Hello writer bees!
Today, I’m breaking down the iconic femme fatale. Here’s everything you need to know about the dangerous women of mystery fiction and film noir.
What is a Femme Fatale?
A French term meaning ‘fatal woman’, a Femme Fatale is a promiscuous, mysterious female archetype. This seductress is sexy and she knows it, bending others to her will with her charm and beauty. Oftentimes, her story line concludes with her demise, whether by imprisonment or death.
Key Characteristics of a Dangerous Woman
As a character trope, there are some trademark characteristics a femme fatale has. Here are just a few.
- She is street smart and vastly intelligent. Her observation skills can read anyone like a book.
- Driven by power, independence, or wealth. Will manipulate, and probably murder, anyone to get what she wants.
- A queen of fashion. Bold lipstick. Dramatic makeup and hair. Light colored clothing that gradually shifts to darker clothing. She makes a statement when she enters the room.
- She uses “feminine wiles” to her advantage. When she is in a relationship with someone or sleeps with them, there’s usually an ulterior motive. Always looks after their own self interest.
Detectives and Femme Fatales
The relationship between a hard boiled detective and a femme fatale is an interesting dynamic. While the hero seeks justices in his cases, they end up trapped in the spider’s wed. At times, they share a tumultuous romance, full of conflict and passion, eventually ending in turmoil. Will the detective turn her in to law enforcement? Or will the dangerous dame corrupt the hero?
Femme Fatale’s in Literature
Want to see a man-eater in action? Check out these
- Brigid O’Shaughnessy – The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
- Cora Papadakis – The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
- Carmen Sternwood – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Final Thoughts on Femme Fatales
Am I telling you to shove a cookie cutter version of this architype in your work? Not exactly. If you create a perfect copy of the traditional femme fatale, she may come off as stale and unrealistic, readers won’t be interested in her or the overall story.
Writers are meant to reinvent overdone tropes sometimes. Let aspects of a femme fatale inspire your own complex characters. The world could use more bold, fierce female characters, right?
Who are your favorite femme fatales? Let me know in the comments.
Stay safe out there, writer bees!
– Lady Jabberwocky