Opinion | Novels need female characters with more flaws and diverse personalities

After examining her collection of novels, one DI editor noticed that many of her books hold leading female characters whose personalities are all perfect and the same. This, she concluded, needs to change in literature geared towards young women.



Piper Sage carries off an armful of Rick Riordan books with her mom, Charla Sterne. The author, left, signed his new book the “Serpent’s Shadow,” the final book in the Kane Chronicles series, at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Anchorage, Alaska, on Saturday, May 5, 2012. Riordan is the author of Percy Jackson, Kane Chronicles and Heroes of Olympus books for young readers as well as the award-winning adult Tres Navarre mystery series. (Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)

Madison Lotenschtein, Arts Editor

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve just moved into my new — yet very old — apartment in Iowa City. While unpacking clothes, knickknacks, and kitchen items, I opened up the heaviest box of the pile; the one filled to the brim with my fiction books.

As I took inventory, I began to think about the novels I’ve collected, and the similarities that bridge between them — specifically the main characters. For several within my collection, the leading character is a quiet, introverted, smart, selfless, and brave young woman working through an outside problem while grappling with a recent love interest. While these traits are wonderful and do describe many women, I’ve found myself growing tired of seeing the same, “different” girl in mainstream novels I otherwise hold dear to me.

I’m exhausted from reading about the perfect girl in an imperfect situation and need more characters whose flaws run rampant off the page — who are almost unlikeable — who reflect the parts of ourselves that we hate to see the most. Let’s face it, you can’t find a single unlikeable characteristic about Jane from Jane Eyre, Liesel Meminger (The Book Thief), Tatiana Metanova (The Bronze Horseman), Hazel Grace Lancaster (The Fault in Our Stars), and of course, if you subtract the whole “falling in love with a vampire thing,” Bella Swan from Twilight and Midnight Sun. There are many more, but I think this list should suffice for now.

All of these characters possess the features listed above. But from what I can recall, they were composed with very little flaws, at least from a young reader’s perspective. As a young woman, I need to read novels with characters that are imperfect, and different from my quiet and introverted self. I can’t possibly keep finding a mirror and my reflection inside the pages of a book, it’s simply not healthy for me. Perhaps these authors were merely reflecting themselves in their novels, hence the wave of shy characters?

Despite my very odd complaint, there are novels and series at your fingertips that encompass characteristic diversity in leading female roles. Jane Austen’s works are a perfect example of this, with our leading lady of the landed gentry, Emma Woodhouse. She constantly sports a good nature when “helping” others, all while acting like a spoiled brat. This, dear reader, is what I need.

If you know me, you know I love the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for several reasons, but the depth of the leading female characters is one of them. Annabeth Chase is as sharp as her own knife but frequently allows jealousy and pride to invade her good heart. I mean, who has ever not felt those emotions? Exactly.

I’m not a novelist, nor do I pretend to be the most well-read University of Iowa student. But I do recognize the importance of seeing flaws in characters, especially as we age. Young women are and can be quiet, introverted, smart, selfless and brave, and we should be celebrated and seen as such in popular fiction. However, fiction or not, reconciling that our beloved characters will always have internal blemishes is something we need to bring into the real world with us.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


Facebook Comments