I was going to talk about how it’s important to stay healthy while you’re working on any project (even a writing project), but I’ll save that for another time. Because I seem to be coming down with something, and because, earlier this week, my thought processes were waylaid by a few different posts about what it means to be a woman, and how society views women. I’m not taking a stance on whether one or both of these posts is right or wrong. They simply made me think. About myself, and specifically about my female characters.
I’ve talked about this conundrum before: how important (or not) it is for a character to be likable. It’s the same for women characters as it is for men. Whether they’re likable is often irrelevant, so long as they’re realistic. Likability should come – or not – based on how “real” they are: their sympathies, their reactions, their thoughts and feelings. My current main character is a man, and his big starting flaws are that he’s vain, distrustful, and driven by his biology, to put it nicely. He’s been an absolute blast for me to write, because – particularly early on – he’s free to be so one-dimensional in a lot of his interactions (“Let’s have fun!” “Let’s surf!” “Let’s f–k!”). Since it’s a romance story, he has to face and overcome (or run away from) certain obstacles introduced by the main female character.
This is where it gets tricky.
Women expect other women in stories – especially romances – to be intelligent, powerful, strong. But, not all women are powerful or strong in the same way.
Don’t get me wrong: I love women who kick ass. When I was a kid, I wanted so badly to be Vasquez from ALIENS: she was no-nonsense, stood toe-to-toe with any of her fellow (male) Marines, and went out in a blaze of glory. I loved that! My opinions of strong women haven’t changed as I’ve gotten older…but I have realised a woman doesn’t necessarily have to be a stoic smartgunner in order to be “strong.”
said kickass smartgunner
As I’ve become a woman, myself, I find I appreciate other women – fictional or real – who can embrace their femininity as a kind of strength. My last heroine was a woman who had a hard time reconciling being a fierce warrior but also a young woman who wanted to be loved by her man. That was a fun, enlightening journey to take with her, but I wanted to do something different for my next heroine.
Perhaps it’s because this current story is from a man’s point of view, but I don’t have a problem with my new heroine being girly, sassy, and sexy. (That’s what my hero likes about her!) That doesn’t mean she’s a wimp, though, and I don’t think I’m dismissing The Sisterhood by making her not be a fighter; her strength ends up manifesting in more subtle ways. Simply because she’s a nurturer rather than a hunter shouldn’t mean she’s any less valid as a strong woman character than a ball-busting CEO or tough-as-nails starship captain.
Of course, no one will ever be another USCMC PFC Vasquez, J. (Sidenote: Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez, is just as kick-ass as her breakout role. Just check out her shop at http://www.jenettebras.com/ – this is a lady who understands how great it is to be sexy!)
What does a “strong” woman character mean to you?
The other day, I couldn’t get a scene to work. This happens on a lot of days, actually, but this particular one was just grinding away at me. It was so frustrating, I wanted to just throw my laptop across the room and give up, say, To Hell with it, and let the story wither in my archives, like so many others.
Then, I received this message:
…[H]ow you describe the struggles of the main characters dealing with overcoming there [sic] personal issues and the physical issues of someone who has been confined to a wheel chair…is spot on. I really appreciate and admire how you got the pain and issues that are both physical and mental correctly for both characters.
After reading that, I felt awesome.
It’s easy for me to write facts. It’s also easy, sometimes, for me to write dialogue. And characters, and plot. But emotion made true – that’s where I pour a lot of my energies. It’s what I enjoy about stories (the conflicts of personalities), and it’s one part of my writing I try to do well. For that, I dig deep, into my own experiences, doubts, thoughts, heartaches.
So, when a reader – even a beta – comes back to me and says, Damn, girl, you got that right, it makes me think maybe I can do this, maybe this story is worth sharing beyond digital clippings and drafts passed to pals. And I sat back down and cleared my head…and the scene worked.
There’s still a long road ahead of me (revisions, edits, queries), but I’ll always keep that feedback pinned close to my desk, for the next time someone makes me feel like my writing is shit.
“Spot on.” Hell, yeah!
What keeps you writing your story?
As much as I enjoy delving into the heady depths of a good romance, one of my favorite parts of examining relationships is the dance of early affection between two characters. While not necessarily innocent (especially from a player’s point of view), it’s often full of a plain and refreshing simplicity:
They simply walked and talked: about the streets and shops, at first, but – as the steps wore on – about less random and more personal things. Such as the kinds of music they liked (she enjoyed an eclectic mix of dance hall, pop, and classical, while he favoured straight-up guitar rock, funk, and electronica), to what sorts of television programmes they preferred (she swooned over period masterpieces with the same affection he held for episodic science fiction, though they were both fans of detective dramas of any sort), to what foods they liked to eat (he was a lenient vegetarian, whereas she adored rare steak…but both of them found tandoori takeaway too scrumptious to ever pass up).
All along the way, Ross found himself becoming more and more curious about discovering what made pretty, perky, adorably sexy Amber Baelin tick, that he almost forgot how easily she could set his nerves on fire. Until they approached the heavy wooden door of the narrow two-storey row house she called home, that is, because it meant their time together was over.
I’ve occasionally spent a good deal of time with two would-be or could-be lovers breaking through the initial barriers of mutual ignorance. But, for this story, I felt the time would be better spent on the more pressing conflicts of self-doubt, past heartaches, and unexpected physical limitations. Still, it’s always fun to imagine how two characters can come together.
Someone might say that this is too much outright “telling” for a story. As for me, I like to think these smaller details are just icing on a bigger cake I’m trying to “show.”
How do you approach the blossoming of love in your stories? Or, do you think it’s just a bunch of rubbish, and bring on the bodycount?
I follow a lot of people on Twitter. Most of them, I follow for fun: they’re insightful, amusing, friendly folk. But some are on my “understanding the business of writing” list: agents, editors, writers, publishers. Some of these people offer the same insightful, amusing, friendly 140-character glimpses into their daily lives that the others do. But, lately, I’ve seen a trend of negativity in this latter crowd that makes me wonder if I’m right for this want-to-be-published storytelling game.
One person offered up a tweet that was basically, “Don’t send me your manuscript if…” Another said, “Don’t expect me to read your book if…” A third mentioned, “Don’t even think of querying me if…”
Many of these “don’ts” are valid, valuable points to know and understand…but I’ve gotten a bit fed up with seeing so many “don’ts” all over the place. As someone who’s chosen an art (storytelling) for a personal outlet, I’ve had to deal with a lot of naysaying and doubts already, and it does very little for one’s sense of self-worth to be told “Don’t” all the time.
So, I’ve decided to share in this space my list of “dos.” Hopefully, at least one of these will help you get through your slower days.
- Do be engaged with your own story. Love it, to help it grow beyond those scratchings of loose plot outlines and vague character sketches.
- Do respect your readers’ intelligence. The good ones want and deserve a story worth the time of picking up and reading.
- Do finish your story, even if that first ending isn’t all you’d hoped and dreamed. Qualification and strength of your story will come from revision, but you can only get to the point of revision if you manage to finish the story first.
- Do try your best. You will be more proud and pleased with your story if you know you’ve given it your all. Other people will see it, too!
- Do listen to critique. You won’t be able to please everyone, of course, but any well-thought critique is worth considering.
- Do remember that this is your story. Write it for you, first. If your goal is publishing and making millions, you may have to revise parts (or all) of it…but it should always remain your story at its core.
And, most importantly:
I had to link to this in honor of my surf mentor, Fiona. 🙂
Photo by Tom Tolkien.
A friend of mine asked to read my latest project, which happens to be Fearless. I don’t usually share my work with people I trust so early in the game, but I offered him the first two (draft) chapters, mostly just to shut him up.
What I got back was an earful. He made some good points, but this had to be my favorite critique: The best friend is more likable than the hero. To quote: “Your hero’s a jerk.”
That one actually made me grin. Because yes, he is. But, that’s a big part of the story.
One of the things I love about my main characters is that they’re flawed. Some more than others, of course, but I try to help them all grow. That’s the beautiful thing about heroes and heroines. They’re like you and me (sometimes scarily so), but, over the course of the story, they push themselves to be better people. They don’t always get what they want, but they’re stronger men and women for the effort.
Which is why it’s so much fun to write them as jerks in the beginning:
Ross felt a grin creep to his face. Then he raised his free arm and called out, “Mornin’, Beth!”
Neville clicked his tongue, muttering, “Grow up.”
Ross ignored him, swinging his board up as he approached both fruit and filly. He bent his head, offering the Crispins’ youngest daughter a leering smile. “You look as scrumptious as those apples!” he told her.
Beth laughed and blushed bright red under her kerchief. “Thank you,” she said, her voice mostly squeal.
It took some effort for Ross to keep his smile in place; hopefully, that voice would one day mature as nicely as her tits had already done. Still, he wasn’t interested in her, just the apples, so he offered her a charming flare of his nostrils and asked, “Think you could let us have a taste?”
What do you like best about your main character(s)? Are they the ones who grow over the story, or do they spur the growth in others?