Monday, November 7, 2011

Frailty, thy name is

I was faffing about on twitter the other day, as one does when one is between scenes and needs a break, and I saw that an online writing group was getting ready to have a public chat. While it's not a group I participate in, it's a fairly large one, and they often have guest visits from professionals. The topic? How to Write Flawed Heroines.

My first thought was, oh, they're not really doing this, are they? (Actually, that's a lie. My first thought was a great deal shorter and more profane.) And then the chat started, and I started to see things get retweeted, and the first two posts I saw were that heroines in particular needed to have noticeable imperfections and that women readers will forgive an arrogantly perfect male hero just about anything if he's hot enough.

This isn't the first time I've been grumpy on this subject. And I should point out that the title and the subject of the chat wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest if it had been something like "How to Write Imperfect People" or "How to Write Characters With Depth" or "How to Write Characters Who Actually Resemble Real, Flawed, Human Beings." Because let's face it. None of us are perfect. It's one of those inherent-in-being-a-person commonalities. And writing perfect characters is boring, and bad writing, and - I've taught Milton enough to know - makes for boring reading. 

But what I don't understand is the insistence that female characters need to be more flawed, or the perception that a male character can be a hot alpha hero who has all the skills, lets everyone know he knows best, and makes sexytimes with all the ladies and women readers will love him, but if the hero is a heroine who does these things that then she's a pushy bitch and a slut.

And it really pisses me off that a writers' group would decide that teaching people how to write acceptably weak women is a better use of its time than teaching people how to write interesting, believable, complex characters. And maybe it did - maybe someone pointed out that heros should be flawed as well, or that readers read to find strong women, as well as weak ones - and the discussion changed. I hope it did.

Because I don't believe it's true that the only way to write a believable female character is to emphasize her flaws, any more than I would believe that's the only way to write a believable male character. We can, and we should, write better.


  1. Completely agree with what you're saying. Just reading about that discussion made me angry.

    It made me think of this video of Joss Whedon, talking about strong female characters, which is the antithesis of that conversation you mentioned:

  2. Ugh. Any grumbling at this situation is, quite frankly, well deserved. I can't decide if their approach to writing female characters (and ultimately writing characters in general) is born out of a fundamental misunderstanding of great characterization or a woefully misguided appraisal of what the reading public wants (or something worse; I hope not). There's an implication in a belief such as "women readers will forgive an arrogantly perfect male hero just about anything if he's hot enough" that I find quite icky. And to see it coming from a writers' group... yeah, that's just depressing.

  3. Thanks, everyone.

    Adam, Ali - like I said, it wouldn't have bothered me in the least if they wanted to talk about "flawed people." But the female focus really made me both angry, and sad.

  4. Kat, I understood that. It wasn't a discussion on how to write better, more believable character. I find the premise appalling (also, male heroes can get away with anything, as long as they're hot? Um, no.).

  5. Loved your guest post at the Rejectionist's, and I love this.