10 BEST TIPS FOR WRITING WOMEN
I am tackling one of your most heavily requested topics, and that's how to write women in fiction! Because telling people to write women as if they're people clearly isn't cutting it . . . Before anyone gets their crotch in a knot, I will be directing these tips to male writers only because they're the ones who are constantly asking me how to write women in fiction. However, these tips can apply to literally anyone who is struggling to write female characters.
On to my best tips for writing women in three, two, one, go!
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Number 1: Social Expectation Is NOT Biology
This is extremely important to consider no matter what gender you're writing. There's a huge difference between societal expectation and psychology or biology. A lot of stereotypes do not stem from how an actual gender naturally behaves; they stem from societal expectations.
For example, women are stereotyped as being highly emotional. However, researchers say that this label comes more so from societal gender roles as opposed to biology. Not all women experience emotion the same; we're just expected to express our emotions more freely than men because society says so.
Another example is arousal. Men are expected to be horny, whereas women are chaste and pure. But I'm sure you can think of a ton of crazy horny women out there! The reason I mention this is because a lot of writers write gender based off of socialized gender roles as opposed to writing them as multi-faceted human beings. If every woman you write is a crying, hysterical, submissive prude, then you're just regurgitating stereotypes.
Number 2: Societal Expectation Is Societal
I'm talking to all you world builders out there! Even though societal expectation isn't biology, it's still something to take into consideration. For example, if I’m writing a woman who exists in our world, she might feel more comfortable expressing her emotions than a male character because our society says women are allowed to do that. However, this doesn't apply if I'm writing a woman who exists in a completely different world.
When you create a world, you create their norms, including their gender expectations. You don't have to follow our norms. If you want to create a world where women are expected to become hardened warriors, then do it. In the realm of Thessen from The Savior's Sister, sexuality is considered open and fluid, which means women aren't expected to be virginal like they are in a lot of societies within our world. Ultimately, when writing your own world, you create the gender norms, so be free my child! And don't be misogynistic!
Number 3: Sexy Is NOT a Personality Trait
It's fine if you want to write sexy women! I love sexy women! I write them, myself. But sexy is not a personality trait. It's a subjective opinion based on aesthetic or sexual appeal. If your female character only exists to be sexy, then you haven't created a character–you’ve created a barely sentient fleshlight. Your female character needs to be more than fap fuel, at least if you're trying to not be an asshole.
Number 4: Women Have Agency Too
Women have minds and opinions, and sometimes they even do things and make decisions! I shouldn't have to say this, yet here we are. Even the most passive dishrag has some semblance of agency. I assume they picked out what they were going to wear in the morning and at least wiped their ass after they took a shit.
She doesn't need to be goddamn Napoleon, but functioning humans take action, however small. Think of it this way: take a look at every scene your female character appears in. If all she did was agree with the male characters or act sexy, then she's not a human being, she's a blow up doll.
Number 5: Femininity Is NOT a Prison
It's very common for writers to portray women in one of two lights. Either very femme, or very tough. If she's femme, she's either a villainous bitch or a vulnerable damsel in distress. If she's tough, she's either very masculine or some kind of tomboy.
If you want to write any of these variations, that's fine. Femme bitches and tough tomboys exist. However, understand that femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive. You do not have to make your female characters reject femininity in order for them to be strong, capable, or badass. Being feminine just means enjoying things that are typically labeled as pretty, like makeup. But a CEO can wear makeup to the board room and still boss the shit out of everyone there.
Number 6: Our Lives Don’t Revolve Around Men
One of the most annoying female stereotypes is the marriage and baby fever cliche. Your female character is obsessed with landing a man, settling down, and popping out teacup humans. I'm not gonna pretend this woman doesn't exist. I know just as many Brittneys and Kaylas as the next guy.
But there are just as many women who don't value marriage or don't want kids. I don't wanna have babies! They're sticky and stinky and they don't even pay rent! Pfft, losers . . . And I don't know if you know this, but a lot of women don't even like men. And yes, sometimes we get together and talk about guys, but we also talk about movies and cheese and literally anything else.
Pro Tip: The Bechdel Test is a great way for examining this issue. It's a really easy way for determining whether or not you're writing women in a way that's realistic and human. Basically, if your story features two or more women who speak to one another at least once about something other than a man, then congratulations! You've passed The Bechdel Test! If your story doesn't pass, fix it! For the love of God!
Pro Tip: The Bechdel Test is a really easy way for determining whether or not you're writing women in a way that's realistic and human.
Number 7: Calm Down on the Female Suffering!
Torture is a necessary facet of fiction. You don't have a plot without conflict. Thus, I'm not saying your female characters can't suffer. But their suffering shouldn't exist solely to motivate a male character. It's very common for a female character to either die or be sexually assaulted solely for the sake of upsetting a male in their life. Usually a father, brother, or partner.
You never see how this trauma affects the female character. You either get torture porn or you just see how upset the man in her life is. This is dehumanizing! It paints female characters as plot points and disposable. It can also be triggering for readers, particularly those who have experienced trauma and then had their voices go unheard or ignored. Again, I'm not saying women can't suffer in your books, but dipping your toes into offensive cliches is not the way to do it.
Number 8: Women Don’t Have the Male Gaze . . . ’Cause They’re Women
A lot of men writing from the perspective of a female character will describe her appearance as if she's viewing it through the male gaze. In other words, they sexualize the crap out of her and rate her body by what they personally find sexy. There are entire social media accounts devoted to dragging men who write women like this. If you've been living under a rock and have no idea what I'm talking about, an example would be:
“I am a female character with succulent, pert breasts and erect nipples, a luscious ass only slightly drooping with age but still adequately desirable in the right lighting, and delectable lips that demand attention despite my naturally shy and insecure disposition.”
No human woman would describe herself this way. I'm not saying a woman can't feel hot; she can certainly look in a mirror and think, “Damn, I'm a snack!” But she thinks she looks good from her standards–not the standards of men she doesn't give two shits about. Believe it or not, most women do not try to look nice to appeal to men. They try to look nice to appeal to their own tastes. We don't give a shit if you wanna fuck us, 'cause we don't wanna fuck you.
Number 9: Disrespect Is a Neon Sign
The reason people complain about how a lot of men write women is because the unconscious sexism is a lot more blatant than they think it is. It's easy to tell when you don't respect your female characters because they're not written in the same way as your male characters.
For example, say you've got a cast of 10 characters. Nine are men, and one is a woman.
The nine male characters get normal physical descriptions. The female character's description is sexualized . . .
Your nine male characters are layered. Your one female character is a femme fatale who was assaulted as a child . . .
Your nine male characters get to shoot the bad guys. Your one female character gets to use seduction as a weapon . . .
You see where I'm going with this? It may sound like I'm exaggerating, but I'm literally repeating the cast of characters from a manuscript I critiqued years ago, and I'm sure this formula fits into thousands of books out there. It's very obvious when you don't see your female characters in the same way that you see your male characters, because you're writing them as complex and deep but your female character gets the same tired formula.
Number 10: Ask a Woman!
If you're not a woman and you're writing women, maybe definitely ask a woman if you're doing it right. And by a woman, I mean ten women . . . or twenty. Ask all women! Get female critique partners. Get female beta readers. Get female sensitivity readers. ALL THE WOMEN!
And don't ask your mom, or your grandma, or any woman who's just gonna be nice to spare your fragile ego. Ask women who will be 100% honest when ya done goofed up. Let them read your manuscript, and when they tell you you've done something wrong, listen to them! At the end of the day, they know more about being a woman than you do because they are women and you are not.
So that's all I've got for you today!
I actually have a lot more tips about writing women. This is just the tip of the iceberg! If you'd like me to make a part two to this post, comment below! I'd be happy to do so!
What tips would you share with others for writing female characters?
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