The following list includes the elements that I strive for in my own writing. If you are an author, you can join me in this challenge, or if you’re a reader you can search for and share books that meet the criteria outlined below.
These are simply author challenges, not rules or tests. The idea is to use these points to create a better story, rather than jeering at how other books or movies have “failed”. Not every book an author writes needs to fulfill every one of these points, but conscious choices and awareness of social responsibility will enrich fiction for everyone.
1. Consider how a book’s cast reflects (or might better reflect) the differing ethnicities of its setting. Avoid stereotyping people. Be aware of historical context and sensitivities.
2. Include female characters of various personalities who interact with each other. (A simpler, more satirical version of this point is known as the “Bechdel Test”, created to highlight how few movies contain sufficient female characters to meet the very low bar of this test.)
3. If the cast is too small to satisfy point two, include at least one female character with a significant character arc. (Also known as the “Mako Mori Test”.)
4. Include a greater number of positive scenes of female friendship and/or female support than negative female interaction.
5. Avoid female-female sabotage, back-stabbing, competitiveness, or cattiness (unless these are to be addressed constructively as part of the plot, or feature as a balance to point 4).
6. Aim for at least a 50% female cast, preferably higher.
7. Avoid dead mothers.
8. Allow female characters to fill villain and anti-hero roles, but avoid the damaging tropes of evil stepmothers, evil elderly women (crones/witches/hags, etc.), and evil seductresses (i.e., female sexuality as sinful).
9. Avoid killing or harming a woman in order to motivate a male character (also known as a “refrigerated woman”).
10. Avoid including a female character whose entire purpose is to facilitate a male character’s growth arc (also known as a “manic-pixie dream-girl”). Give female characters their own arcs and purposes.
11. Avoid damsels in distress and hand-wringing passive protagonists.
12. Avoid “cursed”/”beast” male characters who are saved by a woman’s love/self-sacrifice.