Something about yesterday’s blog stuck with me today. Aside from the stomach churning embarrassment of disclosing what I am working on that is. I mentioned that when I look at the next set of stories I see there is no lead female character. I don’t know why that is and although I can say that I hope the female characters I will use in my work are believable, strong and independent women that are written well, I can’t yet commit to saying one will be a lead. It’s been ticking over in the mind and I thought I would quickly write something as to my feelings on it.
I have spent the last two months going through all of my notes and ideas and preparing myself for the year ahead. It has taken me a while to settle and to get focused but I am pretty much there now, I just need to write a lot more every day and start producing a lot of work. I feel I have got a fairly good plan, know what I am working on and what I need to do for the rest of the year. What today has done, has, well, thrown a bit of a spanner in the works.
I very much want to write about contemporary issues and the world around me. This may take many forms and I think I will incorporate different methods to get my message across, and that may include using different settings and time periods, but with the main story/plot coming from the modern day. What is essential for me, is to sound real, to depict reality and for others to be able to identify with that. Now how am I supposed to do that if I do not create lead female characters? I have never considered myself to be in any way misogynistic and in fact just presumed that I would promote women’s issues in my work. If that is the case then I need to address the fact that I have not so far done so, where has this assumption come from and why have I not actively pursed it more rigorously to date? Now this in one respect can be answered very easily, I am right at the start of my writing life so haven’t got anywhere near the level of work completed that could indicate anything of the sort, I can’t exactly bemoan what I haven’t even done yet, I’m not looking back upon a decades worth of output here…but I’m not really happy with that because I have had many years of thinking about writing, and many years note taking and idea development. Why is it that in none of the work so far has a female lead been identified?
I don’t want to do myself an injustice here, I would like to say that I have created (or have in development rather) many interesting female characters; they are not totally absent. Most seem to show the potential for greater displays of human endeavor than the male characters, I know for sure that I haven’t ignored women in my work and I know that I don’t want to ignore women in my work. So perhaps it is that I have not got the confidence to write about women yet? How do I go about changing that? I don’t want to throw in anyone to my stories just to tick boxes, that’s just a plain insult. I also don’t want to put anyone in to my stories because I feel that if those characters aren’t important then I am free to make them whoever I want i.e. it doesn’t matter if they are a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter if they are British or Spanish, and so on. I hope I take my character development more seriously than that. I hope they are there because that is where the story comes from, the characters.
That aside, how am I supposed to create a female character if I fulfill my criteria in the paragraph above - it is right that the person is a woman, she has not been added to make me feel better about my principles of equality, she is there because she is real - but I have no idea where to start from? I don’t know yet is the answer. I have read books on this topic, and I have of course read many fantastic books with amazing female characters, but not enough, I have to admit my contemporary reading is quite poor and I have not read anywhere near enough modern literature, so although I don’t I think I rely fully on Virginia Woolf alone, I have to criticize myself that it is not that far off.
I have a long way to go but I am determined this is a subject I will not ignore, if I am guilty of every female character being the bit-part supporting girlfriend or wife in my future writing then I hope anyone who is reading this pulls me up and gives me a severe ticking off. I enjoy writing for and about women, it is one of the most important themes to my writing but I have no confidence in my ability yet.
This goes hand in hand with several other obvious issues that are identified upon examining the work I am developing. I have a lack of racially diverse characters; a lack of socially diverse characters and it is something I will look into. I have to balance the amount of time I spend developing my work and the pressing need for actually finishing stuff and moving on. There is something to be said about developing by the process of finishing, and if I don’t give something a try, even if it is obviously going to fall short of its intentions, then how can I move on and do better next time?
So, this is just a quick blog to highlight for my own benefit the process by which I develop my characters and how near I am to falling into the trap of stereotype and cliché. I really want to highlight the amazing strength in all of us and it is a scary thought for me that I might do the people I want to represent a dis-service.
I will be in a better place to examine my development on this matter in a few months time when hopefully I have finished the next few stories, started the character development of my idea for a novel (which I am hoping will have a male and female joint lead character, that’s my intention at this very early stage) and got some feedback on the ideas I have.
I won’t hesitate to ask you lovely people for help on this, I will be having focus groups for my characters, I will be asking readers to examine them, and other helpful (and painful) exercises.
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