This is kind of specific, but something I always struggle with figuring out how to do is pass the Bechdel Test in something I write when the focal/POV character is a guy. I know the Bechdel Test isn’t the be-all-end-all of well developed female characters, but as a measure for how much of a presence my female characters have in stories, I was wondering if you had any tips with it.
For those that don’t know, the Bechdel Test was coined by Alison Bechdel in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, and states thus:
1. A movie (in this case, book) has to have at least two named women in it.
2. Who talk to each other.
3. About something other than a man.
While the Bechdel Test is really meant for movie criticism, it’s a very good thing to keep in mind when writing, especially when your protagonist is male and/or exists in a male-centric environment (like a historical war regiment, etc.). It’s also important to realize that it’s the third part of the test that is the hardest to pass; ‘something other than a man’ doesn’t mean not talking about attraction/relation to said man, it means a discussion a subject that shows the existence of these characters does not hinge on said man. In other words, to prove they’re their own people who have their own concerns.
Now as for the specifics of the question:
I also have trouble passing the Bechdel Test. What I take away from the Bechdel Test, however, is the need for a character to have a female presence or influence in his or her life that is reflected or shown in the story, much as someone in real life would clearly have such things even if they aren’t present now. Who we are surrounded by shape us: who raised us, who befriends us, who we admire. Even if the story has a male protagonist/male environments/male first person POV, the characters have/do/will have women in their life that influence them.
I recommend doing a character sketch of your male characters with some questions about female influence in their lives. Who raised them? Who influenced them in the past that isn’t around now? Who are the female characters in your story, and what role do they play to your male character? Who do they look up to, admire, or are a fan of? Really focus on on who these people are, what their concerns would be, and how aware your male character would be of those concerns. If they’re not aware of them, you might find delicious plot ideas in finding ways to make them aware. Or you might find a brilliant explanation for a quirk or trait. Anything goes!
(Note: It is also possible to have trouble passing the test if your main character is female. In fact, this is usually my problem! The same advice applies.)
Another thing you can try is doing a self question/answer on why your story doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, and if it’s necessary for it to pass the test at all. Better understanding the environment of your story that results in this can help strengthen your understanding of how your story environment works - or finding the flaws that a larger female presence can fix!
You may not be able to find a way to pass the Bechdel Test, because a written story is not a movie and is limited in ways movies are not. You may not have to pass the Bechdel Test, depending on the limits of your story. But it will probably help immensely to go out of your way to work to make better the female presence (that is not just a romantic interest) in your stories. Understanding and showing that makes your characters more rounded and real, and someone the reader will have an easier time committing to.