Damaged heroes and tea-swilling heroines

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So, by my calculations there are 7 days and oh, 12 blog posts left until the end of October. And I really want to hit the full 31 posts because I have a bit of a project that I want to launch on November 1st and I’m only going to do it if I complete the blog posting challenge successfully.

With that in mind, missing this week’s Wicked Wednesday was a slight disaster.

It sort of took me by surprise, even though I’d been thinking about the prompt since a conversation I had with Kristina Lloyd at her book launch last Saturday night. Well, sort of. It actually also ties in really nicely with something I’ve been thinking about since I went to a couple of events at the Cheltenham literature festival at the beginning of the month.

Anyway, let’s start with the prompt. I feel a little guilty saying this, but drunk, rambling man in a bar feels a bit cliche to me. Or rather, it feels cliche, but also an entirely feasible situation with which to start a story.

Back, briefly to the literature festival. The first talk I went to was this, on the ‘Rise of the anti-heroine.’ Although I fully recognise that feminism still has a long way to go, and that men and women are far from equal, I’m always stunned as to how much this affects women in fields like literature. It’s supposedly harder to get published if you’re a woman, something which kind of makes sense when you look at things like the statistics behind ‘The Year of Reading Women.’

I have a handful of notes from that evening – one of which just says ‘relatable, likeable.’ Another is a quote from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, which i failed to copy down exactly but is something along the lines of ‘Feminism is the ability to have female characters who are bad.’ One of the authors on the panel said that women writing chick lit are told that their female characters must be the kinds of women you’d want to sit and drink tea with. I think that’s meant to mean ‘sweet and nice’ – in short, the kind of women I personally loathe spending time with. I’m pretty flawed and I like to spend my time, both when I’m reading and in real life, with women who are equally so. Which is probably why I haven’t read chick lit for years. Someone else said that what we refer to as ‘the anti heroine,’ if it was a male character would simply be referred to as realistic and interesting.

I finished The Lemon Grove back in August, and so I asked Helen Walsh about her portrayal of anal sex in the novel, which caused a bit of a stunned silence, but hey, I can handle that. More specifically, what I asked was ‘Is an openness and a love of sex for the sake of sex a characteristic of the anti-heroine?’ The answer was pretty much ‘Yes.’ So you can imagine my joy when, after I’d asked that question, a middle-aged man (in a mainly female audience) asked for the mic and posed the question ‘Why does writing strong women have to mean writing about sex?’ I gave him side-eyes, but I don’t think he noticed. I can’t quite remember what the panel said, but my answer would be ‘Because for so long we haven’t been able to. So suck it up.’ As an aside though, things are hopefully changing. The boy walked in on me in the middle of reading that anal scene: when I asked him what he thought of it he said ‘You might want to use some lube, love.’ Which is definitely progress of a kind.

Let’s go back to men. Based on what I’ve said up till now, you’d think male characters have a much easier ride of it. After all, complex men are just realistic and interesting, right? Well, yes, up until the arrival of a certain billionaire (by the by, I was in WH Smith today and the covers in the erotica section are now literally fifty shades of grey. Who is still reading/publishing/buying these novels?)  Except it seems that in erotica, if you’re writing men  who have much growth/self-discovery to do as the heroine, men who are still learning about/discovering their own desires and men who make (sometimes pretty awful) mistakes as a result of that, those men are automatically ‘damaged.’ I call bullshit. *That’s* equality – learning about sex, about desire, about what turns us on and off, about sometimes misjudging things is something we all do, not because we’re male or female, but because we’re human. Those are the kind of men I want to read, and more importantly the kind I want to write. The photo at the top of this post is my notes from feedback from my writing group: at the top right it says ‘Neither character has proper character arc; he’s on the margins; entire relationship is a projection onto him.’ Those things are top of my list of things to fix. Because I don’t want cardboard cutout men, or women who are dependent on those men for everything they discover about sex. Real men do get drunk and messy in bars. So do real women. Life is messy. Fiction should be too.

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One thought on “Damaged heroes and tea-swilling heroines

  1. I agree with you, real people in stories are much nicer and better to read than people that are perfect in every way. I think it gives them more depth of character to be flawed.

    Now to get those characters in my stories too…

    Rebel xox

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