Oct 19, 2016

How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women 1

How Writers Write Fiction is here again, and this time the focus is on women. The instructor for us speculative folk is Cat Rambo this year, yay! If you want to join in the fun, there's still time; the course started last week.

This first week we discussed character building. Margot Livesey shared an interesting rule she uses: a writer should always give the character something that she shares with her and something she doesn't. Also, a likeable character should always have a flaw, and an unlikeable one should have some virtue or strength. We also talked about building characters from inside out vs. outside in. Livesey said she usually builds the characters who stand in for her (the doppelgängers) from the inside out, but the other characters from the outside in. How similar she is to the character affects her choice.

Another good tip, this one from Cate Dicharry, was that you have to be not only specific in your character descriptions, but also particular. What do you mention? What is important?

Ukamaka Olisakwe told us about her process. She always finds a real life person and takes her attributes, looks, and gestures to embody a character. Olisakwe isn't using that person in the story, but rather borrowing her to act out the story. She calls it a "soul transfer." Before everyone reading this decides to never speak to their writer friends again, don't worry; the technique isn't about putting you in the story, exactly, it's just borrowing your nervous smile or the way you tug your hair when you're angry to bring life to a character.

Another thing we talked about was likeability. Does a character have to be likeable? There is a difference to how male and female characters are perceived: women are expected to be likeable, for some reason, while a similarly flawed male character is applauded as "dark" and "complex." The bottom line was that writers shouldn't be afraid of writing unlikeable women. Hear, hear!

The issues of cultural appropriation and writing characters different from you also surfaced. Good timing, because I've been thinking about those a lot. (see last week's post on Writing the Other.) Nobody can really give you a straight answer on this, but most seem to agree that when you write a character different from you, you have a responsibility to think about these issues and to do your research.

Our assignment for the week was to write a scene or story from the perspective of a female child. I also made mine an alien:)

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