The other day I was having drinks with a friend and discussing writing and books (I’m a dork, I know). The journey my book has taken from day one to now came up and we got into a discussion about female MCs. My MC was originally a female. This changed about 1.5 years into the project. In discussing my reasons for making this change, we hit upon something common to female MCs. They all have a bit of spunk.

Think about a female MC from almost any book you loved, from any genre. We used Matilda as our initial example, but think about older literary characters, like Anna Karenina or Scarlett O’Hara. Think about more recent ones, like Katniss Everdeen or Lisbeth Salander. Now think about what all these characters have in common. They all reject societies conventions for what a woman should be; they all have spunk.

Now think about books you didn’t love that had a female MC. To be kind, I will refrain from giving examples, but I can think of several. And I can think of one thing all these MCs had in common. They whined. They moaned about lack of love and misfortune. They didn’t create their own destiny, at least not willingly. They lacked true spunk. Some of these tried to have spunk, but there was so much whining and too many fits of self-pity, it just didn’t work.

Now think of some books with great male MCs. Would they have worked as well with a female MC? The example my friend and I used was Harry Potter, but Frodo from Lord of the Rings works just as well, if not better. Had Harry or Frodo been a female, would we have loved them? Or would we have told them to suck it up and quit complaining (in all fairness, I did say that a few times to Frodo, but I kept it to a minimum)? Why is it that a male MC can get away with more moments of emotional weakness than a woman?

So what was the main reason I switched my MC to a male? As a female, she was just too whiny. She seemed to be suffering from too much self-pity. And so I made the switch, and suddenly it worked.

I read a post the other day by Justine Musk, Why You Need to Write Like a Bad Girl, and it got me thinking. If our writing is more honest by throwing away convention and writing honestly, and, as Justine puts it, like a bad girl, are our readers looking to embrace the bad girl in our characters and, by extension, themselves? Is this the appeal of the spunky female MC?

What do you think about this? Are you more likely to read a book with a male MC who has moments of weakness than you are a female? Are we more forgiving of male MCs? Are there any great books out there that give leniency to weaker female characters?