The Importance of Womance

All around the internets, you can often see cries and complaints that YA is “too girly” or that there isn’t enough fiction to interest boys. Of the latter, I say that there have been centuries of “boys’ fiction”, so let the girls have a turn. Of the former, I say that if by “too girly”, you mean “too much romance”, then I would have to begrudgingly agree.

Not that I have an issue with romance. I like a good love story. Who doesn’t? But in my editorial career, while I often saw a good love story in my submissions, I found a disappointing lack of fiction that celebrated other loves in addition to romance. Familial love. Platonic love. Especially platonic love between ladies.

Those who cannot conceive of Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend.

—C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, “Friendship”

I always found it curiously sad that so many fictional heroines seem to lack a great support base in female best friends. I’ve read about the Tomboy, the Lone Wolf, the Only Girl in the Clubhouse, et al, but not much about the girl with the BFF to whom she’s pours her heart and soul on a regular basis. Honestly, sometimes it’s difficult to find YA that even passes the Bechdel test, despite the plethora of books with great female characters. Nothing makes me a little sadder than reading books with fantastic female characters…who can only carry conversations about the men in their lives.

Now, the Bechdel test is not an indicator of quality; it’s simply a metric against which to judge a work of literature (or film, or television, etc.). There are plenty of amazing books and films that don’t pass, and plenty of, er, lesser works that do. Case in point: The ultra-camp, ultra- cheese film Sharknado passes the Bechdel test, but the awesome Pacific Rim does not.*

What I’m trying to say is that, for me, it’s not necessarily enough for me to have an awesome lady character exist in a vacuum. I’d like my awesome lady characters to interact with other lady characters, have relationships with other lady characters, and have those relationships also contribute to and be important to the narrative. In other words, I’d like more womances, please.

What is a womance? Everyone knows what a bromance is, and a womance is just that, but you know, with ladies.

How to Write a Womance

  1. Do you have two named female characters who are friends?
  2. Do they have a loving and supportive relationship with each other that occasionally encompasses petty jealousies as well as mutual admiration? (In other words, is it nuanced?)
  3. Do they interact with each other, cry with each other, laugh with each other, and sometimes fight with each other?

If you’ve answered yes to those three questions, then congratulations! You are on your way to writing a womance in your book.

How NOT to Write a Womance

  1. Does your main female character talk about how she doesn’t really have female friends?
  2. Does your main female character express contempt about other ladies (“shallow”, “vapid”, and “air-headed” are a few adjectives leveled by heroines against other female characters)?
  3. Does your main female character have a female friend that only seems to be around for her to go over her boy troubles?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions (especially No. 2), then perhaps you might take a chance to step back and evaluate why your awesome female character doesn’t seem to have room for other awesome female characters in her life. Granted, there are perfectly justifiable reasons a heroine may not have close female friends; however, these reasons may or may not be cliche. Is she a motherless daughter/only girl in a troup of boys who never had a chance to learn how to socialize with other women? Is she a tomboy who doesn’t like “girly” things? Did she grow up in total isolation on a lonely island with no one but her father?

I’m not saying these sorts of girls don’t exist in real life, but I also think there are many more ladies who have a support base of other ladies and consider those relationships very important. Why, the ladies of PubCrawl are incredibly important to me, and I was a tomboy who disavowed all things “girly” growing up. (I have since evolved.) And while a womance need not be the most important part of a story, I’d like to see evidence of one here and there.

What do y’all think? Do you like the term “womance”? Do you, like me, think it should be used more? What are some books with wonderful womances in them that you recommend?


*It makes me sad that in an otherwise feel-good movie, it fails in this regard. It has two fantastic POC characters with well-developed stories! A great female lead who isn’t sexualized or objectified! Mako Mori is a wonderful heroine, but could it have killed the filmmakers to have her exchange some words with another lady? Especially the awesome Russian Jaeger pilot? C’mon, Hollywood!

     

23 Responses to The Importance of Womance

  1. Amie Kaufman
    Amie Kaufman Jul 30 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Long live the womance! I’m sure this will get plenty of mentions, but Code Name Verity is a standout for me. A love story between two amazing women, all about their incredible friendship.

    • JJ
      JJ Jul 30 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      CNV is certainly the most recent and the most memorable for me too. *still sobbing about that book*

    • Sarah Laurence Aug 2 2013 at 5:27 pm #

      I’d add Wein’s latest ROSE UNDER FIRE for wonderfully nuanced girl/women friendships. The companion book to CNV is already out in the UK and will be released in the USA in September. Looking to the past, the Anne of Green Gables series starts with a close friendship between 2 girls. My WIP has a sporty tomboy with close female and male friends. I love your term Womance!

  2. Jessica Knauss Jul 30 2013 at 7:52 am #

    My medieval epic novel has a subtle, complex relationship between two female characters — and one of them is the antagonist of the whole book, for a further twist! In my other stories, if I’m not making a point about how we’re alone in the world, female friendships abound. I’ll be watching this thread to see where I can read more.

  3. Marc Vun Kannon Jul 30 2013 at 8:01 am #

    The wonderful series of Yurt books by C. Dale Brittain has some excellent examples of womances, bromances, and romances! One of the greatest relationships in the series is between the hero, the wizard Daimbert, and the priest Joachim. In the last book, Is This Apocalypse Necessary?, the womance between the castle constable and the former nun has far-reaching ramifications for both of them, but I don’t want to spoil the plot.
    I have several myself, most recently in a fanfiction series I just concluded, but also in my second fantasy novel, A Warrior Made, where many wives and mothers get involved in the story.

  4. Laila Jul 30 2013 at 8:05 am #

    I couldn’t agree more. This is so important to me in novels – writing or reading. In my first novel, I was especially interested in mother/daughter and sister relationships and in its sequel I am moving into the female friends area – in general, I always feel more comfortable with a good amount of women characters who interact with each other about the plot, not necessarily about the man.

  5. ellie M Jul 30 2013 at 8:57 am #

    I love womance and Bromance! the relationships that just make you feel GOOD and wish you had an awesome friendship like that.

  6. Tasha Turner Jul 30 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Not sure if I’ve seen much of this. I want to say there is womance in the Vampire Academy series. It might also be in The Hallow’s by Kim Harrison with Rachel & Ivy & later Ceri & Rachel. It’s certainly something I’d like to see more of in novels and I’ll add it to my list of things to keep in mind with my own writing.

  7. Sandy Jul 30 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Womance, like almost all new words, may take a little getting used to but I can dig it. One of the main reasons I love Sarah Rees Brennan novels is for the non-romantic relationships. There are bromances and womances all over her books as well as male/female friendships ^_^. In fact my faovurite relationships in her books are of the platonic or familial kind. I definitely recommend Unspoken and Team Human. The Doppelganger Duology by Marie Brennan definately has womances abound in that mini series. Most of the characters are female xD

    • JJ
      JJ Jul 30 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      I LOVE Sarah Rees Brennan’s books for that reason too! I especially love the way she writes about family, especially the relationships between any of her sibling characters.

  8. Dahlia Adler Jul 30 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    I’ve been dying for more YA about female friendships. My high school best friends are still my best friends, and I find it so frustrating how almost every relationship between girls in YA seems to be between frenemies. My friends didn’t ditch me for boys, I didn’t secretly think they were stupid, and I wasn’t secretly stewing in some sort of jealousy that erupted and resolved itself just in time for graduation. I finally did the whole “Write the book you want to read” thing and wrote my newest manuscript about what I think and hope is a realistic, nuanced, layered friendship between best friends, and it’s my favorite thing I’ve written. It just seemed like time.

  9. R.A.Deckert Jul 30 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Pick up “Secrets of Jin Shei” and its follow-up, “Embers of heaven”, both by Alma Alexander. The ultimate books about female friendship.

  10. Evie Jul 30 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    A Toast to Starry Nights has a great womance between the protagonist and her bestie. Snarky but supportive, almost sisterly. It’s a contrast with the relationship the protagonist has with her mother. Felt very real (and funny)

  11. Rachel Jul 30 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    I hadn’t really noticed this, but you’re right. It isn’t YA, but FIRST GRAVE on the RIGHT by Darynda Jones includes a fun friendship between two women. My manuscript is YA horror, and has super close female relationships. The main character is in an all-female secret society, so…yeah. 🙂

  12. Kacey Jul 30 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Major love for this post. My favorite womance that immediately sprung to mind is Celaena and Nehemia in THRONE OF GLASS. I totally love their friendship.

    It does seem like way too often YA there’s a best friend who only exists to complain about boy problems then ~fade away into the mist.~ I definitely am guilty of having an MC who falls under #2 in How Not to Write a Womance, BUT one of the subplots is actually about her learning how that’s stupid and how to actually have meaningful female friendships.

    (Also, I totally noticed that about Pacific Rim failing the Bechdel Test while I was watching too. It’s such as shame because it was so great in other ways! And I absolutely wanted to see more with the Russians.)

  13. Janita Jul 30 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    LOVE the idea of womance! I hate it when female characters downgrade other female secondary characters as vapid or shallow. Not fun!

  14. Cailtin Vanasse Jul 30 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Do the characters have to have a David/Jonathan relationship to qualify as a Womance or can they be part of a group of friends? IIRC Melina Marchetta’s first two books (Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca involve girl protagonists who have normal friendships with other girls but they’re not exclusive bffs by any means. Similarly Cammie the primary protagonist of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl series has four BFF girl friends who, yes advise her on boys but who are alos there for her when dealing with really serious spy and/or life stuff.

    I’m actually having the hardest time remembering if the books I’ve read have the appropriate level of female friendship, which I think says quite a lot in itself.

  15. Alex Jul 31 2013 at 1:33 am #

    So true–we need more examples of female friendship. The friendship between Sal and Phoebe in Walk Two Moons stands out to me and keeps coming to mind as I write my own novel. Growing up, my close female friends formed an incredibly important part of my childhood, and I have remained quite close with a few of them. These are relationships to be celebrated.

  16. Alyssa Jul 31 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    I love this. One of the main things I’m working on in my current WIP is developing the womance between my main character and her BFF, so this post really couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I agree that Pacific Rim was awesome, and the character relationships were so well done, but it sadly lacked a good, solid relationship between two female characters.

    In Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, the relationship between Mia and her best friend, Kim, is a great example of a womance. Their friendship is developed really well through flashbacks, and it’s definitely nuanced, as it takes a serious fight (that has nothing to do with a boy) for them to become so close in the first place. Also, it’s from a TV show rather than a book, but Buffy and Willow are one of my favorite pairs of female friends in anything, ever.

  17. Kelly Jul 31 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    I have two women who supports the main female character through her breakup with her fiance and her impending alcoholic problem. Yup, I think I’ve got a womance. I love womances. They’re so much fun to write.

  18. Anna J. Boll Aug 7 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    I’ve also been thinking more about plutonic relationships between young women and men. Growing up, I had a dear friend who was a guy, the “boy next door” in fact but our friendship gave me access to a male perspective and behaviors that were otherwise foreign. If we want our books to appeal to male and female readers, we need to include well rounded male and female characters.

  19. Alexa Y. Aug 12 2013 at 7:35 am #

    What a novel concept! I definitely think there ought to be more “womance” in books, mostly because I personally love seeing females being real true friends. The first example that occurs to me is Celaena and Nehemia in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. Their friendship seems authentic, and they are able to complement and challenge one another!

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