Although this is an article about a really cool (if much-maligned) type of character and about how to write these characters in a fresh and interesting way, I’m going to have to start by talking about politics and media criticism for a while.
In case you’ve never heard the term “manic pixie dream girl” used to describe a character in a film, comic, game and/or novel, then it’s probably worth watching this video by the controversial feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian (who isn’t a fan of these types of characters).
Or, if you’ve got a dark sense of humour, “manic pixie dream girl” characters are also parodied in this fairly cynical Youtube video too.
But, if you didn’t have time to watch the videos, a “manic pixie dream girl” character is – as the name suggests- a slightly eccentric and perpetually cheerful female character.
Amongst other things, these characters make life happier and more interesting for the other main characters. These characters are also often the love interest for the (often male) protagonist of the story too, but they don’t have to be.
Needless to say, Anita Sarkeesian disagrees with the idea of “manic pixie dream girl” characters because – in movies at least- they often only tend to serve as a “muse” and/or love interest for the male protagonist and they often aren’t fully-developed characters in their own right.
And, yes, when you write a “manic pixie dream girl” character in this way, then I can see why you might end up with a the kind of two-dimensional character that annoys discerning readers and/or feminist critics.
But, I don’t think that this is reason enough to write off this entire group of characters because – when they are written well – they are not only one of the most fun types of characters to write, but they are also some of the most memorable and interesting types of characters too.
If you want a great example of a well-written “manic pixie dream girl” character, then it’s worth checking out an American detective show called “NCIS“.
One of the main characters in “NCIS” is a forensic scientist called Abby Sciuto – she has lots of eccentric habits, wears really cool gothic outfits, and is almost always unnaturally cheerful and perky (due to excessive caffeine consumption). So, she’s a classic “manic pixie dream girl” character, right?
Although Abby is eccentric and cheerful, she is also probably the most intelligent character in the show (after all, she is a scientist). Not only that, she also displays a wide range of emotions (even though she is unusually cheerful most of the time) and has her own fully-developed backstory too.
In addition to this, although she has a brief relationship with one of the male main characters, she doesn’t exist purely as a love interest for any of the other characters.
In short, Abby is a well-written character, who just happens to also be cheerful and eccentric. If they made a spin-off show where she was the main character, then it would still be an absolutely brilliant show – because she’s a well-written character.
And, I think that this is the main test to see whether you’ve written a good “manic pixie dream girl” character or not. If you can write a compelling story where she is the main character, then you’ve written a good character. If you can’t, then you haven’t.
In fact, using a “manic pixie dream girl” character as your protagonist is also one of the main ways that you can keep this character type fresh and interesting (and I actually sort of tried to do this in a comic I made in 2013).
Another way to keep this character type fresh is to flip it completely on it’s head and make your “manic pixie” character male instead, although I guess that you might possibly have to show these cheerful and eccentric parts of your character’s personality in a more subtle way if you’re writing a male character though.
So, why are well-written “manic pixie dream girl” characters so awesome?
Well, whilst “realistic” and “sensible” characters can often be interesting and compelling, they can also be kind of boring. So, “manic pixie dream girl” characters are extremely memorable for the simple reason that they “stand out from the crowd” of other characters surrounding them.
Plus, many writers write “ordinary” characters with the hope that “ordinary” members of the audience will relate to them. And, if you’re a very “ordinary” person, then this is great. But if, like me – you’re not, then it isn’t.
So, well-written “manic pixie dream girl” characters can provide much better aspirational role models for more “unusual” people. For the simple reason that it shows us that “wierd” doesn’t always have to equate with “evil”.
Finally, writing “manic pixie dream girl” characters can also be a great way of expressing all of the eccentric parts of yourself that you’re too afraid to express around other people in real life.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂