Monday, February 10, 2014

Gender equality, you say?

This picture was posted on my Facebook timeline:
(Click to enlarge)
I think that's pretty important, especially after my last post. Sort of like the next logical step. And I have to admit that, as with the last post, it has a sort of "oh, duh" quality to it.

And I have to admit, also, to being somewhat hesitant about it. And here's why: I don't feel that violence against women is ever justified. I've never hit a woman, I often feel that men who do are to be loathed. The flipside of that is that the characters in my novel are predominantly in the military, so violence is going to happen to them.

So as I'm going through it and changing the gender of a character here or there, the problem becomes that many of them are injured or killed in violent sequences. And I feel bad about that.

Should I? As I said, these are characters who are in the military, and it is absolutely an action/adventure novel, so violence is part of the quotient here. I feel an awkward guilt over it, and I'm not even sure that's justified.

In the end, I think I'll be okay - it's not like I'm going out of my way to be extra cruel towards these female characters. I'm putting them there because I want to be inclusive, even though that awkwardly means that they're included in violence.

What say you?

UPDATE: I'm going to post a few responses that I've received.

Jessica: Important questions to ponder. I think if the violence they suffer (and dole out) is equal then it's ok. Still tough though because of how prevalent violence against women is. I would encourage an author's note perhaps that offers a trigger warning?
Nichole: see, in the context that you write the stories in, i don't see it as an issue, because it's not like you deliberately write about women getting assaulted without defending themselves. these women are enlisted in the military or something very similar and get into situations where they are likely to be involved in some sort of violent combat. your female characters are usually rather badass and are more than capable of defending themselves.
Masha: I always understood the phrase "violence against women" to not just mean what the words say, but to refer to a specific set of behaviors where women are targeted because of the uniquely vulnerable position women occupy. For example in domestic abuse, or in cases of rape.

I don't think there is anything inherently more wrong in a man attacking a woman, than a man attacking a man. But when he does so in a context when his violence is not judged, when his violence is seen as acceptable, because of attitudes people have about men and women- "she asked for it" or "she belongs to him" or "he cant help himself, he is a man and men cannot control themselves after all" it becomes something different. It's not just the violent act itself that is wrong, it's the context in which men feel justified in taking out their rage on women, free from blame.
Martin: I think as long as your violence isn't consistently driven by gender then the violence itself in the narrative shouldn't be a problem no matter who it's against.
Karen: Seems to me that violence is part and parcel of being in the military, in a combat situation. Women in combat? They're going to get wounded, maimed, killed. It goes with the job.

Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Of Women and Refrigerators

(Image: stock xchng/jumelle)
A while back, I went to my friends on Facebook and said, "I want to create a strong female character. Where do I start?"

The best response I got was the simplest: "Create a strong character. Then make it female."

I mean, whoa, right?

I felt stupid for not having thought of that initially. But, of course, it's totally true. And when I began working on "Weirdo Company," I knew that the Davis character was going to be a major focus and I wanted to make sure that I never made her a victim - that she was always proactive in these adventures - even though to some extent, bad things have to happen to her and she will suffer through emotional crises.

Yes, she's the newbie. She's inexperienced - but we quickly find that she's capable. Throughout the 10 parts of the serial, Davis crisis is whether or not she belongs in this group, not whether she can cut it. I felt that was important, that her competence was not the question - it was whether she felt this was the right direction for her life and her career to go in.

Later, as her romance with Colin 'Rhymes' McCollin blossoms, one of the things I wanted to tackle with the characters was the concept of someone "needing to be rescued." And because I was actively trying to make Davis a "strong female character" that meant I had to struggle with how to explore that dynamic both in the context of a (fairly) light-hearted action/adventure setting and also by not ruining the Rhymes character by doing to him all the things that have been done to women characters throughout the years.

And the question seemed simple enough: Why does she "need" to be rescued? Why does anyone think that she does? And what does it to do her relationship with Rhymes if she doesn't?

One of the things I hate about TV shows is that many of them seem to build drama out of the "will-they-or-won't-they" concept - A romance between two characters who may or may not end up together. Think Ross and Rachel on "Friends." But what always bugged me about that show, and others, is that oftentimes the two characters will finally get together and then the writers simply have no concept of what to do with them. Because the entire relationship so far has been built on suspense! 

I didn't want to fall prey to that trap with Davis and Rhymes, either, and I think strengthening their relationship was key to that. Ross and Rachel went through an aggravating cycle of getting together and immediately breaking up, but I was far more invested in the relationship between Monica and Chandler on that show. Two people who fell in love and went through trials and tribulations without any of the immature nonsense that Ross and Rachel went through. Instead, their problems were all about figuring out how they would move forward together. 

In my mind, that's a much harder drama to get correct. It feels easier to go the Ross and Rachel route because it generates quick and easy interest. And it's a tried-and-true formula. 

And I'd much rather that Davis and Rhymes be more like Monica and Chandler. Their troubles are about learning what the other is capable of and sticking by each other, not about me trying to drive a wedge between them to manufacture drama.

I'm very happy with how Davis turned out. Is it all perfect? No. There's probably a couple of parts in some of the earlier stories where I slipped up with her, but my own journey as a writer and writing her as a character continues. In writing the "Weirdo Company" followup, I included a scene in which Davis is injured and is then upset that Rhymes doesn't get adequate justice for that act. I've decided to remove that scene, or at the very least, alter it to remove that part of it. On a technical level, it all works. But I think in doing so I betrayed the character and my goals in writing her. 

Because I'm past creating a "strong female character." I'm just working on a strong character.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

It's the economy (of words), stupid!

(image: stock.xchng/id_charlz)
You don't realize it, but there are a lot of words you don't need in your novel.

In my earlier post about writing the Weirdo Company serial, I talked about focusing more on actions than descriptions as one way to keep the word count down and keep the plot moving swiftly.

But, there's more to economy of words than just that. Even in describing actions, you're going to run into superfluous words that are going to bog down your sentences. What are these junk words? They're pretty simple.

Boot up your word processor of choice and go to the "find" function. In the search field, type in "then." How many times did it come up?

Searching through just the first part of my new Weirdo Company novel, the word "then" appears 34 times out of a total of 15,159 words. That might not seem like much, but trust me, "then" is a word you can get rid of without really missing it.

Here's what I mean:
But then her eyes snapped open, big and blue and whip-smart.
Or, we can just say:
Her eyes snapped open, big and blue and whip-smart.
The effect is subtle, but it works. The sentence is punchier. To the point. 

Of course, sometimes "then" is useful when describing a sequence of events. As with all things, consider this on a case-by-case basis. Don't just obliterate every usage of the word on my say so. But make finding these junk words part of your editing process.

You'll be surprised by how much you don't need "then" or "seemed" or lots of words that end in "-ly."