Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Let's Write Some Interesting Female Characters!

I'm tired of the Strong Female Character. She is emotionless. Badass. Can toe the line with the hero but not too much you see. She never does anything wrong. She knows exactly what to say. She knows how to respond to moral questions.

In our effort to create stories drifting from the male lead narrative, to have stronger female representation, we've created a constrictive list of "acceptable female leads" and it is so boring. It's like haircut restrictions in North Korea.

Okay, this female character can kick ass but she cried in this one scene, we can't have that

I know people mean well but instead it creates a bigger problem. You're creating another set of restrictions. I had a friend once who said, "Let's stop making strong female characters and focus on making interesting female characters." And I couldn't agree with her more.

George R.R. Martin was once asked how he got to write a varied and interesting set of female characters. And he said that he saw women as people. I think that is something more people should consider when writing interesting female characters. Sansa Stark can be just as interesting in her struggle to survive in King's Landing even though she likes needlepoint and boys as Arya Stark is as she learns sword fighting with her sword Needle and journeys on her way home. I find both their character arcs interesting even though Arya checks off more items on the "Strong Female Checklist" than Sansa. They are people first and foremost and they grow.

I'm rooting for you, Sansa, bb

I want female characters that grow and change. I want to see a character like Korra in Legend of Korra who starts her journey as an immature hothead and ends as a thoughtful leader. I want to see someone like Carol from the Walking Dead who starts off as a victim who is a bit soft but at this point in her journey is a survivor, a little harder, but still possessing gentleness she had in the beginning.

The Grove -- the best episode of the Walking Dead -- I'm rooting for you Carol bb

I bring this up because this is a constant struggle for me as a writer and also as a roleplayer. I've been programmed to follow the list and it is so tough to break through the wall. I'm afraid what people will say if I miss an item on the checklist. And I know how much of a problem it is and how I need to correct myself.

It is part of how I created my Dungeon World Campaign Character Shara, the Elven Bard. Originally, when I had Shara in my head, I thought of playing a guy. This as mainly because I wanted to play a roguish, trickster character. I wanted to play a somewhat narcissistic, lucky, so sure of themselves, swashbuckler. All those characteristics are generally attributed to male characters. In fact, I drew inspiration from a group of male characters: Ferris Bueller (always lucky, always taking risks but for a good cause although a bit naive), Ling Yao from Fullmetal Alchemist (very sure of himself), Varrick from Legend of Korra (a swindler, crazy hairbrained schemes), Miguel and Tulio from Road to El Dorado but mostly Miguel (charming, extremely charming, not above lies and deceptions but a good heart).

Pictured -- Male Shara

However, I got thinking, I know these are typically "male" characteristics but what would stop me from making Shara female? Generally, females with those characteristics are the Mean Girls or villains. But with guy characters it can be charming or villainous. Still, what is stopping me from making Shara female with those qualities as charming as opposed to villainous? So I made Shara female. And I must say, she is one of my most successful characters. She has all the characteristics mentioned above.

I don't know why I am so surprised, I know I shouldn't be. It must be all that programming. But Shara is interesting as a character. She is so full of herself it has made her naive, when it comes to herself anyway, although she is aware of the world around her. She thinks her good name will save her in any situation. She is full of herself but she loves her underdog friends (they always make the best stories) and will defend them to her last breath -- if necessary.

Even though Shara is fluffy with many personal flaws, I still would not want to mess with her. She is generally forgiving but you don't want to be on the wrong side of her Lute... except in a performance. Then you will be having the Hayashi'kami experience witnessing the Golden Voice of Twin Herald.

What my experience with Shara taught me and should teach anyone who is trying to write female characters is to stop thinking of characters -- especially female and minorities -- of what are acceptable characteristics. Obviously, one should avoid making stereotypes but that is entirely different from making full realized characters. I would even say the Strong Female Character descends into stereotype territory now.

Sorry, I didn't mean to toot my own horn here, but Shara wanted to strum her own lute as it were ~_^.

Bonus: Shara Playlist

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