May 14, 2020

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.

Inequality sucks.

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? 

No. 

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. 

Keep reading!     

Your Comment

14 Comments

I love the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in films! It's a fantasy, I dont see where the problem is. Hobbits don't exist, dragons don't exist, aliens from outer space don't exist so what? This is the power of cinema. I personally met a few girls in my life who do look like those "dream girls". They are not that fake, just exagerated.
And why don't we talk about the male version? Cause it seems than in most American romantic comedies guys find the time to spend 6 hours a day at the gym and are often rich. This is even less realistic than the Manic Pixie Dream Girl...
Romantic comedies are NOT realistic at all. It's as much a fantasy as science-fiction films. The day American filmmakers will make realistic romantic comedies, they will star 250 pounds people who work at McDonald's. I don't think it would be very popular...

May 14, 2020 at 12:03PM

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Vincent Galiano
Filmmaker / Screenwriter / Photographer
591

The problem is they are depicted as a reality, they don't just exist in fantasy scenarios, they appear in more ground films and TV shows. Think of it like that subtle product placement. When you're aware of it, it's very clearly a product placement, but for most people just wanting to enjoy some entertainment, it works on a subconscious level.

May 14, 2020 at 1:24PM

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TJ
84

> The problem is they are depicted as a reality, they don't just exist in fantasy scenarios, they appear in more ground films and TV shows.

I call BS. All kinds of things in Hollywood/TV are depicted as reality. That's the whole point. There are none "hardboiled detectives" the kind we see in movies, gangsters are hardly like in "more ground in reality" Scorsese films, and so on. "Ground in reality" just means "make it appear more realistic", it doesn't mean it's realistic and not still a movie.

Not to mention that the kind of films that have "prominent" pixie dream girls, are 100% romantic comedies, fantasies, etc, in other words they're almost entirely about entertainment fun, not supposed to be realistic, gritty reality, or anything.

That said, another issue is that those kind of girls do exist. The biggest trope here is that this is just a trope, and such girls can't exist. Which dictates what girls can and cannot be. Yes, there are girls like this who don't fit into the traditional old-fashioned girl / modern girl sterotypes. There are girls into bikes and guitars for example, who also like a quirky look (in fact YouTube has a lot of them). Should they be forbidden because that makes them a "magic pixie"?

Anther BS is that "a manic pixie dream girl is a female character written whose only purpose is to help the men in their story change.". For one, that's the case with almost all supporting characters in movies, men or women. To assist the hero in their story change.

The "sage older advisor" to the main hero kind of character for example, has a similar purpose.

In movies where protagonists are women, it's usually men (ex boyfriends, creepy guys that they fell for for a while, bosses who put them down) are there "whose only purpose is to help the women in their story change.".

May 14, 2020 at 3:36PM

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Preach!

May 14, 2020 at 4:33PM

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Vincent Gortho
none
1142

No, they're not depicted as reality! We are aware, as viewers, that what we are watching is an entertainment, a TV or movie confection, not a documentary. The relationship between us the viewer, and the artists who make these confections, is understood, and accepted. And, are we not entertained? A lot of us like the MPDG, like others like watching Marvel superheroes, conscience-stricken soldiers, over-stressed doctors, or scheming politicians, whatever... It's drama, comedy, romance, you-name-it... All of these characters are, in their way, cliches. The challenge for all of us, as writers, producers, or directors, is to make them strong enough, and vivid enough, to command our attention for the hour or two that we spend in their company for the duration of the entertainment. That's the test. Not whether a so-called cliche character is wrong in itself. If the MPDG is a watchable character who justifies her place in that entertainment, then that's fine by me. She's fulfilled her role, played her part, and earned her place in it..!

May 21, 2020 at 10:48AM

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This is just a total misunderstanding and/or refusal to engage with the criticism of calling something a Manic Pixie Dream Girl – the "dream" quality of this trope has very little to do with how pretty or even unrealistic the girl is. It's about how the storyteller uses the female love interest (often the second lead in the film) exclusively as a device to develop/mature a fundamentally boring boy character, who's a surrogate for the writer – instead of giving us a 3 dimensional, original character. It's just such a waste of storytelling real-estate.

May 17, 2020 at 10:21AM

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This was helpful, thank you.

May 15, 2020 at 8:59AM

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Cameron Sprinkle
Videographer
1

I feel like this type of character is and "issue" only if you personally see it too much. Otherwise, it's only one of many types of female characters. Giving it a label only serves to hyperfocus on it making it seem like it's overdone.

May 15, 2020 at 10:48AM, Edited May 15, 10:48AM

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Dantly Wyatt
Writer, Director, Content Creator.
890

ok

May 15, 2020 at 6:43PM

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Hút Bể Phốt Tại Hải Phòng
Hút bể phốt tại Hải Phòng | Dịch vụ hút bể phốt chuyên nghiệ
166

As a pop culture trope it is much more prevalent than the automatically friend zoned Manic Pixie Dream Boy trope. Poor Duckie....

May 16, 2020 at 6:19AM

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Maybe not the best idea to take this advice if you WANT to make a film FOR a young guy maybe looking for love/a mate/understanding etc while HIS naive/youthful 'story' unfolds on screen......and where he might ALSO actually learn something about himself and others, including the girl he might have taken for granted!.

There's a reason 'cliches' exist in media and storytelling, they're what people quickly and easily identify with, in a TV ad you only have 30 seconds to ESTABLISH and tell a whole story.

The 'manic pixie dream-girl' 'cliche' was a cliche by the time it was defined as such, like the word 'grunge'. The "empowered and dis-likeable angry victim" is the current trending 'cliche' to now beat.

I'd like to get rid of the 'I have a destiny' cliche but it's a REAL good way to have an audience instantly identify with the main protagonist in pretty much ANY setting and circumstance.

We should probably also be upset that Scorsese characters are under-represented in those Jennifer Aniston romantic comedies......but stories and films are (and probably should be) made for different markets, otherwise they become massively generic, boring and even MORE cliched when so prioritising mass 'all encompassing' markets and agendas over....... JUST TELLING STORIES..... while hopefully NOT overthinking things into a generic boredom which ultimately says nothing and where you're also just constantly second guessing yourself due to a fear of potential 'offence'.....somewhere.

I'm going back to gaze at my navel like the author of this article AND to think about Winona Ryder pre-'crazy eyes' in Edward Scissorhands.....I know it was Edward's story but I liked HER and HER 'manic pixie girl' story, particularly the part where she realises she's part of a 'mob-mentality' society set in its generic, 'rules regardless' based nasty way.......where those scary 'scissor-hands' or 'manic pixie dream-girls' should have been the LEAST of anyone's concerns!

May 16, 2020 at 5:14PM

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Over-simplified, devoid of nuance rubbish.

May 21, 2020 at 9:27AM

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Greg Anderson
Director | Producer | Writer
150

Problematic/*glitch%*glitch%problematic*spark}}}}

May 21, 2020 at 10:16AM, Edited May 21, 10:16AM

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Aaron Harper
Rental House Manager
353

Mmmmm... Some good scriptwriting advice here, but, it's a little po-faced. The plain fact is, that for many men, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, is (while admittedly superficial), an attractive ideal. Yes, we know that in grounded real life, there aren't too many women like that around, but in the world of romantic sitcom ("romcom"), which is after all, a very popular and appealing entertaining souffle to divert us in this grim and challenging world, we're aware of that, and it can provide us with a loveable character for us to spend an hour or two with, before we return to the real-life challenges around us. We know she's pretend - like the possibly, equally manic, or man-with-a-problem, that she's going to interact with, and provide the plotted fun for the duration of the film. Romcom is idealised entertainment! It's escapism! We know it's not quite real life, which is, among many reasons, why we enjoy it, and its characters. Surely, as ever, the ultimate arbiter is whether that characterisation works within the context of the piece. Clearly your examples, (among many others), do. Your point (isn't it?), is that the MPDG has become a film cliche, and that's why we should write more rounded women. Yes! But don't knock the MPDG. Many of us still find her very appealing..!

May 21, 2020 at 10:30AM

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