blog blitz · characters · writing craft

Blog Blitz – How NOT to write female characters

How Not To Write Female Characters

by Lucy V Hay

Female characters. When fifty per cent of your potential target audience is female, if you’re not writing them in your screenplay or novel? You’re making a BIG mistake!

But how should you approach your female characters? That’s the million-dollar question … After all, women in real life are complex, varied and flawed. Knowing where to start in creating three dimensional female characters for your story is extremely difficult. 

So … perhaps it’s easier to figure out how NOT to write female characters?

Script editor, novelist and owner of the UK’s top screenwriting blog, Lucy V Hay has spent the last fifteen years reading the slush pile. She has learned to spot the patterns, pitfalls and general mistakes writers make when writing female characters – and why.

In How Not To Write Female Characters, Lucy outlines: 

•WHO your character is & how to avoid “classic” traps and pitfalls
•WHAT mistakes writers typically make with female characters
•WHERE you can find great female characters in produced and published content
•WHEN to let go of gender politics and agendas
•WHY female characters are more important than ever

Lucy is on a mission to improve your writing, as well as enable diverse voices and characters to rise to the top of the spec pile. 


‘A timely guide to creating original characters and reinvigorating tired storylines. ‘
– Debbie Moon, creator and showrunner, Wolfblood (BBC)  

‘Lucy V. Hay nails it’
– Stephen Volk, BAFTA-winning screenwriter: Ghostwatch, Afterlife, The Awakening 

‘Packed with practical and inspirational insights’
– Karol Griffiths, development consultant and script editor, clients include ITV, BBC, Warner Brothers 

‘A top-notch, cutting-edge guide to writing and selling, not just practical but inspirational. Lucy’s distinctive voice infuses the entire journey. Quite brilliant. Here’s the woman who’ll help you make things happen.’
– Barbara Machin, award-winning writer & creator of Waking the Dead 

‘Delivers the stirring call to arms that writers must not only write, but take their work to the next level themselves, making sacrifices and taking risks if they want to see their stories on screen.’
– Chris Jones, Filmmaker, Screenwriter & Creative Director at the London Screenwriters Festival 

‘Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays is a must-read for any writer, producer or director looking to create (or in the process of creating) a thriller production. It could also be immensely useful for those generally curious about the genre or looking to learn more.’ – Film Doctor

‘Lucy V Hay explains what a script reader and editor’s role in filmmaking, tells you to work on your concepts and that dialogue is the last thing to work on in her new book.’ – Brit Flicks

From Goodreads:

Search “strong female character” online and you’ll typically get 400K+ results. Audiences want flawed, complex female characters more than ever and it seems *everyone* is talking about them. Audiences – particularly women – are making it clear they’re BORED with “the usual” characters they see on screen and in fiction generally. They’re demanding more varied role functions and representations in fiction for female characters … And what’s more, they’re getting them!

In novels, we’ve been treated to female protagonists like Jane in CL Taylor’s bestseller The Lie; or Jenna in Clare Mackintosh’s Kindle number one, I Let You Go; there’s also uber-antagonist Amy Dunne in Gillian Flynn’s modern classic Gone Girl. Active female protagonists have exploded onto the silver screen such as Ryan Stone in Gravity; Mallory in Haywire; or Luc Besson’s heroine of the same name in Lucy.

Women of colour are finally leading TV drama, such as Olivia in Scandal and Cookie in Empire; plus transwomen like Sophia in Orange Is The New Black and Judy in BBC’s Boy Meets Girl have appeared in comedies, not just “worthy” Oscar bait dramas like Dallas Buyers Club. There have even been TV shows in which the entire storyworld is a matriarchy, like The 100.

So, after an extended period in which female characters were seemingly samey or even sidelined altogether, audiences are finally being treated to the female characters we deserve in movies, TV, novels and more. Whilst there’s still some way to go, it’s definitely a step in the right direction!

Yet even with all this GREAT recent output, writers are still struggling with female characters in their DRAFTS. But why? Well chew on these reasons for size and discover how NOT to write a female character … Enjoy!

Author Bio

Lucy V. Hay is an author, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. Lucy is the producer of two Brit Thrillers, DEVIATION (2012) and ASSASSIN (2015), as well as the script editor and advisor on numerous other features and shorts.  Lucy’s also the author of  WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS for Kamera Books’ “Creative Essentials” range, as well as its follow ups on DRAMA SCREENPLAYS and DIVERSE CHARACTERS.

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My Review

A useful guide that outlines the pitfalls of writing characters – especially female ones – without considering why that character exists and without falling back on clichéd stereotypes. With modern-day references to prove her points as well as her ‘in a nutshell’ summary of the key issues, the author gives us a quick read, worthy of notice by anyone wishing to write a good story with well-rounded characters.

Notably, what I gleaned from reading this, and it’s something the author repeats constantly, is that it’s about GOOD WRITING! Good female characterisation is about the STORY; it includes the emotional as well as the physical, and depends on well-researched information.

This is a quick read, but packed with useful information delivered in a concise fashion, and despite being aimed at female characters, the  advice herein could – and should – be considered when creating any well-rounded, three-dimensional character.

As the author says:

Your female characters can be absolutely anything  you choose – just choose wisely! Not for the sake of politics, agendas, box-ticking or femcrit, but for the sake of your STORY.

Any author – male or female – will take something from this book that helps them to create stronger, more memorable characters. Knowing the pitfalls outlined here will form a great addition to the writer’s toolbox.

As always,



characters · learning · MOOC · writing

Writing Fiction – Characters

5Round and flat characters

Stereotypes can be helpful when we start thinking about creating characters. But developing characters, giving them unexpected contradictions and conflicts, helps to create characters that are living people, not just types or caricatures.

But what about minor characters? How deeply do peripheral characters have to be imagined? Do all characters have to be rounded?

Flat characters have few traits, all of them predictable, none creating genuine conflicts. Flat characters often boil down to stereotypes: fat, doughnut-eating cop; forgetful professor; lecherous truck driver; … shifty-eyed thief; anorexic model.

Using these prefab characters can give your prose a semblance of humor and quickness, but your story featuring them will have about as much chance of winning a contest as a prefab apartment in a competition of architects. Even more damaging, you will sound like a bigot. As a writer you ought to aspire toward understanding the varieties of human experiences, and bigotry simply means shutting out and insulting a segment of population (and their experiences) by reducing them to flat types.

Discussing how stereotypes or flat characters might be made more round can be interesting, not least because it can open your eyes to how stereotypes are commonly perceived and how perceptions can be subtly altered.

The challenge now is to write your stereotype in a more complicated fashion.

Write a brief scene, around 300–500 words, in which you portray a character in a complex way, going against the usual expectations for such a character.

My scene: The lollipop lady who loves banger racing at the weekends.

Steady rain dropped onto the conservatory roof as Valerie retrieved her fur-lined boots from the rack near the back door. Adjusting her hat so that the yellow peak protected her rimless glasses from the downpour, she grabbed her lollipop stick and strode purposefully down the water-logged path. Winter mornings were the worst, yet the greetings from the little ones would lift her spirits and make it all worthwhile.

Her pitch was only five-hundred yards from her front door and already a few children stood at the side of the road.

“Here she comes,” yelled one of her regulars, a bespectacled boy wearing a Minions high-visibility coverall on top of his duffle coat.

“Morning Mrs. Val,” said the blond-haired twins in a sing-song voice as she neared them.

“Good morning boys and girls. How good of you to wait for me. This road is busier than ever when it’s wet, so well done to you all.”

The five- and six-year-olds from the local primary school beamed at Val and then tugged on the sleeves of their respective parents.

Valerie stepped into the road, her lollipop stick charging ahead as she slowed the traffic to a halt. Tyres slipped in the wet conditions, spraying passers-by with a fine mist of cold, dirty puddle-water. The children laughed, but Val waved a wagging finger at the motorist. “Watch your speed young man,” she shouted over the high-pitched hubbub. “Better to arrive safe and late, than not at all.”

The children joined in with a chorus of “Speed kills, so kill your speed,” and trotted out into the road as soon as Val gave the signal.

Once everyone was safely across, Val waved the kids off and proceeded to cross the road again, halting the cars once again. A familiar face appeared through the window of a trendy Citroen, its yellow colour matching Val’s waterproof coat. “Hey Val,” a forty-something woman shouted, “great weekend at the track I hear.”

“Hello Shelley, yes I set a new lap record for the over-60’s, although my poor Gwinnie suffered a bump or two. She’s in the garage now, having a paint job. She’ll be as good as new come Sunday.”

characters · Determined · Excitement · getting organised · mystery · profiling · The Nasrid Charm

A little detective work …


This week, as I continue my revision, it’s time to analyse the characters of my novel. Are they fulfilling my expectations? Have they over-egged their role? Do they need to be tamed or are they in hiding?

With my detective head on, I’m settling in for some character profiling.
So, to my protagonists, be warned – I have the power to hurt, maim or even kill you off.
Show yourselves worthy and you can stay, but otherwise – there will be no hangers-on, no control freaks trying to kidnap my story and definitely no time wasters, who fail to add anything of value to the plot.

The challenge is to go through each and every scene, identify all characters (even those who are only mentioned briefly) and determine what each of  these individuals makes me feel. Then, I must question what it is that I want them to make me feel (are you still with me?) Do the answers match? If not, do I need to ramp up the emotion, the action and the drama? Is any character trying to take over and send me in an unknown – and undesired – direction? Shall I be merciful and rein them in or should I just wipe them off the page, never to be seen or heard of again?

This is character validation in the rawest sense, and blood will surely be spilled.

It’s going to be fun (I hope!)