Am I Part of The Problem?

Alternate Title: Am I a Sexist Asshat?

One of the major topics that pops up on blogs and on forums is the question of sexism. Especially, it would seem, in regards to the genre of fantasy. And I agree that it is terrible when women are solely portrayed in restrictive and stereotypical roles. Or when they are flat and lifeless. Or when they are solely there to aid the male character’s story and no other reason. Female characters need to be interesting in their own right. They need to have their own dreams, motives and goals. And they need to want to achieve them and strive to achieve them. Otherwise, what’s the point? In books (or films or games or series or cave paintings), it’s so frustrating to see a true ‘token female’ character. If she were cut from the story completely and no one would notice she had gone (unless of course, she had been distracting you from the whole affair with her boob plate and chain panties), then what is the point in her having been there in the first place?

In Book 3 of the trilogy I’m writing, there is a character named Charlie who I love more and more with each scene she is in. She is fun to write. She is complex. She has a number of very strong motivations for her actions. And I thought to myself – as a female character, I think I’ve managed to avoid forcing too many stereotypes on her. I think she comes of as pretty well rounded and she sure has hell as enough motivation to be there. This got me thinking to myself – are ALL my female characters like this? That’s when it hit me – what female characters?

Oh crap, I did I just fall down the Sexism Well?

Let’s have a look starting with Book 1, Through the Black. There are a grand total of four female characters, two who are extremely minor.  For various reasons, their screen time is relatively limited. There’s a lot of movement and travelling and the only characters who are seen for an extended period of time in the story are the three main characters, all male.

Book 2, The Fairy Godfather, does a little better with a female Ambassador driving the war plot line while there is also a female support character helping the MCs along with the revenge plot line. There are a couple of minor characters thrown in there but overall the screen time for the women doesn’t measure up to that of the men. The thing is, I’ve always worried about making my characters well rounded, believable and relevant. Now I’m faced with a lack of female screen time. Is this worse?

I have always felt that I would rather read a book completely devoid of female characters than have a book where half the cast were women who had been shoe-horned in because sexism. Isn’t having a flat and lifeless female character there just to make up numbers more damaging than having none at all? Or is this attitude adding to the sexist feel in fiction? Am I a part of the problem?

In tackling the issue in my own writing, there is always the option of gender swapping characters. This is another subject I’ve seen pop up across the world of internet discussion and it is a legitimate option. There are characters within the story who could be swapped to being female. The only issue, and I admit it is a selfish one, is that I don’t want to. I’ve said it before from my Twitter account, potentially quite a few times. I write what pops into my head. No, really. I sit, I daydream, then I write. In my head, my characters are who they are. I’ve found that one of the most important things with writing is to go with my gut. To write what feels right. I’ve written my characters in the way that I envision them and I don’t know if I could bring myself to make such a drastic change to any of them. Unfortunately, it might be a sacrifice I just have to make.

Another option, the one I’m leaning towards currently, is that the screen time of my current female characters is ramped up when I go back for the big edits once Book 3 is finished. I already have women who are interesting but perhaps they don’t get to shine as much as they deserve. This does however still leave me with the issue that in Books 1 and 2 none of my ‘main’ characters are women. Is this an issue if I have good female support characters? Or conversely does that make it WORSE to have good, strong female characters that are, when it all boils down to it, just support characters?

Any and all opinions are welcomed and asked for.

Camp NaNo Update – Need More Words!

Just a quick update so you all know I’ve not vanished. Just been a little bit eaten by NaNoWriMo.

So we are past the half way mark for this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo challenge and I am worryingly behind! I should have seen problems arising – this month was never going to be a quiet one so things weren’t always going to go smoothly. Unfortunately, apart from expected set backs, there have been a couple of unexpected ones too and as such I’m starting to worry that I might not actually be able to hit the coveted 50k by the end of the 30th. Am I giving up? Am I heck! No chance! A wise man once said: “Never give up. Never surrender!” Okay, it wasn’t a wise man, quite the opposite (it was the captain from Galaxy Quest).

Anyway, I’m here to give you an update on Camp! I’m currently sitting at just over 30k. Not fantastic but not too shabby either. Click here to see my profile if you are at all interested. Aside from falling behind, the story is actually going pretty well (if I may say so myself). Things keep getting more intricate as I go which is nice, dispelling some of the worry I had that the story was extremely shallow. Also, as usual, the characters like to keep making themselves more complicated and never doing the right thing.

Another plus point is that, as it is set in the fictional half of the world in my storyverse, I am doing a lot of world building as I go and learning a lot about this world I have created. As well as a lot of standard fantasy creatures, there are quite a few that I have made up myself (such as the subterranean bat people or the feral mer people) that the more I write about them more I fall in love with them. I’m already planning completely separate stories just so that I can write about them in detail.

Anyway, as I say, just a quick update from me! I should be back to normal operating procedure the first week in May and give you a proper run down on just how Witch Hunters is going.

And if you too are taking part in Camp – Good luck and write write write!

Charactercide

I have recently been informed by my dear proof reader that, while she was enjoying reading through The Fairy Godfather, she hasn’t yet finished reading it. With any normal person this would not bat an eye lid but this woman devours books in a similar manner to how I devour marshmallows. Alas the poor dear felt the need to stop and take a break due to the emotional distress of too many people dying off (some times really unpleasantly).

It sounds mean but I like it in books (and films, TV programs, and so on) when bad things happen. It makes the presented stakes of the game seem real. There’s no invisible safety net to stop bad things from happening just because it isn’t nice. You sit there reading whilst thinking “Oh yes, they’re technically risking their lives but they aren’t actually going to die” and all of a sudden someone is completely, horrifically and irreversibly dead. Oh. Right. This author isn’t messing around. Their characters are in danger. The stakes are real. And suddenly, I’m a whole lot more invested in the story.

Now, when I was informed that my friend needed ‘a break’ my first thinking was something along the lines of “oh crap, this is so distressing it’s unreadable – I’ve clearly gone overboard!” Though it occurred to me shortly afterwards (and a friendly Twitter face also voiced the same opinion) that yeah, sure, I may have left my best friend curled up in the corner but she actually cares about my characters enough to feel bad about all the horrible things I do to them! This brought back a bit of confidence in my story. It gave my characters a certain validation that someone telling me they liked them just didn’t give. People can always say they like a particular character but being pushed to feeling an emotional response by them is something different. It is real. That is when they cease to be a collection of words on a page but an actual  character.

I can’t help but feel a little proud. My babies are all growing up. Yes, my dear characters, I do love you. Though I hate to say it, there’s still one more book left in the trilogy for you. Let the torture continue!

The Editing Wonderland

Well, I’ve been away for a while! In a whirl of life I’ve left this blog a little neglected and I do apologise. However, now with certain tests and the festive season in the past things should settle down and hopefully I can resume normal operating. deToday seemed a good day to return as I finished book two of the Twyned Earth series last night. Huzzah! Just one more book in the opening trilogy to go.

I know that a lot of writers detest – and I do mean detest – the editing process. I am not among these writers. Personally, I love editing. I adore the stories that I write (or I wouldn’t write them!) but I always get caught up in the moment and find myself running before I can crawl. The story always ends up with inconsistencies and gaps that really make the whole thing seem, well… appalling. Editing is where you can take that massive chunk of prose and make it good. I’ve found that even with a little editing I’m so much happier with it. Book two didn’t come as easily to me as the first one did, particularly as I didn’t have as much time to plan. A lot more is going to change through the editing process in this book than the last – and I can’t wait for it!

One of the things this particular story was lacking in was depth in the minor characters – most of them didn’t even have names. Now, they are coming to life and turning into people in their own right. While writing, I hated having such obvious filler folks but now they all have not only personalities but back stories of their own and, thanks to that, places in future novels. Basically I’ve only done one day of editing and already I can feel this turning into a book I’ll some day be proud of.

First vs Third Person

Normally, I’m a third person writer. I enjoy being able to explore the feelings and experiences of multiple characters in my stories.

However, for the first novel in my Twyned Earth series I decided to do it in first person and I loved the experience. I found it gave for a fun and lively narration and every piece of description added to the character. It allowed me to spend a lot of time exploring his feelings and motives and to effectively show which moments brought on specific character developments, allowing the reader to experience his growth as he did. It also allowed for a very casual narration that I feel went very well with the overall tone of the story. All these positive points that I enjoyed while writing cemented the idea that I wanted the next two books (completing the first Twyne storyline) to be in first person as well, each following one of the other main characters of the first book.

But there’s a problem.

Having now finished the first draft of the novel I can’t help but notice how dull and linear the actual plot of this story is. Being in first person means that the reader only sees what the main character sees, making it much harder to include the usual array of sub-plots and complications I love to include in stories. This is my main concern with the first of this series – I love the characters and I love the setting. But is this first person style (or, probably more accurately, my lack of experience in this first person style) stifling the actual plot of the story? Trying to add depth to this story is probably going to take up most of my time during editing and the end result will lead to my decision as to whether or not the next two books should be in first or third person.

With any luck I’ll be able to make this novel a better read and improve my skill as a first person writer at the same time.