#MondayBlogs: Writing Complex Female Villains

5 Jan

Intro:

Welcome to #MondayBlogs! Every Monday, a guest blogger will be covering a topic revolving around reading and writing, and today’s topic can be found on the more ominous side of literature. SiameseMayhem is a sassy reader and the writer behind Pirate Kitties: Musings on YA Novels and Pop Culture – a quirky and intelligent blog I absolutely recommend. Today, SiameseMayhem is talking about one of my favorite topics of all time – female villains – and how difficult they are to create, especially when literature is dominated by male villains. Cue the evil music and laughter. This one is delightful.

Writing Complex Female Villains

I am writing a novel, and I realize I have committed a terrible sin. My female villain revolves around the men in her life. Since she isn’t her own person, I’ve been allowing the plot to yank her around on a chain, instead of the other way around–and it should always be the other way around. Whenever I’ve needed something done, her motivations have changed to suit me. I haven’t developed her as much as my other characters, I haven’t been able to get in her head, and I’ve been seriously stuck.

It’s easy to create an interesting male villain. We have plenty of examples to pick from in film and literature, and their personalities are as varied as the colors in the rainbow. They go bad because destroying the world is too much fun to pass up, they go bad because a girl said no (ugh), they go bad because it seemed convenient at the time, or they go bad because their families were horribly murdered (cliched, but I’ll still go aww).

In other words, I can think of several male villains off the top of my head with varied reasons for turning to the dark side. Female villains? I’m struggling to think of any girls in Western media who had reasons for bad behavior other than a man. There’s Umbridge from Harry Potter, but we never learned what her motivation for torturing schoolkids was, whereas villains and antiheroes like Voldemort and Snape were given far more development. There was Victoria from Twilight, but her only reason for causing trouble was the death of her mate, James. However, both Umbridge and Victoria were formidable, competent opponents, which is more than I can say for most villainous women.

When girls get antagonistic roles at all, it is usually as the dreaded other woman. She’s the soulless, vicious, popular harpy you love to hate, prepackaged in the designer clothes you’ve always wanted (but you’d never admit it), and she is on her way to steal your man. (Honestly, though, if your boyfriend falls for a cliched other woman with more personality in her shoes than in her brain, he’s probably not worth keeping around.) Just a few weeks ago, I finished Teardrop by Lauren Kate. When the antagonist showed up, I was actually interested in her characterization. She was a Wiccan in a small Southern town, she wore black, she had cool tattoos, and she seemed like the opposite of the usual cliche. However, even her Gothic sensibilities couldn’t save her from draping herself all over a boy that the heroine didn’t even want. Obviously, she was the worst person ever, seeing that she perpetrated the unpardonable crime of poaching a member of the heroine’s harem. Meanwhile, the male characters spent the whole book fighting over a girl.

Teardrop is a small example, but it does show how differently female characters are judged. Don’t believe me? Visualize a hot, evil guy. When he’s not plotting to take over the world, he can be found caking on eyeliner and crying. At the end of the book, he steals the hero’s girl.

Predicted fan reactions: “ZOMG, you poor baby! Come to mama! I WILL NEVER LET THEM HURT YOU AGAIN. Btw, I totally shipped them from the beginning, the hero was so boring anyway, no wonder she left him.” And so on.

Now visualize a hot, evil girl. When she’s not plotting to take over the world, she can be found caking on eyeliner and crying. At the end of the book, she steals the heroine’s boy.

Predicted fan reactions: cannot be printed.

Women are hardly ever allowed to be hot, evil, complex, and independent all at once. We’ve made some major gains in 2014, it’s true, but we still don’t have enough bad girls in leather with complicated pasts who stay strong to the end.

In short, all I want for Christmas is more Maleficents. Maleficent may not fit the criteria I laid out at the beginning of this post, since her start of villainy results from the actions of a slimy boyfriend, but she wastes no time rising above that inauspicious beginning. She defends her land, she has other relationships besides the one with the slimy boyfriend, and she rocks those horns. Her character arc may begin dependently, but it ends independently, and that is the most important thing. Maleficent is how you write a bad girl.

Maleficent

Sometimes the best Christmas presents are the ones we give ourselves, so this holiday season, I am going to learn. I am going to spend time with my villain and nurture her and understand her and write her a long, tragic backstory before I even begin the novel. It may be too early to tell, but I think it’s going to be longer than the other characters’ backstories combined.​

Bio: SiameseMayhem likes cats, blogging, YA novels, and combining the three. She can be found on her newly hatched Twitter and on her slightly older WordPress. Do stop by sometime.

Want to be a guest blogger? Wonderful! I am accepting guest posts that focus on reading and writing. No blatant advertisements. You are allowed a book link in the post as long as it’s relevant to the post. Including a bio and a picture is encouraged. If you qualify, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

~SAT

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86 Responses to “#MondayBlogs: Writing Complex Female Villains”

  1. J. F. Seegitz January 5, 2015 at 12:34 am #

    Great post. I too was looking over the series I’m working on now and realized that the main antagonists (villians) have been male so far, so this is an interesting take.

    I also think it’s great you’re reaching out to guest bloggers. One day when my blog is a bit more robust I’ll put my name down for consideration, but until then, I’ll just be another one of your loyal subscribers 🙂

    Best,

    J. F. Seegitz

    • Shannon A Thompson January 5, 2015 at 12:38 am #

      J.F. Seegitz,

      SiameseMayhem blew me away with this post! I agree. There are many male villains, and it’s difficult to immediately come up with equal female villains.

      About guest blogging, there are no requirements in terms of how many followers you have or even if you have a blog going at all. As long as the post focuses on writing or reading of some sort, you are welcome! It’s also a great way to make your blog more robust, as you put it, since we can all connect further. :]

      Either way, thank you for reading and commenting!

      ~SAT

  2. alexlaybourne January 5, 2015 at 1:07 am #

    A very well written post, and I must say, now that it has been brought to my mind, I do think that there is a lack of good female villains in fiction, and movies too for that matter. When they are there they are never the central villain, and often not fleshed out any more than being the ‘eye-candy’ of the main male villain.

    It is a shame because I think a female villain as the central character could really bring around some interesting scenarios and exchanges.

    • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 1:49 am #

      Thank you! I’ve observed the same thing; they’re often playthings of the main male villain. Now that I think about it, I believe Divergent had a female villain. Pity I couldn’t finish it.

      I absolutely agree. If a story can get over the typical evil hot woman lusts after hero scenario, it has the potential to show that women are just as inclined to wrongdoing as men are–they’re not infallible, and they should be judged the same way.

      • alexlaybourne January 5, 2015 at 1:54 am #

        I couldn’t agree with you more. Plus you have the dynamic of the fundamental difference between the sexes. Providing your villains are relatively human at their core. You have size and strength differences which could create a fantastic hero viallain or even general character balance that could take a piece of fiction to a whole new level.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 1:59 am #

        Women tend to fight with words (not always, but usually), which is way more interesting than endless punching, at least to me. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a Western example of a woman like this except for Umbridge.

      • alexlaybourne January 5, 2015 at 2:02 am #

        No neither can I. I must admit my reading last year was relatively sedate. I suppose you also had (and I forget her name) from the Hunger Games. The leader of Distrct 13. You could consider her a villain I suppose, but she was not ‘mainstreaming it’.

        I would love to read (and may write ) some good male hero femal villain stuff this year, not forgetting that there could also be call for a female hero against a female villain. Everybody knows the traditional male testosterone fuelled finales, but I think two women facing off would make for a more intelligent read.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 2:09 am #

        Oh, yes, her. I can’t remember her name either. At least she was non-sexualized and not motivated by a man’s love or lack thereof, but everyone remembers Snow.

        I, for one, would love to see two ladies facing off over something that’s not a guy. A male hero and a female villain sound awesome too. Oh, and I didn’t mean to imply that male characters can’t fight with words too–some of my favorite male characters have no skill on the battlefield whatsoever.

      • Shannon A Thompson January 5, 2015 at 2:17 am #

        President Coin! I’ve been reading your discussion here, and I was really glad to see her brought up, because I agree – she is simply not memorable, unlike President Snow, and I think that came down to two things: President Snow was the “ultimate boss” (think video game) and President Coin was the sideshow, even if the two villains were separated. And in fact, in the end, Katniss herself describes Coin as a reflection of Snow, so – in a way – it made Snow even less valuable because she did not stand on her own as a villain. It took Snow’s existence to prove Coin was “evil” in Katniss’ eyes. Love the discussion going on here! One thing that occurred to me is manga. I feel like manga is lightyears ahead in terms of female villains. There are many female villains that have nothing to do with men, but I would like to see that transition into novel-fiction, too.
        ~SAT

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 2:23 am #

        It also didn’t help that Snow was around for three books, and Coin was introduced late. But even then, I cannot remember a single thing about her. If Coin wasn’t even a villain in her own right, like you’re saying, than that makes it even worse.

        I love manga! Also, Korean dramas have way more female villains too, although they’re typically older evil grandmas. However, that may be changing. There was a reason I specified that I hardly ever see bad girls in Western media.

      • Shannon A Thompson January 5, 2015 at 2:24 am #

        Agreed! Thank you so much for writing this piece.
        ~SAT

      • alexlaybourne January 5, 2015 at 2:29 am #

        Coin, that was it. Now I remember. I was so disappointed with the third book it slipped my mind 🙂

        I would agree that the Asian market – movies at least, I cannot really comments on fiction – have more in the way of Female villains.

        You also have, it would seem from looking, a lot of female villains in Manga and the like, but that is I am going to have to assume more because of how that can be over sexualized for the graphics rather than anything else.

        I would agre, there are plenty of male villains who are not traditional warriors also. We are starting to see more female heronies coming through now, so hopefully it is only a matter of time before they take over the dark mantle also.

        This is a very interesting discussion, thanks for writing the post.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 2:37 am #

        I’m not familiar with Asian fiction either, mostly just a bit of Korean TV.

        I notice that when male villains aren’t traditionally masculine, they can sometimes be stigmatized–as if some of their more feminine qualities are a symptom, if not the reason, for their villainy. I’m actually writing a male villain/antihero who doesn’t fit the warrior type AT ALL, but it’s not treated as a bad thing.

      • alexlaybourne January 5, 2015 at 2:47 am #

        It does seem that feminine traits in a male villain are used as their weaknesses rather than their motivations. I suppose it is just a part of the whole ‘battle of the sexes’ debate that has never been considered. Or perhaps one that people just like to perpetuate because it makes ‘sense’ for the stories.

        I have often said that we stand now on the precipice of a very exciting turn in the world of fiction, and the chance to push boundaries by involving the sexes more, but without making it a matter of gener itself is a great way to push the boundaries of storytelling and reader imagination even further.

        Not to mention that it may help the very limited number of big name female movie stars, and give them a chance to take center stage in their own right rather than playing sidekick of the big male stars.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 2:52 am #

        It’s probably lazy writing. Some writers seem to take tropes for granted, so they use them without considering the implications. Or they HAVE considered what the trope is really saying, and they agree with it whole-heartedly.

        I HAVE noticed a change in the air. It’s barely noticeable, but I think you’re on to something. 🙂

        More movies with more interesting women would indeed be awesome.

  3. Zoe Ambler January 5, 2015 at 1:12 am #

    Reblogged this on Zoe Ambler – Author.

  4. sebastianstarcevic January 5, 2015 at 1:41 am #

    Love this! And I love Maleficent. I think Angelina Jolie was probably the only one who could do justice to that role. (I loved her broad white smile. When you read in books that a character bares their teeth in a smile, THAT’S what they’re talking about.) Actually, my all-time favourite femme fatale, China Sorrows, is a sort of anti-hero who slowly melts off her throne of neutrality to join the good guys. She’s described as the most beautiful woman in the world, AND she has glowing tattoos that allow her to kick butt. She’s complex and intelligent and sarcastic and totally enigmatic. I think there are some quotes floating around the Internet if you were interested, or you could pick up a copy of Skulduggery Pleasant. Anyway! Just stopped by to say how I loved this piece. Also, congrats on Death Before Daylight, the cover is amazing! Viola Estrella is one of my favourite designers.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 5, 2015 at 2:19 am #

      SiameseMayhem wrote a wonderful piece! Thank you for the encouragement toward Death Before Daylight as well. I appreciate it tremendously.
      ~SAT

    • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 2:55 am #

      Skulduggery Pleasant seems interesting. Femme fatales can be used to good effect, when they have their own motivations and they act independently. Thanks for reading!

      • alexlaybourne January 5, 2015 at 2:58 am #

        I have often looked at the Skulduggery Pleasant books when I’ve been in the UK. You don’t seen them much in the Netherlands – English books at all in my area – I keep meaning to pick one or two up.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 3:00 am #

        If you end up reading them, tell me how they are. Oh, and I almost forgot–thanks so much telling me what you thought! It means a lot. Happy new year!

  5. alexlaybourne January 5, 2015 at 1:55 am #

    Reblogged this on Official Site of Alex Laybourne – Author and commented:
    I really like this post. Talking about the lack of strong female villains in fiction. Anybody care to weigh in on the original blog, feel free. There are some good comments flowing back and forth.

  6. Barbara Barbex January 5, 2015 at 4:56 am #

    Reblogged this on The 960 Writers and commented:
    This is such an important point. When we write well rounded female heroes we should also have interesting female villains!

  7. Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 5:33 am #

    I only have one female villain in my series and she’s evolving more into a borderline, but it does make me think about how villainesses (is that a word?) are treated. It seems they come under a lot more scrutiny too. As you said, the male villain can be bad for the sake of being bad or simply want to rule the world. Female villains seem to need a history that explains their ‘corruption’. One thing that I’ve seen in short stories though is that an author can get a lot of grief for harming a female villain. It’s strange, but some people think you either leave her untouched or kill her in a confrontation. There’s no mid-story throwdown that you can do with male villains. Not sure if that makes any sense.

    • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 6:02 am #

      I believe villainesses is a word, yes! Thanks for reading. Women needing a reason to be bad is something I actually hadn’t thought of, so thank you again! Now that you mention it, that explains a lot of stupid motivations I’ve seen over the years–a woman can never be bad just because she wants to be, because women are supposed to be “purer.” So her start of darkness HAS to be over a man.

      You mean readers are getting upset if the female villain is beaten up, but are fine if she’s killed cleanly at the end?

      • Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 6:29 am #

        My spellchecker was disagreeing with me.

        You suddenly reminded me of the Snow Queen from the last season of ‘Once Upon a Time’. I won’t go into spoilers, but my wife and I were constantly groaning at her motivation. It was really confusing and seemed like the writers were trying hard to make her ‘evil, but not really evil’. The trauma they gave her in her youth was flimsy unlike previous villains and we just couldn’t get behind her. Meanwhile, we didn’t have a problem with any of the male villains even if it was revenge, power, greed, etc.

        I can’t even say that the start of a woman’s darkness HAS to be over a man. Sometimes it’s over another woman who unknowingly betrays her, which I find more interesting than fighting over the ‘rooster’. Yet, you are right that most stories seem to devolve into ‘woman wants man and is mean because she can’t have him’. It’s like the romance genre refuses to let the gender go.

        Basically, you can kill a female villain since that’s what happens to bad guys. It can’t be brutal though like falling into a wood chipper or torn apart by disgruntled hyenas. Usually seems to be very clean and quick. People get mad if the villainess fights the hero midway and takes a beating before escaping. I’m going by adventure stories here where action happens. Even heroines get similar treatment. I get some complaints about my female heroes taking severe beatings that are on par with what the guys get. Both genders tend to keep on fighting though, which is what I think is the important part.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

        Are you talking about Regina Mills? I’ve only seen most of the first season. If it IS her, that’s disappointing, because she was one of my favorite characters.

        I can see both sides, personally. On one hand, authors shouldn’t treat female characters differently from the guys. On the other hand, violence against women in fiction can go wrong in many, many ways (overly sexualized violence, for instance), which is probably what those readers are instinctively reacting to.

        However, what you’re describing seems okay to me. Do readers ever tell you precisely what they find objectionable about the scenario?

      • Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

        Nope. Regina/Evil Queen has a fun arc, but it does seem like they take the fairy tale ‘everyone gets a love interest’ thing too far at times. The Snow Queen is the main baddie of the first half of Season 4.

        I agree that those are the two hands that cause confusion here. We’re raised to know that hitting a woman is wrong. Yet you have a female hero who is jumping into a fight, so it goes against that belief. So you have readers reacting angrily to a heroine getting beaten up as well as when one gets out of an epic fight without a scratch.

        I don’t always get specifics. More general complaints. An odd thing is that it ignores what happens with the male characters. For example, a heroine is badly injured in a fight alongside a hero who takes the same level of damage. Nobody ever complains about the beating that the male takes, but I get a few accusations that I hate women because I let my female characters get hurt.

        Don’t even get me started on the double standard of sex for male and female characters. I have a sexually open and honest heroine and she drives some readers up the wall. She doesn’t even sleep around like people seem to think she does.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

        It’s very odd, because we’ve had action girls for quite some time now. I guess some readers can’t handle natural consequences of an action hero’s lifestyle when it comes to women. Many people probably want it both ways–a heroine should be as strong as the hero, but no one wants to see her get hurt. Which is strange, considering that random women die in movies and books all the time.

        I do not like the sexual double standard either; it can be a VERY sneaky thing. Out of curiosity, what do your readers say about her? Do they give a reason for their dislike?

      • Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

        Growing up with comics, I noticed something long ago. A woman dying or being pummeled in a fight was rather tame. Disintegration or a wound that you couldn’t see was popular. Men were taken out with no care whatsoever. It also struck me as weird that Wonder Woman would only get scratches while Spider-Man is nursing a bleeding side. That might be changing in that venue since I haven’t been reading in years.

        Readers have started to warm up to her, but the ‘reasons’ of hate for her and another female (love triangle with 2 women and 1 guy) tends to be a degeneration into names that I won’t repeat. Some have said the innuendo makes them uncomfortable and a few even wanted her and her rival to be killed off. Almost like they should be punished for how they act even though there are series where males act worse. Strange thing is that the more vicious comments come from guys.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

        That seems very strange to me, that readers and authors can handle putting female characters in dangerous situations, but they can’t handle the consequences. Besides, Wonder Woman is a superhero, so there’s presumably no strength difference (I might be wrong, though. I’m more familiar with Batman).

        Yeah, you’re right, male characters get away with absolutely awful things in various series, so as long as she’s not using innuendo to make anyone uncomfortable (like certain male characters often do), I don’t see the issue at all. I guess it’s not surprising that male readers also engage in girl-hate, though they don’t have the excuse of internalized misogyny.

      • Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

        From what I can remember (was mostly into Spider-Man), Wonder Woman is on par with Superman. Honestly, I’m just wishing we get a good Wonder Woman movie before I’m too old to stay awake for more than hour at a time.

        It is odd that we have a ‘rule’ that you can put a woman in a dangerous situation in fiction, but you’ll be in trouble if she gets hurt. Kind of like how kids and animals rarely die in the movies. Though I think that’s changing too.

        Odd thing is that I don’t have the male heroes do innuendo at all. It’s really just this one heroine who does it mostly to get her childhood friend (another heroine) to blush and stutter. I guess harmlessly teasing like an annoying little sister. The thing is that I know people like that in real life and they’re not sluts. Just odd.

        The male reader thing did catch me very off-guard on that one. Though I probably should have seen it coming.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

        Ugh, same here. But nooo, instead of Wonder Woman, we get the umpteenth Batman movie that no one wanted.

        This may sound hypocritical of me, but I’m honestly glad animals and kids are safe. I HATE it when bad things happen to them.

        That doesn’t sound slutty to me. If she does it too often, I could see how it might be annoying, but it certainly doesn’t warrant unprintable words from the readers. Yeah, I think we associate slutshaming with girls most of the time, but guys do it just as often.

      • Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 7:18 pm #

        I’m dreading another Batman reboot. We all know it’s going to happen.

        I think my only ‘problem’ with the animals and kids are always safe is that it removes the tension for me. No matter what is going on in the book or on the screen, I know that nothing is going to happen to them. So I find that I’m not really invested in the characters at all.

        She’s actually the youngest of the heroes, so I’m easing her into being less annoying. At least I think she is. My series is long, so I’m maturing the characters over time. Guys definitely do their share of slutshaming and it’s a bizarre way of doing it too. Almost like a weird combo of crude and protective because there’s always that part where the slutshamer defends women as a hole then goes right back after the one they think deserves the shame.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

        I won’t say the Dark Knight trilogy was perfect (sometimes it got a little pretentious for me), but it’s good enough for the next twenty years, so can we let it rest?

        I’m generally on the edge of my seat until the kids and their kitties are safe. I’m a wuss. 😀

        As in, “I’ve got nothing against women, but that one in particular is SO SLUTTY OMG”?

      • Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

        The only problem is that they do need Batman for a Justice League movie. I actually wasn’t too impressed with the final one or Batman in the second one.

        That’s exactly the mentality that I think I’ve seen.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

        But the question is, do they need a Justice League movie? Hmm…

        Even that mentality makes more sense than the kind of guys who profess to absolutely LOVE “sluts” but then say that the slut in question deserves whatever’s coming to her because her skirt was too short.

      • Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

        Not sure. The cartoon was great and it would be a fun rival for the Avengers movies. The only problem is that DC is rushing it and making a mess of the whole thing.

        I haven’t run into that mentality yet. At least nobody that claims to love sluts and then slutshames. The few people I’ve met that make such an announcement tend to be rather appreciative of the entire category. Also they’re whatever the male version of a slut is.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 8:31 pm #

        Seems like DC has been mismanaging lately.

        Confusing guys like that are in a few corners of the Internet. Hopefully, they’re ONLY on the internet. ‘Players,’ maybe? I tend to dispense with gendered terms and just apply every concept equally.

      • Charles Yallowitz January 5, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

        At least in the movies. They seem to do well with TV shows like Smallville, Green Arrow, Flash, and (at least I like it) Constantine.

        That method is probably easier than making up different ones. Easier to to keep track.

  8. Val Vogel January 5, 2015 at 6:42 am #

    Good one, Shannon. Val

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  9. Leona January 5, 2015 at 7:00 am #

    I can give a couple of examples for a complex female villains whose motivation for evil behavior is something other than a man. One of them is from an indie book I have come across a while ago, called Miss Mabel’s School For Girls by Katie Cross. The female villain there is a strong female character and she has political motivations. The other one is the infamous Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. She is also politically motivated, trying to be a female version of her father and seize control of the seven kingdoms. I haven’t seen the Maleficent movie yet so I can’t comment on it. But I agree that there is a lack of strong and complex female villains in the fantasy genre as a whole.

    • Allie P. April 13, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

      Cersei is a great example, except I stopped viewing her as a villain and more as just another villain around the time Ramsey came into the picture.

  10. coldhandboyack January 5, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    This was a great post. The comments are great too. The only western character I could think of was Cruella de’Ville. That was a long Damned time ago. Then there was the Tina Turner character from the Mad Max movies.

    • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

      There’s also the original Maleficent, but I confess I haven’t seen Sleeping Beauty. Shame on me. I haven’t seen Mad Max either; how as Tina Turner?

      Anyway, thanks a lot for reading and commenting!

  11. hmiddleton07 January 5, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    Great post!

  12. coolcurrybooks January 5, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender is the character that immediately jumps into my head. Technically, her father is the main villain, but since he doesn’t leave his throne room until the show’s finale, Azula is the villain you mainly see. She’s not evil over a boy, and she’s not interested in any the heroes either. Azula’s in it for power and the pleasure of seeing the world burn.

    Then there’s Kuvira from Legend of Korra. She’s pretty much the standard evil military dictator, except she’s female.

    There’s several tropes and archetypes you see pretty often for female villains – the Snow Queen, the Wicked Witch, the Evil Stopmother/Stepsisters. These get varying levels of development.

    • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

      I admit, I completely forgot about her, which I shouldn’t have, because Azula is unforgettable. Avatar the Last Airbender was a great show… Unfortunately, I’m not caught up on Legend of Korra at the moment.

      What archetype is the Snow Queen? I didn’t grow up hearing the fairytale; I only read it once in Hans Christian Andersen. The Evil Stepmother and Sisters always seem to be jealous of the perfect heroine, which is one step up from fighting over a guy, but still VERY stereotypically feminine.

      Thanks for reading.

      • coolcurrybooks January 5, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

        Isn’t the Snow Queen also the villain in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?

        Those tropes aren’t a good way to write female villains. Unless someone’s specifically twisting them around, they tend to be one dimensional stereotypes.

        I also remembered Melisandre from George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. I really don’t like how she’s written – she’s unquestionably evil, but a lot of that seems tied up in her femininity. There’s this graphically described scene where she gives birth to a shadow monster/demon thingie.

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

        That would be the White Witch, and now that you mention it, I can’t believe I didn’t see the connection between the story of the Snow Queen and Narnia.

        Yeah, I get a bit sick of girls hating on each other for stupid reasons, which fairy tale villains deliver in spades.

        Never read Ice and Fire. Is it her sexuality that’s presented as monstrous, or is it stereotypical things like gossiping and backstabbing?

      • coolcurrybooks January 5, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

        Her sexuality. She’s the classic seductress type character.

  13. Michael Gunter January 5, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    You forgot the Red Queen from the most recent adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Classic “power-hungry” villain. Also, Darth Zannah from Drew Karpyshyn’s “Bane” series. Or Opal Koboi, from the “Artemis Fowl” series.

    Great post!

    • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

      Thanks! I saw Alice in Wonderland, but the Red Queen completely escaped me. I mainly remember the dragon…

      I’ve never read the other series, so it sounds like I have book hunting to do.

      • Michael Gunter January 5, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

        That dragon could EASILY capture all the attention, yeah. XD

        I’ve read a lot of books with female villains whose back-stories aren’t guy-oriented, so if you’re actively looking for that sort of story…

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 10:20 pm #

        We must be reading different genres. Yes, I would love recommendations, though I can’t promise to get to them all.

      • Michael Gunter January 5, 2015 at 11:32 pm #

        Probably so. 😉

        LOL. It’d probably take you years to get to EVERY book I could recommend.

        For starters, try the Star Wars books, if you like action. There aren’t a LOT of female antagonists, but the ones that are there are all pretty good. 🙂

        If you’re looking for a fun hour read, all of the Artemis Fowl books are good. They don’t all have female antagonists, but Opal Koboi is the bad gal in at least 3 of them, and boy, is she scary/weird.

      • Michael Gunter January 5, 2015 at 11:37 pm #

        If you’re not partial to those suggestions, I can come up with some more?

      • siamesemayhem January 5, 2015 at 11:44 pm #

        Thanks! I’ve always wanted to read Artemis Fowl, so that just gives me more incentive. I’m not really into Star Wars, though (I’m weird, I know).

      • Michael Gunter January 6, 2015 at 12:20 am #

        Eoin Colfer is a world-building master. 😉

        I can understand not caring for SW, tho I’m a fan, myself.

        Lessee…. the White Witch, from Narnia fits the bill, but I’m sure you’ve read those already.

        One of the secondary villains in the “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” trilogy, “Utuk’ku” goes bad because her son wastes his life in a futile effort to save his people. Does that count as “because of a man?”

        They’re more geared towards younger people, (I love them, tho) but Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” books have several female antagonists who are like the Red Queen. Power-
        hungry.

        If I remember correctly, the queen from the second book of the “Ven Polypheme” series, “The Thief Queen’s Daughter”, is another one of the same kind. (excellent series, btw)

        That’s all off the immediate top of my head, but I’ll keep thinking.

      • siamesemayhem January 6, 2015 at 3:00 am #

        Those sound really interesting! Yup, read Narnia, read Redwall (eventually got tired of repeating plotlines).

        Well, technically it’s because of a man, but since I don’t see mothers turning evil because of their sons often, I’ll give it a pass. XD

      • Michael Gunter January 6, 2015 at 10:49 am #

        Yeah, Jacques was a great writer, but he DID get a bit repetitive, didn’t he? Although… the last two books he wrote were very different…

        LOL. Whew.

      • siamesemayhem January 6, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

        Really? Different how?

      • Michael Gunter January 6, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

        Darker. The stories were slightly different, too, but I can’t put my finger on exactly how.

      • siamesemayhem January 6, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

        The last one I read, they were dealing with cannibal wolverines, so that doesn’t surprise me.

      • Michael Gunter January 7, 2015 at 10:48 am #

        😀 That was actually my favorite. I liked Tam. But that’s not quite what I meant. The entire atmosphere of the stories got much, much darker.

      • siamesemayhem January 7, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

        Could you recommend your favorite, darkest one, then? I’m not sure that I still have it in me to love Redwall, since I’m no longer 10, but I’d love to give it a shot.

      • Michael Gunter January 7, 2015 at 9:33 pm #

        Well, at the ripe old age of 20, I still love them, so… XD

        The two he wrote just before he died were the darkest. 😉 Either one works, but I’m partial to “Doomwyte”.

      • siamesemayhem January 7, 2015 at 11:48 pm #

        Thanks. Did Redwall get burned down or something? I’m just trying to imagine Redwall being “dark.”

      • Michael Gunter January 8, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

        Hm… as I said, it’s hard to put my finger on it. It wasn’t any one aspect, just the entire writing style was darker, less cheery in general. And “Doomwyte” had a rather different villian/adventure in it.

      • siamesemayhem January 8, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

        Sounds good to me.

  14. theowllady January 5, 2015 at 6:56 pm #

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

  15. kaiteking January 5, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

    I think what makes it difficult to write female villains is that we have prescribed to the notion that traits are gender specific. We need characters to *seem* like women so we add touches of femininity and in so doing disarm our female antagonists. Yet if we give them traits that have been designated as masculine then they become unrelatable, viking-ladies.
    What I would really love to read would be Lord of the Flies cast with girls. Aside from changing the pronouns – what else would you change about the characters to make them *seem* female? I think LOTF would be a perfect starting point to create a female antagonist because she’d have to be a child which would remove the aspect of sexuality. It is remote, which also nullifies any feminizing social conditioning. And Jack is pure savagery. He isn’t interested in revenge, hasn’t been slighted by a lover. He’s taken stock of his situation and is going to make the most of it no matter the cost. No remorse – pure survival.

    • siamesemayhem January 12, 2015 at 10:15 am #

      Thanks for reading!

      By femininity, do you mean “softer” traits, such as empathy and kindness, or seductive sexuality?

      If those traits are making a villain seem weaker, I think the author doesn’t know how to write a good villain. However, I can understand why you don’t want an overly sexual female villain, because writers often get it wrong. Generally, I make characters as masculine or feminine as they want to be and go from there.

      Couldn’t a very feminine woman have all of Jack’s motivations and be just as terrifying?

      • kaiteking January 12, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

        I’m not sure how to answer that. My point was that a woman, regardless of how “womanly” she seems, can be Jack. I think Jack could be written the exact same way, only called Jacklynn to establish a female gender, and would be just as believable as a woman – or young girl in Jack’s case.

        Imagine starting a character as a man and then how would you change it to make him seem like a woman? I’ve never written fiction before so I wouldn’t know how that would be. It seems though that what makes a man complex can make a woman complex, what motivates him can motivate her. Unless you are trying to fit a certain time period which stricter gender roles.

      • siamesemayhem January 13, 2015 at 8:42 am #

        Ah, it seems I misunderstood you, sorry. When you said that touches of femininity disarm an antagonist, I thought you meant that traditionally feminine traits make a villain weaker.

        To make a male character female, I agree, you would only change the social influences of the setting–but those can change a person a great deal. In Jacklyn’s case, though, I doubt much would change.

        She’d still be the murderous little munchkin we all know and love.

  16. Elie Eldritch January 6, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

    Reblogged this on Elie Eldritch and commented:
    In all three projects I am working on, the villains are all female. This is a good analysis on how to make female villains more than 2D stereotypes.

  17. Allie P. April 13, 2016 at 7:47 am #

    Now you’ve got me struggling to think of some really great female villains as well. I would recommend you check out the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield, though she’s more of a face than a master antagonist.

    • Shannon A Thompson April 13, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

      I have! I love Westerfield. My favorite of his is The Midnighters. 🙂
      ~SAT

      • Allie P. April 13, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

        I’ll have to check that one out! I am loving the comments on this post. I’d completely forgotten about the likes of Narnia’s white witch among others.

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