My issue with issues

I have a problem with overthinking things when I write. But I’ve seen other writer friends of mine grappling with similar issues, so I don’t think I’m alone in this. Maybe it’s just part and parcel of being a writer–my brain tends to gnaw on things, and if it’s not gnawing on the story proper, it seizes the nearest thing, be it news, worry, political concern, or nonsense, and gnaws on that. Which is fine… except when it cripples my ability to write a story properly, or affects my ability to later judge it.

Something long important to me is the portrayal of women in media. You could say it’s been a “cause” of mine since childhood, when I made sure, in second grade, that my persian-cat heroine rode a motorcycle, solved mysteries, and fought spiders. (Yes, that was very tough and kickass in my seven-year-old mind.) Maybe she wore a bow but she was no wilting flower. That’s not to say I sneer at women who are stay-at-home moms or more traditional or simply not superheroines in blue jeans. Some of my favorite women characters are ones who find a way to make the most of the situations they are in. They may not rise up against the situations crushing them down with swords in hand, but they endure with a quiet strength that impresses. Women come in an infinite variation, are good, bad, weak, strong, miserable, pitiable, and awesome; ultimately I want them to be fully realized people in my stories, more than anything else, and not sketches.

That said… I have always had great difficulty with female characters in my fiction. In fact, for a while, I shied entirely away from writing women at all. I wrote all men. This may sound totally against what I just said but it made sense to me at the time. If I just wrote guys, there was no pressure. There were no built-in prejudices, no gender imbalances, no biased cultural expectations to be dealt with. (Ok, that’s black-and-white-ing it a bit, but at least, there was LESS pressure.)

Once I write a woman in, I worry. I worry constantly that she’s coming off unrealistically. That she’s too spineless. That she’s too tough and just a guy with boobs. That by her choices she’s making some statement on womankind, or that I’m shoving my feminist agenda in everyone’s face, or that I’m just reinforcing the gender-stereotypes.

(It occurs to me that I’ve written on that very phenomenon before. Clearly something I need to deal with.)

Which brings me back to my first paragraph. It’s not just what I’m saying about women that can trip me up. It’s anything I care about. What I’m saying about race, about the world, about sexual orientation, what I’m saying about how I feel about something like love or freedom or war or riches.

Those things concern me, but how much they ought to concern me while writing… that’s where I just can’t sort it out. On the one hand, some things are legitimate concerns. On the other hand, shouldn’t the story be given free rein until revisions stage, at the very least? And if you find you’ve spread a message you didn’t mean to–do you trunk the story? Put it out even though you feel a bit ill that you’ve written yet another woman who can’t think of anything but men? Or hide it because you’ve glorified war and killing and death and you’re afraid your reader can’t draw that line–won’t realize that for you, it’s just a story, just an exploration, an adventure, a look through eyes not your own…?

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  1. Camille

     /  November 9, 2011

    Oh I miss you. 🙂


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