy and I bet I could fry the butt off an axe-wielding brute.

    Just think about who they are as people and try fleshing them out, giving them personalities. There are a multitude of "chracter worksheets" to be found and you can invent one of your own. It will help you make your less-defined characters into characters people care about.
    Butterfly likes this.
  5. Malik

    Malik Auror

    The problem with writing strong female leads is explaining what they're doing out of the kitchen and wearing shoes.

    (Ow! Not the face! Don't hit the face! I have meetings!)
  6. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

    Just because the female can't punch through a castle wall doesn't necessarily make her a weak character. I think there was an article on the front page about that, and it was great.
  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I've been pondering this quite a bit myself. It's something I worry almost irrationally much about from time to time.

    I'm writing a romance story from a male PoV and I really want to make the female romance interest more than just an object for the male to get hung up on and acquire. I think I've come to grips with it though and I think I've created an interesting character with some personality and depth.
    There are two things I did that helped me immensely:
    1. Don't aim to create a strong woman, aim to create a real woman.
    2. Write a few short stories from her perspective.

    The first one is clearly the more difficult. It's more of a shift in mind-set than anything else. My female lead is not only a woman, she's also a person. She has her own past, her own issues and her own ambitions. This is where the second point comes in. If you explore her personality through writing short stories about her, you'll get to know her. You'll get a better feel for who the character is and you'll be more confident with her when putting her into the main story.

    At least that's the theory. I've completed the shift in mindset (point 1) and I've completed several short stories (point 2) and I feel like I've succeeded. I just haven't actually gotten to the point in my novel when she actually appears. - So take this with a pinch of salt. ;)

    This is a flash fiction I wrote here on the forums about my character Amanda. It's not polished and not particularly well written, but it's not meant to be. The purpose of that entire exercise was for me (the writer) to spend some time with the character and think about things from her perspective. I like to share my work though as it motivates me to be productive.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2014
  8. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Hm, interesting thread. I especially love the OP's concern about this. I'm a lady myself and I can't think of exactly how a strong female lead acts. My take is that men and women just handle things differently. An individual's reactions depend on personality, motivation, etc. And I don't think strong necessarily means kick ass either. When I think of a strong character--male or female--who they are as an individual and how they impact my emotions throughout the story is what stands out. Is that character acting believable to what's happening?

    This depends on the story world. Can women only wait to be rescued or do they have the power to do something to save themselves? My characters will rely on other people if its part of their personality, for example. Whether they are male/female doesn't matter.
  9. tlbodine

    tlbodine Troubadour

    Recognizing you have a problem is the first step. Kudos on you for the self-awareness -- it's something more people could stand to have.

    I think three things need to happen here. I think, first, you need to read widely and seek out books with female characters. Do this in part for pleasure, but also as research. Take notes, if you're so inclined. See how other people are doing it and try to internalize those techniques.

    Second, you should talk to women, or at least think about them carefully. Do you have a mom, aunt, sisters, cousins, female friends, girlfriends, ANYONE in your life who is a woman who you would consider "strong"? Physically, morally, psychologically, whatever. Talk to them. Get their stories. Get a feeling for what life is like for them day-by-day, how they think about things, how they react to things. The more strong women you know in real life, the more material you'll have to draw on for characters.

    Third, you need to write. Don't necessarily worry about it going anywhere. Just try it for practice. Try writing some fanfiction from the POV of a female character in a series you like, and think about what their life is like that's different from how the main story goes. Or take a person you know, one of those women you talked to in step 2, and write her into a story. Imagine what she'd do if faced with whatever conundrum.

    Once you get a little practice under your belt, it gets easier.
  10. Try writing a story that contains ONLY female characters. If there's no men around, that might make it easier for you to avoid falling into the usual anti-feminist tropes.

    Remember: feminism is the radical idea that women are people.
    A. E. Lowan, CupofJoe and Ireth like this.
  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    I'm a woman, and a rather outspoken and strong willed one too. But I don't write Strong Female Characters(tm). In fact, most of my characters are male and all of my main characters are male, at the moment. I like strong male characters and feminine female characters. I expect that when I eventually start publishing I'll receive some criticism for that. There's a certain vocal group that seems to think all stories should have Strong Female Characters(tm) and if they're not the protagonist then they should at least have as much "agency" as the protagonist. I doubt they'll like my work, but frankly I don't care.

    I write what I write because I like it and find it interesting. I like to imagine that every writer writes what they do because they like it and find it interesting. If that's the case then I say just keep on doing what you're doing and don't worry about what certain people think you should write about.
    Guy likes this.
  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

  13. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    What each person perceives as a "strong" character varies from person to person. Some may think physical strength while some think mental or emotional strength. My idea of a strong character is someone who gets brutalized one way or another and manages to still pull through and keep on going. So my idea of a strong character could be like Rocky, who gets beat up over and over and still trains to get both physically and emotionally stronger. Or a character like Cersei Lannister who despite her plans falling apart, continues to press forward with new plans in order to manipulate people to her will.

    So I believe if you write characters who tend to not give up one way or another, you've achieved my definition of what a strong character is. As I said, this may vary from person to person, but that's what I think.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2014
    Ruby likes this.
  14. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    You can also, though I think it's less common, define a strong character as one who carries a big part of the story. A character that the reader connects with and who lifts the story above just the events that take place in it.
  15. tlbodine

    tlbodine Troubadour

    PaulineMRoss, Nameback and SineNomine like this.
  16. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Well, not every female has to be strong, just like not every male has to be strong. Define strong how ever you want. For me, it boils down to one thing when writing any character. Give them dimension and when possible make that dimension start with a three. Every character major or minor wants something. They have dreams and aspirations of their own that they want to pursue. And those aspirations will sometimes conflict with those of the other characters and especially the main character.

    If the hero, Fred, asks his BFF, Lisa, to drop everything in her life to help him win over the girl he loves, Lisa should at least sometimes say, F-off, I'm watching the Superbowl, or You're on your own. I have a date.

    Also, the love interest shouldn't just be sitting around waiting for The Call. They should be pursuing their interests, which may or may not include other people.
  17. GroundedTraveler

    GroundedTraveler Scribe

    I seem to end up with mostly female villains. They are definitely strong and yet from a writing point of view I need them to be strong to be a decent villain instead of just because they are female.

    My second novella I am trying to add a female character to the protagonist side. Like the OP I am a bit worried how to write her, but so far it seems to be going ok.
  18. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I bet you could avoid most political correctness issues if you just add depth to your characters. The reason stereotypes offend us is because they are simplistic caricatures by nature, and caricatures make for lazy storytelling.
    Guy likes this.
  19. SineNomine

    SineNomine Minstrel

    Great blog post, and gets to what I feel is the heart of the issue. Agency is absolutely the key. Strong female characters don't need to be hyper-masculine, they don't need to be physically imposing, they don't need to ignore romance completely. The biggest thing they need to be is capable of making decisions and taking actions. Luckily, one of the first major challenges most authors face is already learning to make active, instead of passive, protagonists. It's not much of a leap to working on making active, instead of passive, female characters. Not all women need to be strong of course, the problem usually irks people when ALL of the women in your stories are weak.

    The other major issue is the idea of "default" characters. So much of our media has ingrained in us the idea that "male" is not really a character trait. Men can be anything, good or evil, heroic or cowardly, calm or emotional...being male doesn't limit them in the least. But a character being female all of a sudden limit what she can be or how she can act to a narrow range of stereotypes. In the worst stories, you could predict the entire rest of her character and maybe even her role in the story after simply learning that she is a woman. The idea that you could do the same with a male character is absurd.

    The fact that you recognize this in your own writing and what to improve it is HUGE, it is really all someone could ask of you. We are all a product of the media we consume in a way, and stretching beyond that is a hard but important step.

    For advice, I want to second what Benjamin Clayborne said, because it really is the best possible way to work on it. Just write a story where every single character is a woman. The good guy, the bad guy, the side kick, the mentor, the cobbler who has a few lines in chapter 7, the queen and her jester, the princess, the bandits...everyone. The goal is to simply force yourself to come up with interesting, unique female characters with as many traits as you can possibly think of. Some of them WILL be really girly. Some of them will be focused on romance. Some of them will be passive. But if you do it right, you will quickly find that it opens your mind in a very subtle but important way, because you are going to have to have women who also aren't those traits at all. You basically want to bust down those mental blocks in your creativity that are limiting what women you can come up.
  20. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    It's a tricky business.

    It's just so blamed easy to start writing the women in the more passive roles; "agency" is indeed the measure of that, and it's a challenge because agency can be like a limited commodity in a tale. However complex you think your story's going to be, there are only so many places where a character goes against the tide in ways that have actual effects. Does a female doctor have enough agency if she starts asking questions about the hero's "rapid recovery," or does she get to dig further into the clues? Does she get captured (oops, Damsel in Distress!), or do you vindicate her by escaping on her own or finding clues the hero really needs to save the day-- hmm, that's more and more work to give her agency without letting her take over the story, and of course by now the back of our minds are saying "Maybe she should take it over? Who said the story had a 'hero' anyway, and is any story really non-sexist enough if its protagonist isn't female?"

    No, I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm saying it's all part of the balancing act that writing is anyway.

    (In fact, look at some of the history of novels, or Golden Age movies for that matter; for long periods they were written clearly about and for women more than men. Or consider romances; for all the genre's problems, they do build stories more or less around a woman and her decisions.)

    Except, we don't always realize how blind we can get. As an example, how often do we leave them out altogether? One filmmaker suggested writers revolutionize Hollywood by writing every description of crowds with the four words "half of them women", but a better test would be to count up our own characters in a story. Writing an all-female tale might be an eye-opener, but it needs to be an organic process of giving the women real roles within a real story.

    For me, the real piece on this is Sophia McDougall's I hate Strong Female Characters. Her point is that fictional women don't "need to be strong" (and I love her example of how Captain America's love interest is allowed to gamble with the hero's life "because she's fiesty," sigh), or even have some minimum amount of agency. They need to be there, and dramatically complete, instead of getting token roles. Even roles where they shoot things.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2014
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