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My Male Chauvinistic writing style

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by srebak, Feb 4, 2014.

  1. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    srebak,

    I think your process is a good one: identify a flaw in your writing and try to figure out how to fix it.

    The suggestions you received to try writing short stories featuring female protagonists or only female characters are good ones. I would add that perhaps a good thing to do when writing one of those stories is to first identify someone you consider to be a strong female. Base the character off her. Put her in a situation and ask yourself how this particular female would react.

    Hope this helps!

    Brian
     
  2. Hagan

    Hagan Dreamer

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    Writing strong female characters is not so difficult, once you work out a few details first. Like male characters, female characters need to be driven, focused and well rounded in your mind before writing. They need merits and flaws both mental and physical, a distinct voice of their own and a goal, no mater how involved it is. Pretty much like any male character really.

    Strong characters come in all forms, gender included, from the physically imposing to the fanatically faithful, mentally resilient to the devious and the ruthless. Quietly strong characters rely less on dialogue and more on inner monologue and observation of their actions, whilst talkative characters can be be some of your most devious and scathing of characters, using truth (or clever lies) to empower themselves. In the end its the force of personality that drives a character, and male or female, the standard rules apply.

    A good way of creating a few strong female characters is the 500 word stories, to get some practice in on a small scale, along with reading some other works with strong female casts. When writing, try to tell the situation through the characters experience rather than just observation, get into the characters head, make it personal to them and let them tell you what is happening, why it happened and how they intend to to bring about a conclusion (but avoid writing the conclusion for now). If you know a few people who can give them a read through (male and female) then do so, feedback should help highlight where you are going wrong and what you are getting right (You may surprise yourself here).

    Kudos on recognizing you have a fault though, and have fun learning something new.
     
  3. srebak

    srebak Troubadour

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    After putting more thought into the matter, i guess i just want to know what to do so as not to make a character a sexist and/or anti-feminist caricature.

    Hypothetically speaking, say i wanted to make a female character a love interest and i did want the male hero to rescue her from something, how do i do all of this without it coming off as me viewing women as inferior to men (which by all accounts, i shouldn't)?

    As i said before, i'm worried that Disney (one of my favorite animation companies) may have played a role in this.
     
  4. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    [begin gender politicky warning] Part of the problem might be the interchangeability of "female" and "woman" that a bunch of people have seemed to have developed over the last fifteen years. Words are important, and seeing gender confused with sex is a big problem for me.

    Some of the most womanly women I've known aren't female at all. Some of the manliest men I've known aren't male. Separating out the two things might give you an idea of how to approach writing women characters. [/gender politicking, all the above is *my* opinion/experience only]

    That said, you might try the following exercise: think of a definition of "woman". Try to not define the concept by "not a man" or "female". Think of qualities that you see in the women in your life. Write them down. Then see if you can figure out which qualities are "strong" and which are weaker. Does the same definition of strength apply to your ideas of how men are strong? Maybe do the same thing for men, if you need to.

    Any strength you give any character needs to be tempered by some weakness. So, say your strong woman MC is able to do handy-work/car repairs, she shoots whiskey with the boys and she knows how to rope cattle. Maybe she cusses like a sailor, but still knows how to handle a bunch of whiny little kids without snapping. She needs to be balanced or you end up with a perfect, trite, bad stereotype in the other direction. Fear and phobias are a great way of giving balance. But I'd try not to do the typical snakes/spiders thing. Maybe make her deathly afraid of pigeons?
     
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  5. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    If you don't want the love interest to have to be rescued by the hero, the solution is simple: don't put her in a position where she needs to be rescued. Maybe they're friendly acquaintances from the same town or village, and she has some skill or knowledge that the hero needs on his journey, so she travels with him from the start. Or maybe they meet later on, and she is the one to rescue him -- not necessarily by fighting off an ogre or something. Maybe she finds him half-dead after eating a poisonous mushroom he mistook for a good one, and she uses her herbalist skills to nurse him back to health.
     
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  6. Or maybe she rescues him from something too, so that there's rescue parity. Or maybe she gets captured on purpose and he tries to rescue her, accidentally screwing up her plan to have the villain reveal his evil scheme via monologue, etc.
     
  7. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Three of the four female characters in my first book end up needing rescuing. Not through any fault or weakness of their own; they end up in situations that anybody would need rescuing from. In the second book, the MC gets rescued a lot.

    The thing about the heroine-in-peril shtick is that you have to make the reader care not only about the heroine, but to care about the impact on the characters doing the rescuing should they fail.

    That, to me, is the part of the rescuing that a lot of authors miss: war is not a video game. It really sucks to blow an important mission. Even if it's not your fault, mission failure is nightmare fuel for the rest of your life; the kind of thing that has left tougher men than me heavily medicated. Fortunately, I can only imagine how it must feel to screw the pooch and get someone you care about killed.

    Yet, we always see the main character dashing bravely in and saving the day. No hesitation, no major intelligence gaps, no inkling that the map was wrong or they know he's coming, no serious threat of failure. (There are only 15 pages left! What can go wrong?)

    Make the MC worry. If the MC worries, I'll worry.
     
  8. srebak

    srebak Troubadour

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    You know what the worst part of all this is? Not long ago, this didn't bother me all that much. But, in recent years, mainly because i listened to a lot of reviews and commentaries about Disney films, this fear about sexism and anti-feminism has really started to strike a cord in me, because it felt like I was becoming a bit sexist and anti-feminist in my own mind.

    You would think that at my age, after spending years of being raised by a single mother and an outspoken and abrasive older sister, along with having a great deal of female teachers, i would be anything but anti-feminist, yet that feeling still exists in me somewhere and i want it to end.

    It's become a problem for me this week because i just watched a commentary about Disney's Beauty and the Beast and one of the statements about the Disney Princesses struck a cord in me; Disney did have a habit of making their earlier Princesses rather weak in character. That, coupled with mental issues i'm already having with another show, which i'm trying to hold of on watching until after Valentine's day, are really starting to throw me off. Now, i can't help but view strong female characters as weak sexist caricatures, and as i said, i want that to stop.

    I can't believe this happened because I was watching a commentary about a movie with a strong female lead. And for this to happen before Valentine's day, the day celebrating love, it's unsettling. Mainly because, when i think of "love", the first thing that comes to mind is the kind of love felt between a man and a woman. Yet now i'm viewing the woman part of the equation as the weaker part, even a lot of fictional couples out there have the female as the stronger one.

    As i've said before, I want this feeling to end, now.
     
  9. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    The same way you don't make any other character a caricature - give them depth. Make them human.
    I think one of the dangers here is that in trying to avoid one stereotype you can go too far in the other direction and end up with a different stereotype. It's also my theory that when writing, you absolutely should not worry about being politically correct. You will never write anything of any consequence without pissing somebody off, so don't worry about it. As other have said, strong doesn't mean she has to be Red Sonja. She has to be up to the challenges of the story, which can easily include learning to cope with failure. I like the Rocky comparison someone used earlier. I think that encapsulates it quite well.
     
  10. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    This. Hang all the other rules and embrace this one.
     
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  11. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    This sounds like you're suffering from the kind of subconscious conditioning that society tends to impart upon us even if we don't agree with that message on a cognitive level. It's rather like how a lot of white people (myself included) don't mean to be racist but nonetheless suffer from a subconscious bias against black people as a consequence of receiving anti-black messages from society. I can't say I know of a surefire way to get rid of those thoughts, but my best guess is that you need to recognize those deeply ingrained biases and act against them.
     
  12. Nameback

    Nameback Troubadour

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    I'm going to echo everyone who's said something about agency.

    It really all comes down to that. Are the female characters presented as set-dressing, as objects to decorate the male-driven narrative? Or are they actual characters who do things and make things happen? And secondarily, are they well-written? If you have female characters who are subjects, not objects, and who have realistic levels of personal complexity, then you're golden.

    I think you're worrying a bit too much. It doesn't really matter if you have some conditioned biases--all it takes to overcome that is a little conscious effort. Don't worry about purging your mind of instinctive bias; worry about purging your actions (and words) of bias. That's what's within your control, and that's what matters.

    Building on that last sentiment, I think it's good sometimes to be very deliberate in busting stereotypes. There's nothing wrong with having a certain moral agenda in your story--certainly all great books have thematic content that demonstrates a point of view on some part of the human experience. If you want to write something feminist, then explicitly go after that! It's just as legitimate of a literary impulse as saying you want to write something with dragons in it. It's your story, and it should reflect your values.

    Edit: I should perhaps mention that I do this. I sometimes make decisions about plot or character because I want the narrative to match my values. That's not the same as being ham-fisted; I'm not saying you should have your characters give big moralizing speeches. But, for example, I realized I was 20,000 words into my book without a single scene that passed the Bechdel test, so I went back and changed the gender (and some of the dialogue) of a character.

    Was it necessary? Maybe not, but the story didn't suffer at all for it, and it made me feel better. My protagonist is a young woman of color, quite deliberately. Eventually she earns the nickname "the Lightning Witch" because she fights hand-to-hand and strikes with kinetic energy (and thus the noise) equivalent several pounds of TNT being detonated--so when she fights someone, it sounds like thunder. Yeah, female characters don't have to be physically strong to have agency, but so few female characters really are brutally, terrifyingly strong that I felt like making my MC that way just for the sake of breaking stereotype.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2014
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  13. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    It has certainly been my experience that characterizing people from any "minority" group is a lot easier when said group predominates the setting or otherwise has multiple individuals represented in the story. For a non-gendered example, it's easier for me to write a diverse range of black characters if the story takes place in Africa (or the fantastical analog thereof). That way I don't have to worry about how well my leading black character represents her race, because she is not a singular token surrounded by non-blacks. The same effect should come into play if you experiment a predominantly female cast.
     
  14. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    It's a western rather than fantasy, but in the movie Silverado I think Stella is a wonderful example of a good, strong female character whose strength does not come from her physicality.
     
  15. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    The problem I see constantly with female characters written by males is simply that they don't have a proper role in the story. They don't have a function in the plot. It is a personal rule of mine that any character who gets a name - male or female - must have an impact on the plot OR at least contribute to the characterisation of a main character.

    Give them something to do and you can't go far wrong.
     
  16. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I guess this may be the basis of some kind of rule/advice: "Every character that has a name should have a personality." Maybe that's taking it a little too far? I'm thinking that if a character is important enough to have a name, they're important enough to have a personality go along with it.
    What say you?
     
  17. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Of course Character= personality. A story wants characters because they're each an opportunity to add a new perspective, or at least a moment of flavor. --Although, I like your rule of tying it to names, to recognize which people can be left as "extras."

    The problem is that it's too easy to write women with very small personalities, often the same one. Giving them a function in the plot is better, and giving them agency (a degree of control over it) is better still. Sophia McDougall's goal of giving them more personality seems the best of all.
     
  18. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    Yes, I don't see how someone can have an impact on the plot without having something of a personality - even if only a whiff of a one. And if they have an impact, they ought to have a name...even if it's just something like Herbie Trope-factor #7.
     
  19. srebak

    srebak Troubadour

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    Another factor in this to consider is that there have been a lot of stories where the female is the smarter and more mature character, while the male is the stupid, reckless and naive one.
    For some reason, that bothered me in some cases and that fact about me alone is sexist and anti-feminist
     
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Are you sure that that's really you being sexist and not the stories?
    What it definitely is though is an experience of what it's like to be stereotyped. It's not fun, but it can happen to anyone. It's also good to be aware of what that feels like.

    I've been thinking quite a bit on how to portray women - for pretty much the same reasons you do; I want real characters, not stereotypes.
    One theory I'm liking at the moment is that it's not necessarily just about how I portray the individual male or female character. It's also about how I portray the way the people around my character treats them. In a way, we're shaped by the world around us and how we're treated by it. The world treats' men and women differently in many ways; some obvious, some less so.

    Practical example:
    If you're talking to someone and they keep starring at a spot on your forehead you will eventually get uncomfortable and bothered by it, regardless of whether you're a man or a woman. If everyone you talk to always stare at that spot on your forehead you may eventually get used to it. You'll probably still find it bothersome and annoying, but you'll learn to live with it. You may get a bit touchy about talking to people. You don't want to do it unless they have something important to tell you or you need to get something from them. Ideally you'll just talk to them on the phone or chat with them.
    Now imagine you're in that scenario, except you're a girl and instead of a spot on your forehead everyone keeps staring at your breasts.

    Now this may be an exaggerated example, but I think it illustrates the point. Men and women aren't that different, but they may react in different ways because they have different frames of reference - because the world treats them differently.
     
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