Uh-Oh, It’s Another Rant on How NOT to Write Female Characters!

Oh, yeah, I’m going there…again. And this is nearly kismet-level timing with Marquessa over at The Next Chapter who just published a writing challenge post about Pet Peeves. Check it out, and all of her other posts, too!

While her article covers three pet peeves, I’m only ranting about one of my biggest because you see, I’m really–I mean really–trying to read this book right now and the deeper I get into it, the less and less I like the Female MC. I’m not going to name the book or author here – and I don’t want this taken as a bad review, I’m only going to be focusing on using the Female Protagonist as an example for identical or similar issues I’ve seen in countless books for the same reasons.

I’ll note that it is written in the 1st Person POV. It’s very rare that I run across this problem with 3rd Person POV. I think it’s more commonly a character development issue that arises when trying to write from the inside of a character’s head. Especially, if the personality traits either weren’t fully fleshed out by the writer ahead of time or they’re just too unfamiliar with those traits to successfully narrate through them.

But I can’t help noticing that when a Female Protagonist written in the 1st Person goes into defensive mode, she automatically drops like 10 degrees in maturity level and never regains it.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s definitely a skill, and one that I do not possess. If I wrote in 1st Person, all of my characters would sound exactly the same.

Typically, I know within the first 2-3 pages if I like or dislike a protagonist no matter the POV it’s written in. However, 1st person can be a little sneakier. They can lure you in, get you hooked on the story, then start seriously disappointing you. And that’s exactly what’s happened in this case.

The story hooked me from the start with a powerful opening, the storyline has continued to intrigue me, and all of the other characters are engaging and well-written. And through the first few chapters I was totally on the Female MC’s sidelines with my pom-poms. So, what happened?

She met the Male MC. Suddenly, my confident, independent, mid-20’s, entrepreneurial heroine with a shadowed history and razor sharp instincts had reverted to a naïve, prideful, and often flaky 12-year-old, who doesn’t have an instinct to save her life and trusts everyone who smiles at her.

Uh…WTF? A minute ago she was a badass and now I want to unfriend her on Facebook.

Not only that, but a 20-anything-year-old in a present-day story setting has never been alive before the invention of cellphones and all of the modern technology that we are keenly aware of thanks to TV, pop culture, media, and our own love for it – yet she questions how the Male MC could possibly know that she’s not where she’s supposed to be? It’s called GPS Tracking, you [insert bad name here] – it’s on EVERY PHONE. And worse – yep, it gets worse – he told her beforehand. I’m not kidding. He straight up told her that all of her devices are being monitored.

Did she think he was talking about someone else monitoring them? How would he know that if he wasn’t also monitoring them? Yet she’s so confused about how he could possibly know–and this is a prime example of the things that can go wrong that we’re not always aware of because we (as the writer) have all of the information that the readers don’t. In the next chapter, I learned that the Male MC has a hacker monitoring the ATC (Air Traffic Control) and that specific flight. So, the writer was trying to allude to this much grander, more elaborate way in which the Female MC’s every move is being tracked, but without readers having that piece of information combined with their common knowledge of GPS Tracking, this “allusion” has only succeeded in making the Female MC look dumb.

As the stakes are raised and more incidents are stacked in the mounting pile of CONCRETE EVIDENCE labeled “All the ways these bad guys have tried to kidnap or kill you” – the more the Female MC argues with the Male MC about how HE’S being paranoid and that “so-and-so” can’t possibly be a threat (“so-and-so” being someone she’s known less than 48 hours). And she repeatedly asks why she can’t just go back to her old life and alias (a name she already KNOWS the enemy has) in her previous town? (Where her apartment complex was just burned down and 2 of her 3 neighbors were killed and some mysterious guy claiming to be from her insurance company is asking the owner how to reach her even though all insurance companies have their client’s contact information already)….

Okay, I need a breather {Deep breath} – You probably do, too, so I’m going to end the main rant here and move on. Thanks for letting me vent, lol!

How Does This Happen?

Simple: With good intentions.

I’d really like to highlight this problem in a way that all of you aspiring and published writers might find useful, rather than just as constructive criticism. To me, this rampant issue with female characters is a genuine concern because it robs the readers of really great stories, which in turn robs the writers of all their hard work.

Every time I see this sudden invasion of the body-snatchers change happen with a Female Protagonist, it’s because the writer is trying (and failing) to make her appear “strong” and not easily “cowed” by an overbearing/Alpha/dominant man.

And that’s evidenced by everything I mentioned above PLUS the fact that all of her moments of defiance are immediately emphasized by her thoughts of how she’s “not going to back down,” and the next time the Male MC’s POV happens, he will also think about how those ‘stubborn’ ‘fiery’ qualities are so attractive and that her strength turns him on.

For 1) you shouldn’t need these little infomercial blasts to try and “sell” the image you’re aiming to convey of your characters, they should be nailing that image in the readers’ minds through their actions, inner monologue, and dialogue. But these little ‘supporting’ clusters all shouting the same message are painfully obvious, rather than happening within the organic flow of the story.

For 2) she’s not “strong,” if she’s a danger to herself and others. Her stubborn inability to face the truth of the situation has already resulted in 3 innocent deaths and 176 plane passengers nearly dying in an emergency crash landing, where many sustained injuries that required hospitalization. That’s not being a strong woman, and men who find that kind of toxic pride attractive – well, they deserve each other.

Unfortunately, this Female MC is so determined to keep her rose-colored glasses on that every time she thinks about a past incident that correlates with everything she’s recently learned, she brushes it off as impossibly connected to her current situation of danger. I would expect that with the first memory, and maybe even the second, but when you’ve got a distinct pattern of break-ins and signs of stalking that span a full decade and your Female lead is still dismissing it as nothing; there’s something seriously wrong.

And that is not foreshadowing, by the way. If you want your readers to have information without it yet being revealed to or pieced together by your protagonist, then do a scene in the Villain’s POV. Otherwise, the whole dismissal bit as a way to relay info to the readers just makes your character look stupid.

Your women DO NOT have to resort to immature, naïve, and self-destructive, stubborn behavior that may or may not put others in harms way just to “stand up” to a domineering Male MC.

Believe it or not, your strong, independent, mature, female leads can endure the overwhelming conflict between her physical attraction, her instinctual warnings, and her common sense, without losing brain cells in the process. She can still be smart, keep the man at arm’s length while she’s connecting dots and maintain enough of her wits not to constantly put herself in jeopardy just to prove how “independent” she is.

Because, let me tell you, all she’s actually proving is that she’d get herself killed within 5 minutes without the man’s help. What kind of message is that sending to your readers? Why is she suddenly so incapable of surviving without a man when she’s already made it 26 years without him?

Wouldn’t it be better to show them as equally matched forces who eventually have to stop clashing and work together to solve the problem, rather than immediately reducing your strong, female lead into the “damsel in distress” slot and calling it a day? And I’m all for the damsel trope when it’s due to outside forces beyond their control – not caused by their own denial –repeatedly.

Remember: You can build tension and conflict without compromising the core integrity of your characters’ personalities.

And that goes for all genders and all romantic coupling scenarios. A character is a character; they all follow the same rules and guidelines when it comes to fleshing them out.

Okay, everyone I’m ending here. I could pick things apart even further, but I would honestly rather have you takeaway the parts that resonate, help, or make a positive impact in your writing journey than continue sharing my frustration over a book I’m CHOOSING to read (I take full responsibility).

In short, please pay close attention to those negative personality disintegrations that can occur when your female protagonist is suddenly introduced to new upheavals, or that one person that triggers all of their defenses and hormones simultaneously. Yes, they’re going to make mistakes, that makes them real, but they have to learn from them. Characters should be growing with the story; maturing, resolving their inner-demons, not backsliding so fast it makes Benjamin Button’s head spin!

❤ Is it just me or does it feel like a Monday? I’m getting a definite Monday vibe here.

Dear Emoticon Gods,

Please create an emoji that specifically flips off Mondays.

Thank you.

4 responses to “Uh-Oh, It’s Another Rant on How NOT to Write Female Characters!”

  1. Sitting here reading… and nodding my head.

    Nothing will make me put a book down faster than Typical Romance Heroine behavior.

    Agreed, there are other ways to introduce tension and conflict without reducing the female lead to a petulant teenager.

    Great post, AC. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Agreed! If my female lead was flaky before, she’ll still be flaky when she meets the guy.😄 And first person? I started doing that when I started writing again to challenge myself and now I’m finding it hard to go back to 3rd POV…🤷🏾‍♀️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🤣 That’s right, keep her flaky! The only time I’ve successfully written in 1st person is when I was the main character for a writing challenge given by a friend. I’ve tried using it with fictional characters and failed miserably lol. I admire the skill when it’s done well!

      Liked by 1 person

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