Story Stuff: W Is For Women

I’ve been a little nervous about today’s post in our series since M day. You guys responded so well to that and one or two of you said something to this effect: I can’t want to see what you have for the W post.

All right. Let’s do this. *cracks knuckles*


I posted about women characters a while ago in this post, where I asked a simple question: Why do so many stories have only one or two female characters?

I wrote that post nearly three years ago, so now I’m asking myself if that’s still true. What stories (we’ll focus on movies for ease of recognition) have come out since then that would challenge this idea?



The Star Wars franchise brought us Rey and Jyn as main characters. The Avengers added Wanda to their force. Zootopia brought us a female rabbit MC. Jaylah proved to be a kickass addition to the Star Trek universe. And I didn’t see the following movies, but Moana, Hidden Figures, and Arrival appear to feature important female roles. And of course there was the Ghostbusters reboot starring women.

So it seems we’re doing better with seeing women in lead roles (though the overall percentage of roles still skews male – this post puts the percent of speaking roles given to women at less than a third). As I searched for a pic of Jyn to use up there, I was a little surprised when I saw the cast list (click here to see for yourself). While Felicity Jones rightfully holds the top spot, there isn’t another female role listed until spot thirteen. They are the only two women listed in the fifteen first-billed list.

So getting women included in stories is one challenge, but another lines up more with what we talked about when writing men – basically, how do we write women realistically? Many posts have been written about what female stereotypes to avoid (such as this post), including the kick-butt action girl and the damsel in distress. Being a woman of the female variety myself, the most common mistake I see writers (men and women) make is writing their women as too weepy.

Remember the men post? It was the same issue. 

Weird, I know.

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Some women in stories are so weepy they can’t function anymore (think the princess collapsing on the bed, overcome with emotion). On the other end of the spectrum is that kick-butt girl who has no feelings. Neither of these women actually exists.

So I shall offer the same advice as I did for the men post – when in doubt, consult someone (or a few someones) who is part of the same group your character is in.

What considerations/strategies do you take when writing women? 

12 thoughts on “Story Stuff: W Is For Women

  1. Pingback: Blogging From A to Z Challenge – Theme Reveal! | Allison Maruska

  2. So how do I throw your debate off? I am female. I see exclusively big boy shoot em ups in the theater. Star Wars, Star Trek, F&F, Bourne, Bond, etc. You cannot pay me enough to see a chick flick. They whine too much. I want to see hot guys doing ridiculous stuff.
    And I can’t be the only one….I am not a unicorn.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are so many politically correct land mines here, it’ll drive the conversation. As in, people who disagree with the premise won’t wade un. Who needs a backlash?

    Meh. I’m not scared. I’ve been called a misogynist (a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women – yeah, ME, the author of a whole series that celebrates my daughter, and I led the world’s largest internet group of LQTS families, where 98% of the members were women).

    When we talk about WOMEN, we need to talk about the M word, too. The M word is Marketing.

    I have a wife and daughter, and two sisters.

    If there is a movie featuring a strong male lead in an action flick, men tend to go see that – and their families do, too. That means me, my wife and my daughter (1/3 male and 2/3 female in our group watching a “male-oriented” film for lack of better phrasing), but the other people in the seats are 50% women and 50% men.

    The NFL wised up and hired female reporters and announcers but also started carrying jerseys that are cut to fit women. Because women watch sports with their guys, especially 20-year-olds. NASCAR did that a decade ago. Half of NASCAR fans are women.

    Do I watch women’s gymnastics on TV with my daughter? Yes, because the Olympics is only on TV five days every four years (and my wife was a gymnast so she explains stuff to keep me awake).

    Do I watch women’s tennis? No.
    Do I watch women’s golf? No.
    Do I watch women’s basketball? No; does anyone?

    Do they watch football? Yes.

    Do they go see guy flicks with me? Yes.
    Do I go see chick flicks with them? No.

    See what’s happening?

    In general, women will tag along with guys to a guy flick, but guys don’t tag along as much to a chick flick. As a marketer, you are leaving 50% of your sales (audience) if you make a chick flick, but NOT losing 50% if you make a guy flick.

    Further, boys of a certain age wanna see strong male role models. Think Wolverine, not Alan Alda.

    That means as a marketer – and movies and books are a business, folks – you can get men AND women to a guy movie but mostly only women to a chick flick. You have more opportunities to sell tickets in a guy oriented movie.

    I think most of it is as simple as that. No grand conspiracies, no oppression of women.

    And since women buy 80% of the books, you ladies are apparently fine with that.

    But I could be wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s fair. It does make me wonder if, say, the Avengers were an even 50-50 split of male/female characters, would they be as popular? Is is still a “guy” movie then?

      Maybe there isn’t a grand conspiracy (there isn’t), but I do think male favoritism is so ingrained in our culture we don’t see it anymore. That’s why Rey being the lead in Episode 7 was jarring enough it dominated the blogosphere for a little while (and for the sake of argument, I think they did go too PC with her character. She can do all the things!).

      You’re right about it being market driven. I don’t like chick flicks because they rely on tired tropes. Superhero movies are exciting and unpredictable. So for me it comes down to story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not sure “male favoritism” is as ingrained as people telling women what they want to hear is just popular right now. In WWII, women ran the factories because the men were overseas. Prior to that, they worked long hard hours side by side on the farm. Books and movies are an escape – so what are we escaping to? JK Rowling is the top selling author. Frozen – two female leads – was Disney’s best selling film; the guys are boring stereotypes in that one. Same with its other blockbuster, Beauty and the Beast – the guys are boors and dunces, the women can do all the things. Laura Croft had NO weaknesses, did she? (Oh, and the guys lined up to see that one, little boys, too, who didn’t care how hot she was.)

        People are suckers for the truth but Hollywood is an industry we think is full of creative, adventurous types but is actually run by bankers fearful of new things. Rocky XXII is safer bet than Thelma and Louise or Hunger Games – but if they accidentally stumble upon something original that features a strong woman, they’ll make 100 copycats of it until we’re all sick of it.

        They do tropes. That’s their thing.

        In the 50’s, there were a lot of fast talking strong female roles by Audrey Hepburn and others. So the role are there are always have been, but not if people wanna not see them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I dunno. Hunger Games was a pretty safe bet. LOL

          You’re absolutely right about Hollywood’s fear of trying new things. That’s why we’re on like the 30th Spider-Man reboot.

          I wasn’t saying women never had leads. The numbers show they are outnumbered by men’s roles. There are so many stories with a team of like five guys and one woman – probably because that’s proven to be a dynamic that sells.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh, absolutely right. Hollywood has had a long history of just finding what books are popular and turning them into movies, and trying to not screw them up too much along the way. If you take bestselling books out of their repertoire, they don’t have a whole a lot of hits!

            The reason they put the woman on the team of five guys is to keep people off their asses. Not because she’s good. Not because it’s an important role. But because we need to be a little PC and throw certain groups a bone. Same with race. Got to have a few skin color mixes in there like a Benetton commercial or people get upset.

            Maybe – just maybe – they figured, hey… Maybe black people go to movies, too! We should probably put one of them on our team of five!

            Now everybody’s happy.

            But if the best selling movie I was Saving Private Ryan and it’s about war, pretty much all the action took place with white men in that movie and that’s going to skew the numbers.

            But as I said, I have a daughter and I am hard-pressed to find things that aren’t female oriented on our DVR!

            Liked by 1 person

              • It’s hard to state this without messing up, but what I’m trying to say is: Hollywood would put a woman in a role if they thought it would sell more tickets, not because the role needed to be a woman.

                Importance is relative. Depends on the story.

                In Saving Private Ryan, you had your “group of five guys”. If that band of characters was tasked with something different, if it wasn’t set in World War II behind the lines in Germany, it probably would not have been five guys.

                It could have been five women if it were taking place in a different setting. Say, the “Alive” story but with a women’s soccer team in the plane crashes in the Andes mountains. Now you have majority women in that movie. The movie would be every bit as good.

                … and Hollywood would have one of the survivors be a guy so that he could flirt with the girls. I wouldn’t.

                Liked by 1 person

              • So I think this may answer your question.

                The movie Saving Private Ryan was a great story, and if you lifted that story out of its historical roots, it’s still a good story. You could have that story be played by five women in some sort of different setting – it’s action up front and then a bit of a buddy movie and a journey with a search for somebody. That basic outline could be done by five women as easily as five men.

                So why isn’t it?

                Because we’re talking about Hollywood. Hollywood does what’s safe. Hollywood does what worked before.

                Hollywood buys a best-selling book and makes into a movie, but they don’t have Laura Croft played George Clooney – and vice versa. They get a woman to be Laura Croft.

                Because Hollywood keep doing what’s safe, Hollywood keeps giving the roles to the men.

                This is an industry where if a woman doesn’t have big boobs and a pretty face, she doesn’t get on screen in the first place except as the maid or sassy secretary. That’s who we’re talking about.

                Not the reality that responsible parents live by example for their children 24 hours a day seven days a week for 18 years before they go off and try things on their own. Two hours of Hollywood escapism can’t compete with that.

                So it comes down to the writers – book writers and specifically novel writers – to create the interesting roles that we all want to see. Make it a blockbuster and Hollywood will put an actress in the role.

                As long as her boobs are big enough and she doesn’t have too many wrinkles.

                Liked by 1 person

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