Female Stereotypes

I don’t know if I’ve made some poor choices lately or if it’s a reflection of ongoing gender stereotyping, but the female characters in the fantasy books I’ve been reading have played into some pretty shitty tropes: the meek and caring girl, the hapless love-driven schemer, the whore with a heart of gold, and the woman requiring rape in order to ‘grow’.

Where is the strong, independent female character whose self-worth and growth is not predicated on a dominant, masculine force?

I’m not saying that a female character can’t look for love or enjoy sexual freedom (hell, yes!), but why does it have to be her most defining contribution to the story? And let’s not even go there on the whole rape trope.

Seriously. What the hell, people.

And, sorry, making a female character a mercenary, sword fighter or ship’s captain doesn’t automatically make them ‘strong’ women. Strong characters aren’t defined by their physicality. It’s the inherent core of their being—their personality, flaws, foibles and decisions—that defines the character.

By plonking women into traditionally male positions which require physical strength, the writer can skip over any real sort of character development and still wave their hands around, saying, ‘See? Strong woman character over here!’ But what the writer is really saying is that these female characters are ‘strong’ despite their gender. They act like men. They fight like men. They’re essentially men with shapely breasts.

This type of writing is lazy, divisive and patronising. And I’m done reading it.

Come on, writers, we can do better than this.

Rant over.

Plot bunnies

They came a-visiting today.

They bounced all over the place, dropping unwanted characters and weird tangents all over my redraft. One plot bunny in particular was drunk.

bunny

Now I find myself cleaning up the mess. My favourite scene is broken, another a bit singed. And a little lass—who has murder and mayhem in her liquid brown eyes—has decided she likes it here. I guess she’ll stay.

As for the other bunnies, they’ve moved on.

No doubt they’re just down the street, already gambolling in someone else’s writing.

Selling your ebook for free: yes or no?

Red-Book-Necklace-Etsy

It’s a quandary many of us emerging writers face: should we take a gamble and expect readers to pay for our self-published ebooks (and therefore potentially have few or no readers at all), or package up hundreds of hours of hard work and give it away in the hopes that many more readers will discover us and like what we do.

Let’s look at both sides of the argument.

Free books undermine our industry.

If we sell our first ebooks for free, what we’re doing is telling readers that even authors place little value in the skills, struggles and hard graft that goes into the creation of literary works.

We’d never expect a plumber to fix a blocked drain for free because they’re just starting out or because we’ve never heard of them before. Same goes for the local doctor, mechanic, dog groomer, musician, cake decorator and barista (or anyone, really).

So if we’re willing to pay such people, even if they’re new to the job or haven’t got many likes on review sites, why would we be okay with underselling ourselves?

By giving away something that required skill, dedication and likely more than 500+ hours of grit, tears and self-doubt, we jeopardise the industry we wish to thrive in. We tell the consumer world that writers and our contributions are of no value.

But we matter. Our work matters. And we deserve to be paid.

Free books are simply another form of customer service.

If we want a reader to invest their time on our writing, we have to build trust. It’s basic customer service 101. It allows readers to experience minimal risk while discovering new authors and new series that they otherwise would not have bothered with.

It’s about presenting a product in such a way that it stands out from the crowd. It’s smart marketing, and (for some) it works.

New authors who have experienced success with this method find that their first book—quite often written in such a way that a reader has to read the second book to get the full story—leads on to actual monetary sales with subsequent publications.

By giving away the first book, we get to build our author platform with readers who, having invested only their time so far, become our fans and are (hopefully) willing to invest in future works.

Free ebooks can give us the push-start we need to have a future in the industry we love.

What’s the best choice?

That’s a personal decision for every writer, and it’s not an easy one.

In my freelance work, I resent having to negotiate up because clients undervalue writers and editors. I’m often asked to work on the first article or webpage either for free or for a pittance to ‘prove’ myself. I can’t think of another industry where this kind of exploitation is the norm, and I can’t help but wonder if the prevalence of free ebooks plays a part.

But for my future as a novelist, sometimes I think the first book should be free so that readers can decide risk-free if they like my work. Like any emerging author, I want to have a sustainable career as a novelist, and obviously a fan base is crucial.

I might shoot myself in the foot if I don’t go ‘free’. But I could be shooting at the industry if I do.

Tales from the past

Ever written a manuscript and put it in a drawer or hard drive, never to be seen again?

That’s what I thought I did for a YA fantasy duology. They’ve been sitting in a hard drive (and the back of my mind) for years. I loved writing them, loved what happened to the characters and also what I learnt from them as both a young woman and as a writer. I thought that was the end of it. An apprentice writer’s journey, so to speak.

But at a loved one’s insistence, they’re being dragged out of abyss. It’s going to take months and months of editing, some heavy redrafting, and a few second thoughts. And then they’re going out into the world. In what format, I don’t know yet.

But I’m excited.

I’m not doing this because I think the storyline is a stroke of literary genius. It really isn’t. But I’ve worked for years on improving my writing. I’ve done the courses, been to the lectures, taken on the workshops, even studied in the humanities to get a better understanding of life in general. I’ve worked as an editor, and written countless press releases, technical pieces and corporate drivel. But I’ve never published something that really mattered to me.

Why? Because I’m waiting for perfection. Only when I have all of the skills, written the best sentences, created the most startling plots, developed amazing characters and so forth, will I be ready to publish my work.

As my loved one kindly pointed out, however, perfection ain’t ever going to live here. But a bit of writerly satisfaction and success can.

So, that’s what I’m working towards.

It doesn’t mean that my current manuscript is being put aside. On the contrary, I’m investing even more time into it every day. I’ve committed to a July 31st redraft deadline in order to give it to my writers group in Melbourne. It’ll happen, and I can’t wait.

In the meantime, I’ll keep doing my best—which is something far more satisfying than perfection.

Two Realities

The other day, I’d been 5 hours deep into my writing when a friend texted me. She wanted to know what I was doing.

I blinked, pushed back from the laptop and looked around. The house was quiet save for two snoring dogs and a refrigerator that desperately needed defrosting.

I picked up the phone and replied, ‘We’re being hunted by a terrifying creature. We might die.’

Her response: ‘Fair enough.’

And she left me to it.

January in review

Last month I wrote close to 15,000 words on the redraft – considering how busy January was with non-writing commitments, I’m thrilled about it. The manuscript itself, however, grew by only 33 words.

Yep. 33 words.

Whole new scenes and chapters were written, and old ones lovingly scrapped. Instead of feeling terrified at having removed complete chapters and characters from the manuscript, I’m feeling pretty chuffed to find that the manuscript has more depth, like I’m putting flesh on bones. February promises to be a similar process.

Technically, I’m on draft three of this manuscript. Draft two involved a lot of messing around and not being quite sure what I wanted the manuscript to say. I learnt a lot.

I find redrafting to be very slow. The flurry of getting words on the page isn’t there like it was in the first draft. I have a daily word count, one that’s quite small, and sometimes I don’t make it. For February, I might explore setting a daily hour count, instead.

I start back at university in three weeks with a full time load of subjects involving anthropology, archaeology and First Nations. I’m excited by what I’ll learn, but in the meantime, I’ve got three weeks where all of my mental focus can be directed at the redraft.

I’ll let you know how I go.

Crystal Clear

There’s a magical beach in Queensland where crystal-imbedded rocks are washed ashore. You can walk the long stretch of pale sand and find tiny emeralds and rubies, as well as boulder opal and geodes crammed with sparkling crystals. At sunset, wallabies come from the surrounding national park to stand before the waves and catch the evening breeze.

Such places set our imaginations on fire. They remind us why we create and write—to celebrate life and all of its flaws and wonders.

Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes I get caught up in yet another edit of a paragraph/scene/manuscript. Sometimes I forget to call my family, or be there for my friends, or just sit outside and breathe. But not today.

Today, in such a place, life is a gem.