Thursday, June 24, 2010

The many evolutions of Magic Under Glass: SPOILERS! Annalie and Karstor

Karstor was not in the first version of Magic Under Glass at all. Garvin, on the other hand, was alive and well. Okay, maybe not that well. He had an OMINOUS COUGH.

Karstor first turned up in version 2, where he was a bit more unsettling, more creepy foreign necromancer than helpful guy who is next in line for head of the Sorcerer's Council. At this point Nimira wasn't supposed to be sure who was the good guy:

“Good evening, Hollin.” A man stepped in to our conversation, his lips already fixed in a sardonic twist; I gathered that he and Hollin did not get along. “You must introduce me to your guest.” He had a foreign accent; a slight heaviness to certain syllables, a sharpness to his ‘r’s.
“This is Nimira,” Hollin said, his manner very stiff. “She will be the Lucida Moria to Roman’s Alberre Ranson.”
Only the man’s eyes and fingers moved—two fingers sliding thoughtfully against each other, eyes touching upon me before fixing on Hollin. “Will she, now?”
“Go away,” Hollin said. “Find a corner and pout.”
“Let me have a moment with your ‘Lucida Moria’.”
Hollin’s fingers wrapped round my arm. When I tried to pull away, they tightened. “I said, go away.”
“Don’t be difficult,” the man said. “What would I do with her that should frighten you? I only want to speak to this woman who is spending time with Roman.”
“Frightened? Of you? You’ll always be a step behind me.” Hollin paused, and then released my arm. “Fine, speak with her, but only because I don’t feel like arguing about it.”

Annalie, originally, was going to be like the character who often appears in Victorian fiction who is ILL and BEARS HER FATE WITH BRAVERY but occasionally REGRET. This is from version 1:

“Nim,” Annalie repeated. “Nimira. It’s pretty. Does it mean something?”
“Strong and solid.” I smiled. “My mother said it was because I had such thick legs as a baby, and I wouldn’t stop kicking. Apparently I kicked my parents in the face on more than a few occasions. It doesn’t make me sound very delicate, does it?”
“It might be good to be strong and solid,” she said. “How old are you?”
“Only sixteen. Just the age I was when—“ She faltered. “When everything happened.” She pointed to a photograph in a silver frame, sitting atop a bookshelf. “See me there? Just a regular girl, so happy to be getting married.”
I rose from my seat to get a closer look at the picture of a girl with brown hair swept high and topped with a headdress of tiny beads and orange blossoms. Her soft eyes and soft smile seemed to suggest a future filled with golden days and simple delights.
“You were beautiful,” I said, and then realized this sounded rude. “Or—still are, I mean—“
“I know. I’m not beautiful like this. Anyway, I’ve learned there’s more to my life than that. All those silly dreams I once had for myself are dead and gone.”

Now I kind of want to slap her. Well, she was just a bit player, really, and she was married to creepy over-the-top Hollin, so I figured she had to be kind of...well, I don't want to say dumb, because smart women can make bad decisions, but either naive or desperate or easily deluded. But when Hollin changed in version 2, Annalie needed to change as well. The new Hollin just wouldn't have fallen for the original Annalie. I wanted them to have shared a real connection in the past, a desire for adventure and a desire to escape the society they had grown up in.

Thus concludes my series of posts on the character's origins. Crazy. And now I'd better go pack because by this time tomorrow I'll be heading for the airport to go to DC!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The many evolutions of Magic Under Glass: Hollin

So, Hollin Parry, as I said, started out as Hollin Perris. Hollin's character ended up dictating the entire tone of the book. Yes, indeedy. In the original version, I imagined Magic Under Glass as...well, I don't want to say comedy, that's a little strong, but all the characters were exaggerated or skewed forms of some trope of Victorian fiction, more Penny Dreadful than Serious Gothic Novel; Nimira was the plucky girl from low circumstances, Annalie was the weepy, wise martyr, and Hollin was an arrogant, exaggerated villain (and a womanizer). His introduction, in fact, which happens while Nimira is hiding in a closet, was a joke. A sex joke. Or not:

“It’s just as I was saying at Nurembel’s over the summer. Magic is nothing to fear. In this age of progress, there’s no reason we can’t have mastery over magic and science alike,” Hollin said.
I meant, at any moment, to crawl out of my hiding place, find Ronna and Lariza, and beg for a scrap of bread. But it was hard to give up my prime locale for spying. Perhaps I’d find out what had happened the other night.
“I suppose…you might be right....,” Mrs. Swanney said, tentative and breathless. Of course, she grew breathless very easily.
“Yes, Elsba… You’ll soon see…” A pause. “We’re entering a new age. One day, they’ll look back and say these years—our years—were the dawn of the defining age of man.”
Another pause—a longer one. Oh my.
And then, “Hollin…(gasp)…what about…Annalie?”
“Elsba, you know I only keep Annalie around out of the goodness of my heart. She’s not right in the head. I would tell the world about us if I could, but it wouldn’t do to invite scandal when I’m new in office. Please trust that you are all mine. I don’t like to see my little truffle sad.”
With difficulty, I suppressed laughter.
“No…but little truffle is sad…” The thought of graying Mrs. Swanney casting pouty eyes at anyone was very disturbing.
“I bet I know what you’d like…”
“Oh, Hollin…you don’t have to…oh, heavens, look at the size of it!”
I cringed.
“Yes. I did. And with all the money I’m making from Roman, you’ll have more gems and furs than you know what to do with.” I thanked the heavens they were just talking about gems and furs.

Whoa, super different, right? I was not very good at writing villains. I seemed to only know how to write them comedically over the top. An agent who read the full told me to tone him down and make him more serious.

So, I thought long and hard about Hollin. If he wasn't going to be funny, he would have to change a lot, in my mind. Become a real person whose motivations I could understand. I also happened to be browsing photos at this time, and I came upon this photo of photographer Carl Van Vechten and his wife.

I didn't know who these people were, but I was mesmerized by their expressions. It struck me as so perfect for Hollin and Annalie that I don't know what the book might have been like without this photograph. (Carl Van Vechten, for the record, was a writer and photographer who was interested in black culture and involved with the Harlem Renaissance; he was also bi- or homosexual. Not very Hollin-like, although Hollin does have that fascination with other human cultures than his own, so maybe.)

So, I started thinking about Hollin. He was a hard character to identify with. He's bigoted against fairies, yet charmed by Nimira...he thinks he's being kind of a rebel by talking to her, but his interest in her is as a lovely, exotic figure and not a real person, but even this is progressive for his background. He had to be somewhat of a coward, to make so many bad decisions. I became sympathetic to him, and now his introduction reflects it; Nimira has come to expect a villain and finds someone complicated:

The door creaked open again. I expected Mrs. Swanney, but a man entered the room. His glance touched upon me before he shut the door; dark eyes, striking in a face too pale to hold them. I could not have begun to guess his age. The lines of his face were clear, almost boyish, but the eyes were knowing. His short blonde hair was brushed across from a side-part, adding to an overall sleekness of form.
He clasped his hands behind his back. “You must be Nimira, the dancer from Tassim. I hear you will be regaling us with a performance shortly.”
“Yes.” I was a little bewildered to be approached this way.
He joined me on the couch, smoothing the front of his jacket. He wore a trim suit of deep blue. A large, intricate silver key on a golden chain hung just below his black and cream striped cravat.
He extended a thin hand to me. Roman had been the only other gentleman to offer me a handshake, even when I was a dancer, but especially now, grubby as I was. “I am Hollin Perris. I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”
Hollin Perris! My hand flinched before I placed it in his. Did he seem like a man who could murder another? Yes, now that I considered it, I thought he did. He didn’t radiate evil like a villain in a play, but he looked like a man who would do what needed to be done. I shook his hand with mingled fascination and terror. His hands were cool, mine warm and moist.

But what was the trouble with this version? Well, I still had Roman as the love interest, and Erris running around as a ghost, and now Hollin began to seem like an actual contender for Nimira's affection. Roman was so bland compared to Mr. Inner Conflict over here. And yet, Hollin did make some absolutely loathsome choices, so I was hesitant to have Nimira actually fall for him. She seemed too smart for that! Which led me to big change in version three, described in the last post.

Next: One more to go! Annalie and Karstor gain some spark of life.

P. S. I can't get the words to fit properly around that stupid picture. GRR. Sorry about the wonky formatting.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The many evolutions of Magic Under Glass: Erris

So, in the original Magic Under Glass, there was a clockwork man named Roman. He looked like an ordinary sort of dude on the outside, but there was a big reveal where you find out GASP! HE'S CLOCKWORK.

Still, it was just my luck. I couldn’t even fall in love with some sensitive gentleman in the crowd, no, I had to fall for the clockwork man whose very life seemed to be in the hands of the enemy. This wasn’t even like me. I didn’t fall in love; I always supposed I would enter into it, in a slow, practical fashion. Famous last words.
I didn’t want to like Roman. I didn’t want to like anyone associated with Hollin Perris. But I couldn’t help it.
Roman stopped in the middle of the room, and bowed in my direction. When he stood, he raked his fingers back through his disheveled brown hair, and then looked at me, with eyes dark and strange in a way I couldn’t quite place, but compelling. His features, though not traditionally handsome, made a harmonious blend of intelligence, kindness, and a touch of intriguing sadness.

Nimira falls in love with Roman, and has to rescue him from Hollin, who was a complete and utter jerk. (Note, Hollin's name used to be Hollin Perris! I changed it when I realized I couldn't have an Erris and a Perris!) At the end there is a big confrontation wherein Roman punches someone, and then gets taken down by magic. Roman had all the things a hero should have--a tragic past, hobbies (he played piano and painted too!), a sense of humor, a heroic nature...

And yet, I was pretty blase about him, I must admit. Meanwhile, Nimira had a ghost friend, who had lived a decadent life in the late 18th-century equivalent amongst a large family abroad, come to Lorinar for school, fallen in love with a chambermaid or something, and been shot in some duel or something. He was a dandy who smoked and talked about girls a lot, and was quite a bit funnier than Roman. He had become a ghost because he was too scared to pass to the next world, but it helping Nimira, he became more courageous, and at the end he goes, finally, to his true death.

“You don’t seem like the others,” the ghost said.
“Clearly. I’m from Tiansher, in the Shai Mountains, and before I came here, I was a dancer.”
“Exotic and lovely. You remind me of my youth back in Drussa. Such parties we had, with all sorts of foreigners and eccentrics. My uncle once hosted the entourage of a princess of Tajeneer. You’ve never seen such flexible women.”
I blushed, and realized this conversation was getting far more comfortable than it ought to. “Sir, you really should go.”
“I’m sorry—how rude. Ghosts have no manners whatsoever. Let me introduce myself. My name is Erris Tarschirbe, so you need not call me sir.”

This was not a popular decision with beta readers. I had glorious plans for the Queen of the Dead to offer Erris another chance at life in a sequel, but (wisely) beta readers pointed out, what if there WAS no sequel? You can't have the most charming guy DIE! Why doesn't Nimira end up with him anyway?

I didn't see how Nimira could end up with Erris, though. Roman was such a big part of the plot, and Erris was a GHOST. How could I--? But--? *sputter*

Well, obviously, with the final version, I had a revelation that I could combine them. Some of Roman's heroic nature and his situation was given to Erris. And it wasn't until revisions with my editor that Erris became a fairy prince (and got a last name change)! I also killed his smoking habit, cause, you know, it's one thing for the ghost friend to smoke, but for the love interest, ick.

I also learned an important revision lesson--where two characters aren't quite working, one might work just fine.

Next: How Hollin Perris, moustache-twirling villain sans moustache, became Byronic almost-hero Hollin Parry.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The many evolutions of Magic Under Glass: Nimira

People are often surprised just how much revision can go into a book. It's not just tweaking things, it's often rewriting the entire book more than once. Even editorial changes can be HUGE. I'm revising Between the Sea and Sky right now and probably writing more than half "from scratch"...but it feels way way easier to me than writing a first draft. I know the characters by now, and things feel a lot clearer than they did in the beginning. I wholeheartedly agree with my editor's suggestions, huge as they might sound at first.

Magic Under Glass went through two COMPLETE rewrites before my agent signed it. She had minor tweaks, and when it sold, my editor had less minor edits, but after rewriting the book twice...well, they didn't sound bad at all.

I thought I'd do a few posts talking about the changes the book went through, particularly the characters. One of the biggest problem areas for this particular book for me was the characters. Many of the rejections I received pointed out that they were not that strong, didn't have clear growth arcs, and acted more childish than the plot warranted. Yeah, they needed work. I'll cover all the main characters in a series of posts this week.


Originally Nimira was a peasant girl whose father sold her to a dance troupe for money. The dance troupe didn't do very well, so the dance troupe leader sold her to work in the house of a wealthy woman named Mrs. Swanney. From there, she ended up at Hollin's and earned freedom and love, blah blah. In the original version, there was a lot more of her dancing and a lot more remembering home. Although some people have supposed that Nimira's home country is based on India, in the earliest version I think China is clearly the largest influence. Nimira was always practical and had a sense of humor:

“This will be your room,” the maid said, pushing the door open. It creaked on its hinges as if protesting our intrusion. Through the light of one window, I saw a small, sagging bed in the midst of dusty boxes, two straw brooms, and a smattering of cobwebs.
“Wow, my own room.” I said the words with sincerity, but I thought them sarcastically.

Still, while the story progressed, her character never really did. Her only problem was getting out of her bad external situation, but it never went any deeper. By the second version, I was more focused on the idea that Nimira's life had hardened her to some degree, making her too focused on practical survival rather than her heart. (Note, in these first two versions, Erris was not the love interest. More on that later!):

. “Nim, I think falling in love would be good for you. You’re not very romantic, you know—in fact, you’re downright stolid. Always trying to work hard and be practical.”
“I am practical. I’ve always been practical.” I didn’t see what was wrong with that. “Anyway, I have to be. At home, I had to care for my younger sister and brother, and then I was the oldest girl in the dance troupe—“
Erris slapped his hands together, startling me. “Yes, that’s it! You’re the oldest. You’re always so very much the oldest. You act as if you have a terrific weight on your shoulders.”
“But I do. I’m a slave. I have to work hard, or I’ll be sent to a…a brothel.”
“But why don’t you run away? You could join an acting troupe or a circus.”
Suddenly I felt very angry with him. It was easy for him to say, being a ghost without particular responsibilities. “That stuff is for stories, Erris. I’m sorry. We’ll have to talk later. Ronna is probably looking for me.”

It was better, but I still didn't really like Nimira as much as I should. I liked her best when she was funny and proud, but it felt a little out of place with her background of living on a farm and taking care of younger siblings. In the version that sold, Nimira was a dancer at the royal court and an only child, with a lot more pride that had kept her from connecting with people in the past, and makes her fall hard and fast for Erris. She is no longer a slave, but a girl who made her own choice to come to Lorinar. In the final version, I finally really understood her.

Next up: How Erris went from melodramatic ghost to fairy prince!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

State of the debut authors

The other day I was bored. Now, I love numbers, and like many debut authors, I wonder how I'm doing compared to my debut author peers, and spend more time than is necessary trying to collate data based on various sets on numbers. It's easy to freak out because there are SO MANY debut authors in a year...OMG, the Tenners group has 95 members, and even noting that some of them are duplicate LJ-names and some of them I have nooo idea who they are, that's still a lot of debuts. And not every single 2010 debut author is a Tenner.

That got me wondering just how many debut authors become career authors. It's WAY too early to truly tell this from the Tenners group. I mean, WAY. Someone who is struggling with their second book today could be celebrating bestseller status in five years. Such is the nature of creative business! But, we're halfway through 2010 now and everyone is thinking about their second books, and it certainly bodes well if you have already written and sold that second book at this point. I think a lot of writers who are just striving for the agent or the first deal think that debut authors have it made in the shade.

Well, they don't. But it's hardly hopeless either.

I made a very vague list of 2010 debut authors and how they're doing. Note: Very vague list. It would be creepy and wrong to get specific and name names. And obviously my data is not terribly specific. We have a weekly check-in at Tenners, but only about half the members actually check in, and then it's not like they go into huge detail. So these are HIGHLY UNSCIENTIFIC statistics. But interesting nonetheless.

About one third of 2010 debut authors have a second book completed and sold.
Of this group, some have completed revisions, some are revising with their editors right now, and some are waiting for editorial notes. In some cases, it was part of the initial deal and in other cases, the option book. Contrary to what some may imagine, not all the authors in this group had big breakout debuts. Some have just been working hard and well and their editor is happy to continue working with them and building their career.

(About a quarter of 2010 debut authors, by the way, have gotten a second book deal. For some, this was their second book, for others, more books in a series or similar genre, and for others, a branch into a different genre (YA author doing MG series, etc).)

About one third are still writing the second book. More of these are unsold than sold, but there is a decent group struggling with the second book of a contract. This surprised me a little because I didn't think I wrote THAT fast, but I guess I do write fast; most of my second book was written while waiting for Magic Under Glass to sell, and then while waiting for edits, so it was already with my editor months before Magic Under Glass was released. There is a lot of pressure and panic in writing a second book. (Yeah, I dealt with that too...and now with the sequel.) Seriously, the biggest favor an aspiring writer can do for oneself is working on another book while the first is on submission, or while they're waiting for edits. (But even so, you can run into trouble if your editor doesn't like that book, or wants a sequel, etc.)

About a fourth are waiting. The second book is done, and their agent has it on sub, or they're waiting for their agent to read it, or they're waiting for their editor to read it. In most cases it isn't sold yet, but a few are waiting to see if their editor will accept their second book as the next book in their deal. The waiting room, as we know, is always a frustrating place to be. You can sit there a long time. (Hint: Write a third book!)

The remainder have been pushed back to 2011 or other situations. In any given debut year, a group of books will be pushed back from the initial planned release date. Sometimes this is because of unexpected editorial trouble, other times trouble with the marketing/packaging of the book, perhaps most often just a strategic decision to place the book in a different season. Absolutely no shame in it, but it can be a frustrating delay for a writer who wants a career and now must wait longer to sell future books. It's good to be prepared for the possibility when you first sell your novel.

As far as I can see, there are two major lessons in this.

One, WRITE MORE BOOKS while you're waiting. If you can. Some people just have a slow muse and that's fine. It by no means dooms you. After all, you want quality over quantity. But if you can be ahead of the game, it does not hurt one bit.

Two, be prepared for the unexpected. Being pushed back a year. Having your editor quit and your new editor say "nah" to your option. Getting frazzled by promoting one book while trying to write a second. Things happen to everybody at some point. Everybody. I promise.

That's it. Let me add again as a final word, HIGHLY UNSCIENTIFIC STATISTICS.

Childhood writings

I have pretty much saved EVERYTHING I've ever written. I have 20+ notebooks full of old writing that I am constantly fretting could be lost in a fire, distressing my future biographers. o_O So I'm going to try to start typing it up, and I will occasionally post bits of it as I do.

The first notebook is from 4th grade, and was intended to be my Harriet the Spy notebook. The trouble was, my life was somewhat lacking in spyworthy stuff, leading to such fascinating entries as:

I wonder what Mommy goes off and reads in her room.

How come Harriet the Spy always finds the interesting stuff to write about?

Katie is driving me nuts.

I hope Mom enjoys her shower.

I’m always losing important things. Gosh.

I’m going to audition for a play today. I hope I get a good part.

There was also a story in the "revenge on family" genre, which I sometimes dabbled in...:

By Jaclyn Dolamore

Once there was a girl named Jackie and she and her friend Allie always told each other a secret when they had the chance.
Allie went to parties a lot, so Allie and Jackie often couldn’t talk or visit but they saw each other sometimes.
Jackie’s evil sister Katie listened in on the secrets. One day she got her 20th secret so she wrote a book with all the secrets in it and said her pen name was Ruby Blue.
One day she sent the secrets in the mail to a publishing company. It was called J. A. But she didn’t know J. A. stood for Jackie Allie.
They read it and said “Hey, this is our secrets. Katie must’ve wrote it.”
They decided to write a book called Katies Secrets.

Seriously? Was there any satisfaction in writing such things? Kids are weird.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Hey all! I had so much fun at BEA I decided to go to ALA too. (This decision was greatly aided by the fact that one of the lovely writers I met at BEA is letting a couple of us crash at her house.) If you are a friend or fan or would-be friend, and want to meet up at some point, contact me! I will be at kidlit drinks night. For starters.

(I leave Monday, so I will miss some of the fun. Don't tell me about fun things I'll miss on Monday. -_-;;)

Hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Female Characters, pt. 3: Love and marriage, real boys and vampires

More blog reader discussion:

"Then again, I was raised in a household that read comic books like Xmen, Spawn, etc., where kick-ass females were more than costumed heroines. They had tragic pasts, bad romances, and they triumphed. also remember watching cartoons with bad-ass/strong female leads like in Thunder Cats. There was also She-Ra and to some degree even Rainbow Bright had kick-ass-ness with, um, unicorns thrown in for good glitter measure. >:D And let's not forget Miss April O'Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She didn't know kung-fu, but she usually handled herself even when in the Shredder's clutches."

I guess my issue is not just quality, but also quantity? I mean, April is only one girl and there were FOUR ninja turtles. Plus a male villain and a male mentor. I will admit, though, that there are some comic books that really excel with the female characters. X-Men had more guys than girls, but the girls they did have were pretty awesome. I always liked the early Claremont years of X-Men and I love Kitty Pryde's character, and Storm too. I even liked Jean Grey/Phoenix, although being from an earlier era she always had that role as "Cyclops's girlfriend".

I've often said that indie fantasy comics are my favorite stories, for so many reasons, and they have great female characters too. Elfquest, Thieves and Kings, Bone, Castle Waiting...two created by men, two created by women, both with really great characters of both genders, and not just your standard character tropes either.

"What amuses me further about that is I've pointedly used the SAME voice for a female character as a male. The male gets way more praise for being snarky and funny and the females are called "bitchy" and "cold". The things is, to some degree, I AM those voices. They are the products of my experiences. They are how I see things, so when people say my female characters are bitches, I tend to take that pretty damn personally."

That is true. I've heard this complaint from more than one female writer. Girls don't get as much slack when they're having a bad day, a bad year, or a bad life. Although there are certainly some bitchy women in successful popular literature. Maybe it's a matter of reader taste.

Maggie Desmond O'Brien says:
"I haven't tried too hard to write characters from guys' perspectives before - I just can't imagine what life would actually be like inside a guy's head. But I agree that it's difficult to separate myself from my female characters sometimes!"
Kirsten says:
"For me, the pressure in writing female characters comes from trying not to make them sound exactly like me. At the same time, I'm so used to writing a female MC (in tight first person) that my most recent attempt at a male MC (also in tight first person) didn't really sound like a real boy."

This brings up the question, for me, what does a boy sound like? I'm not saying that women don't write unrealistically girly boys sometimes, and that it should not be a consideration! After all, I've certainly read books by men about women that made me cringe. OTOH, I do worry sometimes when I see writers discussing "how to write a boy" with tips like "boys don't talk about their emotions" or "boys don't think, they act!" Sometimes I worry this will produce not real boys, but "typical" boys.

As for writing girls that are too much like oneself, does anyone find this diminishes the more they write? I find that the more stories I write, the more I have to force myself to think of new sorts of characters so they aren't all the same in every book, and it gets me moving outside my box...not to say that I don't have "types" I keep coming back to.

"I agree that the flat, defined-only-by-love-plotline girl characters are definitely not a problem of male-authored stories—not by a long shot. In fact, I get the feeling that the majority of female-authored stories include or even center on the love life of the heroine. It takes me back to that stereotype of boys’ and girls’ dreams—the boys typically dream about what career they’d like to have in the future (“astronaut!” “rock star!”) while the girls dream about what kind of prince charming they’d like to marry… Do you think the majority of girls are really like that?"

No! Or maybe... I admit the love plot has always been my favorite, and when I was little I dreamed of getting married (which I never actually DID, but close enough), but...I think the problem is if you're dreaming about marriage for the sake of marriage--because you feel obligated by society or are concerned about being an "old maid"...which were real concerns for women in past history but are not as big a concern anymore. (It still exists, of course, but both men and women now worry about missing their chance to marry and sometimes start a family, it's no longer a question of "will a girl be stuck at home with her aging parents and be a burden to them?" This is now just a concern of people who play MMORPGs. ^_~) When I dreamed of marriage, I was really dreaming of having a partner, someone I loved to share my life with, like my parents had, and it wasn't my sole dream for myself. But all of us crave companionship. I think that's what good love stories are about, to me.

But to some other girls, a good love story seems to be about a man desiring a woman...sometimes even to an unhealthy point. Possessing, obsessing, dominating, even stalking. I think a lot of relationships, whether or not you actually have some dominatrix thing going on ;D have some level of domination and submission going on that the couple falls into naturally. We've all run into the guy with the bitchy girlfriend who wants to keep tabs on him every two seconds, or the girl who always bows to her boyfriend's wishes with some lame excuse...but I think even happier couples have some degree of it. But in a story where we could portray any sort of relationship, do women really want a man watching them sleep or following them around, even (or especially) a sexy vampire/angel/demon/whatever? Really?? Or is it harmless? Just women writing fantasy scenarios for other women? I will end this post with a bunch of unanswered questions for dramatic effect!!! =D

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Female Characters, pt. 2: Wimps, Ass-kickers and Princesses

First, some discussion from the comments...

"I've always found female characters easier to write. I was an 80s child too, but I loved the princesses and being a girly girl. To me boys were dirty and icky."

I can understand that! I like many aspects of the girly girl. I don't think Nimira is a girly-girl per se but she's not an ass-kicker either. She's not a princess, but...she could be. OTOH, I never thought of boys as dirty and icky. As a little girl, I tended to gravitate toward friendships with gentle nerd boys who sometimes turned out to be gay, and my dad was the kind of guy who never watched sports but would get sucked into The Joy Luck Club.

Are girls who like writing about guys affected by the males in their lives, or is it just as often wish fulfillment, I wonder?

Memory: "I think there's a lot more pressure when one tries to write female characters because there's such emphasis on avoiding the cliches and creating complex personalities. I don't feel like this is really the case where male characters are concerned."

That's an interesting point. I'd never thought of this; I guess I do feel pressure to write strong women moreso than to write men any certain way, but I always felt it came less from society and more from my own awareness that my female characters were inadequate. But I guess it's probably both.

Redcrest (among other things Redcrest says...we could probably have a pretty lengthy discussion just between ourselves): "And yes, “the girl” could never be the cool, smart-alecky one or stand alone w/o a love interest. Having a girl on the team apparently set off a certain expectation—“She shall be someone’s love interest”—like introducing a gun in the first act of a play immediately signaled “someone will get shot by the end of the play.”"

It's true, the token girl is also often the love interest, and it is a bit irksome when people defend female characters in a story by mentioning the love interest(s). In LOST, for instance (which I loved, btw) I think the girls definitely were more defined by their love stories. That's a show where you notice it less because it's a large cast and the characters are well-rounded, but as a group, the boys definitely do more. And it's not just a flaw of stories written by men. I think Harry Potter had a similar problem--there were cool girls in Harry Potter, but there were more boy characters of importance and weight.

olmue: "I'm a girl, so I do tend to relate to female characters more than males (in general). I've mostly written female MCs. However, I do find that it's also harder for me to separate myself from my character, and to really make her rounded, when I'm writing female. I did write one book entirely from a male perspective, and I found out all kinds of things about the character that I maybe wouldn't have been forced to think about had I been on default female. And then I was able to apply some of that when revising a girl MC book, so it was doubly helpful. I've been giving some thought to doing a dual POV, one guy, one girl, because I don't know if I'm quite ready to give up that interesting perspective yet."

Yes, I too find it harder to separate girl characters from myself...or is it a question of conveying myself in an interesting way? The guys definitely have a lot of me in them, too, but they're easier to make interesting. Back when I couldn't write many interesting girl characters, one girl I did love to write was Leslie Teller, who was extremely different from me. She was playful and fun and boy-crazy and very outgoing and flirtatious and had a rather wounded past and was frankly, kind of a ditz...not much for the book-learnin', anyway, but she had some considerable creative talent. She could have been a cliche but I think part of the fun was unearthing her layers. It's harder to write a girl like Olivia who is not me, but has enough in common with me to be my friend. Leslie probably wouldn't be my friend.

One concept we keep coming back to is the important of avoiding cliches in writing women. The history of female characters is a bit like the history of feminism itself--first women were mostly wives and mothers, then with the rise of feminism, it became all about "career" and stay-at-home moms started to feel looked down upon. Girls in books, too, started as love interests and moms, and then became tough, unemotional ass-kickers around the 80s, but now I think we're starting to see a wide range of girls. Girly girls have inner strength, warrior women aren't just guys with boobs...but we're still very conscious of the cliches and concerned about our portrayals of women.