Saffron's Space

I’m female and I read, and I see these things sooo often it makes me want to break things. Come on people, let’s break away from Hollywood stereotypes. Ok, if you’re writing a romance novel which is meant for women who only want to be saved, get married and have hundreds of babies, that’s fine. But, if you’re writing a fantasy, sci-fi, thriller or pretty much ANY other genre you had better keep an eye out for these, because it could cost you 50% of your readership.

Speaking from personal experience, if I see the following things in a book I’m reading, I straight away lose interest in the story. Mostly because it demonstrates shallow character development. These errors will cause a book to fall from a 4 star to a 2 star in the blink of an eye…. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

  • Make sure your female characters scream, cry and over-react every chance you get. Did thunder just strike? Was there a rustling in the trees? Is mist coming off of the water? These are not reasons to scream or cry! Can you imagine if you had a friend who cried every time they heard something rustle? Ok, so if they know they’re in the middle of a haunted forest and two of their friends have just been murdered, that might be different. But you better make sure that all of your characters, including the males, are scared… not just the females huddled in a corner waiting to be murdered.
  • Make sure their only ‘job’ in the book is to ask “Why? and “How?” in high-pitched tones, but never come up with an answer themselves. Yep, your female character’s only function in your book is to look up at the male hero with wide eyes and ask pointless questions. If they both just got whipped back through time and space, how the heck is he supposed to know why? Why don’t you have your female character start hunting around for clues instead?
  • Make sure your female character gets saved by the male character. Who hasn’t read the scene, how there’s imminent danger and the female character falls to the floor and begins crying and saying that she can’t possibly go on. Meanwhile the male character pushes down his frustration and gallantly kneels down beside her and talks her through it before eventually pulling her to her feet and helping her to keep running. Yuck. I’m sorry, but if there’s imminent danger it is human nature to KEEP RUNNING, no matter whether you’re male or female.
  • Make sure the female’s only goal in life is to attract a male and get married. I read a book recently which was classed as ‘sci-fi’ but it really shouldn’t have been. In it the main female character has just had some major success with her career. She also has a relationship going with a man. When she gets back from some important training for her new promotion he proposes… in the next chapter they’ve moved away, she’s now unemployed and spends her time doing the books for his business…. WHAT? She was super excited about her new promotion and she throws it all in to be his personal accountant? Everyone, including women have dreams that go beyond a white dress and a gold ring, make sure your characters do too.
  • Make sure the female gets angry and does something stupid, costing everyone big. The male character says something to offend the female character (perhaps commenting on the fact that she has to stop screaming and crying every five seconds). The female character storms off into the haunted forest. Now she’s put not just herself but also the other characters who must now go out and find her, in danger. And why? Because she couldn’t control her emotions enough to see how stupid that was? Because females are ruled by their hormones? Perhaps that’s just part of her character, she is whiny and stupid… well if that’s the case have your other characters tie her to a tree… at least then she can’t wonder off!

So come on people, let’s put a little more work into our character development. And these flaws don’t just happen in male writing, it happens in female writing too! I think the safest test is to imagine that it’s a male character performing the action… would you think he was a pathetic, stupid, wimp? Then chances are your female character shouldn’t be doing it either.

What pet peeves do you have when you read a book? Do you agree with my list? Do you have anything you’d like to add? Tell me about it in the comments section below.


2 Comments so far

  1.    Travis on April 14, 2014 7:36 am      Reply

    I like this. I’m a guy. I write high/urban fantasy (Though right now I’m working on urban fantasy mostly) and the main POV (A guy) has some of these reactions lol. One of the female POVs is super strong willed, but she wants to have a child because it will have both types of magic and be able to conquer the world, fulfilling her life-long dream. The other female has some stupidity issues as she doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut sometimes and mostly wants a relationship to keep herself stable and follow a prophecy, but she is a combat expert that could probably crush the other two characters if all the breaks were removed. The guy is the ‘fish out of water’ who gets the crap kicked out of him so he scares easily later on lol.

    Thanks for these tips. I’ll try to make sure I watch for these things in my other stories. (Though, my biggest issue is more that my characters are characters and have very little ‘gender specific reactions’ they just have their reactions and often times this can feel a bit unreal I have been told)

    •    saffron on April 14, 2014 7:42 am      Reply

      Hi Travis,

      Thanks a lot for your comment and I’m glad you found the post useful.
      Don’t worry, from what you’ve said I don’t think you have anything to worry about- as long as eventually that one learns to keep her mouth shut 🙂
      I think just writing characters as opposed to writing ‘gender roles’ is the best thing to do. People are just people that’s mostly what I wanted to get across in the post 🙂 … I read a post the other day talking about how women always want to be the damsel in distress and men always want to be the hero… and it really made me mad! I know I certainly don’t want to be anyone’s damsel in distress and I don’t think many of my friends would appreciate it either…
      So in summary, it sounds like you’ve got female characters just right 🙂

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind