Write Female Characters, Not Sexy Cutouts

Mar 17, 2015

by Emily Kramer


Actually, that should be expanded to include all characters in literature. But as the “cutout” syndrome does afflict female characters with depressing frequency, I’ll keep it focused for now.


What is the “cutout” syndrome? They are characters that have no real impact on the story. Maybe they are placeholders for the reader – written so vaguely that anyone can take their place in the action. Maybe they serve to greater glorify the main character, or maybe they are a new breed – the female action figure. They are “badasses,” they fight, spy, maybe even lie – but they are still just reacting as the plot develops around them. They lack what author Chuck Wendig calls “agency” in his article How “Strong Female Characters” Still End Up Weak And Powerless (Or, “Do They Pass The Action Figure Test?”).


Writing strong female characters does not mean making them female Terminators – it means giving them the ability to choose, reasons for their actions and the determination to accomplish their goals. It means writing characters.

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