For some reason, writing a woman seems to be a challenge. Female characters are often flat and play into stereotypes. We’ve already talked about writing a Strong Female Character, but that was (mostly) focused on the good guys. What if she’s the villain?
Some people will argue that putting a woman in a villainous position is anti-feminist because it demonizes women. Others will argue that feminism is about equality, and we need to see that a woman can be just as evil as a man. Women are not a symbol of goodness and purity.
SPOILER ALERT: You’re never going to please everyone.
If you want to write a female villain, do it. But make sure you don’t fall into one of these common traps.
The Femme Fatal
This is a trope where a female villain manipulates the protagonist with sex. This is essentially their only purpose in the story, and she often is playing second fiddle to a much more important villain, likely a man. Sex cannot be the only skill your villain uses against the protagonist. And if you must have a villain use her feminine wiles to manipulate the protagonist, we need context. Why does she do it? How does she feel about it? Is she empowered? Shattered? Is this a tool she commonly wields, or was this a “desperate times call for desperate measures” type situation?
Evil For Evil’s Sake
No one is just outright evil. There has to be some motivation. Maybe she’s power hungry. Maybe her family is threatened in some way. Maybe she’s been passed over time and time again and just wants the recognition she deserves. What drives her to enact these atrocities? Boredom is not a real reason. Your villain will be much more interesting if there’s some sort of twisted logic behind it all, and she sees herself as the hero of the story.
The Victim of Circumstance
With that said, too often writers let their female villains be tortured souls who were forced into this life and would happily return to the straight and narrow. We’re talking about female villains who are doing wrong because a man wronged them. This could be either the “behind every bitch is a man who made her that way” trope, where a female villain can trace everything back to revenge or the damage caused by a man (likely an ex or her father), or are they are a sympathetic demon, who is acting on behalf of a man (think Harley Quinn, who keeps coming back to a life of crime despite The Joker’s abuse and neglect because she thinks he loves her)?
The Silk and The Sword
This trope is when a woman has the perfect calm demeanor and sets herself up to be the victim… only to have set a trap. This type of woman is physically weak and plays into many of the stereotypes of femininity, while simultaneously having a seemingly bottomless capacity for malice. While this is jarring, as the two elements of her personality clash, it plays into both the stereotypical femininity and the idea of a “crazy bitch.”
The Stock Female Villain
Stock Female Villains are the ones that come up again and again. Look at any Disney Princess movie with a female villain. The Evil Stepmother or Stepsister. The Evil Queen. The Evil Enchantress. Those are the only options. Step outside of these stock characters. I’m not saying that the villain can’t be the stepmother of your protagonist. They can’t just be the stepmother and that’s why they’re in conflict. This goes back to being evil for evil’s sake. Make conflict.
Overall, the rule of thumb is the same as it is for writing all female characters: make her complex. No one wants to read something with boring, predictable flat characters. There are plenty of tropes that female villains fall into. These types of characters aren’t anti-feminist in themselves, as all types of women exist. However, when a certain type of character becomes common, it becomes a stereotype. Try not to add to it. Subvert it. Twist it. Avoid it or make it your own.