For about two to three years it has been a conscious goal of mine to write women better. I have a tendency to write women as secondary characters, love interests or people that can be pushed aside in the overall narrative. I hated (and still hate) that I do that.
Today being International Women’s Day got me thinking about how I am doing with that. Have I taken more time to develop female characters? Am i still using the old tropes I fall back to when describing them? I thought it could be fun to look back at some of the stories and poems I have written recently and evaluate how I am doing in that regard.
One piece that prominently features a female character is One week with her, While she wasn’t the main character, she was a dominant personality and initiated the majority of the action throughout the story. But even though I took steps to make her a character in charge of her world, we still view her through the eyes of the male lead. For example:
A taxi skidded to a stop at the corner, forcing me to jump backward. A door burst open and a woman – the women – erupted from inside the vehicle. Five-foot eight, with flashing red hair, her black dress made her soft skin look like the snow tried to take shape and create beauty. She ran into me, dropped her purse but kept moving. She had no intention of coming back.
Another thing I fell back into was making her an object of adoration – even if the dude isn’t actively trying to obtain her (although he does).
A play that I am currently working on, called “The Diaries of Hannah Harrison: Friendship“, features a man and a woman dealing with a friendship that is slowly fading. While the male character wants to be more than friends, the female character is dealing with realities in her life that trump the male character’s wants. Each of them has a soliloquy that sheds insight on their perspective and there is a tug for emotional dominance throughout the play.
But there are parts to the play that have a very misogynistic look to relationships – and, for this play it’s kind of on purpose. There is a long speech given by Adam towards the end of the play in which he talks about a past relationship with a woman named Anna. Originally the play was called “The Diaries of Hailey Harrison” but i changed Hailey to Hannah because I wanted Hannah to be a mature, complex Anna. Someone that wouldn’t subside to Adam and someone that would be on her own path. Part of me thinks changing the name is a little misogynistic but the other part really loves the concept of growth – of adding the H’s.
My poetry really doesn’t fit well into this category. When it comes to poetry I consider myself a romantic so it all comes from a raw, emotional place. Actively trying to create strong characters like that only really work in my prose (I’m not writing any epics). My latest poem, Insomniac Muse Girl, originated from how I was feeling last night. It deals with an adoration of an idea. Here’s a verse:
Insomniac muse girl there will be a
Day when you are reading while I write this:
Laughing at my poorly crafted lines and
Keeping quiet at the things you really
Love. Are you quiet because of me, love?
Maybe I could write something really fresh and interesting if I could get that second dynamic in there, but I am not thinking that way whenever I write verse.
Writing women better is going to be something I will have to be aware of and continually working at. Two writers I try to emulate with the development of their female characters are Woody Allen and Nicholas Sparks. While I think they write two different types of women, they both always come up with complex characters. Maybe I should start reading more things developed by female writers to develop my voice a little further. Whatever I do I think the bottom line goes back to me staying aware of it – trying to get better at it. That’s all we can really do as writers.