#secondthoughts : Female characters

 

hidden figures 2

 

There’s no arguing with the fact that people are influenced by role models, young people especially. That influence can come from both real life and the made up one – you know, fiction, film, TV …

Whilst there are some excellent examples in the made up world, there does seem to be a preponderance of male characters, especially in terms of breath of character – strong or weak, kind or cruel, clever or stupid, successful or loser, straight, bi-sexual, trans-sexual or gay. Why aren’t we seeing the same reflected in female characters?

I believe there could be a rather big gap between indie and mainstream writers, for there are plentiful female – and varied – characters being written, but it’s rare they receive mainstream attention via traditional publishers and/or production on big or small screen.

One of the common reasons I’ve seen given for not depicting a similar quantity and range in female characters on the big or small screen is that art needs to reflect life, or it isn’t believable. Whilst there may be a tiny grain of truth somewhere in there, is it just me who feels it’s been used as an excuse? I’d find it more believable if writers admitted that they didn’t – personally – know enough examples of anything other than the limited range we see on screen, so didn’t know how to get it looking realistic. Before you think I’m defending that position, I said believable, not acceptable.

Let’s ponder on some of those extremes depicted in male characters.

Clever or stupid – unusually, the recent Oscar nomined film “Hidden Figures” had four central characters who were clever women. If it hadn’t been based on the true story of women working in NASA during the early years of the space race, would anyone have considered it believable enough to get it written, or published, or put on the screen?

Kind or cruel – whilst women are generally depicted both ways, they are expected to be kind. Because they give birth, their hormones are believed to make them better suited to the caring duties and professions – and when they don’t fit this stereotype, they’re often cast as cruel and unnatural.  In depicting this particular spectrum, is what we’re seeing real life … or societal stereotypes?

What about strong or weak? Strong female characters are rare (and if anyone suggests to me that Jane Eyre is a strong female character I may have to fall out with them), while strong and successful female characters are rarer still. Yet in the realms of the fantasy genre, they are a not infrequent scenario. It cannot be that all writers of such characters in fantasy are female (like Suzanne Collins of “Hunger Games” fame), so is there some reason why the usual excuse for the paucity of (and lack of variety in) female characters – that of art needing to reflect life – doesn’t apply in fantasy?

There’s a fair bit of noise about a current TV series on the BBC called “Bodyguard” where the central (male) character provides personal security to the (female) Home Secretary of the UK. Unusually, I’ve watched the first few episodes at the same time as the rest of the viewing public (I tend to be a box set watcher). Himself and I shared the same immediate impressions so, I was surprised to read the immediate response being an enthusiastic greeting over the number females appearing in traditionally male roles – railway police officer, police sniper, armed response team leader, head of police personal security section, head of police counter terrorism section, as well as the Home Secretary herself. And whilst that is pleasing – all but one of those characters are minor and their depictions largely just a sketch.

What is decidedly less pleasing is the plotline involving the Home Secretary – the second main character. The first episode sets her up as an ambitious, successful, determined (ball-busting even) professional woman, who’s taken a hardline over terrorism and deployment of the armed services. Then she gets a personal security officer who we’re told is good at what he does (more on that later) and she goes all gooey-eyed before leaping into bed with him. I don’t care how frightened she was to come under fire and get covered by the splattered brain matter that was once her chauffeur – she’s the Home Secretary – and a pat on the back/hug and a cup of tea/strong drink is the acceptable behaviour here. I don’t care if she’s single and has had a terrible shock, it just doesn’t ring true.

Even if we accept the presumption that sex sells, why didn’t the writer have her character simply use our bit of silent hot totty as a relief for the trauma, and then go back to ignoring him as normal? This isn’t the only aspect having me raise my eyebrows, there are plot holes a-plenty, but the only one relevant to this particular discussion is when the Home Secretary comes to the conclusion that the head of police counter terrorism caused the delay to the armed response unit coming to her aid … yet does nothing about it? Heads on pikes at the tower would be the right response.  You don’t get to be Home Secretary by being a fluffy-wuffy bunny.

I looked up the creator and head writer of the series and had to ask if he’s fulfilling that stereotypical male fantasy of a powerful woman needing a man to support her, preferably one of the strong silent type? For if we stick with the rationale of art imitating life, are we really going to suggest those senior female politicians (Home Secretaries included) we have had, went gooey-eyed and wobbly-kneed over their security officers? Whilst the press are trumpeting that it’s based on Amber Rudd (something she seems to be having a bit of fun with) even she states that although the relationship between principal and bodyguard is close, it’s not that close.

In a slight change of subject, that same day I read the account of a female author and writer of fantasy who was interviewed by readers at a recent ComicCon. Here are some of the questions asked of her by male readers – whether her husband helped with the writing, whether he verified her world building, if she’d had a predominantly male critique group to help her figure out how to write combat, and wasn’t her work really romance as that’s what women write? They also found it necessary to ask if she really did think up where her characters got their food from, where they got their lumber and clothing fibres, how they kept their water clean and how they managed sanitation. Really? Was she sure she didn’t need her husband to check that?

Now, I know that not all male writers and readers behave this way and my co-host here at Fiction Can Be Fun is an example of one who does not. Indeed, he created a strong and successful female character in our recent A-Z story, that of lady Michaela – engineer, inventor, gunsmith, clever, talented, and equal to her male cohorts.

I don’t believe that it’s entirely a gender-of-writer related issue. I believe David & I reflect what I see in the wider writing community. Neither of us feel the need to limit ourselves to writing about our own gender. We’re entirely comfortable writing strong women or weak men, and vice versa, depending upon the need of the storyline. That said, we both feel strongly that positive role models need to exist across both genders, and so do our best to provide them.

What we need is for mainstream publishers and producers to do likewise, rather than play to the current stereotypes surrounding women.


© Debra Carey, 2018

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#FF Photo Prompt

lanterns on water

We celebrate our second birthday here at Fiction Can Be Fun and this seemed like a suitable picture prompt to mark it. Enjoy!

No genre, no limitations other than the must not be NSFW.
Let the muse take you where you will …

Word count: 500(ish)
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 7th September 2018

 


As always, please post a link to your blog in the comments below, or send your story to us via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

#secondthoughts : Why I Pants

Saving our bacon on yet another month’s fifth Sunday is Stuart Nager. We ‘met’ Stu during 2018’s April A2Z Challenge when we both fell for his gloriously creepy tales of The Abyssmal Dollhouse, and thoroughly enjoyed the banter during his daily visits here.

A man of many parts is Stu – Professional Storyteller, Drama Teacher, Teaching Artist, Director, Performer, Playwright, Arts Administrator, Curriculum Writer, Professional Development Coordinator & Facilitator, Drama Coach, Composer, Singer to name just a few – yet still he dashed off this post in response to our enquiry if he’d fancy writing ‘a little something’ for us.


 

The Urban Dictionary defines Pantsing as “To yank someone else’s pants down. Usually done in a humorous fashion.” While that may hold its meaning in a Three Stooges short or Middle School hallway, in the blogging world it takes on a very different meaning.  To some, it comes with a different set of emotions: fear, unease, anxiety.

Pantsing is writing as you go. Being in the moment and letting your characters and story take you where they wants to go. No real planning. No outline. No mega research, piles of notes, no creating a huge backstory/bible. Just going with the creative flow.

Pantsing, as I see it, is Writing Improv.

I am an Improv trained actor/director. May seem an oxymoron, since improvisation is creating on the spot: really communicating by listening and then responding. But, the training is in not going for the joke but finding the truth in what you are doing, committing to it wholeheartedly, and allowing the scene and characters tell their stories.  What you see televised, more often than not, is comedy improv; the headset is to make the audience laugh, and sometimes that’s done at the expense of pure improve by going for the puns and the easy laughs.

Scene and character driven improv, as in the way I see writing, lays a foundation that is much deeper and much more satisfying.

I’ve done both types of improv. I’d rather have a great scene then a cheap laugh.

So, my roots of creating on the spot, my improv life (I created, lead, and performed in an improvisational storytelling troupe for twelve years: The Brothers Grinn), helped to form my pantsing style of writing. I find a freedom in doing it this way; research will happen, some pre-planning may enter my head, but in the end, I find more satisfaction out of seeing where the characters and story idea(s) take me.

Of course, this may all get thrown out the window as I contemplate pulling thing together in a Novella or Novel form. THAT is causing me the fear, unease, and anxiety.

Non-pantsers can sit back now, nod their heads, and drink their tea with satisfaction.


© 2018 Stuart Nager

Anti-ageing Pill

Things in Hollywood had gotten decidedly weird. I’d heard from a friend in Mumbai that Bollywood was having the same issues. They’d had to limit making films with – ahem – more mature characters in them, as pretty much every actor and actress had decided to take that miracle pill.

For the last two decades, they’d been taking it as we used to take vitamins. Not me though. I’ve always been fussy what I put in my body – food, drink, medications – and that habit saved me. These days my agent can’t keep up with the calls for me to read for parts – and from directors who wouldn’t have given me the time of day 20 years ago. But when all your character actors have started to display – let’s just call them side effects – you have to really work that Rolladex.

Hollywood was always a place for the young, but now all the older actors have been hiding away, waiting on the unbelievably long waiting lists with the best plastic surgeons. Hell, even the not so good plastic surgeons have lists as long as your arm. Seems even that solution isn’t working reliably. The last director who risked casting his male lead with a guy who’d just had corrective surgery, well … let’s just say he regretted it – and how. Turns out even the best plastic surgeon can only correct one aspect of damage. When that’s corrected, the poison contained in that miracle pill just turns to another bit of the body.

It’s not so bad for a character actor who gets to keep their clothes on, so long as the poison only affects their body. Once it moves to the face … well, it depends what particular version of the side effect you get. The face-melting bloodhound look wasn’t too bad – at least it gave you a couple of years more work, but a shrivelled ear or nose meant you were consigned straight to B pictures in minor roles as the bad guy – until it got too horrific that is. The skin conditions – well, they were beyond even the most talented make-up artist, so those meant straight to retirement no matter how big a star you’d been.

Of course, the ones worst hit were those who’d relied on their looks. Sure, a few of ’em could act – I mean really act – and they survived. But the pretty boys and girls – nope. Ironically, if they’d just gone the normal route of waiting till the signs of ageing (or a life lived hard) started to show and headed for a top plastic surgeon, they’d probably still be working. Quick fixes aren’t always the best way to go. Especially when it seems that the side effects aren’t the same in humans as in the rats they tested it on …

But seeing as I owe it my new found career and the healthy bank account that came with it to that miracle pill, I raise a glass of wheatgrass juice in salute to it every evening.


© Debra Carey, 2018

#FF Photo Prompt

100 year old yew tree

Methinks it must be time for another photo prompt – so here you go.
I’m already wondering what type of tales this photo might inspire.

Word Count: anything up to 1,000
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 6th July 2018

 


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

 

The Reaper

“I get a bad rep”

The soulful-eyed man was sat hunched over his drink. He wasn’t getting more than the odd “uh-huh” from the barman but, to be honest, he didn’t really expect anything more in a dive like this. He was casually dressed like most of the bar’s clientele. Despite it being cold out, he always avoided wearing a hoodie, just sticking with a coat and scarf; he had the feeling he wouldn’t enjoy the experience of being recognised when he wasn’t actually working. Something about being on-the-job meant you didn’t get any grief. Sure, some of his clients weren’t too happy to see him, but what were they gonna do about it eh?

Still, it was a lonely old existence. You didn’t get many romantic partners who stuck around once they found out. He’d tried making things up, but recently he’d started just alluding to the fact that it was uber-confidential. The last one had decided he was some sort of spy, and things had been quite exciting for a while as she liked the idea of a spy for a boyfriend. Then she came across his working clothes … and it all changed.

Like I say, it’s a lonely old existince, so tying one on and muttering about how unfair life is to a barman who paid no attention was pretty much the only available outlet.

“Gimme another one would’ya Sam?”


© Debra Carey, 2018

#secondthoughts – Writing Groups

When first I started to scribble very late in life, unlike most writerly types, the very thought of letting another human being – be they stranger or friend – look at my words, made me shudder. A lack of confidence – of course – is at the root of it, but there were reasons (and not just excuses) that formed an orderly, if not overly lengthy, queue.

We all know that ‘proper’ writers have written since they were young, so how could I be (or become) a proper writer, if I hadn’t put pen to paper till past my 50th birthday? Then there was the lack of training – I did sign up to an online writing course, only to find it wasn’t at all what I was looking for; worse, that it was out-of-date in the information and resources provided. So without training, without some form of certification that I could do this, how would I know whether I could – or not?

Eventually though, I did start to write, and to write and to write. Then I moved to blogging – annonymously until I felt ready and able to face the world as a writer. A big part of that was David’s suggestion that I co-host this site. Whilst it took me waaaay out of my comfort zone, it’s been a massive boost – both in terms of confidence and in the requirement for regular practice.

That said, writing is a lonely old process, so the instinct to club together with a clan of writers was strong. But the question I kept on asking myself was what benefit can be derived from joining a writing group?

Too nervous and not having anything I felt was ‘ready’, I avoided critique groups like the proverbial. My primary focus was how much I have to learn, and where better than from those who are already doing it? I avoided the fear (you all know what I’m talking about) by steering away from the high-powered-author hosted courses, as I don’t feel far enough down the road yet and know I’m likely to end up feeling intimidated rather than empowered. Nevertheless, clear that I needed (and wanted) to learn from the already published – whether self or mainstream – as well as those still writing, editing, querying – I dived in to the vast array of writers groups out there.

The first group I joined was – 10 Minute Writers – set up on Facebook by Katharine Grubb specifically for time-crunched writers, and which now has over 10,000 members. There are themed posting days for anything from promoting your blog to seeking support from a fellow member as a beta reader, editor, marketeer etc. Interesting articles are shared, warnings about sharp operators are posted and it’s a great source of interesting reading and support.

Still, I craved more. Something that made me really examine my writing, my process, my craft. I’d seen reference here and there to the Insecure Writers Support Group, but hesitated. You see, I’m a Life Coach, and providing support to others is what I already do a lot. My oh my, how did I mis-read that one! Having taken the plunge earlier this year, it has become clear that the support is flowing in the other direction. Why? Because I’m a novice, an early learner, and hugely lacking in experience in all things writerly. I do – of course – offer encouragement and congratulations, post positive comments and do what I can. But – for me – the very best bit about the group so far is the questions. Every month a question is set. It’s optional, so you can post on any other subject that could be useful or relevant. But those questions … they’ve had me thinking, pondering, learning about myself and my craft. It’s been exactly what I was after.

So I say to you – get thee out there and find yourself a writing group. These are just two which work for me. There are many, many others – in all flavours and types – there’ll surely be one to suit you, whatever type of writer you are. Go on, give it a go!


© Debra Carey, 2018