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Turning a shallow character into something more

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Trick, Aug 12, 2015.

  1. Trick

    Trick Auror

    DISCLAIMER: Please don't turn this thread into a 38 page argument about representation in fiction. The last time I asked about a similar topic, it was epic. It did get me to a great solution but the thread just wouldn't die...

    That said, I have a female character who started out as a very minor side-character. When introduced, she is described as an "overtly sexual" woman who dresses in tight leather (she's a thief so there's a bit of a reason) bearing lots of cleavage and being almost inappropriately flirty.

    This is through the eyes of a twelve year old boy who is flabbergasted by her. She is in some kind of relationship with his mentor (sort of the head-thief) but its exact nature isn't clear to the MC. It's obvious to the reader that they are in a physical relationship, anyway.

    After the epic thread I mentioned earlier, I decided to eliminate another side character and promote this one to fill both roles, which immediately made her much more important and integral to the story.

    My question is: Do I need to revise her introduction and tone down the sexy/flirtiness factor to avoid her being seen as a shallow female character? With the new change, she will grow as a character a lot. Before, her being a shallow character didn't really matter. Now, I have this idea of the MC slowly realizing that this beautiful and dangerous woman in fact has very low self-esteem. The death of another character is the agent of change for her and she lessens the sexy front she puts on and shows more of her true self. I fear though, that some readers will be annoyed by her at first, especially when she seems like a stereotype (which she kind of is but women like her do exist). She grows free of the stereotype but will I lose a lot of people before that can happen?
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Not if the story is well-written and full of conflict.

    Posts on this forum may lead one to believe that mythical readers are always giving up on books because a character might be perceived as adhering to the stereotype. I'm firmly convinced, however, that, unless your audience composition is for some reason heavily weighted toward easily turned off people, most readers are going to give you a chance to tell your story (assuming the first two caveats are fulfilled, obviously).
  3. Trick

    Trick Auror

    I hope that is the case because it just feels wrong to change her introduction. I guess I doubt people will drop my book at the first sign of her but I worry that it will create a stigma in their minds and they won't be able to adjust as she changes. The first impression is very important after all.
  4. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    I think you're fine. It might be helpful if you introduce a few more of her traits (just small things) not too long after introducing her, to make her seem a bit more rounded. However, with what you've told us, I doubt you'll lose lots of people.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    You don't fill out a character by eliminating things from who they are. To me, that's just counter productive.

    If you want to add depth to a shallow character, just give us more to their story and make us understand who they are and why they do things.

    In the first book of ASOIF, Jamie Lannister was nothing more than an evil 2 dimensional thug. But then as the series progressed, we got to see the story from his point of view. None of his previous evil deeds were excused or explained away. In fact, he's never even been, to my recollection, remorseful for them. But the reader understands why he did those things, and though the deeds were despicable, they were done to protect those he loved. We see that he's more than a thug. He shows he's capable of goodness and compassion, but we never doubt what he's capable of if you threaten the ones he loves.
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    You're focusing on the wrong thing: don't tone down the sexy parts but do turn-up the thief parts. Or whatever other character aspects she has.

    And then also this. Don't worry about playing to readers' sensibilities or whatever. Just write the character well and it'll be fine.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    Limyaael is relevant here, especially #3. I think the most important issue is to avoid creating an impression that your thief solely exists so the mentor has someone to have sex with. If she seems like a person with her own goals and purpose in the narrative, you've already accomplished the hard part.
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I had two conflicting thoughts when I read this:

    Thought 1 - If you can't change the reader's impression, you're not doing your job as a writer.

    Thought 2 - It's usually better to make things as easy as possible on yourself.

    I think I'm going with option 1. You need to make her 3D. If you do that, it's okay that she has what some may perceive as flaws.

    What is her story objective? Every character who has an arc needs a clearly defined objective that is communicated to the reader. If that objective is both communicated and relateable, the audience will forgive her her foibles.
  9. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    I think it would only be an issue if every character is shallow upon introduction. If the perception of her changes through the story then it shouldn't be an issue.

    That being said, I agree that people won't abandon the book because there is a promiscuous woman. It sounds like you might be overthinking it. I have met many girls that match this basic description. Whether or not you need to "tone down" her sexuality would depend on how much you currently have. If her sexuality is Black Widow status, you're fine. If it ventures into Heavy Metal territory then you've gone too far. [Had the misfortune of watching the first 20 minutes w some friends "classic" or not, we were too uncomfortable to finish it though it did have an excellent soundtrack.]

    I suspect your writing is probably fine as is.The fact that you're even asking suggests that you're cognizant of the issue and (I would assume) have probably written her to be more developed than you are giving yourself credit for.

    Some hardcore Feminists might take issue with it but then, who knows, they might just stick to female authors who focus on a female cast of characters. Honestly, I don't think I've ever read a book or seen a movie and noticed that there were too few women (or ditto with men). The genders and characters that you choose to include in your story have to fit the story that you're trying to tell. It's important to shake things up now and then but I don't think every story needs to expunge every stereotype for every group of people/things/characters.

    If you're concerned about it, make sure it would pass the literary equivalent of a Brechdel test [must have 2 female characters discuss something other than sex/men]. If your character has a conversation (really with any other character though it would ideally be with another woman) about something remotely meaningful you're probably in the clear.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2015

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