Being a Writer · Inspiration · Literature · Women

A Girl in a Crowd

“So…What’s your book about?”

*author smiles, happy to spill the beans* “It’s about a girl who finds out she’s got this destructive power that she can’t control. She’s got to dig into her past for answers, to find out  who she is and why she’s turned out this way. That’s a challenge because her mom and her don’t talk, and she’s never met her dad.”

“Oh. OK…Who’s gonna want to read about that?”

*author gulps, heart pounding* “But, she’s kick-ass.  She’s got this super power that wrecks everything. She’s got a sword, she knows how to fight. She’s on a quest. She does magic, for crying out loud–it doesn’t get cooler than that.”

“Uh-huh. You know you’re narrowing your audience down by having a female lead character, right?”


Virginia Wolf remarked in her 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own that women are always represented in relation to men.  They sometimes appear as mothers or daughters but only rarely as friends to one another.

How can women be portrayed in this unidimensional way when their interactions with men are but one of the many other relationships they cultivate?

In 1985, a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For had this to say:

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Cartoonist Alison Bechdel created an awareness which quickly snowballed, leading to the development of the Bechdel Test.

The test is a list of  3 parameters set to determine the quality, depth and gender equality of media content.

To pass the Bechdel Test, a story must have:

  1. At least 2 female characters (preferably named)
  2. involved in a conversation
  3. NOT revolving around a man.


Sounds fairly easy to check off, right?

It’s not. Most movies fail to Bechdel Test with:

less than 1/3 characters being female AND named

less than 1/4 movies showcasing a female lead protagonist.

SHOCKING, you say?

The Bechdel Test has been applied in some industries (video gaming  and comics)  as a guideline for rating entertainment productions.

But what about in literature?

I believe literature is a step ahead of  other fields. Women have chiseled a dominating niche in the literally market.

Women’s fiction is a fiction genre term to describe a storyline revolving around a woman on a personal journey, on the brink of undergoing some major emotional change.

“Oh. OK…Who’s gonna want to read about that?”

Let’s see…

Susie Henderson at How to Write a Novel says that 40% of adult fiction is made up of women’s books.  That’s a 24-billion dollar industry.


Now, who wouldn’t want to read about that?


9 thoughts on “A Girl in a Crowd

  1. Every writer (and musician) has to face both external and internal criticism of their work. Often before it’s even been created. Most projects fail before they’ve even started. I know as an artist how that feels.

    If you rely on the gender of your main character in the story, or any other superficial quality for that matter, nothing will be able to rescue the central premise of the work.

    What I mean to say is that if your work pushes your own boundaries of mind and you tap into something deeper than any issue of gender then you access a human level of resonance that will make your work powerfully effective.

    The setting and style is always just a framework for the deeper human reality.

    I love fantasy as a genre but all the best stories tap into something more deeply human, things we can all identify with.

    Most importantly the work has to put you in a place where you are accessing some unexplored mental and psychological terrain.

    Music is exactly the same dynamic. It’s hard to sometimes find something that lights the spark of inspiration underneath you, but I have found that it often means going into places that scare us first.

    All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your insightful feedback. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      I love how you said:

      β€œI love fantasy as a genre but all the best stories tap into something more deeply human, things we can all identify with.”

      The truths that lie at the core of a story, or a tale the writer recounts, come from a deep-seated place within oneself. Exploring one’s own inner workings, no matter how difficult this may prove to be, is an essential part of producing something of substance, in my opinion. I believe the need to meditate, absorb and reflect is part of the creative process, in much the same way that writing the actual story is.

      The writer strives, as the musician does, to convey a deeper level of emotion through his/her craft, looking to move the audience.

      The stories I write are character driven. Emotions, struggles and successes, are genderless. Everything else (premise, gender, fiction genre) is a vessel used to convey the universality of what defines us as humans.

      Looking forward to future exchanges.


  2. Well said, May K. Hella.

    Gender (and other “superficial qualities” as @HerrinMusic mentioned, such as race, ethnicity, ableism, etc) can easily become subject to criticism when considering viewership or, in this case, readership. For some, these characteristics could potentially pigeon-hole your work and market it to a niche-audience.

    I applaud you for not letting your characters’ gender become subject to such criticisms. Lead roles in film, television, and novels should not be, by default, male. On Netflix, for instance, “films with a strong female lead” is a category, but you would never have to search “films with a strong male lead”, it’s redundant. The Bechdel test certainly demonstrates the rarity of female characters in media.

    It’s unfortunate that the belief that using a female as a main character is perceived as “risky” or limiting in any way.

    I’d like to echo (and add some nuance) to what @HerrinMusic wrote: the true value of your work is not in the gender of your characters, but in the story you want to tell. That will be the true test of your success.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your insightful and thorough comment AlexieJay. I also believe that the backbone of the story and the plight of characters outweighs the gender issues that some readers may grapple with.


  3. I know a lot of people – readers as well as writers – who love a strong female lead who can and will kick ass! I’m one of them!
    Well said – I don’t know why anyone might be put off by the MC being a strong lady who can hold her own in a fight. Sounds like a good start to me! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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