Whether it was Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennet, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway or more recently the female characters in Gillian Flynn’s books, women have always outdone men in writing female characters. Often male writers end up reducing women to no more than props in their books. In fact until recently, they didn’t go beyond scratching the surface in writing complex women characters in their works, to the limit when certain character types like ‘damsel in distress’ became stereotypes for women in a lot of novels and plays.

To have this discourse on women writing women characters at the Women Writer’s Fest in Bengaluru, authors Preeti Shenoy, Shinie Antony and Andaleeb Wajid sit down with SheThePeople.TV Ideas Editor Kiran Manral.

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There is a perception that women characters have to have certain qualities like bravery and valiance, especially in the new age narrative. May be to give readers the courage to fight out their own circumstances. On this, Andaleeb Wajid says that recently she read somewhere that one should ‘Have the courage to be disliked,’ which also applies to our characters. “When we write, we want to make sure that our characters are likeable, no matter how bad they are but there has to be some kind of saving grace value to them. I feel but the expectation always remains, whether it is the reader’s expectation or the publisher’s expectation. I try to circumvent it and not be bothered by it because it does take courage to be disliked,” adds Wajid.

When we write, we want to make sure that our characters are likeable, no matter how bad they are but there has to be some kind of saving grace value to them. – Andaleeb Wajid

Shinie Antony, who has authored books like Pregnant, The Girl Who Couldn’t Love, When Mira Went Forth And Multiplied, says that she goes all out in writing her women characters with darker themes governing them. She feels that the point of the whole story is to subtly present characters in mechanisms and motifs and what they end up doing.

Preeti Shenoy, on the other hand, talks about her short stories, The Nameless Relationship, which is about an older woman having an affair with a younger man. “She is very confident about the relationship. She feels that she only wants to have a good time and doesn’t want to end up marrying him,” says Shenoy about the character. The other character, she talks about, is from the short stories she has written, who turns out to be a murderer. “So there is absolutely no redemption for her. They are normal women but they are doing what they want to do,” Shenoy says about her female characters.

If it is a young girl, she would have to face her parents and society. That’s how I feel, I explore both spectrums through my writing. In my novels, I write women who have more girth and are responsible. But in my short stories, the women can do whatever they like and live out maybe the kind of fantasies that we women would also like to act out in our real lives but we won’t because of the accountability we hold to our family, society etc. – Preeti Shenoy

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But in her novels, she says that she mostly writes grounded, real women. “If it is a young girl, she would have to face her parents and society. That’s how I feel, I explore both spectrums through my writing. In my novels, I write women who have more girth and are responsible. But in my short stories, the women can do whatever they like and live out maybe the kind of fantasies that we women would also like to act out in our real lives but we won’t because of the accountability we hold to our family, society etc,” she laughs.

Shenoy also reveals how writing isn’t an easy process, and often leaves an author feeling vulnerable and exposed to the world. Says she, “Being a writer is like standing naked in front of a group of people and asking for comments.”

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