It’s 3:30 AM. Since this semester started and I have only night classes, my being awake at this hour is not unusual. I’ve been working on Nostalgia Chick episodes that won’t come out for months. Not a bad thing; being “Nostalgia Chick” is my job, and will be my primary focus once I move back to New York. But that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing; I’m supposed to be writing.
I’m taking this feature screenwriting class. Writing anything is like having a root canal with only rootbeer as a local anesthetic, but I wasn’t always like this. I’ve been outlining, trying to write, trying to figure out where I’m going with it, forming a dent in the shape of my head in the desk. I had no idea how difficult this would be. It’s not as though I can’t write, and write fast for that matter. At one point I was banging out Christian romance novels for spare change! Writing Catholic Robot, albeit that screenplay was a grand total of six pages, was a breeze. I’ve written a ton in my life! But ultimately, what’s so difficult about this one? Even if I can’t work up any passion for it, I should at least be able to phone it in, right?
Then I realized it; the main character is female. Besides the aforementioned (totally phoned in) Christian romance novels, I’d never really written a female main character before.
That got me thinking about how we put pressure on ourselves when writing female characters as opposed to male characters, especially main characters. In this case, it’s particularly difficult because I, like a fool, decided to write a period piece that takes place in early 19th century India, under the Bengal presidency. Beyond that it’s a story about gender roles. Put in the rest of the rest of the restrictions I’ve placed on myself in the interest of not being cliche (no love interest! no cross-dressing!) I have written myself into a corner by being afraid to write anything.
Readers, women especially, judge the hell out of female characters. I may be no fan of the the Twilight um… saga is not the appropriate word for this thing… the Twilight fantasies of a repressed housewife that somehow got published, but it makes me kinda ill to see how much hate the main character gets when similar male mains probably won’t. Take the main character for Dan Brown’s books. Langdon, I think. If possible, he has even less personality than Bella, but receives nowhere near as much vitriol. It may be that those are targeted towards an older audience. But then you look at The Hunger Games, which is much better thought out and better written, there are people, mostly female, still cry out “Mary Sue!” We just can’t win.
I’ve heard plenty of men, some even approaching me, expressing nervousness about writing female characters. This shouldn’t be an issue. You’re not writing about Hindus in 19th century Bengal, you’re just writing about women. You know, half the planet. The elusive “other half” should not be so elusive and mysterious, and yet it is. For two reasons, in my humble opinion:
One: the female point of view is wildly underrepresented in fiction aimed at general audiences (I’d wager at least 95% of main characters for general audience films are male- case in point, all Pixar films). This means we grow up in a culture where almost the only female points of view we see are from… Disney. Eesh.
Two: the pressure you get from everyone else. It seems like for most folks the attitude is, “why bother?” when it’s such a pain to write a main female character, not to mention in this world we live in of Hollywood tentpoles, no one is going to see Transformers if the main character happened to be female. Cause nobody goes to those movies for the robots.
But I digress; this isn’t about Hollywood, this is about my inability to put one word to the page confidently.
There are plenty of people like me who bitch and moan about the underrepresentation of women and minorities in fiction, but when it comes time to put my money where my mouth is, I find myself unable. I’ll have to eventually, of course, or I will fail the course. But I feel that this is another symptom of hypersensitivity; characters can’t just live and breathe naturally, if they’re female, no, they must be female first and character second, meaning that they have to serve their purpose in the greater culture rather than their purpose in the story. They must be a STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER that is realistic and fair and does not represent the patriarchy or something.
Even after forcing out almost a thousand words in half an hour I still don’t know what to write. See? I can write fast. But only when I’m openly being a hypocrite.
Thanks a lot, touchy liberal fiction-culture. Now I’m too hyper-sensitized to even write my own gender.