Writing

Well Written Female Characters: A How to Guide, Part 2

Last time I covered ways to get you started on writing well written female characters.  Today I’d like to give you a few more tips and some exercises to help you look critically at the characters you’ve constructed.

I’ll get right down to it.

1.  Take your female character, and flip her gender, just as an exercise. Do any of her traits or plot points feel horribly out of place? Now, women are not men, but sometimes flipping the gender of a character can bring out some things that are possibly lacking or really wouldn’t work.  Clearly there are some gender differences that are influenced by things like culture, but sometimes this switch can point out cultural biases on what is feminine or masculine behavior, that may not really serve making the character a full fledged person.

The other thing this can do, is point out that you might not have given the female character as much to do, or as interesting a plot/backstory as her male counterparts.  I’ve read a few stories about plays where they had all the genders flipped, so men reading the female parts and women reading the male parts.  The women were thrilled, because they felt like the male parts were so much more interesting and had more to do.  The men by the end of it complained that they were bored and didn’t feel like they had much to do.

If you fail to give the female characters interesting and active things to do, there’s a good chance those characters are not going to connect with your audience, male or female.

2.  Is she just as capable as your main character, but instead of carrying the arc, she’s supporting/training the hero/main character?  So this a theme that keeps popping up in a lot of film and media.  You have a female character, she’s sassy, strong and smart, just as capable as her male counterpart.  He tends to blunder a bit through things, but she’s there to pick up the slack and guide him toward meeting his full potential.

If she’s able to get the job done on her own, please don’t make her babysit a bumbling would-be hero.  She might be your protagonist.  Maybe she needs to be the one taking the lead, and her male counterpart is actually the quippy sidekick.  We see a bit of this in movies like the Lego Movie.  Which I still loved.  I mean Elizabeth Banks and Chris Pratt?  How could I not love it.

3. Use the Bechdel test.  It amazes me how many times I’ll watch a movie or read story where there are 4-6 males characters and maybe 1-2 female characters. The men speak together a whole bunch about a bunch of different things, but the female characters either don’t speak to each other, or only talk about the men.

That’s the basis of the Bechdel test.  It was originally for film, and here’s what the movie has to have in order to pass.

– 2 female characters, both of them have names.

– At some point the female characters speak to each other.

– The conversation they have can’t be about men.

Please be aware, it’s a rather low bar to set for female characters, but you’d be surprised how many movies/books/stories/comics don’t pass this test.  It doesn’t take much to pass it.

4. Also use the Sexy Lamp test.  So, this test was coined by one of my favorite comics writers, Kelly Sue Deconnick.  I actually got to hear it first at a writing workshop that she taught that I was lucky enough to attend.

It’s even more simple and an even lower bar than the Bechdel test.

If you can replace your female character with a Sexy Lamp, and the story more or less still works, you need another draft.  There’s also a slight variant of this test, which includes if you could put a post-it with information she shares on the Lamp.  So for instance, if she just stands by and then tells the hero “Oh, no, if you don’t stop the magical influx, everyone will die!” and that’s her only contribution to the plot other than standing around looking good…It’s time to go back and fix your story.

Hopefully by looking at these 4 tips, you can see if the female characters in your story is active and independent, as well as relevant to the plot, or if they need some work.  I was supposed to talk about tropes in part 2, but that is likely to be covered in part 4, since a lot of it is touchy material that I want to spend a bit more time with.

Next time, I’m going to discuss how you can make your female characters varied and break out of common character types that women tend to fall into.  Basically Strong female character does not equal well written female character.  Now go forth, and write better!

photo credit: We Can Donut – Chicago via photopin (license)

Comic Review

Weekly Comic Review: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 01

Normally I’d like to do this review on Thursdays, so it gives readers a chance to pick up the comic, but it’s been a bit of a crazy week for me, so here it is a day late.

This week the spotlight is on: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps issue 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson, with David Lopez on art.

Be ye aware, SPOILERS AHOY!  If you haven’t read the comic yet, wait until after you have to read this review.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps is part of the Secret Wars event that Marvel is currently doing, so it’s a departure from the storylines we’ve previously been following with Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel.  That’s not to say there aren’t a few familiar faces.  Helen Cobb is a member of the Banshee Squadron and we also see Carol’s tenacious and adorable side-kick Kit, all grown up as the Thor of Hala Field.

With the multiverse destroyed, all that was left was Battleworld, which is ruled by Victor Von Doom.  Doom is more or less seen as the god of their world and in typical Doom fashion, he’s taking credit for everything.  The sky, the sun, the moon, even Captain Marvel herself is a “Gift from Doom.” From what we see in this issue, both the Thor Corps and the Carol Corps are directed by Doom and his minions.  They are expected to carry out his will unquestioningly.

Also, science is blasphemy.

Which I kind of loved, since we even have people in the real world that believe that sort of thing.

But of course, one of Carol’s companions, Bee, gets her research on anyway.  She questions Doom’s teachings and though all her other squadron mates know about it, Carol only discovers it in this issue.  Carol sees the logic in Bee’s argument that something is amiss, and when they are sent out on their next mission by Baroness Cochran, she decides to investigate further.

Investigating further happens to mean that she ends up diving for a ship as it’s blowing up, as we may have come to expect from Captain Marvel.  That is something I really liked about this issue, that even in this world, it’s very clear that Carol is still Carol.  She’s still going to follow her moral compass, even if it puts her at great risk. She’s always been the self sacrificing sort and that’s no different in this new series.

For a moment, we’re left to question whether or not Carol made it out, but of course she did.  She’s also saved the life of one of the men on the ship her squadron blew up, and based on his look, I’m sort of hoping it’s James “Rhodey” Rhodes.

There were a lot of military tones to this, which is something we know Carol has a background in because of her Air Force days and have seen hints at it before, but here, we see Carol totally in that element.  I thought that was very cool, and you can tell that the authors have a familiarity with the subject matter and how things run for a group like Banshee Squadron aka “The Carol Corps”. DeConnick has done something similar in past issues of Captain Marvel, when Carol time traveled and met the original Banshee Squadron in World War II.  It was awesome to see the past team, but it’s even more awesome to see Carol leading her own team.  I also liked that each Carol Corps member is distinct and has her own sense of style.

I love the art style that Lopez has for this band of ladies.  Sometimes in comics women can look a lot alike, and therefore can be hard to distinguish.  In this comic, each of the characters has a very different look to them, so it’s easy to tell which character is which.

The panels with targeting systems were also very cool, since it gives us a really good indication where Carol as she is flying with her Squadron.  Something I haven’t really seen elsewhere in a comic, recently.  It was a very nice touch.

I also like this because there’s diversity on Carol’s team, just like there are in the real world Carol Corps (Meaning the fans).  My personal favorite from the Corps was “Maggie ‘Mackie’ McMorrow, Call Sign: Big Mack” because I see a bit of myself in her, at least in appearance.  But the fact of the matter is, having several ladies, all who look different and possess different personalities, leaves a lot of room for representation and characters for female readers to identify with.  Not saying dudes can’t identify with ladies, they totally can, but it tends to be lady representation that lacks when it comes to gender.

Over all, I really liked this comic and I’m excited to see where things lead from here.  It’s the first title I’ve read that falls under the Secret Wars hub, and that actually makes me excited to see what other people are doing on other Secret Wars titles.

Uncategorized

Denver Comic Con, Part 1: The Panels

I’m home from Denver Comic Con!  And now it’s time to share with you what awesome things happened and what I learned.

Even though this post is about panels, here’s one of the awesome cosplay shots I got from the convention:

Credit to dashboardmessages.blogspot.com for taking this great photo!

So I got brave and I took business cards.  I only handed out three, but hey, it was more than I’ve done in the past so I’m counting it as a win.  I met some of my favorite creators and I cosplayed.  All in all it was just a great experience.

I attended quite a few panels this time:

– WOMEN IN COMICS NOW!

WITH ACTUAL WOMEN!! So this was a flash panel put together in 24hrs, and presented on Monday.  It was done in response to a panel done on Saturday that was called “Women in Comics” and only involved men, none of which were actual comic creators.  I’ve seen a few people go “Well, one of them was a professor and he was recounting comic history which he’s an expert in.” but TRINA ROBBINS was upstairs and literally she is a comics historian who is THE expert on women in comics and a comic creator.  All they had to do was walk upstairs and ask her to appear.

Instead, they apparently did a lot of mansplaining.

But the panel with the actual women was fantastic. It featured Trina, Amanda Conner, Joelle Jones, Marguerite Bennett, Hannah Means-Shannon of Bleeding Cool and two more women who sadly I did not write their names down, but were awesome!   Crystal Skillman put the whole thing together and I am so glad she did.

They talked about how “What’s it like being a woman in comics” is a level 101 question and how they wish people that interview them would dig deeper.  I can’t relate on a creator level, but I can relate to the fact that I am exhausted with being asked why I like geeky things, or treated like I must be new to them.  Nah, I’ve been here.  Even if I hadn’t been, you don’t get to gate keep me.  Marguerite was absolutely inspiring to me more than once.  I’m sort of new to her work, but she talked about how sometimes she writes from a place of revenge, or to give girls a role-model or a hero.

She also mentioned a time when she went to a writing summit and was the only woman among 29 men, and how that felt, and how she didn’t want her nieces and the little girls she knew to have to go through that.  It resonated with me so much, because it is very much in line with what I’ve felt about the work I want to do in this world.

Trina Robbins was amazing.  You could feel her fire and her fury and it was also very inspiring.

Amanda Conner has also convinced me to check out Harley Quinn again, because she spoke about how the new comic is about more than her being just “Joker’s Girlfriend.”  I’m a HUGE Harley fan, but in recent years, I got a bit frustrated about her being defined by the men in her life, and it was nice to hear that it sounds like she has gotten away from that.  I can’t wait to pick up the series.

– Women in the Geek Industry

I felt like though I had heard the message before “Don’t wait for permission.  Just do it.”  They also talked about dealing with hate on the internet and that you just have to put yourself out there, while being authentic and passionate.  They also re-iterated a sentiment I’ve seen from many female creators, which was find your girls and hold onto them.

– Kieron Gillen

I got to listen to Kieron talk about his work, both upcoming and in the past.  It was so great to here him talk about Phonogram, which has a dear place in my heart.  He was also asked about the diversity in his comics, and he talked about how he wanted comics to reflect what he saw in his life.  I thought that was such a good way to communicate how it is simple to include diversity and it shouldn’t just be seen as a checklist.  I also got my books signed by him the day before and he showed me his lunch, which just made me giggle up a storm.  I greatly admire his work and I’m so glad he was so kind.

– En Garde: Writing Action  

This was a very good panel that talked about how fights work, and Jim Butcher broke them down to the simplest formula: Stimuli-> Response.  Stimuli -> Response.  He also said something to the effect of writing an action scene is like lifting the engine block of a car, simple but simple should not be confused with easy.  AND one of the greatest things I got out of this was it’s easier to beef up something you’ve written lean, than it is to take away from something you’ve written thick.

– Indie Comic Creators

This panel was 3 creators that were local to Colorado, and they discussed their process and such.  Mostly I wished I lived closer to Denver to talk face to face with more artists, but they also recommended some places online to network.

– Beyond Bechdel: Queer Femmes and Women in Comics

They talked about the importance of representation and how we’re getting a lot more good representation of in comics of late.  They also talked about how sometimes a character gets coded as queer (like Black Widow) but there really isn’t any good indication that this is for a fact true, or in any way really represented in the comics.  I also liked when they touched on what is and isn’t objectifying and how we “know it when we see it.”

– Developing Systems of Magic

Jim Butcher was supposed to be on this panel, but he didn’t make it.  The other three authors were good, but since I wasn’t familiar with their work and they primarily used it as an example, it was somewhat hard to grasp some of what they were speaking off.  I did like this: “The ability to solve problems with magic should be proportional to the reader’s understanding of magic.”  The Q&A of the session also became “I’m writing a novel and I don’t know how to make this magic work” over and over again, which was a little frustrating, because I don’t feel like you should be asking published writers to do your footwork for you.

All in all, I was really pleased with all the programming I was able to attend.  We cosplayed in the mornings, and I still feel like I got so much out of the stuff I checked out.  I also liked that it had a definite comic and writing focus, which was sort of lacking at Salt Lake Comic Con.  SLCC does have writing panels, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve gone out of their way to get current creators of comics at their show.  I’m hopeful that 2015 might be different, but I’m definitely hoping we can make it out to Denver Comic Con next year.  Who knows, maybe at that point I’ll have enough created to have a table of my own.