National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) has been taking place during each November since 1999. Its participants are challenged with writing 50,000 words during November in order to win. My own personal word count is currently at 25,000 so I found myself with time to make a post here.
The halfway point also strikes me as a good opportunity for me to reflect on this Nanowrimo and how it differers from last year. This year I’m working on a science fiction piece and take off of something I wrote back in high school. I don’t really want to go into what it’s about as I don’t want this article to be an advertisement. Here and now, I want to talk about writing women and men.
I only have a print out of the tome I wrote back when I was 18 so it’s hard to analyze. Leafing through what was effectively my starting point as a writer I find I fell into the same traps that capture storytellers to this day:
- My female lead for the first part of the book was a woman named Crystal, best described as a damsel. She’s killed, motivating a guy named Phil to avenge her death, which fills me with all sorts of ugh, I wrote that?
- Susan, who I must admit was mostly Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5.
- Gwen, this bit character who like an angel with no reason or motivation I can find, delivers the main character Paul rings so he can propose to Susan in a way he sees fit in his mind.
- Denise. She appears to be a scientist so, yay young me!
I didn’t find an instance where one woman talked to another. Not likely to be one instance in there either so my book failed the Bechdel test.
Finding women in my novel was hard. Men on the other hand. Ahem: Russell, Paul, Mikhail, Ryan, Nicolas, Phil, Chris, Roozbeh, Craig, Brian, Boris, Marcus, Shaun, John, Al, Rick, Ross, Ben, Tray. I’m not even a quarter way in to the some 400 printed pages and I’m going to stop counting. For the short list of women above I went through the whole book, guys just fall out of the thing.
It’s disconcerting to look into this time capsule and see how various tropes had taken hold inside of me growing up. In particular, having the trope of avenging the death of a woman being motivation and not holding any memories today of me wondering if that wasn’t the best way to drive my story, hurts me. That’s of course on top of my concern from having created so few female characters. On the happy side it is encouraging to know I’ve since grown. At least I hope I’ve grown.
The work I’ve gotten to do, and participate in, as we start to build HerStoryArc has made me much more aware of the women I write about. Case in point, in my original telling the first woman the reader meets is the catalyst for my male characters to go off on their grand adventure. This time my female lead Regina is focused on saving herself and finding her own path to her salvation. I’ve also got two adventurous women going around in a space ship trying to solve a mystery around Regina. No damseling this time! First thing they talk about is the afterlife, so Bechdel pass!
As I start to think of the guys I’ve created I find I’ve got some concern that I’ve over corrected here and have landed in icky land on the other side of the coin. Happily, my cast is a manageable size this time. For guys I’ve got Regina’s grandfather Paul and Father Phil as two guys of questionable character. Roozbeh (using that name again because I’ve loved that name since I met someone with the name in high school) is an ally to Regina. Sure, he’s gruff, but an ally nonetheless. Richard is the only other guy I’ve got so far. Not sure at all what role he’s going to have yet but after writing this article I’m going to ensure that he’s a quality guy.
As I build toward 50,000 words I know I’m going to be spending time considering how my men and women interact with each other. I know I don’t want to spend a bunch of time exploring the microaggressions that come up when men and women explore any general differences that are perceived to happen between them; this isn’t the story for that. At the same time, I don’t want to neglect the microaggressions, because I think dealing with these stressors will be good for character development and will be missed if they’re not there.
Looking back and seeing where I tripped up before has been useful as I can identify points I think I tripped up on. Working here for HerStoryArc has been useful as well, because it’s gotten me thinking about points of view and treatment that I just didn’t reflect on very well before. National Novel Writing Month has given me the opportunity to atone for what I feel are my past missteps and hopefully, someday, tell a good yarn too.
Yeah. Someday. ‘Cause wow am I going to need to edit a lot!