The Smurfette Syndrome

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I took a Women’s Studies class in college, in part because it fulfilled a credit requirement, but I quickly learned it was one of the best classes I would ever take.  It really opened my eyes, and it was then that I slowly began to look at the world differently.  I would also learn that I am a bit of a feminist, but don’t let that sway you. 🙂

I don’t think I made a conscious effort to alter my writing, but the types of stories I wanted to tell were definitely intended more for women.  The majority of my scripts have predominately female casts.  Those were a conscious decision.  The funny thing is, this started long before I learned that there was a growing problem in Hollywood, the place I want to be a part of, in the continuation of a lack of a female presence, both in front and behind the camera.

The Smurfette Syndrome aka “the token” girl has continued its prevalence according to the numbers this summer at the movies.  I saw this article about the trend and felt it deserved a share.  There was also this article from a little while ago from the NY Film Academy.  I can’t remember if I shared it before, but it also discusses the inequality in the numbers.

So what’s my point?  Be sure to include the other half of the population in your storytelling, and not in just some token capacity.  Create an opportunity to balance out the scales.  Since many novels are now the basis for films, it would be wonderful to see a surge to encourage a change.  I’m not saying that you have to change all your characters from male to female, but be aware of stereotypes, and don’t perpetuate the trend.  Think of the younger generation.  How they need more role models in their literature and entertainment.  I mean seriously, no solo Wonder Women movie yet?  The fact that Disney is not planning on releasing any further Princess Leia merchandise?  Maybe the lower numbers at the box office is the start of this awareness.

I guess the phrase “change starts at home” might be some of the most useful advice to encourage diversity.

Write well, my friends!

The Unexpected Side of Doctor Who

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Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans!

For those of you enjoying a long weekend (and just in general), the urge to do a little binge watching might be an option.  There was a recent article about the cons of binge watching, and I have learned this first hand.  Not all shows are meant to be watched in such a manner, of course there are exceptions…the following is not one of them.

I haven’t paid for television in about three years, and even before I found it hard to keep up with everything anyway, so my television viewing has been altered.  If they don’t stream it, then I don’t watch it, until Netflix or the like picks it up, and then the binge happens.

Case in point, Doctor Who.  I really didn’t know anything about this show before now, in part because I didn’t know anyone who watched it.  If I lived in England, as I long to, this would obviously never have happened.  I had caught one episode years ago that left me clueless as to what was going on, and because I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, I didn’t seek the show out again.  Circle around to present day, there’s a lot of talk about the new doctor and the premiere of the new season (or series, in England), I have found people who in fact watch it, and I thought, “I am a geek.  I should know about this.” and so the binge begins.  *Side note, I’m one of those that ignores the bandwagon, or tries to, so says my stubborn mind.  If everybody loves something, and I didn’t get in on it early, it takes me a really, really long time to come around and give in.  I could give lots of examples, but that’s for another day.  I’m sure this is some remnant from my stubborn youth.

So I decide to jump on the Doctor Who bandwagon, starting with the newer episodes that began in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston (who I loved from Elizabeth – he was the villain as the Duke of Norfolk, but more recently he was Malekith in Thor: The Dark World.), not those (not yet anyway) that are now considered “Classic” Doctor Who that began in 1963.  Here’s a quick synopsis, for those of you who have no idea, like I did…

“The Doctor” is a time and space traveling, nearly immortal, 900 year old alien known as a Time Lord.  Their race regenerates when they are near death, and hence, a new Doctor is born.  (This is why there are numerous Doctors.  Technically, they are the same “person”, having taken a new form, and although the memories and knowledge of all his years remain, each new Doctor has a different personality.)  A deadly war with the Daleks has left him alone as the last of his kind, so he travels endlessly in his space ship which is disguised as a blue police phone box known as the Tardis.  He usually finds an attractive English woman to join him along his journeys to show her the universe and to sate his loneliness.

I am on to my third Doctor, Matt Smith, but it is due to the events that precede him that I have stalled in my viewing.  Here is what I shall describe as “the unexpected side” of Doctor Who. *No spoilers, I promise.

It is surprisingly depressing.  There is a bit of a corny, campy nature in The Doctor, and yet there is often a great deal of tragedy either happening or in the works.  The writers will kill people off, separate them, and create a loneliness in The Doctor that is so palpable, I just want to give him a hug, often.  I already cry at everything, but this show has really struck me on occasion, causing me to sob, twice, but most nights when I’m done watching, I’m just depressed.  It’s not the happy go lucky show it presents itself on the surface, or maybe that’s just what I thought it was going to be.  This is the conundrum of having a character like The Doctor who is quirky, witty, and so likeable placed among such heavy handed themes, such as saving the world (a lot), offering salvation to your archenemy, watching people sacrifice themselves for your salvation, and losing the one you love to a rift between parallel worlds.

Gracious.  Someone could have warned me.

During David Tennant’s 10th Doctor era, who quickly became my favorite person with his tall, lanky, great hair, and adorable face -ness, there were a few moments that made me not want to watch the show any further.  And when it was time for yet another new Doctor, because I was so fond of the last one, it was like starting a brand new show, and my affections do not wane so easily.

The show is brilliant in its imaginative inventiveness.  It has created dozens of races and worlds, crazy story lines, and it is a joy to watch…in small increments.  Take my word for it.  Many episodes have been written by Steven Moffat or Mark Gatiss, of Sherlock fame, and if you’re an avid fan of British tv and film, there are lots of guest appearances from familiar faces.  As a screenwriter, this show would be great to write a spec for, because you can do almost anything.  Some of the episodes are so…well, strange, but as a writer it would be so freeing.  So on that level, it’s good to watch.  And once you do, you’ll probably be hooked, like I am.  I just need a little more time to become accustomed to a new face, which is why you get so much time off between seasons…

Have a great weekend everyone!  And here’s to binge watching! 😉

What I Learned During My Day At The Zoo

CharacterStreetSignThe zoo.  Harmless enough of an outing…a complete lesson in character.  I always wanted kids, but the older I get the less I do, and during this outing I felt my ovaries dry up.

So first off, let me say this, I know parenting is difficult, and this is not meant to be an essay on child rearing, but I have to get this off my chest.  I was surprised to find numerous children screaming at animals, pounding on the glass partitions, and throwing things into the enclosures at the animals (there are even signs posted of things not to do because this is clearly an issue), and parents or supervising adults taking long periods of time to notice or say anything at all.  When I heard children talk back to not only their parents and teachers but to strangers, I cringed.  There was no instruction given, at least at the time, as to why that behavior might be unacceptable.  There was no insight given that if you were in the wild and did that to these creatures, they would eat your face.  But, then I would notice other children standing in awe of the animals, waving at other kids, being helpful, or staring aghast at those misbehaving, and think, well, all is not lost.

As there was a great cross-section of society gathered that day, it was not only a lesson in character, but society and expectations, and the differences between cultures, and it got me thinking.  Not only did I think about character, but also a story idea that the humans walking around were actually the exhibit with the animals watching them.  I could only imagine what they were thinking.

As writers, we usually pay attention to the things around us more than most in order to store it all away to use later in our writing.  Whether our characters fall into the categories of good or bad, hero, anti-hero, rogue, or villain, we want them to be, and they must be likeable.  And I don’t mean we’d want to be friends with them exactly, but there must be something about them we love to hate, or hate to love, something that draws us in.  I’ve talked about this before, those characters that are compelling to watch; the Lokis, the Sherlocks, and the Hannibals – responsible for a little chaos but we love them anyway.  The facets that make up an interesting character are never prevalent in one person we actually know.  They are amalgamations.  The characters we love are bigger than life, are more complex and interesting than available in reality, and some of them we would definitely not want to be friends with, but do want to watch do things.

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I understand that kids are kids, and hopefully, most of them will grow out of some of those less than acceptable behaviors, but I gained a little insight while watching them – I was reminded that in order make our characters more interesting, we have to know more about them in order to flesh them out, whether we use it in the writing or not.  We need to know the childhoods of our characters, the type of kids they might have been.  Most of the time, it’s those early days that influence the people we become.  Most creatives have had difficult childhoods, endured bullying, and overcome a variety of obstacles, a reason they choose to express themselves creatively whether through writing, song, art, comedy…We need to take into consideration where our characters are from, the religious and cultural impact on their lives, the types of parents they had, their social standing, their education, and what type of friends they had – all of these make a character more complete.  All of these factors then help you understand how your character will respond in any given situation; their dialogue, how they handle stress, relationships, confrontation, etc.

I’ve read that a helpful trick to get to know your character better could be something like going on a date or interviewing the character.  What are the things you like to know about someone you’ve just started dating?  What questions would you ask someone you were interviewing to understand them better?  One of the first questions is always, “So where did you grow up?”  It tells you a lot about someone right off the bat.  And this is another way to give your character a unique voice.  I’ve heard it many times that writing dialogue is complicated, even though we all talk everyday, but writing it down is a much more difficult feat; there is nuance and subtext.  So if we know more about who are characters are, then that might make our writing flow that much easier.  And who doesn’t want that?!

On a side note, I hope you all are doing well!  I’ve noticed a lot of fellow bloggers have been struggling, so maybe this writing trick will be a fun exercise and a way to get out of your head.  Have a great week everyone and keep up the good work!

Damsel in Distress? No Thank You.

All I wanted to do was write up a nice, little blog about this article I read on LitReactorDystropia: How the Damsel in Distress Has Evolved, but it started becoming this rant on feminism, and how men objectify women, and how women cut each other down.  Not exactly the direction I intended.  As a modern-day woman, I do find the exploitation of women in this day and age infuriating, and I do not care for stories or movies where the woman’s sole purpose is to be rescued, to cause the ensuing chaos, or to serve no purpose other than to be eye candy — we’re more complex than that, we offer more than that, and it’s time to stop putting us in those boxes.  I’m tired of terms like “bitch” or “slut”.  Just because a woman is strong, vocal, not ashamed of who she is, and not afraid to stand up for what she believes in does not make her any of these labels.  Let’s just get rid of the labels all together.

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I read somewhere that writer Damon Lindehof, co-writer of Star Trek Into Darkness, regretted writing the scene where actress Alice Eve, aka Dr. Carol Marcus, flashes her underwear for no reason other than to flash her goodies.  She’s a scientist, a weapons expert, and yet we have to show her practically naked for what reason?  C’mon.  Fanboys weren’t the only people in the audience.  This is why finding writers that actually create complex female characters is so refreshing.  Some of my favorite shows ever host a female lead; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, La Femme Nikita, and Alias.  All these women, besides being kick-ass, were great characters.  Game of Thrones is wonderful for this reason as well.  Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, has had a wonderful character arc from frail, young girl to the leader of an army.  Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey, has said in interviews that people have called her a bitch to her face, as if she is her character.  If the actions of her character were done by a man, no one would have anything to say.  I’m also a fan of Lost Girl, that not only has a wonderful lead, but interesting side characters as well.  I like the direction TV is going with women, creating strong characters without cliché.

I love the show, Sherlock and its lead, Benedict Cumberbatch, but I have to wonder what sort of reviews  it would get if they had made Sherlock a woman.  Why is it so shocking when a female character is an alcoholic or has some eccentricities?  Why is it absurd to vocalize that not all women want to be mothers or somebody’s wife?  Why do women have to be pigeonholed into a certain category where men feel secure?  What year is it?

Then I found this article by the New York Film Academy about Gender Inequality in Film.  It’s kind of shocking, considering we make up half the population.  As a woman writer, I write about female protagonists with a strong, supportive female cohort.  Two of my scripts are almost entirely made up of women.  I’m not trying to make a statement, I just think that the number of women represented in literature and film is dismal, and when a strong female character makes her way on the scene, she is usually met with resistance.  Have we not, as a society, moved past this point?  I may have been raised by Disney princesses, and believe me when I say they made a huge impact on me, that doesn’t mean those are the types of stereotypical women (maybe just variations) I want to continue to go out into the world.  Little girls deserve more realistic diversity.  They need role models, but they also need to know that whoever they turn out to be is okay.  And the only way they can know this is if we, as writers, make those types of characters available.  Don’t take the easy way out — write interesting characters!

Okay.  I’m going to stop right there, because this did turn into a rant.  Ah, well.  Hopefully, it was enlightening.

Have a great week everyone!

*Images: Sarah Michelle Gellar of BVS, Peta Wilson of LFN, and Jennifer Garner of Alias.