I wanted to preface something before starting this post–well a couple of things really. First off, I did take a week break from posting an entree and I updated that on my social media pages. (A reminder that my social media is at the top of my page. Just have to click on one of the icons) The reason I did that is that I landed a bigger workload, so I couldn’t pump out a half baked entree. I had a handful of ideas and I wanted to give it my all. The second thing I wanted to talk about is the subject of this post. I’m going to talk about how I personally write female characters as a male writer. What I think a majority of male writers do wrong and how it should be improved. I’m aware this can be a bit of a touchy subject, so I figured I should warn you before I got too far into it. Without further ado, I’ll begin.
Now as also a bit of a warning, I’m going to use some examples of writing that portray bad examples and bad examples. As well as saying how I do it in my own writing. I believe in starting positive, so I’m going to dive into an example of how a good female character should be written.
If you’ve read a handful of my posts, then you might have figured out I’m a fan of anime. I’m a fan of a lot of different mediums, but when picking out a brilliant example of well written female characters, I had to use Fullmetal Alchemist as my number one choice. Specifically, I’ll be talking about the character Riza Hawkeye.
Hawkeye is one of the best written female characters I’ve ever seen. The first thing to notice is she isn’t showing a lot of skin. The character is a Lieutenant for the military and if you anything about the military, they have a clean-cut look. A respectful appearance, so it makes no sense to make her anything except that–respectful. “Fan service” is a big problem when it comes to writing characters. It’s no secret that sex sells; so why not just go with what sells? In my head, I’ve always been the same way. A character should be true to the role they play in the story. There’s nothing wrong with making a character who is a sex symbol, but remember not everything is meant to be a male fantasy. Male writers tend to be disrespectful when writing their female characters because of their own personal influences. Remember that anybody can read what you write, including people that might take offense to what you put on paper.
Now I won’t keep lecturing about appearance, because that’s not the only issue. There’s a common notion of how a character should act based on the gender you assign them. A male character should be strong and a natural-born leader whereas a female character should support them and often fall under the damsel in distress trope. What people seem to miss is that it’s possible to write a supporting character without making them seem less important. Yet again, Riza is a good example of how to do it correctly. She is the Lieutenant for Roy Mustang, so in every sense she supports him. In doing this, Arakawa wrote her a way that didn’t make her seem smaller because of this fact. Just like Roy, Hawkeye has her own ambitions. She doesn’t waver from them just because she’s in a lesser position than he is. She is her own character and her own person. I always feel like a poorly written female character who supports a stronger male character typically falls flat if he’s not around. It almost makes it seem like they aren’t their own person and only finds value through another. These characters are always written for the development of the stronger one and are typically killed off for the sake of said development. Up until the end, Hawkeye stood true to her beliefs and not even Roy Mustang could stop her; especially during a pivotal moment in the series where things got difficult for her. I’ll provide an example of this in a clip from the anime down below. There is a spoiler warning in effect, so please only watch it if you’ve seen the series.
I think this scene is a perfect example of what I’m trying to say. It shows off many things, one of the main ones being equality. Mustang is a man of power; he holds power over Hawkeye when it comes to rank. Still, she pulls her gun on her own superior when he falls out of line. She knows what the right thing is, and she does it. Hawkeye finds herself as a burden to the world as she holds the secrets to flame alchemy and thinks it should die with her. In a sense, it does fall under the same principle of him being the main reason she keeps going. The difference is, the characters are of equal importance to each other. Hawkeye would rather kill the one person keeping her going rather than seeing him act solely on hatred and revenge. Mustang couldn’t bear Hawkeye losing her life for something he’s responsible for and he backs off. I love the symbolism right at the end when Roy falls to the ground, leaving Hawkeye to be the one standing above him only for her to fall with him. In my eyes, this is a perfect example of how to show off the importance of a female character supporting a stronger male character. In my eyes, neither one was more important than the other. I think the dynamic was written with the utmost respect which made me respect it. Now that I’ve talked about the good… let’s talk about the bad.
I’m gonna talk bad on a probably loved ship from a very popular Shonen Jump anime. First off, I want to say that I don’t hold anything against Fairy Tail itself. I personally have seen and enjoyed the series. Behind the heavy amounts of fan service, the anime has good messages and many hard-hitting emotional moments. Along with some very good character backstories that make you feel for them. Out of all things Hiro Mashima does right, writing female characters respectfully falls a little flat–at least in my opinion. There are some characters that have solid foundations, but it is hidden behind a desire to knock their clothes off anytime a fight begins. However, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the characters Lucy and Natsu.
Natsu is, by all purposes, the protagonist. From her first scene, it’s clear that Lucy is meant to be a supporting character to Natsu. Throughout the series, she’s shown as needing him to save her time and time again. What has always frustrated me is that Lucy has proven that she’s strong. She’s a celestial wizard and with certain keys, she can control celestial spirits. She once even summoned the Celestial King because she willed it and yet most of the time she falls as too weak to protect herself, often hoping that Natsu will save her. She has strong independent moments, but that’s often overshadowed by Natsu. She has some good development during certain story arcs, but most of the time she’s seen as depending fully on Natsu or other stronger characters. Now, I’m not saying that Mashima doesn’t know how to write a strong female character, but a lot of them do fall under that male fantasy idealogy. Now this isn’t a shot at the writer, because that’s pretty common even to more modern animes. The biggest one I could think of is My Hero Academia. It’s one of my favorite series, but even then there’s a large gap between the male and female characters.
So what’s my take after all of this? How do I write my female characters? Well, I write them as intended. I stay true to the character I mean them to be despite the gender I’ve given them. I don’t change it up give in to whatever is popular, I write them true to the story in my head. I think this is true for all aspects of character creation. This can include sexuality, gender, tropes, and even race. I think about what I want them to be in my head and that’s what I go with. Sex may sell, but I’ll always write the story that I want to write.
This has always been a glaring issue that I’ve always wanted to talk about. We live in a world where women have made a lot of advances from how many disadvantages they had in our history. Still, a problem persists. I fully believe that how we portray our characters–fictitious or not–has a direct impact on society. Write a male character who isn’t the focal point or the strongest character in that story. Write a female character who is her own person and doesn’t rely on others for her own identity. Don’t be afraid to go outside the box and write something society would deem wrong. Write the story you want to write, not the story you think the people want to read.
I want to end this by saying that this is entirely my personal opinion. If you disagree or agree, I’d like to know, so don’t be afraid to tell me.
That about wraps up all my thoughts. As always, I’ll see you again next week and thanks for reading. 🙂