Stevie Carroll (stevie_carroll) wrote,
Stevie Carroll

On Writing 'the Other' and Feminist Heroines

Two things to think about today.

I found an interesting post here about the necessity of analysing and criticising lightweight and/or popular works of fiction. I pretty much agree with everything that's said there.

From my own point of view I write about people whose experiences are very different to my own, and who may belong to minorities which I am not a part of, because I'm interested in all possible experiences of how things are -- or how they might be in the future or if our world was just that bit different -- and I think that we need to hear from non-standard narrators and see non-standard supporting characters. I'm very willing to be corrected if I get something wrong, and very keen to learn how to make things better the next time I write.

The same goes for the non-character aspects of my stories. If I write about something that just isn't possible, then I want to know. If I've failed to mention why something not possible in the real world is possible in a fictional universe, I want to know. If I get things right, then obviously I want to know that too.

So what writing errors should I know about now in order to avoid making them myself?

I was asked recently elsewhere about what I want from a romance heroine, and my alter ego is on an upcoming panel about feminist heroines in SF&F, so here are a few thoughts.

I want a heroine who is a fully rounded person in her own right, defined by her experiences and by her role in life, over and above her looks and her relationships to/with other characters. This holds true even where her main role is taking care of others (outside of the 'caring professions'), because even that ought to be shown as a career choice or as an obligation that affects how she views herself.

I seem to have read a lot of short stories recently where the heroine (in the romance sense) has a profession and/or a role in her community, but it doesn't feel 'real' when set against the rest of the story. Not that I can always voice why that aspect of her feels wrong, but I've encountered minor female characters in classic adventure stories that seem far more real to me in spite of their limited page time.

One way to tackle the issue may be to ensure that whatever the heroine's main role in the wider world is, we see something of that in how she tackles problems or how she regards the events unfolding around her. A librarian would have a very different reaction and solution to being locked in a room to a mechanic.

I also want more stories where the heroine rescues the hero from mortal peril. Possibly with some sort of side comment about any inconveniences thrown up by their situation (eg she might not be able to carry him if he's struck unconscious by a falling rock).

And to follow on from both of the above, here's an extract (or rather two extracts from one scene) from the story I'm editing right now, with a diverse selection of female characters. NB This is from a later section than I've reached in the current editing pass, and so still very subject to change.


As she drew closer, she saw that the light came from low-grade emitters, rather than the combustion-torches she had expected at first. Four figures sat behind a table, and as she drew nearer two stood up. Even without seeing their faces, she knew they were not of the group that had brought her here.

Two women. One tall, with a very military bearing, the second shorter and more matronly, but with an obvious air of authority. Lee Ann recognised them.

“Lieutenant-General Blanco,” she said, and received a jab in the back for her troubles. “I saw you at the Captain's – at Captain Lincoln's – trial.”

“It's mere Citizen Blanco, these days,” the shorter woman said, “and this is Citizen Krishnathasan.”

“Call me Sarge,” the taller woman said. “I've answered to that for far too long to change now.”

“Citizen Lee,” Blanco said, “my men would like to apologise for the way they treated you on your arrival.” She turned to the man seated next to her. “Wouldn't you, Jardin?”

“Er, yes.” The man stood up. “Evans –” he indicated the woman sitting next to Sarge “– and I are very sorry to have mistaken you for an Imperial spy. No matter how understandable it was under the circumstances.” He sat back down.

“You two can go now,” Blanco said. “And you, Gibson. I don't think our guest has any intention of murdering us with her bare hands.”

The gun was removed from Lee Ann's back. She waited until all three had left the building before asking the first of the questions that were crowding her mind.

“Are you leading these rebels now?”

“It was almost inevitable.” Blanco sighed. “After the fiasco of Lincoln's trial, Krishnathasan and I became persona non gratis in the DRNE. So we thought we'd join the other side.”

“You were his character witness, I understand that. But you –” Lee Ann turned to look at Sarge “– you testified against him.”

“I take it you saw the footage that was released to the general population,” Sarge said. “My actual testimony was far less damning of his actions by the time he'd finished cross-examining me.” She dragged one of the vacated chairs around to Lee Ann's side of the table. “But sit down. There are other matters we need to discuss.”

Later in the scene...

[Blanco] took a data-reader from her jacket pocket, activated it, and laid it on the table. “Enough reminiscing. You seem to know who we are. How about you refresh my memories about yourself?” She checked the reader. “Lee Ann: wanted by both the DRNE and Zhongtianguo governments, although I believe both have made use of your services since the initial warrants were issued.”

“I worked for individuals, not governments.”

“Most admirable. You've been very quiet lately. There've been sightings, but no one's been able to link you to any actual crime.”

“I retired.” Lee Ann was waiting. Sooner or later there would be the offer to let her go free, maybe even to tell her where Shi-Lan might be, if she would do just one job for these people.

“At such a young age? No matter. I believe you came here looking for your sister.”

“I did.” Any moment now...

“I'm afraid we don't know where she is. But –”

Lee Ann held her breath.

“– I know where you could obtain that information.”

Lee Ann said nothing.

“The trouble with trying to organise a rebellion,” Blanco said, “is that rebel groups, by their very nature, are disinclined to trust other groups. Deroover made great efforts to remedy that, but with his disappearance the alliances between groups fragmented again.” She looked at the reader again. “I believe you had some experience with retrieving data in the course of your former career.”

“I'm not a hacker, if that's what you need.”

“I know that. I also know the whereabouts of the man who inherited all of Deroover's old data. He's been keeping the records updated, and almost certainly knows how you would get in contact with your sister.”

“And you're prepared to sell me his whereabouts? In return for what?” She would not kill again. Not just because someone else wanted her to.

“In return for access to his data. I don't care how you persuade him – or if you just take it from him. That data will tell me how Deroover managed to unite so many groups, however temporarily, then maybe I can find a way to do the same.”

“But why?” Lee Ann said. “What do you want from a rebellion?”

“I want to go home,” Blanco said. “I want to live out my retirement on New Brasilia with my children and grandchildren. Someone set Lincoln up as a scapegoat, and the rest of us got caught in the fallout.”

“You want to overthrow the government of a major galactic power, just so you can go home?”

“It's a little more complex than that,” Sarge said. “We aren't seeing the whole picture here. If you can find that data, things will become a little clearer. Although, there is a proud history of corrupt governments being overthrown by their own military. You could say that, by joining the rebellion, Citizen Blanco and myself are carrying on that tradition.”


So the other obvious question for tonight is what makes a feminist heroine? Do the criteria differ between genres? If so, how? What examples can you give where a heroine is portrayed (or can be read) from a feminist perspective?
Tags: on writing, story extract
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