Female Characters and Mothers

While writing, I sometimes make a list of things that I need to work on in future projects, or add to my current project. In my WIP, after reading Karin Slaughter, I’ve realized that scene-building should be a priority when I revise. I may despise her betrayal of her character, but I admire her wordsmithing. She filled her paragraphs with little asides, details, and backstory tidbits. This would certainly resolve the issue I’ve been having with three-page chapters and two-sentence paragraphs. It’s not that I don’t already include this material, but I don’t lace it in as skillfully as she does.

Another blog I follow is that of Nan Monroe, a fellow writer and the wife of a colleague of mine. Her Facebook and blog posts focus mainly on women’s issues, most recently her least favorite misogynistic tropes in literature. I realized that in Colossus, I had committed one of these crimes: Having one strong female character, and one weak. (The trope itself is having one stereotypically strong, good female character, and another who falls into an opposite feminine stereotype, either evil, weak, bitchy, etc.) Heather is strong, sharp, resilient, and self-sacrificing. Her foil, Monica, may be physically strong (she’s a cheerleader), but she is spoiled, and has never really experienced pain before. She uses cooperation to attempt to survive their situation. She ends up coming off as weak and bitchy. I never wanted this for her character; Monica is a tree in a storm, trying to bend with the wind, but she has no idea how to cope mentally, especially when she learns that there is more at stake than just her life. My goal is to compose a scene which conveys her fear and desperation, and explains her seemingly back-stabbing behavior.

As soon as that scene is done and revised, I can declare the book finished.

I’ve also realized that I do this a lot. I have one female character of any note, or one strong and another weak. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to me. Humans are naturally self-centered; The first perspective we consider is always our own. For some reason, I always felt more comfortable making friends with guys than girls. This is most likely due to the fact that my brother is fifteen months older than I am, and my sister is four years older. I related more to boys – trekking through the woods and picking up spiders – than to my girly sister, who is, for lack of a better word, stereotypical (clothes, make-up, spending, fake tans, lazy, doesn’t use her brilliance, etc.).

In addition, or by extension, the plots I come up with read a bit like a Disney movie in terms of parentage. (I am referring to the trope that Disney movies rarely have a character who has both their mother and father, and they are together. Which Mulan blows out of the water, btw.) I am horrible at writing mothers. Not because I can’t, or they end up as horrible people (which they do), but I often simply do not consider them. My characters more commonly have fathers, whether they are guiding guardians or abusive alcoholics, and dead or absent mothers. However, if they do have dead mothers, they tend to be remembered as saintly characters.

(Interestingly enough, Heather’s parents are dead, and she is being raised by her grandfather. On the other hand, Monica’s mother is a strong woman, and her step-father is almost-entirely absent from the narrative – but not from her life.)

My first novel is a perfect example of this. I have mentioned it before. Perfect Words is a train wreck of a novel, simply because of the plot holes. The main characters are beautifully-written, and everyone falls in love with them – they keep the reader going despite the obvious flaws in the plot, and the writing was pretty decent for a first novel. But, overall, like many authors, I look back at it thinking, What the Hell was I thinking?

In Perfect Words, the main character, Sylvia, is a Daddy’s girl, and her mother is absent. If I recall correctly, her parents are divorced. I can’t even remember, which is telling. The male lead, Will, who is both antagonist and protagonist (which is where the plot failed, I believe), does not mention a father, but has a cardboard cut-out bitch of a mother, as well as a similarly bitchy ex-wife (whom we never meet). There is one other female character, who is not a blip, but pretty neutral as far as character goes. I guess she’s strong. I guess she’s smart. She doesn’t really shine as a well-defined character should.

Many of you reading this would probably believe that these gaps in my writing imply something about my parents. This may or may not be the case. My parents are still alive and together, and while I still have issues with my mother – Who doesn’t? – I don’t see her in my maternal characters, whether saintly or bitchy. Personally, I believe this may be a flaw in my reading. Parents together, both well-rounded, receiving equal (or almost equal) time – this doesn’t occur very often in the books I’ve read. It hasn’t been modeled for me. I guess that means this is yet another trope. Epiphany!

So, now, my intention is to defy that. I’d like to write a book with a few strong female characters, including a mother who is well-rounded.

Wait… Practical Magic. I want to write Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic. 9_9


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