Story Challenge of the Week

Have you even noticed that women get something of a short shrift in the sci-fi/fantasy world? Whether it is in comic books, novels, movies, etc women are often depicted as oversexualized objects or playthings or as overpowered and interminably alone (because no one can match them) or as overdependent and incapable of any significant action of their own. Now, this is not to say that all science fiction and fantasy depict women in these ways, and there are some very good female characters in science fiction/fantasy works, but a lot of it does depict women in these ways. There have been many theories about why this is–the most popular is generally that so much of the science fiction/fantasy world is dominated by men, but the fact that female authors generally portray female characters in the same ways seems to discount this. I think that it is more likely that the American view of women as a whole simply varies between unhealthy extremes of dependence, use, and conquest rather than seeing women significantly as whole people who struggle, need, provide, and triumph. However, this is just my theory so, take or leave it as you will. Anyway, let’s get into the exercise. You know the rules: I give you a picture and you give me a story of 1000 words or less (at least if you want to post it here) that explains what is happening in the picture. Remember the lesson from last time, stay true to the picture. Let the audience know what is happening in the background of the picture without actually altering any of the picture’s own details. Enjoy (and try not to fall into the above tropes):

(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

Not A Sunday Picture Post

So, you know that we generally take Sunday’s off here at the Art of Writing. However, this week my girlfriend found these two articles and sent them to me (Article 1 and Article 2). We were both fairly incensed by Forney’s view of women and his advice to men. I’m not going to write an entire refutation of these articles for a few reasons: 1) I don’t have the time at the moment and 2) I don’t honestly think any healthy, moral person needs these views to be thoroughly refuted, and I doubt that a thorough refutation would have any affect on those who share Forney’s view. Forney’s view of women is prima facie wrong, and his claims that ‘real men’ use systematic physical and emotional abuse to gain compliance from the women in their lives is obviously unhealthy.

An excellent example of this is actually my girlfriend, who does love me passionately (though we have not engaged in any physically intimate activities, nor will we until within the bounds of marriage) and who does choose to submit to me on a regular basis. I use the word choose here intentionally. My girlfriend is one of the strongest, most stubborn women I’ve ever met. She does not submit to me because I have mistreated her (if I did I have little doubt that she would not put up with it), trained her, or forced her in any way. Instead, she submits to me because she trusts me, because I love her and treat her well, and because she loves me and wants me to be happy. Further, she isn’t afraid to disagree with me, to fight with me, to tell me when she thinks I’m wrong, or to try to convince me to change my point of view. Sometimes she does convince me that I’m wrong. Sometimes she doesn’t, but I probably should have listened to her. And sometimes I convince her that she is wrong. Sometimes I don’t, but she probably should have listened to me. Sometimes we have to simply agree to disagree. This is the nature of healthy, functioning relationships. However, regardless of how this plays out, I do everything in my power to love her well, and she does everything in her power to love me well.

She actually pointed out to me the other day that I can come across as somewhat misogynistic at times, so if I have, please don’t lose sight of my primary point. If I am a little misogynistic, even I can see that Forney’s opinion is both dead wrong, and fundamentally damaging to the men who decide to follow him and to the women they engage with. His views might lead to good sex (I have no idea and I’m not honestly interested in venturing an opinion) or a lot of sex (same here), but they will not lead to healthy, happy, or lasting relationships. Further, they will do lasting emotional and psychological damage to the women involved with such men (and in some cases possibly lasting physical damage). They do not represent the views of anything that could reasonably be called ‘real manhood’, nor the views of anything that could truly be called Christianity.

The Treatment of Women in Fiction Part 2

In my last post I broached the topic of how women are portrayed in fiction. I think I made it clear that I am not a feminist, that I do not have an particular disagreement with the use of graphic material in general, and that I have no actual problems with male centered media. However, this doesn’t men that I don’t recognize the fact that the mistreatment of women in fiction is a problem, or that there is a relative lack of female centered media in some genres and/or mediums. For instance, I can’t think of many female centered comic books, and while Urban Fantasy has a high number of female authors writing female centered works of average or higher quality, Epic Fantasy doesn’t have many (or at least I haven’t found many good, published ones… actually aside from Gail Z Martin and K.E. Mills [neither of which I particularly like, though my issues with Mills have more to do with personal style preferences than quality, while her writing is strong, I get bored…] I can’t actually think of any off the top of my head apart from Ursula Leguin, and all three focus on male leads).

This is, I think, one of the key problems. For instance, if we look at works written by female authors, I’m guessing (I haven’t actually done a study, though perhaps somebody should) that most of them pass the Bechdetest, but I wonder how man of them would pass a male oriented view of the test. As a male author I have to admit that I don’t really know what women think about, or what they talk about when I’m not around. I can write believable, realistic male characters because I am a man, but I struggle to write believable, realistic female characters outside of a man’s perspective on them. I could, obviously, write female characters that thought and acted like men, and if I did so, then I could easily write works that pass the Bechdel test. However, I don’t think that giving men breasts and calling them ‘Lucania’ is a working answer to the underlying problem. Certainly a significant part of the reason that many television programs don’t portray realistic females is due to the lack of female Television writers. I’ve no doubt that many will argue that this shows obvious sexism in Hollywood’s employment practices, and it is certainly a possibility (there isn’t much that I’d put past Hollywood), but this strikes me as a kneejerk reaction until I see evidence that writers are actually being rejected because of their gender. Ultimately, there are many reasons why women are under-represented in certain professions, and equally over-represented in other professions.

There is also conflicting evidence and arguments concerning the amount of women who are actually trying to write speculative fiction (see here and here for two very different sets of numbers). So, one very real possibility for the very masculine view of women portrayed in Science Fiction and Fantasy is that not many women are actually writing science fiction and fantasy. As I pointed out above, men aren’t women, and while some of us do our best, writing good female characters doesn’t come naturally to us. It is also very possible that there is a degree of sexism in the editing and reviewing industries that is involved. However, it is equally possible that there is simply a lack of interest. A fairly high percentage of reviewers (both professional and non-professional) are male, and this brings me to conflate a point I made in my last post with a point I made above.

Men and women think differently, and this leads the genders to different hobbies, pursuits, enjoyments, etc. While I tried very hard to read The Necromancer King by Gail Martin, it just wasn’t very good. The Accidental Sorcerer by Karen Mills, on the other hand, was actually a well-written book. It just wasn’t one I was particularly interested in. Like Mark Twain, Mills’ story just didn’t click with me, and this has been true for the majority of female authors that I’ve read. I do enjoy a few female Urban Fantasy and light fantasy authors such as Patricia Briggs and J.K. Rowling, but again, other well known female fantasy authors such as Stephanie Meyers, Suzanne Collins, Charlaine Harris, and Anne Rice hold little interest for me. By and large most of the men that I know (and this by no means equals all) tend to prefer to read male authors than female authors. Likewise, most of the women I know tend to prefer female authors (though, again, this by no means equals all). Does this mean that those people are all sexist? By no means. I think a much better explanation is found in the above claim that men and women think differently. Likewise, men and women tend to write differently, and enjoy different styles of writing.

So, while I do certainly think that it is important to support the female authors in the science fiction, fantasy genre already, I think that if we really want a stronger percentage of good, strong, realistic female characters we need a higher percentage of female authors, publishers, and reviewers. Which, of course, presents its own set of problems. …There’s never an easy answer, is there?

Story Challenge of the Week

That's right, it's Picasso.
That’s right, it’s Picasso.

There are lots of ways to make a girl cry… …not that I’d know anything about that. I’ve never made a girl cry… I made a girl pee her pants once, but that’s a completely different story involving a horror house, a mask, and a very dark tunnel. I’m lying though, not about the horror house thing, about the making a girl cry thing. I’ve done that a few times. It’s not something I’m proud of, but its true that there are a lot of ways to make a girl cry. So, I want you to choose one and write a story about it. Today is your story challenge. So, you’ve all done this one before: I’m going to give you a theme prompt, but I want you to write this story in a genre that you don’t normally write in. If you usually write fantasy, then make this story a modern day romance. If you usually write romance, make this story a thriller. The key here is to get out of your comfort zone as a writer. Do something new.

You’re Theme: The Weeping Woman

Try not to be too melodramatic. While there are lots of ways to make a girl cry, plenty of them are actually worth crying over.

Scene Challenge of the Week

beauty girl cryI hope that you’re week is going as well as mine, because mine has been pretty awesome so far. So, it’s time for a scene challenge, and I know that you all can’t wait to get to writing so here’s the rules: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit.  If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your rules: This week you must write a 300+ word scene using sentences of no more than six words. Again, if you’ve been following the blog, then you’ve done this before. If you do this correctly then you should have at least 50 sentences in your scene. Your cue: “Tanya’s eyes watered. The tears quickly streaming out. Forming tracks down her cheeks. …”

Plot (Character) Challenge of the Week

Who is she?

Alright, it’s Friday again, which means that it’s time for another character challenge.  You all are probably familiar with what’s going on by now, but if your not the goal of these posts for the moment (and the next few months) is to help you develop a writable story.  Right now we’re working on characters and we’re going to do several character challenges (I’m actually thinking 5-7 now, but we’ll see), and then we’ll do some setting challenges.  There are a number of posts about character building and character development already in place on the blog, so if you go looking for those in the categories link (over there –>) then you’ll find some great advice.  So, here are the rules: I want to you make up a character that fits the criteria listed below.  As long as the listed criteria are met, you can do what ever you want with the character, and each of the criteria will have a number of different ways in which it could be expressed.  Take the time to create a complete character, and have it ready by next Friday, when you get your next challenge.

Your criteria:

Female: Your character must be a female.  This should be pretty easy, but you’d be surprised at the number of male writers who really struggle to write female characters.  This will be good practice.

Sassy: Your character has a lot of attitude.  She might be a good-natured fire-cracker, or she might have a chip on her shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore, either way she has a lot of sass, and she knows how to use it.

Vivacity: Your character is very much alive, and very lively.  She might love life and this bubbles over into everything she does, or she might simply crave attention and praise.  Either way she is full of life!

Odd Appearance: Your character has something strange about her appearance.  She is definitely human, but she might be incredibly ugly, or incredibly beautiful.  She might have strangely colored hair, or be deformed in some way.  Remember that however you alter her appearance, it will also affect her personality as well.

Dealing With Rejection

Sometimes it feels like God just has it in for you.

It’s something we all have to learn.  Whether it comes as rejection by parents, friends, employers, institutions, women (or men if you are a woman, I suppose), we all have to deal with rejection in some form.  Or at least most of us do.  I suppose that it’s possible that there is someone out there who has never been rejected from anything – if you are reading this, the rest of us hate you.  Not really – but, a little bit.  As authors we have to deal with more rejection than most.  This is true whether you take the professional or independent publishing route.  I’ve met several people who have decided to publish independently because, in their own words, ‘I just can’t handle all that rejection.’

This is a mistake.  As an author you’re going to deal with rejection, one way or another.  It might come as a form letter from an agent telling you that you’re book isn’t what he/she is looking for.  It might come when you check the sales stats on the book you just independently published, only to see that you’ve had one sale in the past three days.  It might come when you’re sitting at a book signing for five hours, and no one shows any interest in your work.  However it comes, you will deal with rejection, and it will hurt.

I’ve been rejected a lot (that list at the top – just the start), and so I’ve had a lot of practice at dealing with rejection.  The first thing I have to tell you, it doesn’t get any easier.  In fact when rejections start to pile up it has a cumulative effect on you.  The more you are rejected, the more you want to give up, crawl in a hole, and never come out.  Here’s a hint – that’s not the answer.  A famous person once said, “Success equals not giving up.”  A lot of the time this is true.  If you give up, you will never succeed.  If you walk out of the race, you will never finish.  If you stop writing, then you won’t be read.  So, how do you deal with rejection?  Here are a few hints that have helped me:

1) Find someone to talk to:  Whether a girl just broke your heart, you got a pink slip, or nobody came to your book signing; talking about it helps.  A good friend is worth a million dollars, so find some friends that you can talk to when things go bad, and then find some friends that will still talk to you when things stay bad.  If you’re religious praying is also a very good way to deal with rejection.  Talk to God about it, let him give you peace.

The News Headline: Tiny Godzilla Terrorizes Tokyo

2) Shoot something: Pain leads to anger, at least in most people, and so violence (appropriate violence) is a good, healthy way to deal with rejection.  Go to a shooting range and take out your frustration on some clay pigeons, or find a heavy bag and beat on it for a while.  If you practice martial arts it can be good to find a sparring partner.  However make sure that they know what you are doing, and that you get your anger out in the activity, and not on the person.  If you just get mad and hit people, you won’t keep many of those friends for long.

3) Cry: I don’t take this advice often, mostly because it is very difficult for me to cry, but sometimes that is exactly what you need.  When you’re so hurt that you feel like your having a heart attack, crying helps.  Preferably do this somewhere private – generally people will think poorly of you if you explode into tears on the subway.

4) Try Again: Don’t let rejection stop you.  When you’ve invested your heart, mind, and life in something that fails, it is easy to walk away.  Sometimes it takes years to get back to the point where you’re ready to try again, but you have to try again.  Admittedly, in my experience, book rejection is easier to bounce back from than female rejection, but everyone is different.  While I can have a book or story rejected, and sit down to start writing again the next day, being rejected by a girl (or a school for that matter) takes me time to get over.  In general, the higher your hopes are, and the more invested you are, the more rejection is going to hurt, and the longer it’s going to take to get over.

Now, here are a couple of methods that seem like a good idea, but aren’t.

1) Keep Your Hopes Low: Rejection doesn’t hurt much if you don’t invest anything in what you’re doing.  Often, this seems like a good idea, it protects you, keeps you from being hurt, and lets you get stuff done.  However, life requires passion.  If you never invest in what you’re doing, then you never let yourself get passionate about it.  Passion has to be controlled, but it also has to be present.  If you’re writing a story/book that you’re not passionate about, then it’s probably not going to be very good.

Mostly because I like cats...and you're cat is talking to you.

2) Only Bet on a Sure Thing: Any good gambler can tell you that there is no sure thing.  Something bad can always happen.  However, even if there was a sure thing, success requires risk.  If you’re not willing to take a risk, then you’re never going to be a success.

These are just a few ways of dealing with rejection.  I’m sure that there are plenty more, so why don’t you tell me some of the ways that you have dealt with rejection.