55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

What if They Don’t Like My Layered Female Character?

I have read (and applauded) multiple posts about how to write a strong female character–a truly strong character, one who is strong because of her convictions. Her compassion. Her personality, rather than a superhuman ability to punch stuff and sass the guys.  So many posts, I can’t include them all, but here are my favorites: Hannah Heath’s input, Christine Smith’s guest post, Bella’s thoughts during her Writer’s Camp, and K. M. Weiland’s opinion.

What these posts do not cover, however, is how to banish fear–fear of seeing your female characters soundly bashed on Tumblr by readers who think that to actually like dresses will perpetrate the constraints of patriarchy and that a woman being physically weaker than a guy is sexist.

Maybe I’m the only writer who’s considered this. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked at my character Mary from Gentle Fire and wondered how much of a verbal beating she’d get from critics. Mary is married with two children, and most of her focus is on helping her husband build their farm and raise their sons (and later, daughter).  Plus other plot-related goals and struggles after this doesn’t work out the way any of them want.  Yes, she has dreams, and she has strengths, flaws, talents, and quirks–in fact, Mary’s drive is to do her job (whatever that may be at the time) and to help those who need her.   But at the end of the day (and the story), her job and her main sphere of influence is in her home.   And I just know that’s going to be popular with the general readership.

So I’ve thought a lot about how to handle this concern. Here’s my input to writing that true strong female character–without being afraid that others will criticize your characterization.

  1. Write a layered character.  Easier said than done, of course, but if your character is constructed with agency (she drives her parts of the story) and has strengths, flaws, quirks, talents, and non-talents–then you can take comfort that you’ve written a solid character, regardless of who criticizes her enjoyment of knitting, pride in cooking for her family, and hatred of snakes.
  2. Pinpoint what you’re afraid of.  What is all this imaginary criticism directed toward?  Your character’s general personality–or specifically that she spends a lot of time in her home?  (Or that she has a cleaning job, or that she’s the soft-spoken type, or whatever else is unpopular these days.)  If you can easily imagine someone criticizing the fact that your character doesn’t really contribute to the story, that could be your intuition telling you to make sure she’s a legitimate main character.  If, however, you can picture someone nitpicking your character’s interest in embroidery or that she’s skilled in household economy–those are details, not fundamentals.
  3. Adjust your thinking.  Here’s where I might really offend people, but I’ll try to be diplomatic.  Somewhere along the way, the idea of a homemaker became synonymous with the term “doormat”.  Along with the idea that she’s wasting her life.  Or wasting her talent.  But here’s the thing: being a homemaker takes incredible discipline, perseverance, patience, and diligence.  Double points if you add children into the mix.  You are responsible for protecting and guiding these children, 24/7.  How is that weak?  How is that a waste of time or talent?  And why do we applaud a male character who is willing to serve and care for others, but condemn a woman who does it for her family?  A homemaker character has to be strong in many different ways to do her job.  Strength comes with the territory here, just like we expect a fireman character to be physically strong.
  4. Let it go.  As the song says.  🙂  But seriously, unless your imaginary critics are offering polite, constructive criticism–why do you care what they think?  Or what any real critics say, for that matter, unless, again, they’re offering intelligent input on the fundamentals of your character.  If any critics, real or imaginary, whine only about the facts that your character loves children, likes make-up, and cooks a mean clam chowder–ignore ’em.

So, those are some ways I’ve found to beat the fear.  Feel free to add what tips and tricks have worked for you!

55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

Random, Rambly, Writing Thoughts

I’m sorry for my absence, guys.  I got sick out of the blue, and recovery has been kinda slow.  And I considered trying to finish Part 2 of “A Few Notes About Christine” during the down time, but had no brain cells for it, and ended up screen capping Daniel Deronda and Season 1 of Mercy Street instead.

Anyway, I came across this post by Hayden Wand and thought it would be fun to borrow the concept.  Because I too have noticed elements that repeatedly surface in my own stories:

Recurring Concepts

Alternate History

This pops up again and again, from my British political novel to my steampunk story Empty Clockwork.  I think it’s the natural result of the writer’s question “what if?” It’s also the result of an overactive imagination that also doesn’t want to be reined in by details.

Fighting Fears

I realized this only recently: the internal conflict is often against fear of one kind of another.  I think this idea sneaks into my stories because it’s a flaw I’ve struggled with all my life.  The “what if?” question is great for creativity, but it’s not helpful anywhere else.  🙂

Adult Fears

Forget Ye Olde Villain with his doomsday weapon; how about incompetent government officials?  Mob mentality in society and politics?  Fearing you made the wrong decision for your loved ones?  Or being afraid you can’t provide for your kids?  Losing respect for someone you once admired?  Unable to use your gifts and talents, either through physical limitation or societal apathy?  The list goes on.

Marriages During the Story

I guess I just want to see my fictional OTP weather it together as a married couple.  It’s an interesting dynamic–on the one hand, you have a companion through the conflict; on the other, differences of opinion on how to handle the conflict can cause further conflict.  That, and the time span of my stories is often a decade or more.  I don’t have the heart to keep lovebirds apart that long (though some of them do have to wait longer than they want!).

Recurring Settings/Topics

The 1820s–30s Time Period (usually in England)

I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is funny that this era pops up so frequently in my stories!  It’s a relatively overlooked period; the only books I can think of set in that era are Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Dickens’ Little Dorrit.  (Some of Dickens’ other works start in the 1820s, but the main action moves to a later decade.)  Writing about the 20s–30s for me is like researching and exploring undiscovered territory.  And that’s just pure fun!

Politics

I can’t keep politics out of a story.  I’ve tried.  The most obvious example is the British political novel set in the (you guessed it) 1820s–30s– the entire backdrop is the debate over the Great Reform Bill and other national/international issues (like the July Revolution).  I can sense a frenzied market growing for this stuff already.  🙂

My western story Gentle Fire  heavily features frontier politics–I’ve drawn lots of inspiration from the Mexican Empire, the structure of north Texas and New Mexican ranchos and towns, and Anglo settler towns and counties.

And politics wander in and out of various others stories, or at least are implied to be in the background/part of the backdrop.  Even in one story where politics is not the driving force, my own opinions can be discerned if you read between the lines.

Sibling Relationships

Sometimes this is a driving point of the story; other times, it’s more in the background, but I can think of only two stories that don’t have sibling relationships–Empty Clockwork is one, and the other is a mystery set on a south seas island during the late 1700s.

Recurring Characters/Traits

Lower Ranks of the English Aristocracy

I have yet to write about a duke.  Not that there’s anything wrong with dukes, but since the title of duke is the highest in the English peerage, Lord X would be too busy with society and politics to do anything my plot requires.  The highest rank I’ve written about is the rank of earl; and I’m thinking of demoting that family anyway, because, again, the story needs them to live somewhere other than London and not to be tied up with society and national politics for most of the story.  (Local politics, on the other hand…)

Lord Fredericks (from my steampunk story), for example, is a viscount.  Lord Wetherell, from my literary novel, is a baron (the lowest rank), and various other titled characters usually don’t stray above the rank of viscount, unless they are minor characters.

Hero Lawyers

All the lawyers I’ve written about thus far have been the good guys.  No stereotypical corruption or dishonesty or hunting for ridiculous loopholes…in fact, most of my lawyer characters seek to reform this kind of corruption in their trade.  (I’m probably biased here, because my dad is a lawyer, and he’s as honest in his job as readers expect the hardworking everyman to be.)

Sarcastic Characters

From the outspoken sassmaster to the deadpan snarker, at least one character in each story has a tendency for quick and dry wit.  Usually more than one!

Outgoing/Energetic/Outspoken Characters

I’m as introverted as the next writer, but I’ve written a fair share of extroverts.  Who are allowed to be extroverts, mind, and don’t annoy the stew out of the quieter, therefore obviously more intelligent, characters (sarcasm!).  Actually, I have a habit of pairing introverted/extroverted characters as friends, siblings, or couples–this allows funny results and a nice way for the different personalities to balance each other out.

A subset of my extroverted characters is “extroverted bookish”–extroverts who like to socialize, sure, but also like to read and aren’t just bouncing off the walls the whole time.  🙂  Extroverts are great people, guys.  Be nicer to them in your stories.

Early Bird/Night Owl Couples

I do this on purpose to be funny.  *evil laugh*  But it’s a great way to get natural humor and natural conflict in a romantic relationship.  There are exceptions; both Mary and Wilson from Gentle Fire are early birds, but generally, if one half of a relationship is a night owl, the other half is the opposite!

Ages 25 & Up

Maybe it’s because the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know?–but my protagonists often end up in the late 20s and early 30s age range.  Any character younger than this is likely to be inexperienced and still figuring out his or her life goals.  In Empty Clockwork, Lennox is 23 years old and fits this bill perfectly.  Susan is a slight exception; at age 17, she wants to use her money to support something worthy before she marries, but she is still looking for another purpose in life.  Lord Fredericks, however, is 31; Henry is 36, and Ye Unnamed Character is in his mid-to-late 40s.

Durant from Gentle Fire is 22 when the story starts, and through mature for his age, he is inexperienced.  But he’s in his mid-30s when the story ends (maybe closer to 40; it just depends on the story’s time span).  Mary is 23 at the beginning of the story and also close to 40 when it ends, and Barros is in his early 40s when he enters the story and probably in his early 50s when it ends.

Inspired By…

Sometimes I watch a movie or read a book, and know that I have to write a character inspired by Sydney Carton.  Or Daniel Deronda.  Or Jarrod Barkley.  Or that inspiration comes from an actor’s performance or portrayal.  For instance, after I watched The Phantom of the Opera: The 25th Anniversary Concert, I knew it was a matter of time before I wrote a character inspired by Hadley Fraser’s portrayal of Raoul.  Same for Patrick Wilson’s portrayal of Raoul in the 2004 film, a performance that has actually inspired two characters.

Other inspiring characters/portrayals:

Samuel Diggs from Mercy Street

Mr. Green from Mercy Street

Milo Thatch from Atlantis: the Lost Empire

Billy Bob Thorton’s portrayal of Crockett from the 2004 film The Alamo

John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises

In other news…

Now, on a totally different topic, I’m thinking of making some changes to my blog.  The color scheme, for instance; I may go for a blue scheme rather than a red one.  Blue can symbolize depth and imagination, and that’s definitely an aesthetic I want .  And on that note–I might change the blog title.  The url will stay the same, but “Overflowing Mind & Pen” is a mouthful, and doesn’t really describe my content as much as the fact that, I think too much.  Instead, I like the title “Analytical Imagination”–which describes both content and the fact that I think too much.  🙂  Your thoughts?

55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

Thoughts on the 2017 Presidential Inauguration

In a couple of words: solemn and apprehensive. I was afraid of an attack or revolt somewhere during the ceremony and prayed for the safety of everyone there.  President-Elect Trump certainly looked more controlled and sober during this ceremony than during his campaign.  For the record, I did not like the behavior or character of either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump, but since we had to choose, I would rather have Trump as President.  But I will keep an eye on his actions and policies, and call Washington if he threatens to violate anyone’s constitutional rights.

The ceremonial prayers and hymns also created mixed feelings.  I guess it’s good that we still have hymns and prayers as part of the inauguration ceremony; but as a nation, we’ve fallen so far from genuinely believing and worshiping God, that those aspects of the ceremony felt a little hollow.

On the other hand, Vice-President Elect Mike Pence had conviction in his voice as he took the oath, especially his last words, “So help me God.”

President Donald Trump’s inaugural address was positive and general: we the people gather peacefully to transfer power, America is the greatest nation in the world, etc., etc.  But then he said that the ceremony represented a transfer of power not only from one president to the next, but from the government to the people.  He went on to say that previously, the government protected itself, and the American people were left behind, excluded, ignored.  And he promised that that would change, that “the United States of America is your country.”  He then said, “It matters not which party controls the government, but whether the government is controlled by the people.”

He focused on the fact that as a nation, we’ve focused more on other countries than our own; that we’ve protected other nation’s borders, but not our own.  Funded other nation’s armies rather than our own.  And, of course, he wants to change that.  He said that the oath he took as President was an oath to the people of America.  He wants to put America first, to make every policy decision with American welfare in mind.

Sounds good.  My question, though is whether he will act on those words.  We shall see.

And though our nation has fallen from what it was created to be, though the current leaders have been taking on more and more power than the Constitution gives, we the people do still have the freedom to elect our leaders, to influence our leaders, to request or oppose action from them.  Our freedom of speech, right to bear arms, right to vote, and other rights are still protected under the Constitution.  And I am incredibly thankful for the freedoms we have.