(Not So) Good Female Characters

A list of female archetypes that should never appear in stories.

Sometimes when I surf the web, I come across interesting pages or videos. Well, on YouTube I found this video where a woman named Jenna Moreci discusses 10 female character types that are annoying.

These types are based off of female archetypes from old literature or fairy tales, and they don’t portray women as strong or confident – or if they do, it’s a terrible job and usually only to negatively affect the women. I’m not going to rehash what she says, but I thought I’d share my take on each type:

1) The Fixer: Considering this comes up a lot in dating/relationship advice, why would anyone think it’s a good idea to make a character who tries to “fix” the bad boy (or bad girl)? In real life, this is a very dangerous thing to do, and people say it should never be on the girl/woman to change the other person. It doesn’t matter how hot or well-intended the other person is – a female (main or supporting) should never take the chance to “make them better.” I find it super unrealistic, and plus, when your story centers around a “oh, (s)he’s so hot, I want to be with them” plot, it just makes me want to stop reading.

2) The “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” Girl: While that song is catchy, it does bring up an interesting figure: a girl who is so beautiful and gorgeous, yet finds herself plain, unattractive, or ugly. True, there are girls/women out there who feel insecure about their looks, but this is taking that sentiment way too far. Plus, no one is “the fairest of them all,” so just avoid writing about the “most beautiful girl in the whole world,” because she doesn’t exist. In the video link, Moreci describes this as a distinction between pretty and flawless. No one is flawless, not females, and not males; so writing them in doesn’t make anyone else feel good. And I agree with Moreci that it’s okay to write a female character who likes the way she looks – she will not appear vain, or snobby. I actually want to read/watch something where a female feels good about how she looks. If she feels insecure about something on her body, that’s fine, as long as it’s not how everything about her is terrible. That just makes me feel terrible and stop right there.

3) The Slut: Ugh, I have issues with this type for a number of reasons. One of them is, very few females are sex magnets. That doesn’t mean that a woman isn’t attractive or doesn’t have a few guys interested in her, it just means that she’s not constantly swarmed with men who want to do her. And she’s not actively trying to get laid. Also, this negative archetype has been present for a loooong time: the sexualized woman who often acts as the antagonist. Think about it: most women characters who are portrayed as sexy are often shown to be a femme fatale or a villain. Disney has done this, too, in how they conceptualize their female villains. Maleficent is a good example of this: from the V-neckline of her robes, to the long, narrow outline, to the high-necked collar. Even if no man in the movie is trying to get with her, she still represents a very sexualized female figure. It’s okay for a female, antagonist or no, to be sexy or have men try to get her attention, but her sexuality should never be her very being.

4) The Sort-Of-Sexy Lady: Now, this character is sexy, but in a more attractive way, not in an erotic way. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be sexy. Moreci clarifies this type as being the author’s way of dealing with guilt of making a sexy character. They overemphasize that she is very attractive, but in a more romantic way, almost hammering the reader with how poised and classy this lady is despite “how her dress hugs her curves in the right places.” This is just one more way the female is reduced to her looks. Even if you give her a hobby like reading or fishing, it’s second fiddle to her appearance/sexuality. No character should be reduced to their looks, no matter the gender or age. And no one should feel guilty for wanting to be foxy. It’s awesome if a girl wants to be sassy and fierce. Let her be herself!

5) Miss Wallflower: I get that not everyone in your story is going to be a leader or have to make very difficult decisions, and that’s fine. What’s not fine is making a female character who just goes along with everything without any opinion of it. Even if someone is shy, or is uncertain of something, she still has thoughts and feelings about that matter. Show it! A character who contributes nothing to the story except going along with everything is boring. Honestly, she should be taken out; if she doesn’t affect the story in some way, just don’t put her in there. It wouldn’t change the story with her being gone – and that’s the problem with this type. She’s too bland, too neutral. I get it that some people struggle with standing up for themselves, but they still have agency. They still show what they’re thinking, and sometimes they finally speak their mind. And I get that sometimes characters just agree with the people and that’s how the story goes. But they shouldn’t say “yes” all the time, and they shouldn’t be silent all of the time.

6)”The Old, Bitter Bitch”: I just love how Moreci calls this archetype. 🙂 This woman is a very jealous, spiteful character, and that’s all she is. It’s like the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: she was jealous that she wasn’t the fairest in the land, and she tried to kill her stepdaughter to achieve her goal. Look, jealousy is a pretty common vice, but it should never be a focus for a character. It might have worked for a fairy tale, but it doesn’t offer any depth to that character. Even in modern retellings of Snow White, the Evil Queen has more traits than jealousy, and she has a more complex personality besides wanting to be “the fairest.” A woman/girl should never be reduced to a vice or emotion, as it makes her more of a tool or plot device than an actual character. She can be jealous or angry, but not the whole way through the story. Oh, and if you want your character to be a spiteful bitch, could you at least make her interesting? Like, is she angry that no one wants to read her book, and she’s jealous that another author is more popular because of how they write? She’s still jealous and spiteful, but it’s not vanity, and it makes her a little more fleshed out: we know she likes to write, we know she hasn’t been successful, and she’s not driven by these negative feelings the whole time (how else will she find the time to write?).

7) The Dewy-Eyed Virgin: another type that focuses around sexuality, but for a different reason. Rather than flaunting her curves or bringing all the boys to the yard, this girl is naive, innocent, and has no experience of the world around her. …This author just lost me. I’m sick of virgins – or any female who isn’t in a relationship – being treated as dumb. Even if she’s supposed to be smart, she comes across as inexperienced or childish. Having sex doesn’t make you more knowledgeable about the world around you, it’s just another experience that you have. Again, the female is reduced to her sexuality: in this case, the lack thereof. I’m not saying you can’t have innocent characters, but being innocent is not the same thing as being simple-minded. This girl is basically treated as, “Oh, you’ve never had sex before? Let me take care of you then, and help you on your journey.” It’s condescending and annoying.

8) The Wannabe-Badass: I’m calling her this because she is the kind who comes across as tough and strong, but there is nothing to back this up. In Moreci’s point of view, this woman or girl is described as “badass,” but then doesn’t show this at all. Maybe the author needs to show more rather than tell, or maybe she is really the kind of person who wants to be tough, but couldn’t slap someone if she really wanted to. If you want to make your character a bad-ass, it’s okay to show her punching or kicking or stabbing or something to show she’s not afraid to be aggressive. Of course, being violent is different from being a badass. Maybe she’s not afraid to confront people who say or do certain things. Or maybe she’s not scared to go up against dozens of opponents by herself. Don’t just tell me that she’s tough and strong; show me how she is. Don’t be afraid to describe who she is. It’s more fun and engaging when the reader knows why the character is a badass.

9) The One Not Like The Others: everyone wants to feel special and unique, but this one overdoes it. It tries too hard to make the girl stand out, but usually this fails. Creating a unique character can feel challenging, because we as storytellers might feel like we’re not unique for telling a new story, or having fresh characters. But your character can stand out and yet have similar things in common with other characters. For example, she might be the most honorable girl in the community, but her family might have a criminal background, too. Or she might be the only one at her school that isn’t dating anyone, but she likes to gossip with other girls about relationships. Being different from the crowd isn’t the same thing as being an orange in a barrel of apples. Embrace that she’s not completely different from everyone else. It’s okay to be unique, but still have common traits.

10) The Boy-Magnet: while the Slut makes everyone want to have sex with her, the Boy-Magnet just makes everyone love her. Usually, the reason is that she’s very pretty. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to repeat this, but in case you’re confused about why this type of female doesn’t work, it reduces her to just her looks. And also to the old idea that a girl should have a boy in her life. Look, not everyone is going to like your main character, and that’s good. No one will ever be liked by everyone. Some people like introverts, others like athletic people. It’s like this girl is a walking love potion. Have some people in your story like her, and others don’t. And even if your character likes boys or wants a relationship, this is a tacky way to go about having her find love, or at least makes her seem lazy, because she doesn’t have to try hard to make boys like her. Give her a challenge to making boys like her.

There are a few exceptions to these rules. Like in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Belle is different from the other girls because she likes to read and wonders about the world around her, whereas everyone else likes Gaston. In the new version of the movie, it’s because she and her father just moved to the town, so everyone’s critiquing her. It makes her stand out, especially when she’s the only one trying to teach girls to read, but she still works as a farm girl, like others in the village. So, she is different but similar to them. And Kristen Bell plays a character in the movie “When In Rome” who has men fall in love with her – but this is due to a spell, and she has to break it. It’s an intriguing take on the Boy-Magnet, because she does not start off as one and has to find a way to break the romance.

But the bottom line is: never make your character too much of one thing, or center her motivation around one single thing. No one is one-dimensional, nor is she flawless, and no one should be reduced to just one thing, whether it’s appearance or sexuality or emotional trait. You can use emotions, vices, and sexual desire in your story, that’s perfectly fine. As long as your female character is more than just that.

BONUS!! The Lone Woman: don’t make your female character the only female in the story. Just don’t. Unless she’s the only person in the story, she should interact with other people, men and women. Even if your female protagonist enters an area with lots of men, she would still meet a woman, call one of her woman friends, or remember something from another woman. She’s not the only girl in the world, so don’t treat her like it.

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