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.