Two-dimensional characters aren’t merely results of poor writing; although, they can be. You can spot them right away. There’s the femme fatale, the bad boy, the cat lady, the everyman, the damsel in distress, the jock, the farmer’s daughter, or the sidekick. Shall I go on?
While they can be predictable, two-dimensional characters often serve to drive the plot along. The women are given to drawing the men into situations that make for entertaining spectacles. The hero saves the damsel from a burning building, or the farmer, waving a shotgun, chases the young man caught climbing out his daughter’s window off the property.
Yet, good writers are the ones who are able to surprise their readers. Mad Men‘s Don Draper, for instance, is a womanizer. When I first started watching the show, I wanted to hate him. He appears to have no shame or morals, constantly sleeping with women who aren’t his wife. But really, he’s so much more than just a womanizer. His story is complicated (I won’t give away any spoilers), and his unpredictability makes him that much more intriguing.
The problem is that female characters in the media aren’t generally as complex. In part, this may be due to the small amount of women in these industries that are actually in a position to influence character development. According to the Women’s Media Center 2013 report on the status of women in the media, women made up only 9 percent of the directors for the top grossing films. From 2011-2012, women made up only 26 percent of the behind-the-scenes jobs in television. And in 2011, women made up less than 50 percent of submissions to literary magazines. At the New York Review of Books in particular, women made up only 19 percent of submissions.
So does that mean men simply can’t write a well developed, three dimensional female character? As A Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin points out in this hilarious meme, that’s just plain stupid (pardon my french).
Martin makes a good point (besides the obvious). As writers, we shouldn’t let gender determine how developed a character is or isn’t. Women aren’t the only ones who can write a realistic female, just like men aren’t the only ones who can write a realistic male. But if writing a three-dimensional woman is something you struggle with, start thinking about the women in your own life. What makes them unique? What makes them feminine?
If the females in your stories only exist as satellites orbiting around a male or if most of their dialogue involves obsessing over a new crush, then it may be time to go back to the drawing board. Think Daenerys Targaryen, from A Game of Thrones. I mean, the girl commands an entire army and three fire breathing dragons. Let’s talk about defying gender roles.
– Melanie Figueroa
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