Michael, You’re Screwed

So, do you remember me mentioning Melanie’s Writing Games? Well, here is the result. The first game consisted of this: a character of yours being abducted by the guys from survival program “Dude, You’re Screwed.” Unfortunately I’ve never seen the program and had no way of seeing it, so I’ve pretty much guessed. I can probably safely say that Michael, from my Twyned Earth novels, has GOT to be the fastest to lose the game.

I present to you:

Michael, You’re Screwed!

When the hood was pulled from his head, Michael wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. ‘Lighten up,’ they said. ‘It’ll be a laugh,’ they said. As the light filled his eyes and the landscape before him was revealed, he wasn’t so sure. The air that filled his lungs was so hot and thick it was chewy, and it tasted like compost.

When he was abducted by these over excitable survivalists, he’d expected they would dump him in the middle of a forest somewhere. Which, to be fair, they had done. He just wasn’t expecting this forest. The trees in front of him were enormous, hulking things with bark black as night and heavy drooping branches that reached to the uneven, marshy ground. Through them could be seen the thick gnarled trunks. He stared at them and they stared back. One of them blinked, looked mildly puzzled, rolled its eyes and then took to ignoring him. The rest of the trees followed suit very quickly.

To his side, Michael spotted a rather bulky man with a crew cut and a camera who gave him a rather sheepish smile. “Did that tree just wink at me?”

“Just how much research did you guys do on this place?” Michael asked.

“Well, I’m not supposed to help you,” the guy answered.

Michael’s shoulders dropped. “We’re going to die.”

The man with the camera glanced at his watch, a thick chunky thing that looked as though it had about a thousand functions. “Only ninety nine hours and fifty five minutes to go. Better get shifting.”

A little whine escaped Michael’s throat and he started to take a step forward. As he put his foot down though, the tree directly in front of him began to growl. He lifted his foot again and the low rumble fell silent. He sighed.

“How am I supposed to get out of here?” he asked to the cameraman.

“I really can’t help you,” he replied. “It’s against the rules.”

Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Is killing you against the rules?”

The large man looked at Michael’s dumpy shape, then at his own barrel chest. “Can give it a go if you like.” He grinned.

Michael exhaled, looking back to the trees, trying to decide who he had less of a chance with. Eventually, he decided to give the trees another shot. The threatening growl sounded again as Michael’s foot came close to the ground, but he took a deep breath and placed it firmly in front of him.

The tree’s trunk split into a horizontal slit, a horrifying and ragged maw filled with uneven barky teeth. It swung its heavy branches at Michael, smacking him off his feet like a he’d been hit by a lorry. As he travelled through the air and darkness enclosed him, his last fleeting thought was:

Can I go home yet?

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.