Monthly Archives: March 2014

Why I hate “strong women”

“Naturally my stories are about women — I’m a woman. I don’t know what the term is for men who write mostly about men.”
―Alice Munro

Recently there’s been a firestorm about “strong women characters.”  We need more of them, everyone shouts.  But I disagree.

Wait, don’t leave yet.  I believe we need more female characters, and definitely more female protagonists.  People may decry the Bechdel Test, but wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where we didn’t need it?  The Bechdel Test is flawed, but it proves a point.  Women are more than just the damsel-in-distress.  But we’re also more than the warrior princess.

And this is why we don’t need more “strong women.” Because inevitably someone takes this to mean we need more female characters who can shoot big guns, who know karate, who work for the FBI, or who are obsessed with their jobs.  These women are strong, but they’re not always compelling.  What we need are more COMPLEX female characters.  We need more women characters that are defined not by how well they keep up with the guys, but how well they are characterized.  Though this is not what is meant when we say “strong women,” but somehow it’s what it turned into.

I love a female protagonist who can kick ass.  I’ve written several of them.  But soon this character becomes another cliché in a long line of female character clichés somewhere between Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Adorkable Smart Girl.

Let’s strive for complex.  Let’s strive for compelling.  Let’s strive for surprise.  Let’s strive for a character that isn’t defined by the fact she’s a woman.  F-k it, let’s just write good characters.

I recently had a writer (full disclosure, he was male) who had written a sexy physicist character who did nothing except have sex with the protagonist and get captured by the bad guy.  I told him she needed more characterization, perhaps she could even use her knowledge of physics at some point?  But he felt that it would take up too much space in the script to flesh her out more.  My response?  Would A-list actresses be chomping at the bit to play this character?  No way.  Not even remotely close.  She was a plot device, nothing more, and who wants to play a plot device?  Ultimately, that convinced him to change her into something more.  Thank goodness.

Remember, no A-list actress when asked to look back on her career and pick a favorite character ever said, “The one with the great ass.”

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Dickens around

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”
―Charles Dickens

Writers are sometimes not the most motivated bunch.  A while back, I formed an online writers’ group with some fellow Northwestern MFA grads, to give feedback and keep ourselves on some kind of deadline.  I love them all dearly, they are fantastic writers and give excellent notes, however getting people to submit for our bi-monthly meetings is like pulling teeth from an elephant with tweezers.  Granted, I have three chapters of my novel which I’m dying to get notes on, and chances are I’ll end up being the same way when I don’t have anything on deck.

Novel writing is hard.  Like really hard.  Especially for a screenwriter.  Do I consider myself a screenwriter?  I suppose I prefer screenwriting, because novel writing is hard.  But I do love my novel.  Right now it’s more of a novella as Part 2 is not entirely finished.  And I would really like to convert my pilot and one of my screenplays into novels eventually but it takes so much damn time!  I’m much faster in Final Draft than I am in Scrivener.  A big reason for this is, though screenplays are highly creative works that only very talented people are truly successful at, they are more like blueprints for the final product that will eventually be consumed by the audience.  Novels, on the other hand, are the final product.  This is a really big difference.

When writing a novel you need to describe everything.  EVERYTHING.  Some things are left to the reader’s imagination, but you need to paint a pretty complete picture.  When writing a screenplay, much of the final detail is left up to someone else.  They don’t want you to tell them what color the heroine’s eyes are (it limits casting), they don’t want you to show them a room in minutia (that’s up to the production designer and set dresser), they don’t want you to starting flinging adverbs into parentheticals before dialogue (actors hate that), and so forth, etc.

Now, lots of people write both novels and screenplays.  William.Goldman.  But they call for different voices and skill set and it’s rough switching back and forth between the two.  But like many a writer before me, I have severe project ADD and have found it impossible (unless motivated by a deadline) to only work on one project at a time.

What am I saying about all this?  I’m trying to work on my novel, and it’s hard.

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