Linda Maye Adams

How Many Women Characters Are in Your Book?


A striking photo of a Latina woman at laptop, a painting of a redhaired woman mounted on a bright green wall behind her.March is Women’s History Month, though I actually don’t like these types of events.  They exist because history and even present doesn’t always recognize people outside of a select group.  I remember one time, when I was in the military I was talking to one of of the NCOs.  He was African-American, and he lamented that it would be a long time before he saw an African-American President of the United States.  I told him that it would happen before a woman became President.

You know how that came out.

To look at the high levels of politics and management, and even to look at books, it doesn’t look like there’s many women out there.  I find far too many books where there’s only one woman character.  Even a book with 100 characters, and 99 are men.  How exactly is this reality?  It’s like history months.  We’ll recognize one to sell the books, and everything else will be status quo.  And by the way, we’ll put in skintight leather, too, because the men are the important readers, not the women.

Okay, that may not be accurate, but that’s the impression I keep getting.  And it’s made worse when the lone woman character tends toward masculine and immature.

I want my women characters to be smart.

I want my women characters to be savvy.Three women in their 60s and 70s recline on a beach under two umbrellas, the blue of the sea behind them.

I want my women characters to be mature within range of their age.

I want my women characters not to be sex objects.

And especially, I want there to be more than one woman character in the book.

Is that too much to ask?

Cover of the Darkness Within shoing a monstrous face in shadows.My short story “A Soldier’s Magic” appears in the anthology The Darkness Within, available from Indigo Mosaic Publishing.  It features two women soldiers who have to make a tough decision to save a lot of people.  There are three women in the story.

11 Comments

  1. Kim Griffin

    No, that’s not too much to ask. Not at all.

    My book has 2 women in it, but all of the characters haven’t been flushed out yet so more may surface. 🙂

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    • Cool! I actually went back to mine and changed the gender of one character to a woman. It turned out to have a profound effect on the actual story because it helped play into how the fictional country is changing.

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  2. In the romance genre, there are always women characters – well, unless you’re reading MM stuff – and the female protagonist almost always has a best friend, sister, or mother, or some combination of the above. The paranormal stuff I read generally has a female lead character, although she’s often ‘one of the boys’, and doesn’t have another strong female character to bounce stuff off of.
    My new book (Forever & Ever, Amen) not only has a female lead character, but she’s 43 and a working mother with teenagers. It’s a slice of life – that just happens to involve angels and demons. One of my goals, though, was to do an honest job capturing what it’s like to be a working mother,and since it’s an e-book, it’ll be out there for future generations to find and study.
    😉

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    • Sadly, that’s not true outside of romance. Thriller novels tend to suffer from the lone woman character, and more urban fantasies than should be, considering it started out for women and has had romance writers come into it.

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  3. My WIP is written in first person and has five women, eight men and one possessed book. It’s a genre-bender…magical realism and mystery bridging into urban fantasy (set in small Southern town) with erotic elements (explicit sex between protag and one guy only). Oh, and the protag is struggling artist who also happens to be an educated Southern female. Three of the five women are well-developed and strong.

    Think a mix of Kelly Armstrong and Alice Hoffman, with explicit elements. Both these authors write very strong females who usually interact in a world with a pretty even male/female character ratio. I don’t read a lot in the Thriller genre, but the impression I’ve gotten from reading J D Robb and Allison Brennan, whose protags are female detectives, is that the front line police force is comprised more of males. Seeing as how a thriller would focus on street action as opposed to paper work, males outnumbering a female protag would make sense. Iris Johansen is another one.

    Again, that’s just my impression.

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    • I was in the military, in a fairly traditional job that would have drawn a lot of men. Even then, there were more women than are being portrayed in books. Even in a male environment, people still interact with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the default seems to be to male characters. A witness to a crime could have a gender change, for example. It’s not hard to do.

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  4. Tia Nevitt

    Howdy from a fellow veteran! I followed you over from Rabia’s blog.

    I tend to write with equal numbers of women and men. That said, my latest, The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf, has 5 male dwarfs and 2 female. But that was only because I wanted to give my main character several men to choose from!

    I noticed that some male-oriented fantasy often tends to have all-male casts, kind of like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I have a hard time reading books that are only about men, or only about women. I think you have to mix things up in order to get the best interaction.

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    • I got to ask, Tia — what service?

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  5. Tia Nevitt

    Air Force, 84 to 88. Aircraft Mechanic.

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  6. Hi, cool post! Totally agreeing with your list of women characters you like. I and my hubbie are still fledgling writers (under the pseudonym T. K. Trian), but one thing we’ve always veered towards is heroine-packed stories. But that also brings problems: if they are shown in a less flattering light here and there (no tight leather pants, even though _everyone_ knows how easy it is to fight in those!), many other women writers or aspiring ones calls us out on that which I don’t quite get. So it’s okay to stuff them in sexy outfits and show women in highly sexualized scenes all the time or write them to be abused by cranky yet hunky lovers, but it’s wrong and misogynistic to make them learn the ropes of fighting in a bumpy, bruisy way (which is the realistic way)?
    – K. Trian

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    • Maybe it’s time to change your critique groups. Especially with newbie writers, it can be easy to repeat what everyone is saying instead of thinking about it.

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