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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Comic & Fantasy Heroines, Sexism, & Character Transformation Arcs

In comic books science fiction, and fantasy fiction, there seem to be two different Character transformation arcs for men and women.

In the story arc for male heroes, the character goes on a journey where they go through a learning process in a character transformation arc. In that story arc, they have a clearly defined mission. We learn who that character is, what they want, and the obstacles they face along the way in that journey to learning how to be a hero, overcoming their personal fears, accomplishing their goals, and defeating the enemy they face.

Heroines on the other hand don’t usually go through this process. In most cases they just show up in a costume and start fighting bad guys. In some cases they get a tacked on origin and next to no character development in their stories. In old comics like Ms. Marvel and Claws of the Cat, the heroine just shows up and takes on bad guys with no real understanding of their powers and abilities, and no real mission or direction after they defeat the first bad guy.

So there’s no real reason for the audience to care about them outside of their skimpy costume.

Because they have no character transformation arc to establish who they are, and the series of obstacles they face in their journey, stories featuring heroines are oftentimes a hollow and shallow experince. When it comes to heroines it seems like writers don’t like putting female characters through the same hardships male characters go through.

For example Rey in Star Wars Episode 7 didn’t go through a tenth of the stuff Luke Skywalker went through in Episodes 4-6. In the original Star Wars trilogy viewers saw Luke go from humble farm boy aspiring to be a rebel to a Jedi in Return of the Jedi. And in that character transformtion arc over three movies, we saw Luke go through lots of hardship and adversity in his quest to become a Jedi. He saw his uncle and aunt murdered. He lost his mentor Ben. He saw Biggs Darklighter, his friend from Tattoine die in the Death Star raid. He saw Han in carbonite. He lost his hand. He had to deal with the revelation of the enemy he was trying to destroy, Darth Vader as his father. He put his life on the line standing for his beliefs confronting the Emporor. 

Rey, on the other hand is capable of understanding the force, able to pilot the Millenium falcon and can weild lightsabers in one movie. Stuff that took Luke Skywalker THREE movies to learn and master in his character transformation arc, she could do all with no real training. Because the audience never saw her go through any hardships at what was supposed to be the start of her character transformation arc, the audience really couldn’t relate to her or identify with her the same way they did with Luke.

 When heroes go through a character transformation arc they provide the reader with a richer experience. The audience relates to the hero and their problems. They put themselves in their shoes. And as they see them learning and growing in their journeys they grow too.  

Why don’t writers like putting heroines through real character transformation arcs? Is it a fear of being called misogynistic? Is it a fear of being called a sexist? The minute a writer like myself starts showing a heroine going through hardships in a story designed to start building their character and resolve, the feminists come out and shame them calling them a misogynist.

But if male and female heroes are supposed to be equal, shouldn’t they go through the same character transformation process? Wouldn’t women going through hardships make them richer and more multidimensional? Wouldn’t audiences be able to relate to them and identify with their struggles? Wouldn’t that provide the audience with a richer and more entertaining story?

When I write heroines I’m not afraid to put them through the same character transformation process that the guys through. Regardless of the genre, characters like Isis, E’steem, Cassandra Lee, Nikki Desmond, Colleen Anderson and Matilda Crowley get put through their paces on their journey to becoming heroines in my stories. They get beat up, they get humiliated, they go through pain and suffer loss. At the end of the story readers learn to respect those heroines because they’ve gone through the changes in that character transformation arc that have established the content of their character.  

I understand what makes a heroine strong isn’t her super powers. It’s the strength of character to stand up for what they believe in no matter what they’re going through. That kind of resolve is built through a character transformation arc where a character has to overcome a series of obstacles that change them from who they were into the heroine that they become.  

In the realm of comics, sci-fi, and fantasy oftentimes writers treat their heroines like Mary Sues instead of fully actualized characters. And when they do this they cheat the audience out of a great story. Heroines deserve to full character transformation arcs just like the guys, and creators have to get the courage let their heroines break a few nails so they can build a stronger backbone.  


  1. To be fair, some of your female characters seem very idealised to me like they tend to have the same body type that's often commented by other characters. Like as if you have some female ideal.

    1. Then go read this:

  2. As far as Star Wars, it's a rush for a cash grab. They want to have a competent Jedi duo vs an army of evillegal Sith by the second movie, so they wave the magic wand on Rey. What is worse is the implications of Luke being both her father and a deadbeat daddy who didn't know he had a daughter, likely for contrived stupid reasons. Trust me, fictional franchises don't tend to go into complicated or risky territory, so Rey is likely Luke's daughter given that the Lightsaber just chooses her over his Luke's nephew because he is more closely related as her father, plus the pattern of Anakin to Luke is already father to son, and the focus of the movies is already all about the Skywalkers family as the focus.