Hi Indies! I’d like to jump into character development topics over the next several posts and thanks to some amazingly positive feedback and requests for this particular article, I’m tossing in my two cents on the popular subject about writing female characters/heroines. Keep in mind that I’m a writer of Romance, so that genre will be the main basis for my tips, feedback, etc.
It’s unfortunate, really, that there are so many books out there that apparently don’t live up to readers’ standards when it comes to the female leads. Especially, considering 95% of our readers are women. I’ve read my share of heroines that were the equivalent of watching the stereotypical, half-naked woman running through the woods from a serial killer only to trip, fall, then continue to make the worst decisions while the audience screams at her not to. I understand how and why that trope became a slasher movie cliché –I’m just not sure why women are writing women this way in their books.
I will be breaking these posts up into parts to make them easier to digest, because there ended up being a lot more to cover than I’d expected. In this first post, I’m going to talk about where I draw all my inspiration from for my female characters and briefly talk about avoiding the creation of carbon-copies.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I’d just like to preamble that I haven’t read any of the other articles or books out there which address this topic, so I’ll apologize in advance if any of this sounds redundant. I’m not an expert, I’m just me, so I can only share with you how I write my female characters, the kind of females I love to read, and the kind that will have me ditching a book in a heartbeat – or writing a scathing review.
DRAWING ON REAL-WOMEN INSPIRATION FOR YOUR FEMALE CHARACTERS:
#1: Yourself. There is a piece of me in every single one of my characters. Whether it’s one of my strengths, weaknesses, quirks, flaws, hobbies, fascinations, something I envy, something I abhor – it’s drawn directly from my own personality, life, experiences or dreams. This is a mixture of ‘write what you know‘ and ‘have relatable characters‘. Even though readers might not be able to guess it and wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the exact elements that are ‘me’, they’re still in there. This practice can be just as therapeutic as it is fun. It can allow me to dabble in a career I’ve always admired, or explore a talent I always wished I’d been blessed with. It can also give me the opportunity to confront someone I never had the guts to, or right a wrong I’ve always regretted. Lending a piece of yourself to your heroine enables you to connect with them on a deeper level while you’re fleshing them out and makes it easier to put yourself in their shoes when they come up against an obstacle.
Even though I do this, I’m also aware of the unfortunate backlash some authors get when readers accuse them of ‘being’ their characters. We are not our characters, even if we lend them a piece of ourselves, they’re still likely to do and say things we never would, for whatever reason, so don’t let that small downside discourage you from using things about yourself as a source of inspiration. #hatersgonnahate regardless.
#2: People You know. Many of my characters share personality traits with family members and close friends. Usually, it’s a blend of many. For example, my female lead from Hexed, Zoe Bankes, is the perfect mash-up of one friend’s infallible independence and A-type personality, another friend’s sarcastic mouth and no-nonsense attitude, my sister’s quick wit and snarky comebacks, and my geeky love for all things Supernatural and Star Wars. Then, I topped it off with a dash of traits unique just to Zoe. Since I had already developed her as a sub-character before she took on the role of main protagonist, those traits were already there for me to build upon.
Another great example, is my sub-character, Serena Daniels, from Hearthstone Alpha and Little Queen. She’s largely her own personality, but it’s one of my friend’s unerring belief in the importance and loyalty of family that I drew from that gave Serena all the trademarks of a ‘matriarch’ type of character, even though she’s no older than the main protagonist. In one scene, Serena gets quite verbal and bossy during her anxiety over family members arguing and this is something that my particular friend would do without hesitation.
Another reason why friends make such amazing sources of inspiration is because usually they’re bringing traits to the table that you don’t have. “Opposites attract” can be just as true in friendships, as it can be in romances. If your female lead has other women in her life, especially if they’re regulars in the storyline, using complimentary traits that differ from hers can be a great way to add depth to your sub-characters without having to completely flesh out their stories.
#3: Idols. I know I said “real-women inspirations,” but most of us have celebrities/artists/activists/authors/teachers/historical figures that we admire–and technically, they’re real people. Drawing on the traits of these women that you might idolize to some degree can also be a handy source of inspiration for your female characters. I wouldn’t necessarily advise creating a character that’s an exact replica of someone you know or look up to, but everyone’s personalities are multilayered. There are things you like and dislike about them, things you admire and frown upon, and those traits can be used for all kinds of characters, to include antagonists. This is where the therapeutic part comes in – how many times have you ever wanted to tell someone off or see them get a taste of their own medicine? I mean, you’re the one writing the book, so have at it! LOL
#4: Other Characters. Okay, so this is NOT real-women inspiration, per se, but most female characters are portraying real women, so it shouldn’t be discounted. And let’s face it, we can’t consciously keep track of every single female character we’ve ever had the pleasure–or misfortune–to read about, unless you’re blessed with photographic memory. But, subconsciously we tend to naturally draw inspiration from character ‘types’ that we’re attracted to the most. This can also be said for movie or TV show characters. And it’s another option to use for finding inspiration, as long as you’re not plagiarizing, of course. Unless, you’re borderline plagiarizing on purpose for a parody. In that case, good luck! 😀
Now, that I’ve covered these sources of inspiration available to you for writing your female characters, I’d like to briefly touch on a related topic.
WRITING UNIQUE FEMALE CHARACTERS
By this, I don’t mean unique from the world’s population at large, but from each other. If you have multiple books out, chances are, you’re already pretty good at creating female leads that differ from one another in enough ways they’re not coming across as carbon copies, or the same exact personality with a different hair/eye color combo.
With so many sources of inspiration at hand, it shouldn’t be too difficult to make sure all of your female characters are unique from one another. I usually have a general idea about my female lead’s personality before I even start typing the first words on the page, because I’ve found that this is much easier than just diving right in without a clue – and I’m a Pantser! But, it’s rare that I have no inkling at all. Still, there have been times when I started off with a personality type that I just couldn’t make work for the story idea and ended up having to start from scratch. Those are never fun, so I try to make sure I have the right ‘voice’ going in.
A lot of times, it helps if I just flesh out a little of their background first or maybe stick them in a scene with the male lead to get a better feel for who they are and how they respond to things.
Another obstacle, is that I write BDSM novels, so many of my characters share certain traits distinctly linked to being submissive. If you’re dealing with a handful of female leads that have a common trait such as this, you really have to try to make sure all of their other traits make them unique for your readers. Likewise, I have female leads like Reyna Daniels and Zoe Bankes, who don’t have a single submissive bone in their bodies – yet, they’re still remarkably different in how they approach and react to situations.
Regardless of where you draw your inspiration from, most writers share the common goal of wanting to create female leads/heroines that readers will love and root for. In Part 2 for this article, I will be covering tools I use and feel are most important for writing believable female characters. Hope to see you there! 🙂
❤ Please feel free to comment below if you have questions or need to point out something vital I missed (Wouldn’t be surprised, so don’t be shy! LOL)