Writing young women

For the past few days I’ve been struggling with this (long, and growing ever longer) post about the term “voice” and what it means in all these different contexts and situations. I eventually plan on posting it, but not until I can get a very firm grasp on what I’m trying to say, so in the meantime here’s something else I’ve been thinking about. Oh, and also, for those nice people who were slightly worried about me because of my last post, rest assured that I am feeling much, MUCH better. Thank you for your concerns.

So, did you guys hear about Katherine Heigl taking her name out of contention for the Emmy’s because:

I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization…In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials.

And, I mean, we could sit here and talk about whether or not Heigl is kind of crapping all over the Grey’s writers by saying that they just didn’t give her meaty enough stuff to play this season (although, Gizzie? After that fiasco, I’m not sure quite how much respect I think they deserve), or if, as Jezebel is suggesting, she’s underhandedly protesting the way that women are portrayed on television: namely, as total victims. Jezebel has a regular feature called “Hookers, Victims, and Doormats” (from which I cribbed the title of this post), which they took from a Shirley MacLaine quote about the best parts for actresses being one of those three things, in which they take the latest female casting news and see how many of the roles fall into these categories. It’s fascinating how the film and television industry (with a few righteous exceptions–Veronica Mars, much?) still shies away from creating strong women.

This got me thinking about the women I write. I just do not know. A couple of weeks ago I detailed for you the early days of my writing “career”, including all the novels I’d written. When I first thought about it, I was like, “Yes, definitely, I write a lot of victims,” but actually, now that I think about it, I don’t. Kate in The House on Gilmore Lake, despite having a totally ridiculous storyline, was actually quite strong; she thought her sister’s martyr act was pretty stupid and irresponsible and selfish, so she rolled into town to talk some sense into her, even though she knew she was walking into an emotional minefield w/r/t her true love/now brother-in-law and memories of her mother’s similar heartbreaking behavior. Plus, she repaired everything as best she could without destroying her integrity. Gelsey from that second novel was a little bit victim-y, but instead of letting self-absorbtion and sadness take over her life she tried to turn it around, volunteering with battered women and dumping her disinterested dolt of a husband. In the first draft of AUT, C was SO victim-y, as was N (a male character), but in this new version C is basically a Byronic hero and A (who wasn’t in the first draft) is a rock star who refuses to get beaten down by the warped conventions and idle gossip of a wealthy, corrupt town. I’m actually really proud of A, because I think she’s just the right blend of vulnerability and strength that makes for an interesting character arc.

Which brings me to MB. I never really start out a story going, “Okay, I’m going write a strong female character,” but all the “heros” of my work tend to be pretty strong, male and female. I don’t write protagonists that I cannot respect, and I have a hard time respecting weak, cowardly people, so I don’t end up writing them most of the time. That’s just me. And also, I always hesitate to say that writers “have a responsibility” to write strong, non-victim, non-doormat female characters because part of me has always thought that the only “responsibility” a writer has is to tell the truth, whatever that means in the context of their story–to get to the root of things, to explore human nature in as honest a way as possible. So, like, if your heroine is a doormat, well, sucks for her but if that’s the truth then write it, right? And I mostly still think that, although I get little satisfaction out of reading about such characters, and no satisfaction out of writing them.

But the thing is–the truth is–that there are all kinds of women out there, including hookers, victims, and doormats, but also including manipulative bitches, kick-ass superheros, amazing mothers, unexploited wives, truth-seekers, vengeance-seekers, and just plain old good women. So, hopefully, we get an array of different kinds of women, especially in YA, where lots of young girls can experiment with identity. Although, I’m sort of less concerned about this in YA, as it’s very en vogue to write “plucky” heroines, outcasts who find themselves and take control of their destinies, etc.

OMG, I was going to talk about MB and I got distracted. The female protagonist of MB (we’ll call her “JC”) is pretty much my favorite character I’ve ever written ever. A little bit trashy, a little bit misunderstood, guarded yet hugely loving, unselfish yet not desperate, warm but not needy, smart but not ostentatiously so (and capable of making quite ridiculous errors), naturally funny but not perform-y, bold but not pushy, she’s able to simultaneously see people’s flaws and love them in spite of those flaws. She’s take-no-bullshit, but she’s not insensitive to the comfort other people find in their illusions. She’s not perfect, either, but I love writing a character who’s so sure of herself. She’s an inspiration to me, certainly. And I’m glad I’m not contributing another hooker/doormat/victim to the world of literature (it’s full of them, too)–assuming MB ever actually reaches the world of literature. But none of that pessimism now–what really matters is that I think I’m creating characters who I can respect and admire, and if film and television writers would do that a little more, maybe Jezebel would have less examples for their column–to the betterment of all.

Oh, and I got an email from J today saying that she’s done compiling her editor list and she’s working on the pitch and D, the president of the agency, is reading it this week; barring some big problem J, L and I (not to mention Bri, Nickie, Emma and Alicia, who have all read it) failed to catch, we should be able to start submitting soon. This, I’m sure, will usher in a whole summer’s worth of anxiety, but I have work and MB to concentrate on, a busy social schedule to keep me occupied, plenty of friends coming in and out of the city, and some much-needed California R&R in August to look forward to. But still–yay! I’m excited for what comes next. And terrified, natch. Whateva.

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