What it comes down to is a lack of effort.
This is being passed around the internet. While a wonderful post, it’s not offering any new idea. The argument that so-called strong female characters often turn out to be hollow sexual objects has been kicked around the internet for longer than I’ve been writing; and it’s a well-known writing rule that flaws are what make a character compelling to readers.
But certain writers still don’t seem to understand this when it comes to female characters so these posts continue to be written and passed around. The notability of any such post isn’t that the idea is new, but that it needs to be stated in a new way to get the idea across to writers. This post offers a new mantra–”We need WEAK female characters”–that will be repeated for some time by bloggers but likely won’t penetrate the skulls of the majority of writers.
Which is strange, because certainly any professional writer should know that delicately balanced defects are what make the character compelling. That’s how they get their jobs as fiction writers, they write something compelling. Unfortunately, they only seem to know this when it comes to male characters.
I strongly suspect it has to do with the demographics of the writers themselves. It’s easier to pour yourself into a character that matches your experience and etch out the faultlines and blemishes on the soul of that character, often without even noticing. It’s subtle because it’s natural. That’s you, that’s people like you. Sure, the character’s past is different. The writer may never have been a test pilot, but the writer can place himself in the position of the character and imagine what he would be like as a test pilot. How he would react if he found himself suddenly in outer space.
But when it comes to character that’s distinguished from the writer by certain categories–a character who is from another race and culture, a character of the opposite gender, there can be a barrier. And unless the writer makes an effort to find a place of common experience, a way to pour a touch of themselves into the character and communicate that to some common experience in the reader, the character falls flat. They never come to life.
What stands in the way for female characters is when writers approach women not as someone like them–not as a person who started out like them but faced a different set of circumstances–but as a bit of window dressing. These allegedly strong female characters are background to the real action in the story–what goes on in the male lead’s life. These allegedly strange female characters are just part of the setting.
And until such writers can be convinced to think of female characters as extensions of themselves in the story–until they can channel a small piece of their own personality into those characters–it’ll all seem forced. No matter how many articles on “strong” and “weak” characters we pass around.