Some female friends and I were chatting with a guy we know recently about a story idea of his. It’s a good idea but I was saying that in my opinion, he needed to flesh out his characters – especially his female lead. The other women agreed with me. He nodded, and then asked, “So, what do you want in a female character?”
The question took me by surprise. I know that he meant it with all the best intentions but my initial reaction, once my hackles had subsided – and spoken aloud by a young women I was with was – “don’t write her by gender”. That got me wondering. Do women writers ask that question? I know I wonder whether or not I’m writing a male voice accurately, but then again, I wonder if I’m writing every character’s voice accurately.
What do I want in a female character? Above all, I don’t want her to be crafted off some gender checklist. I want her to be a fully actualized human being. I want you, the author, to know her flaws and her passions and her fears and her strengths and then share them with me. I want to see how she is a good friend or a whiz kid or a terrible girlfriend and not just be told it. I want to see how she handles herself under pressure. I want to understand what her journey is about on a character level and why her struggle towards balance and empowerment matters. Or why it’s going to hurt so bad if we see her fail.
I want a human being. Not a gender. Not a collection of character traits. Not a bunch of physicalities.
I want this question to stop being asked.
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