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Tip Sheet Explains How To Write Female Characters

July 16, 2018

You might think this tip sheet gives great advice. Or you might think it’s bunk.

There’s a Tip Sheet for Storytellers floating around the internet explaining what writers should do while they’re writing their female characters for movies and television.  The organization ( #SeeHer ) that created the tip sheet wants women to be portrayed more favorably in media, but this is the internet, so of course the tip sheet started some arguments  The reaction of writers on the internet who saw the tip sheet can be explained in two ways:

One group of writers said: “Yeah!  It’s about time women are portrayed better in media!”

Another group of writers said: “Don’t tell me how to write!”

Even though this sounds like a cop-out, I’ll say both sides are right.  I’ve read enough Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Stephen King, and Brad Thor books to know that some male authors write horrible dialogue for women.  I didn’t need a tip sheet to tell me this.

Even though some novelists write really crappy female characters, #SeeHer is more about movies and TV.  Women in television and movies actually have to say the poorly written dialogue and then make it convincing.  To me, the most memorable bad female dialogue in the media was in the movie GI Jane when the actress Demi Moore said to a male character: “Suck my dick.”

I think it was supposed to be empowering, but my wife laughed out loud in the theater(I think we were just dating at the time).  It was okay for my wife to laugh out loud because she’s a woman and won’t be called sexist for laughing at ironically bad female dialogue.  Then my wife whispered to me : “A man wrote that line.”

I never asked my wife what Demi Moore’s line should have been instead of “Suck my dick.”  That’s not her job.  As customers, all we have to do is watch and mock.  We don’t have to improve.  Anyway, that movie is over 20 years old, and all I remember is “Suck my dick.”  To be fair, if “Suck my dick” hadn’t been in the movie, I might not have remembered GI Jane at all.  Maybe poorly written female dialogue is a good thing.

I understand the point that women should be given more constructive things to do in movies than talk about men and relationships.  A few years ago, I wrote an episode of my blog serial romantic comedy The Literary Girlfriend and titled it A Conversation Between Two Women That Has Nothing To Do With Men Or Relationships  .  It was based on a true incident where I eavesdropped on my girlfriend and she never mentioned me.  I learned some stuff, but I also got caught.

I know it’s not unusual for women not to talk about men.  Whenever I’ve seen my wife’s social media (always accidentally), I never see anything about me.  It’s like I don’t exist.  I’m glad I’m not that important.  That means when I screw up and she gets mad, I know that she’s overreacting because she really doesn’t think about me much.  I don’t tell her that she’s overreacting because I know she’ll overreact to that, so I just take her initial overreaction and wait for it to blow over.  That’s what a man does.  We hold it in.  And then we die early because of it.

Men complain about how they’re portrayed in media as well.  Movies and television shows depict married men as goofy incompetent schlubbs who need to get bossed around by their superior wives.  I’m not complaining about that.  I’m not suggesting that men start a competing movement called #SeeMen to improve the way men are portrayed in media because that wouldn’t go over well.  A lot of things could go wrong with a #SeeMen movement.

To be fair, if you think of yourself as a demographic instead of an individual, you will always find something to gripe about.  I’ve been a schlubb during various periods of my life, but I’ve always snapped out of it.  Having a family can turn a man into a temporary schlubb.  There’s always a tough transition, from juggling a job and a girlfriend, to juggling a job, a wife, kids, huge financial burdens, and maybe a girlfriend (which is usually a bad idea when you’re married).  Taking care of so many issues at once can turn a man into a sleepless schlubb.  Anyway, these TV programs and movies that show the husbands as schlubbs should also show the man break out of the schlubb shell.  It happens.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to fiction and media, everybody gets everything wrong about everything.  I recently saw a movie where a town less than 100 miles from me was portrayed as a desert when it’s really surrounded by a forest with hills.  Another movie showed a beach about 100 miles from me with mountains in the background.  I wish I had mountains nearby.  These are geography errors and have nothing to do with gender, but it shows that when you create something for entertainment or enlightenment, you might not get all the details right.

It’s important for people like engineers and scientists and mathematicians to get all the details right.  The artist is a little different.  If you expect the artist to get details right, you will end up with a bunch of literal stuff that’s dry, uninteresting, and predictable.  In other words, it will suck.

Right now, I’m writing a college sex comedy that takes place in the 1980s, based on a true story.  If I follow the guidelines of the #SeeHer tip sheet, I’m screwed.  You can’t write a 1980s college sex comedy while following the #SeeHer tip sheet.  Maybe YOU can, but I can’t.

The #SeeHer tip sheet by itself isn’t bad.  It’s good for male writers to be aware of the female perspective, but I’ll treat it like I treat everything else.  I’ll see it, I’ll consider it, and then I’ll do what I want.


What do you think about the Tip Sheet for Storytellers?  Does it give good advice?  Or is it bunk?

  1. I think some of the tips are good, and some are really strange – why do characters in a story or a movie need to have a disability just for the sake of showing someone with a disability? If it’s a visible disability, it becomes one of the threads of the story, and if this thread doesn’t lead anywhere, why does it need to be there? On the other hand, a primary character’s disability in the movies/series like Scent of a Woman, Avatar, Forrest Gump, Game of Thrones (assuming dwarfism is a disability) is an integral part of the character and it makes them what they are, and it causes them act as they act.

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