(Actually, most of these rules should apply to ALL characters, it's just that it seems that writers and artists are quick to mishandle and disrespect female characters.)
1. The most important rule and the one that makes most of these others common sense is this: RESPECT WOMEN! Women are people, not objects.
2. When we talk about “strong female characters,” we don’t mean strong-female characters; we mean strong characters, female. It’s about being a strong (that is, well-written) character who is female, not being some kind of she-hulk stereotype. A character need not be a fighter of any kind or physically powerful to be a strong female character.
3. Female characters should be characters first and females second (just like real women!) In reality, gender doesn’t inform much about who a person is or what they’re capable of. There’s little reason for the case to be different in fiction. Most of the time, you should just write a female character just like you would a male character, except in cases where being female is a major part of the plot (IE a story about women’s suffrage) Write as if you didn’t know which gender the character would be in the end of it all.
4. Women are not fashion accessories for men. Women are not trophies for men to win. Women are not status symbols for men. Women are not play-things for men. Don’t use them as such. If a female character is defined solely by her relation to a man (or any character, for that matter,) you've written a prop, not a character. Women are people, not things.
1. No women in refrigerators. When things happen to women, it should be for the sake of their own stories, not simply to advance some man’s story.
2. If a story focuses on a female character, she should actually take an active role in the progression of the story, just like any character would. She should be a character who actually does things, instead of just an object which things happen to. That’s what makes a character a character.
3. It’s rare for any woman to be the only woman everywhere. Unless it has some important plot reason for her to be alone, if there’s one female character, there should probably be a few more, even if they aren’t the main character. Don’t just add token minority (side note: it’s weird that half the population constitutes a minority, but that’s cultural marginalization for you) characters like your making a 90’s kid’s show.
4. Preferably, stories involving women should pass the Bechtel test. Female characters should talk to each other, about things other than men, and about things relevant to the plot.
5. Women aren’t prizes for heroes to win.
6. Not all women want marriage or children. Some do, some don’t. Writing in a character settling down and having kids, especially when it conflicts with her established lifestyle and personality, with absolutely no explanation whatsoever is the laziest kind of “happy ending.”
1. It’s 2013. It’s ridiculous that “career women” is seen as some kind of unusual, “ball-busting bitch” who needs a good man or a kid to put her back in her place or any other nonsense. Women hold careers just like men do, and it has just as much to do with their characters as human beings as it does for men. When characters like this are written, I wonder why the writer is so intimidated by women being in positions of power.
2. Not all women are boy-crazy. Not all women care about fashion. Not all women obsess over shoes. Don’t write stereotypes.
3. Not all women are interested in kids. Not all women are interested in men. Not all women are interested in romance at all. And that’s OK. It’s not a flaw.
4. Just because a character is athletic does not mean she’s a lesbian.
5. If you’re writing some kind of leader or a fighter who is female, she is probably no more or less likely to break down under pressure and cry than a male character who you might write in the same role.
6. Characters should GROW! They should overcome problems, resolve conflicts with others, come to terms with personal issues, and learn things. They need character development.
7. If your character needs someone else to fix her, you’ve not written a good character. Other characters may help, but character development comes from that character itself, learning from experiences and making decisions.
8. Characters have more than one trait. Otherwise they’re just cardboard cut-outs and stereotypes rather than rare characters. How many people in real life can you think of who are defined by one single trait? If you can think of such a person, he/she would probably have to be very boring. Characters are multidimensional; they have layers.
9. Characters should have flaws. No one is perfect. No, being klutzy is not a sufficient flaw, unless the character has some kind of athletic aspirations. Flaws should be traits that inform the character’s personality or has some kind of relevance to the story. Otherwise you just have a Mary-Sue.
10. Women have breasts. We can occasionally mention them off-hand or even joke about them with other women. But we don’t usually obsess over them and it isn’t normal for us to get extremely jealous of other women’s breasts. And they aren’t what any healthy character focuses her self-worth or personality on. For breasts to come up often in a story is just creepy. If you’re confused, just hang around in public. Make a note each time you overhear women casually discussing their chests. It rarely happens. Just because men might want to look at breasts does not mean that women spend our lives thinking about them. Unless your story is Nip Tuck, breasts probably should be a major plot point. Don’t write characters obsessed with her breasts unless her insecurity is a flaw to overcome as part of her character development. Otherwise, writing about it is just weird.
11. Even women with romantic interest do NOT spend all of their time obsessing over men. Write women with lives and interests outside male characters.
1. Respect your characters. All of them (yes, even the female ones.) Women don’t exist for the pleasure of men. They aren’t meant to be used as eye-candy (despite what sexist marketing trends would like you to think.) No, having a character call the objectification of women out as disgusting does not excuse doing this yourself. It’s misogynist to exploit women, even fictional ones.
2. Since there is a fourth-wall, there is no reason for women to take on provocative poses for the sake of viewers, especially if those poses are impractical or would be uncomfortable. Why would they? If your character looks like she’s checking herself out in the mirror, but isn’t, you’re probably doing something wrong and not respecting the character. Fan-service is NOT respecting your character.
3. Women looking drunk or stoned is NOT sexy. Don’t draw them like that. I often see intentionally sexually provocative depictions of glassy-eyed, barely-conscious-looking women. If you find depictions of women in states in which they don’t appear to be able to give consent for anything sexually appealing, then there is something seriously wrong with you.
4. There is rarely any good reason for the camera or POV to be focused on the breasts or on the rear (I’m looking at you, BioWare.) Don’t do it.
5. When it comes to images of naked people, if you can't tell if what you have is a tasteful nude or simple exploitation (or if you can and it's the latter) don't bother. If what you've made would be more at home in an issue of Playboy than in a respectable art gallery, you are NOT showing respect to people.
1. You see women everyday. Some stylization is OK, but drawing women with impossible breasts or rears is stupid and demeaning (like drawing people of African descent with enormous lips.) It’s downright offensive. As for acrobatics, the larger the breasts, the more difficult they become. In fact, breasts get in the way of a lot of athletic activities. While you may be tempted to write a busty, super-spy acrobat kung-fu master, it’s not actually practical at all.
2. Not all women look the same. Not all women are the same height. Not all women are the same weight. Not all women are of the same fitness level. Not all women have the same skin color. Not all women have the same hair type. Not all women dress the same. Not all women have the same face. Not all women are the same age. Different characters should be recognizable as different characters.
3. If a woman is physically strong, her physique should reflect this. Lady muscles work the same as men’s do. They grow with use and their size does have some correlation with strength. Unless she uses some kind of magical powers, some tiny little waif is not likely an expert at fighting.
4. Women have spines, and they don’t work the way many artists seem to think they do. If you’re ever unsure if a position is physically possible, try it yourself. If you can’t do it, odds are your character can’t either unless they’re made of rubber. And even if you can do it but it’s uncomfortable or painful, consider that it’s not a pose your character is likely to take.
5. Women also tend to have organs, and they do take up some space. If your drawing is in a very cartoonish style, a wasp-waist may be justified. But most of the time, it shows at best a lack of understanding of human anatomy (justified in the case of newbie artists,) or worse, perpualization of impossible body image ideals that infect culture through all media and have a harmful cumulative effect on the people subjected to it. Please art responsibly.
6. It’s impractical for warriors or soldier types to have very long hair, and it’s especially impractical for anyone to fight with long hair worn down. It gets in the way of vision and gets caught on things. Tie it up.
7. There is absolutely no reason anyone would put on makeup just to go fight. Do you put on makeup to go to the gym? It would just get messed up anyway. If you’re soldier is wearing lipstick and eye-shadow, that soldier has some questionable priorities.
8. No one’s make-up (which, with few special exceptions, they shouldn’t have bothered with in the first place if they were expecting a fight) or hair is going to stay perfect and neat if they’ve been through any kind of fighting that wasn’t entirely one-sided in their favor.
9. Unless there is some kind of in-universe explanation (like the Force) physical attractiveness should have nothing to do with morality. Making good characters pretty and bad characters ugly is just lazy. Similarly lazy is making evil character excessively sexually provocative.
1. Unless your character is a stripper, don’t dress her like one. If your first reaction to seeing someone dressed a certain way in real life would be to cover children’s eyes or fish into your pockets for dollar bills, it’s probably not an appropriate costume for your character to wear. RESPECT YOUR CHARACTERS!
2. No one is doing anything athletic in tight, leather clothing or tight jeans. Just try doing high kicks in either. Whenever you regain consciousness after falling backwards on your head, remember this lesson.
3. Tight clothing may be suitable for athletics if it is light and elastic (no denim or leather.) However, no matter how tight and elastic, no clothing is going to perfectly fit every contour of each breast individually unless “boob-socks” are intentionally built into the costume specifically for this purpose. And why the hell would anyone in their right mind do that? Real clothes don’t have those.
4. No fighter is wearing clothes with “boob-socks” or “boob windows” (think Powergirl) or gallivanting about in their underwear to “distract the enemy.” That’s a stupid idea and doesn’t happen.
5. Think to yourself: Would a real person wear that in public anywhere besides a convention? Would *I* wear that?
6. No one is going any fighting or running in long trench coats. I’ve ran with a long trench coat before, and I don’t recommend it. Sure, it might look cool when someone is standing around or leaping, but when running, it just gets in the way.
7. Armor should provide reasonable protection. A bikini armor is stupid. No one is going to wear armor that does not protect their vitals.
8. Armor shouldn’t have “boob-socks” either. It’s impractical for each chest-plate to be custom-built around each user’s breasts, it isn’t important enough for any manufacturer or military organization to bother with, and having the defined indent between the breasts may put a person at risk for having their sternum broken. Plus, most fighters would be wearing some kind of sports-bra to flatten their chest down anyway. That said, a chest plate can protrude slightly to accommodate breasts and/or large pectorals, but it shouldn’t perfectly contour to each.
9. No one is doing anything athletic in heels. No running. No gymnastics. No parkour. And no kung-fu. Anyone who was wearing heels who gets caught needing to do any of those things will take the damn heels off. To do otherwise would make the action more difficult and less effective, and risk injury to the person attempting it. That’s why “running heels” aren’t a thing (as far as I know, anyway.)
10. Actually, for most athletic activities, women would be wearing some kind of sports-bra. Large breasts are a problem with running, jumping, fighting, etc. And since the character isn’t doing any of this for the benefit of any viewer (fourth-wall) there’s no reason for her not flatten her chest down with a restrictive undergarment
11. Don't show nipples poking through clothes. Seriously. No one goes out in public like that and they're likely to be embarassed if they discover they're "pointing" on accident. You woldn't draw men with their junk protruding noticably from under their trousers, just going about their business as if that was perfectly normal, would you?
1. Adult women do not have slumber parties, and we sure don’t have underwear pillow-fights, despite what porn may have taught you.
2. Most women don’t do the whole green facial mask, hair roller thing. That is a tired cliché. We have much better hairstyling and hygiene products at our disposal these days.
3. While it may look cool, acrobatics are not necessarily all that practical for use in most combat situations.
4. When is the last time you intentionally used your sex appeal to manipulate someone other than a romantic partner? Probably never. And if you tried, odds are it would be unsuccessful or even met with laughter in real life. No one is getting past the bad guy’s guards by batting their eyes and flashing a smile. No. That’s lazy writing.
1. Don’t give female characters “token” friends.” Don’t write in one-dimensional minority side-kicks. Sassy black ladies and effeminate gay men do not exist to be fashion accessories. And those are stupid stereotypes anyway. If you write in a friend, that character should be a character.
2. Yes, yes, it’s nice when a character cares about her friends. But “power of friendship” crap is done to death.
3. Even friends have disagreements. If one character exists solely to be the yes-man of another, constantly congratulating and never challenging the other, something is wrong.
1. You don't have to go into detail on the origins of every single character you introduce into a story, but characters should have some sort of personal history, even if only in your head, as this will inform their views and actions. Characters shouldn't feal like they just appeared fully formed out of thin air that morning and don't know or have opinions about anybody or anything about the world they're in.
2. Unless your story is specifically about overcoming the trauma, do NOT write rape into your character’s backstory. While you might think you’re being dark and edgy, you’re really just recycling a tired cliché and trivializing a serious cultural issue.