How To Avoid the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope (For Men!)
Open an ice-cold beer, snap off a piece of beef jerky, and let's talk about the manic pixie dream girl.
You saw her from across the room, wearing big headphones and blasting your favorite alt-rock band. She was so hot and she didn't even know it. Broken but still beautiful. You knew you could fix her, that you could fix each other...if you just went on an odd adventure together and shared your deepest and darkest secrets.
She just gets you.
Then you woke up from your wet dream and realized that that girl you imagined is not real.
And the only way you're going to become a professional writer in Hollywood is if you can accept that and start writing female characters that don't fall into the manic pixie dream girl trope.
Fellas, I've been there.
So today, I want to take you jabronis through some strategies that might help you. They helped me.
First, check out this video from The Take, and let's sit by the campfire after the jump and talk shop. And if you see me at the urinal after the show, do the decent thing and leave some space. I get pee shy.
What's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl?
In case you skipped the video, a manic pixie dream girl is a female character written whose only purpose is to help the men in their story change. As this article in The Atlantic so succinctly puts it, "Women do not exist to help men change; men do not need women to transform themselves."
Where does the term come from? Critic Nathan Rabin used it in his review of 2005's Elizabethtown to describe the flight attendant played by Kirsten Dunst. And from there, a movement was born.
People all over began to notice this trope in many films and TV shows.
Here's a great list of manic pixie dream girls from AV Club. It includes characters from Garden State, Almost Famous, The Apartment, and many more.
There are negative effects of this trope in society, and you don't need a wife, girlfriend, or daughters to see them.
The New Statesman's Laurie Penny argued, "Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story...Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else's."
Not only does that discourage diversity in stories within Hollywood, but it robs us of great movies ever being created because it silences an entire gender.
And my fellow bros, that is totally not dope.
Think about how there is no salary cap in baseball and the Yankees can keep paying assholes to win.
That's how Hollywood looks to the opposite gender. Sure, other teams win once in a while, but the teams with the most advantage win a lot more.
And that's bullshit.
You can be the change you want to see in the world. And one of the best ways to do that, besides lifting up the women around you, is to just write better women.
How To Avoid the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope
Yeah, I know the sense of irony involved with a man reaching other men how to avoid a trope in female characters. But I'm willing to lean in and shout these things from the rooftops. Mostly because we are short on movie news and some of the trash cinema I'm watching at home has discouraged me.
We can all pick out these characters in screenplays.
I know that in some of my endeavors I have been guilty of committing them.
Do I think I write the best female characters in the world?
But I want to learn. And I really want to try.
That is legitimately the only way these things change...aside from hiring more women!
So, how can a guy learn from the above video and write better female characters?
I compiled a few tips so you and the rest of my buds can surmount these hurdles. Crack open a Bud heavy and strap in.
3 Tips (For Men) to Avoid the Manic Pixie Dream Girl
My dudes, there are only 3 things you need to do to make your female characters stand out. They'll be so good, executives everywhere will thank you. This will undoubtedly increase your chances of getting reps, reads, and a sale.
It's also the best thing you can do for your career.
So, let's dive into these tips like they're nacho cheese dips.
Pass the chips.
1. Treat Women Like Real Human Beings
When writing a female character you should treat her like a human being. That means digging deep into the wants, desires, motivations, and arcs. Does her arc involve changing a man to be better, but have nothing to do with herself?
If so, go back and work on it.
We want fully fleshed out female characters that have needs and wants outside of a romantic relationship with the guy at hand.
When you're in the character development stage, just sit down and think about real things. What do people want and why?
Then think about what you would want in those scenarios.
Allow yourself to get in touch with your feminine side.
Just kidding, that's really dumb. Humans are multifaceted and don't have sides.
And women are human beings.
Just write how a person would act and don't worry so much about gender (which is a construct).
2. Consult (at Least) 2 Women Before Sending Your Script Out
Want to know how I got better as a writer?
I made friends with female writers who were a lot better than me. Eventually, after the trust was built, I asked them to read my scripts. I got real, unfiltered notes about my female characters. Sometimes notes were hard to hear, but they always made my writing stronger. The only scripts I have sold or optioned in Hollywood are ones they have read and possibly destroyed at some point.
Their notes made my stories better.
I hope my notes helped them, too.
Getting different points of view can only elevate your character and make them more authentic.
I recall one amazing time where I had a woman wearing a scrunchie in a scene and got absolutely eviscerated by a friend. The note was "This should be a hair tie." I get that this is a small detail, but it was a real detail. One that made the character more authentic.
It was so funny and small but I legit think it tied the story together. No pun intended. It was something we still text about to this day.
That script sold after I took the scrunchie out of it. Was it because of that small scene? Nah. But when I meet actresses for it all of them have mentioned that detail. And that matters.
3. Populate Your Script with Women
One last thing it feels important to mention is that if your script's world is populated with women, who make up 52% of our world, then it will be harder and harder to write into their cliche. The reason is that the more you populate the world with women, the more they will interact. And the more you'll force yourself to find true voices and motivations for these characters.
This is important, not just because it reflects reality but because it opens casting up.
Practice makes perfect, so why not practice by writing as many female voices as you can?
Summing it all up
We've made a lot of jokes today and this post has been a blast to write. But I think the material inside it is also super important. I don't subscribe to the notion that certain people are only allowed to write certain things. I think that really limits people's imaginations.
Obviously, more work needs to be done to hire outside of the accepted purview, Hollywood has a long way to go.
But if you are sitting to write something, the only way to be noticed is to make it great.
You're a writer, your job is to do the research and to embody the characters no matter the race, sexuality, creed, or gender. That stuff takes time, empathy, effort, and working with people in communities different than their own.
You have to put in the work or the voices you're trying to capture will feel cheap and inauthentic.
It takes trust and understanding. That means looking up tropes and pitfalls, interacting with others, and taking notes even when they're hard to hear.
Writing is a journey, a marathon not a sprint.
I hope these tips help you.
And that your NFL team drafts well.
If you hated this post and hate me, at least we can hate the Yankees together.
What's next? Learn about the Bechdel Test!
While not all films are created equal, who's to say they can't all strive for equality? At the very least, a film attempting to capture both the simplicity and intricacies of life would do best to display them accurately.