Tag Archives: strong female characters

This will all be Worth It. One Day.

The edits for ‘Tider’ are ongoing. I now look like this:

Gaaaah! Image: prevention.com

Image: prevention.com

I am currently on my fourth careful re-read of the manuscript, and – horrifyingly – I am still finding plot holes, problems, inconsistencies and stupid errors. Taken all together, they are making me doubt my own sanity, ability to write, suitability to use a computer and, in short, my claim to be a productive and useful member of society.

(On this point: when writing a book, it’s always good to begin it from a place of total equilibrium in your mental and physical health. By the time you’ve finished, you won’t be quite as self-actualised as you were when you started, but that’s all right.)

One thing I have definitely learned from this week’s writing has been: Never throw anything away. When you’re editing, and hacking great lumps of text out of your book, it’s important not to fling the scraps into the oubliette of the Recycling Bin. Certainly, it’s vital never to delete anything completely. You really never know when you might need it again. As an example, let me tell you about a scene I wrote several months ago, where my heroine breaks into her best friend’s house in the middle of the night to beg him for his help and ends up having to escape through the bathroom window when his mother wakes up; it was fun, but it didn’t fit with a later edit. To replace it, I put in an emotionally wrenching scene where the heroine’s best friend comes across her in their secret hideout, and offers his help when he sees her in distress – it seemed to suit better, and it certainly fit more snugly with the plot as I’d written it in that particular draft.

Alas, no longer.

Now, I’m changing stuff around again. I’ve noticed myself doing what I always do with my protagonists – making them too safe, and not putting them in enough danger – and that has to be remedied before I go any further with the current draft. My heroine will no longer be discovered, weeping, by a boy; she will be the agent of her own fate, and the original scene will be restored – with extra, added kick-punchery for good measure. So, I spent several minutes yesterday being extremely glad that I have a file labelled ‘Offcuts’ where I put everything I cut from my earlier drafts, and which I can use to restore the book to its former glory without raising my blood pressure too much.

It's all good. Image: magnahealthblog.wordpress.com

It’s all good.
Image: magnahealthblog.wordpress.com

It’s good to be aware of your mistakes, and of the things you tend to do which stymie the development of your book and your characters. For me, one of these things is that I keep my protagonists too safe. It’s always good to put them through the wringer, and make them suffer; it sounds cruel, but it’s not. If a protagonist is struggling, a reader will engage with them more strongly. People are inclined to support the underdog, I guess. If everything comes too easily to your heroine, then it’s going to induce a reader to start rolling their eyes in bored disbelief, until eventually they put your book to one side and start reading something else instead. Who wants to read a story where everything happens to the protagonist? You want to write a story where the protagonist happens to the plot, not the other way round.

So, because of this, my heroine will be doing no more anguished weeping in a darkened corner. She’ll be busting her way out of places, busting her way into other places, and making stuff happen.

I’m also working through my foreshadowing at the moment – or, in other words, the ‘hint dropping’ that occurs throughout the text, preparing the reader for the end of the book. It’s important to do this right, with a light touch that isn’t overdoing the exposition; however, you don’t want to leave too much in the dark, either, and it’s always good to nudge the reader very gently toward some of the good stuff that’s coming up in the next chapter, or ten chapters away. I’m finding this difficult, I have to admit. One thing is for sure, though – I wouldn’t have a chance of being able to do it without having a completed draft to hand. You need to have a clear idea of your entire story arc before you can start flagging hidden details to a reader.

Pacing is also a problem for me in writing a novel – the current draft of ‘Tider’ has a lot happening to the protagonist in the last five or ten pages, and I want to change that before I consider that book ‘finished’. Foreshadowing will help this, as will allowing my heroine enough brains and chutzpah to start putting things together herself, making educated and intelligent guesses which lead her to important conclusions – then, they won’t all have to be explained to her at the end.

Wow. Writing this post has really made me see how much work I still need to do.

Writing a book is hard. Being aware of your pitfalls is a good way to start fixing them, but it’s only half the battle. I’m sure there are mistakes I won’t see, but I’m going to do my best to spot and destroy as many of them as I can while I have the chance.

Wish me luck!

Writer at work! Image: orwell.ru

Writer at work!
Image: orwell.ru



Feminism! It’s Everywhere!

So, this past weekend I found myself in Dublin city with a little time to spare. This, I have to say, doesn’t happen very often any more – even less so when I’m in the company of my husband – and we wondered what we could do to fill a few hours.

‘Why don’t we go and see a film?’ suggested The Husband.

‘What a wonderful idea,’ replied The Wife, with a sparkle in her eye.

My husband is a film fan, but not exactly a cinema – i.e. the physical movie theatre – fan. He knows, however, that I am both a film and a cinema nut. I was ridiculously pleased at his suggestion, so much so that I may actually have giggled and gambolled – just a little – at the thought of it, not only at the sheer delight of going to see a film but also at my husband’s loveliness in offering to bring me. So, off to the movies we went.

We were in the mood for a comedy, which was perfect, because the first thing to jump out at both of us from the listings screen in the cinema foyer was ‘RED 2’. We looked at each other, and immediately ran for the ticket line.

Image: totalfilm.com

Image: totalfilm.com

Some of you may have no idea what I’m talking about, so I’ll do a little ‘splainin’ here. ‘RED’ (it stands for ‘Retired and Extremely Dangerous’) came out in 2010, and was somewhat of an unlikely hit. Telling the story of several retired agents who once worked for, variously, the CIA, KGB and MI6 (sometimes an assortment of all three) who just can’t give up the old job, it was a darkly comic action movie with excellent performances from a stellar cast. I’d been vaguely aware a sequel was in the works, but I hadn’t realised it had been released. We were hoping, so much, that ‘RED 2’ would be a worthy successor to the original, and it was. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard at a film in months.

But the humour, and the cast, and the story, and the concept behind the movie, are not what I want to talk about today. Instead, it’s the ‘f’ word. Yes – feminism. What else? ‘RED 2’ pleased my feminism-sensors, very much indeed.

Firstly: the movie has Helen Mirren in it. Helen Mirren.

Secondly: none of the female characters are required to get their clothes off, for any reason whatsoever. This was such a relief and utterly wonderful in every way.

Thirdly: none of the women are under forty, and the movie not only highlights this, but celebrates it. None of them look fake, or surgically enhanced, or anything less than their beautiful, natural selves. Hooray!

Fourthly: none of the women are for ‘decoration’ only; they all have skills, talents, strength, courage and chutzpah, and each of them is vital – in their own unique and interesting way – to the film and the storyline.

Fifthly: none of the women are ‘rewarded’ with a husband at the end.

Sixthly: I’m pretty sure it passes the Bechdel Test.

Awesome. Image: hitfix.com

Image: hitfix.com

Movies are an amazing art form. I adore them. Nothing thrills me more than a good film (besides a good book, of course). However, like a lot of people, the ways in which women are portrayed in films and the ways in which female characters are used in the film industry angers me, at times. Even as we sat waiting for ‘RED 2’ to start, we were bombarded with trailers for other movies, one of which (I deliberately forgot the name of it, as a form of personal protest) featured women as nothing more than bikini-clad toys; perhaps the finished movie has some redeeming features, but I intend never to find out. A recent movie I saw, which I loved, I have to admit, but which irritated me dreadfully from the point of view of its treatment of women was ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’. In this film, the men are the heroes, there is gratuitous female nudity and the women – despite the fact that they may be doctors, or capable of speaking a multitude of alien languages, or entitled to serve on the bridge of a starship – are all, primarily, beautiful distractions for the men. Objects first, people afterwards. That’s depressing.

It drives me mad when female characters aren’t treated with the same respect as male ones. It drives me mad when a film demands a woman’s nudity for no discernible narrative reason. It really drives me mad when a woman’s only role is to scream and stand around looking terrified, waiting to be rescued, and I hate films where a woman’s intelligence is ignored, or her ideas discounted for no reason besides the fact of her gender. Even good films – clever films, enjoyable and well-made films – can be guilty of treating female characters this way. Women (both on celluloid and in real life) aren’t perfect, of course – they can sometimes be shrill and annoying and silly and full of stupid ideas and they can be arrogant and unlikeable and even nasty – but so can men, because people are people. I really can’t understand why female characters are seen, so often, as ‘supporting’ characters, sidekicks to the male characters and not at all integral to the story. I wonder how many films exist which would work just as well if all the female characters were removed? More than we’d like to think, I’m sure.

Anyway. Go and see ‘RED 2’, particularly if you saw ‘RED’ and enjoyed it. There’s violence, and ‘scenes of extreme peril’, and I’m sure it won’t suit everyone’s palate. From the point of view of how it treats its women, though, I have no complaints. And, as well as that, it had me weeping with laughter at several junctures, so that can’t be bad.

Happy Monday! Let’s hope this is a good start to an even better week.