Strong Female Characters: The Gap in my Writing.

Finding a plot hole is a tough thing.

As a writer, I’m as close to my work as anyone could possibly get. I mean… I wrote it. When you’re really close to something, it’s often hard to see problems with it.

The recent advent of International Women’s Day got me thinking about what I write about, and more specifically who I write about. And I discovered a distressing thing as I reflected on my writing: In the three short stories and novellas I’ve released so far, there has hardly been a female character in sight. That’s a damning indictment from the perspective of gender representation.

The reason this really bugs me is that in recent years, I’ve been working with young people who are passionate about issues around female empowerment, especially in developing countries. Yet when I began to write, I defaulted to characters that I knew all too well – white, male, and privileged. I’m not the only writer to make this mistake, either.

Recently I reread the classing fantasy book Magician and discovered a similar lack of diversity. The story (admittedly Raymond E. Feist’s first work) was almost entirely male-based, with only cursory female characters looking doe-eyed at the male protagonists before they burst into tears. The lack of female characters began to bug me as I moved through the book – females were essentially bit players in the grand scheme of Feist’s original epic fantasy.

Reading Harry Potter recently, I’ve been reminded of how easy it is to keep diversity present in writing. It shouldn’t be a chore – it should be something that all writers do to reflect the world in which we live. But as I mentioned, sometimes it takes something special to let writers see a gap in their work.

So what am I doing about my lack of diversity? Well, I’ve started my response by incorporating stronger female characters into The Murder at Mansfield Manor, which comes out soon. This is only halfway towards where I want to go, though. In light of that, I’ve already written over a quarter of my first novel with diversity in mind – I believe I have a well-rounded set of characters so far.

Today, I’m also making a commitment – one which you can keep me to. I’m committing to writing strong, prominent female characters into the novel that I’m currently working on. Further to that, I’ll continue to keep diversity central to my work as I progress. I want to do my part in supporting the ongoing need for more diversity in the world’s great library of fiction.

It may not be much in the scheme of things, but I’m going to do my part.

5 responses to “Strong Female Characters: The Gap in my Writing.”

  1. Tori J. says:

    That’s an interesting point to keep in mind! I also default to stereotypes a lot and have to snap myself out of that mindset.

    • Ian says:

      Thanks Tori – I think getting away from cliches can be tough at times. It especially hit me around gender disparity in this case.

  2. HeyItsHales says:

    I understand the tendency to lean toward writing what you know (anything of substance I’ve written is centered around a white, female main character), but I think it’s helpful not only to the book, but to the writer to try and write in characters that are different from us. I see that as a challenge. So, while my main character is still a white female, I try to write in diversity in other major characters.

    I think I also freak out a little that I won’t do the other gender justice. That I won’t have them react how a male in that position would react or whatever. But I just have to brush that off because they’re my characters and they’ll react however I want them to react, damn it! 😉

  3. […] folks. Early on in my writing career, I had an epiphany: I was really terrible at writing diverse characters. I embarked on a mission to improve the diversity of my characters, and it’s this topic that […]

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