The Idiot’s Guide To Writing Complex Female Characters In 6 Easy Steps

As a writer, have you ever boggled at the concept of writing women as anything other than plot devices or glorified sex objects? Have you ever thrown up your hands in despair while trying to formulate what women talk about other than men? Does the mere mention of having more than one female in your script make you break out in hives? If this sounds like you, don't despair! Using this patented system, writing women that sound and behave like actual humans has never been simpler. 


Step One: Create a male character archetype.

Whether he's a protagonist, an antagonist, an anti-hero, a sidekick, the comic relief, a bumbling minion, or just an average Joe matters not. Take some time to imagine the type of dude you want to tell a story about. For this exercise I've chosen the anti-hero super spy, the take-no-guff ladies man who looks just as good at a black tie event as garroting an enemy agent.


Step Two: Flesh out your male character's backstory.

Where does he come from? What was his family life like? How did this affect who he is today? All these questions are vital steps to understanding your male character's motivations and reactions to outside stimuli. A tragic childhood with absentee and/or dead parents leaving him incapable of forming lasting bonds in a relationship will be the model we're using here.


Step Three: Give your male character some flaws or negative character traits.

To avoid falling into Mary Sue/Gary Stu territory, make them real flaws. Nothing like “too handsome” or “too good at his job” or “clumsy.” Instead pick something like using alcohol as a crutch or having a problem with authority to the point it compromises the safety of himself and his loved ones.


Step Four: Create a love interest for your male character.

If a main character and not a sidekick or comedic relief, you'll need to come up with someone for him to care about and/or be trying to woo. Feel free to gloss over this section. She need only be pretty, attainable, and able to be placed into situations that forward the male character's story or emotional growth. If you want, feel free to kill her off in order to create tension.


Step Five: Make an action-packed story the backdrop to showcase your male character's strengths.

A good plot is broken into three acts. Pay careful attention either to action sequences for physical characters or montages to show off how intelligent he is. In the second act let him be beaten down in an almost impossible scenario only to triumphantly destroy his enemies in a blaze of glory. If the love interest lives, award her to him as a trophy for a job well done in the denouement.


Step Six: Go back and change all pronouns. Name him Susan. Name the love interest John. Ta da!

Congratulations, you have just tricked your brain into writing a fully formed female character with agency and human foibles! Bonus! She lives in a world where her gender has zero influence on how she is perceived, a lofty goal if ever there was one. You did it!


Now go forth and repeat this process as needed until you've retrained your brain into realizing women are 51% of the world's population and cannot be slotted into the preconceived pegs of Virgin/Slut/Mother/Bitch. Eventually you too will be able to write without the six step process, giving the likes of George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Joss Whedon some well deserved rest as others take up the mantle of writing women as people.