A common myth these days is that male writers don’t know how to write proper female characters and protagonists. There is a precedent for that, of course, but surprisingly, female writers also tend to create female protagonists that make readers (particularly female readers) want to burn the book they hold in their hands. Female protagonists feature the strongest in romance, drama, urban fantasy and paranormal fiction, but their portrayal as protagonists and characters seems to go to extremes. Either the female protagonist is a Mary Sue who can do no wrong, or she is not worthy of being the protagonist due to the fact that she rarely actually does anything that moved the plot forward. But here is the deal – a female protagonist shouldn’t be defined by the fact that she’s female.
The protagonist should be treated and portrayed as a protagonist, and gender shouldn’t matter. In theory, this works fine, but it is rarely seen in practice, and the portrayal of female protagonists tends to anger a lot of readers. So, how do you write a female protagonist the right way? The easy answer is to portray her as a real person first and female later. Many writers have attempted to describe the right way to portray them, but we’ve done the opposite. Knowing what you shouldn’t do will give you the freedom to be more creative, as long as you pay attention to the red flags below.
1. Making her obsessed with her body
If you’ve written a male protagonist before, was he ever obsessed with what he wore, how he looked, for no reason at all? We assume that you probably haven’t written a male protagonist doing that. However, a lot of inexperienced writers tend to make female protagonists obsessed with their body and what they are wearing without reason. In fact, in some cases, the readers know what the protagonist looks like, what she is wearing and why she is wearing that particular clothing within the first three pages, even if her clothes have no importance to the scene.
2. Making her useless
Another mistake – having the plot revolve around the female protagonist, while she observes and lets things happen to her. This is a common occurrence in romance novels where the female protagonist is courted by the male interest – but even if she is interested in him, she doesn’t take action, but reacts to his advances. In that case, maybe another character should be the protagonist, the one who acts and whose actions move the plot forward, even if he is male. Additionally, every character in a novel needs a purpose, and writing female characters just for the sake of putting female characters into your story is simply bad writing. Give the female protagonist agency, and give her skills, likes and dislikes, and make her a real person.
3. Stereotypically smart, but dull
This is becoming a common stereotype. Female protagonists and female characters in general are portrayed as overly smart, but not very funny. In fact, while the male characters act a little reckless, or have a little fun, the female protagonist is the one who breaks up the party, because she is too smart for that, or not fun enough. In fact, it is the “evil” women who get to be the fun ones (just look at the popularity of iconic evil women in fiction), which is flabbergasting. On the other hand, a male character can be both super smart and super fun, his words dripping with irony and wit. These character traits, in fact, most character traits are universal among real men and women – why shouldn’t it be that way in fiction as well?
4. Give her skills without explanation
Some writers attempt to create badass female characters by giving them skills which are stereotypically male, without explanation. A common skill that comes to mind is martial arts, and mechanics. Why did the female protagonist gain these skills? She simply wanted to be a fighter? That’s not going to work. And if you wouldn’t write a male character without explaining his interests, then you shouldn’t write a female protagonist in the same way either.
5. The Mary Sue/TSTL extremes
The Mary Sue protagonist is the protagonist that can do no wrong – she is perfect, smart, funny, with a great athletic body, without ever actually exercising, but she eats pizza and fast food all the time. The list goes on and on. Give the female protagonist flaws; it makes her real, and relatable. No one can relate to the perfect protagonist. Avoid the other extreme – TSTL is a common abbreviation that means: too stupid to live. It refers to a female protagonist whose decisions are always wrong, reckless and stupid, leading her into danger so that a male character can rescue her.
6. Skip the romance (unless it occurs naturally)
One of the biggest offenders in the portrayal of female protagonists is their seemingly natural obsession with romance. They simply need to have a romantic interest who will be their prince in shining armor, always rescuing them, and the female protagonist’s life will be empty without the man. Also, all she can talk about with her female friends (the one or two that are not rivals) is the man of her dreams, not philosophy, art or music, or any other normal, intelligent topic. So, skip the romance, unless it has a solid purpose in the novel. A novel featuring a female protagonist that is well written, where the characters are well developed and has a tightly woven plot doesn’t need romance just because the protagonist is female.
Image credit: Pixabay[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://writingtipsoasis.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/photo.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.