Thursday, August 23, 2012

Damsels in Distress

This is a topic I've been wrestling with a lot lately.

Metaphorically wrestling, of course. Physically wrestling with a topic would be a tad one-sided.

Here's my problem: Is a Damsel in Distress a truly anti-feminist character?

Can there be no gray area on this issue?

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am not a particularly staunch feminist. I support (and am grateful for) equal rights, but, let's face it... I'm also a homeschooling housewife. I don't feel the need to have a career to validate who I am, and I love that my identity is intertwined with (but not defined by) my husband's. (please note: you can be the exact opposite of me on this, and I still love you. I'm not right, you're not wrong, we're just different.)

With that disclaimer out there, I have to say I've noticed a disconcerting trend. There is a very loud voice in the book blogging/writing/reading community that says anytime a girl or woman is rescued, she's setting feminism back a couple generations. That by simply being in danger, she is stripping women of the right to vote or the right to divorce their abusive husbands.

And I don't quite understand it.

There are times when characters need to be saved. If it's your main character, we hope s/he survives. And they can only be saved by one of two ways: They save themselves or are saved by a hero/ine. (I am dismissing entirely the idea that the villain might suddenly implode, leaving our protagonist danger-free.)

Either way, the saving has to make sense. There are some things you can do for yourself, and some you cannot. Fictional superpowers can obviously alter this, but for simplicity's sake, I'm going to leave those out of the equation.

Let's create a fictional female. She's physically fit, confident and smart. As she is walking home one night, she is abducted at knife-point and thrust into a back alley, where she is bound and gagged. Her attacker starts to rape her.

Now let's create a fictional male. He knows the fictional female through a neutral setting (school or work) and is on positive terms with her (i.e.- he is not the villain in disguise). He's physically fit, confident and smart. He walks past this back alley, sees what is happening and has a decision to make.

What decision is he going to make?

I would hope that he would take the necessary steps to attempt to save her.

But so many people are crying about the idea that a woman doesn't need saving, that it almost feels like they would prefer a story in which this fictional male walks by, sees whats happening, and leaves, thinking to himself, "She's a strong, confident female. I am sure she can work that out for herself. I'll just text her tomorrow to make sure she's okay."

I know what the first argument is going to be: Don't write characters that need saving! Don't put them in that situation!

But here's the thing: Your character should be in danger at some point. The stakes need to be high, and your protagonist needs to be on the brink of death/failure/losing all hope. If you refuse to put your character in danger (emotional danger counts), then you are chickening out.

Trust me, I'm not advocating for a wilting flower to take over as our new leading lady. I don't want a girl who simply stands by, wringing her hands while the hero fights for her honor. I don't want to read one book after another of girls who fret and worry and avoid making any kind of a decision, forcing the men in their lives to make their decisions for them. None of that would be fun to read, and I know it. 

But here's where the rubber meets the road: would we do this to a man? If a male character needs saving... do we automatically think of him as weak? Do we think less of the author for giving a hero some assistance? When a male character gives in and finds help, do we throw the book at the wall, shouting, "You should be stronger than that! You are giving men everywhere a bad name!"

No. It seems as though it's okay to write a male character as being in over his head and requiring help/saving/rescuing/whatever.

Is this another one of those situations where we expect far more of women than we do of men? Men work outside the home, come home and relax. Women work outside the home, come home and cook dinner. (HUGE GENERALIZATION, I KNOW. KIND OF THE POINT OF THE POST. MOVE ON.) Individual situations may vary, but the societal expectation is still there (how many commercials for cleaning products and home cooked foods have you seen featuring men doing all the work, even though women make up fifty percent of the American workforce?)

The same idea applies here- are we expecting far more of our female characters than we are of our male characters? To the point where we don't want female characters to have genuine flaws or disadvantages?

What say you? Is a Damsel in Distress automatically a strike to feminism? Or is it possible to be strong, in every sense of the word, but still need a little help now and then?

Saturday, August 18, 2012


I just started the most majorly intense rewrite I've ever done. I know this isn't saying much, considering I've only rewritten one novel before this, but still.

It's daunting.

My first three chapters were really confusing because my main character is unidentified. So, I thought it would be easier to switch to first person narrative. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. Later on, there's a lot of personal introspection and it would all be much more powerful if we were inside the character's head the whole time.

Then I realized the main character is unconscious for the opening scene.

I went over it, many, many times, trying to find a different way to open things up. But there really is no better way. She is found on the street, unconscious, naked and alone, and is delivered to the people who can help her most.

I don't want to open a novel with the main character waking up, unaware of where, when or who she is. That would be confusing. To say the least (have you read the Amber Chronicles? yeah...). So this meant I needed to leave the opening scene (about four pages) in third person, and turn it into a prologue.

I went to twitter, discussed it with several people, all of whom thought it sounded like a legit reason for a prologue to exist, as long as it's handled properly. So then I got all excited, "I just need to turn it into a prologue!!!"

Then I remembered that the whole book is in third person, and I need to rewrite the entire book, not the first four pages. The first four pages stay as-is, the other 40,000 words of a rough draft outline need to be changed.


I'm about six paragraphs in and I'm already annoyed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The light at the end of the tunnel.

My husband got a job. He started yesterday and got all set up in their payroll system and everything, so we know that it's for real.

He finished law school in May, took the bar at the end of July and is awaiting his results (sometime in October) before he can get a "real" job (you know... a lawyering job), but this is at least WORK. And it's something he's good at, and something he's happy to do, and something he's not embarrassed to tell people he's doing. It's retail sales, and it pays very little, but it's significantly decreasing his underpants radius, and keeping him busy and happy.

Plus, you know, money.

The last deposit we got was in January, his last school deposit. I've become accustomed to stretching our dollars, but making a deposit that was intended for a single person to live off for six months into living expenses for five people for eight months is tricky business indeed.

So, we're pretty happy around here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Moving On

I deleted my Fantasy Casting blog today. If you only know me from this blog, and are not familiar with Fantasy Casting, it was a place where I discussed who ought to play the characters from books when/if they were ever turned into a movie.

I have to admit, it was more than a little difficult to make that decision. I had some really great traffic on that blog:
Thousands of pageviews per post, thousands and thousands of comments.

Of course, some of those comments are part of why I feel okay deleting the whole thing. A fair amount of them made me want to *headdesk* forever. Stuff like,

"You know that actor can't play a teen, right? I mean, he's like TWENTY TWO or something."


"Ugh. That guy is not white enough to play Thomas."
(hand to God, this one is true)


"Why did you pick all pretty people?"
(as if there are any genuinely ugly, or even plain, people in Hollywood)

So, despite the plethora of comments, many of them just made my head hurt, and I am not entirely sad to be rid of them in my inbox, if I'm going to be completely honest.

But getting rid of the blog is sad, still. Several authors got in on the conversation (or at least proved that they had read my blog by linking to it and sending hundreds or thousands of people my way).

Gail Carriger, author of the Parasol Protectorate series, mentioned me in a blog post. James Dashner, author of the Maze Runner series, agreed with my casting choices in an interview. Molly Harper got in on the fun and created her own fantasy cast in response to my cast (and, incidentally, we are now twitter buds and she is just one of the coolest chicks around).  Melanie Jacobson came around and commented on my fantasy casting of her book, The List, and Braden Bell created his own fantasy cast for his second novel, The Kindling.

Cassandra Clare somehow found out about my blog (thus the fact that Clockwork Angel is the most-visited post) and let me know that we actually agreed that Alan Tudyk would make the best Henry, and Cinda Williams Chima told me that Jason Isaacs (my choice to play her villain) was a better choice than anyone she had ever thought of.

Writing Fantasy Casting helped me feel connected to the book blogging and author community in a way I never could have imagined.

But it's time to move on.

Fantasy Casts each took anywhere from two to ten hours to put together, and I just don't have that kind of time. I have other things I want to do, and I need to let go of that blog.

No matter how proud it made me.