Creating an Unlikeable Female Character, a guest post by Victory Witherkeigh
Since I left my corporate job in 2019 to pursue my writing dreams, a term has cropped up again and again that has always irked me when I’ve had to describe some of my short stories: the “unlikeable female character.”
I know it started as a term to describe a female character who went against the grain of the usual feminine writing tropes – i.e. not nice, pleasant, placatingly beautiful, etc. But this was not the young woman that I was, nor was it any girl I knew. I remember reading The Baby-sitters Club books and not getting past the first few chapters because it seemed too unrealistic that many young women could be friends, given that the growing cliques were dividing my classroom. My main character, the girl, almost wrote herself with just some trials and tribulations one witnessed among young women in grade and high school.
Beyond that, I went back to the feelings of my childhood and teenage years of reading fantasy and felt like I couldn’t identify with most of the female characters in the novels. If you were the heroine, you were most likely super quick to make the best decisions, with no hesitation in doing the right thing and taking up the sword for justice. Or you were the anti-heroine, where you were so good-looking that everyone fell over themselves to justify your actions and explain how they really had a good reason. There seemed to be no grayness, no authenticity to other options – like if you mess up or panic and have to work your way back to prove yours. Or maybe you aren’t sure there is a “right” answer, or you are afraid and take longer to work up to confront those fears.
There never seemed to be any options between these two if the female was the lead of the fantasy, dark fantasy, or even a horror novel. Most of the girl characters often were just supporting roles or love interests. My least favorite was the continuing trope that somehow every heroine met the love of their life in their high school era. Especially when all these songs and messages about being an independent woman and seeing the world and earning your own way were now the epitome of being a “grown woman?” It made me, as a reader, feel alone and isolated.
The phrase gets thrown around almost tritely now about how much representation matters. Still, for brown Asia/Pacific Island girls, the only real icons or figures I’d be told about were Miss Universe contestants or Imelda Marcos. It was just the extreme form of a beauty pageant or the dictatorship that ruins lives, very much the same archetype of the Marys: the virgin vs. the whore. They reserved complexity and dimensionality for other women from European backgrounds while the tropes of Miss Saigon, the Dragon Lady, or Kung Fu masters reigned supreme as the “Asian” standard. The diversity of the continent and diaspora making up “Asia” today and the variety from north to south alone should indicate how broad types of stories and legends could have existed in the pre-colonial era. And as an AAPI writer today, trying to acknowledge the thread of generational trauma but not being entirely dictated by it is a fragile line. It becomes more about trying to add to the pot and giving more layers to all the “titles” young girls have.
You can be a “brown skin girl,” “an American girl,” or a “mean girl,” all at the same time as holding the “nerdy girl” or “” cheerleader” titles. Just as much as we can say the things we do does not define all that we are, so should the conflict and journeys for young girls in fantasies be more than just romance or sidekick. You can be a heroine in fiction where your biggest concern is overcoming your feelings of people pleasing. Or dealing with the loss of friendship or the conflict of seeing friendships simply drift away and realizing you can’t stop it. I hope my writing adds to the layers of representation for all the future brown girls, even in their “unlikeable” stages.
Meet the author
Victory Witherkeigh is a female Filipino/PI author from Los Angeles, CA, currently living in the Las Vegas area. She has printed publications in the horror anthologies Supernatural Drabbles of Dread through Macabre Ladies Publishing, Bodies Full of Burning through Sliced Up Press, and In Filth It Shall Be Found through OutCast Press. Her first novel, set to debut in December 2022 with Cinnabar Moth Publishing, has been a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2020 Claymore Award, a 2020 Cinnamon Press Literature Award Honoree, and long-listed in the 2021 Voyage YA Book Pitch Contest.
About The Girl
The Girl follows a nameless main character only known as The Girl. She’s been told since a very young age that she was a mistake, a demon who shouldn’t have been born. Shunned by her parents, she’s shuffled between her parents’ and grandparents’ homes until her eighteenth birthday. The Girl is baffled by her ordinary life in Los Angeles. For all intents and purposes, she’s just like everyone else. That is, until the Demon comes to claim her.
Striving to bring more diversity to her story, Victory employs her Filipina/Pacific Islander heritage by combining pre-colonial myths of gods and demons and a modern setting creating the unique coming-of-age story of a first generation-born American. Victory Witherkeigh is able to connect her story with thousands of young first-generation American readers looking to see themselves in modern-day fantasy stories.
By developing a character that flits between human and demon, Victory creates an anti-heroine, a female character who isn’t your typical Mary Sue archetype. Resisting the urge to create another “golden” hero character in a fantasy story, The Girl examines the gray areas of growing up as a young female navigating through rejection, lost friendships, hurt relationships, and choosing imperfection.
For fans of The Sandman series and Wicked Fox, The Girl is an unlikely coming-of-age story filled with the search for identity, understanding parent expectations, and realizing that sometimes evil isn’t what you expect it to be.
December 6th, 2022
Cinnabar Moth Publishing | YA dark fantasy
Hardcover | 9781953971616 | $23.99
Paperback | 9781953971609 | $15.99
Ebook | 9781953971623 | $4.99
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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