Wednesday, February 4, 2015

IWSG: The Underlying Message



Hey everyone! It is IWSG Wednesday. The Insecure Writer's Support Group is an awesome collective of writers who post their writerly insecurities every first Wednesday of the month, founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Thanks to our co-hosts for February as well: Gwen Gardner, Dolorah, Sarah Foster, and M. Pax.

The more time I spend with the dual protagonists of my current project--which I can only describe as some kind of women's historical fiction though half of it is contemporary and there's a bit of mystery in there--the more I'm pleased by them. Doesn't mean the characters are as realized as I want them to be yet, but there's a lot to play with.

I once read a blog post years ago suggesting that authors often write stories based on a few different themes, so that some authors will write many stories focused on identity or mother-daughter issues and they tend to explore this in their work many times over. Do you think this is true?

My last story's 'underlying story,' if you will, had to do with racism and acceptance; it was set in Georgian England. I queried that project, but I think one of these days, I might want to tear it apart again and focus on my favorite character in there instead. Someday.

So what's the new one's underlying story? I think it might be feminism.

 Not long ago, a writing buddy, SL Huang, had a post up on Chuck Wendig's blog: On the Subject Of Unlikable Women Protagonists. Makes great points. Go read it. Because as a woman, I want to read more awesome female characters, whether they are badass or weak or romantic or whatever; I want them to be compelling and I want them to more reflect the awesome, sometimes batshit-crazy spectrum of what it's like to be a female. There's a lot of insecurity in writing land about creating female characters, much more so than in creating a male character. The majority of my characters are female, as are the majority of my friends and co-workers. But we are very different people.

And--underlying message here--we have to write the books and the characters we want to read.

38 comments:

  1. That's interesting. I've dissected my themes before, there are definitely a lot of similarities. I like to write stories about people fighting their way through the world and learning to stand on their own. :) It's interesting how we gravitate towards certain things.

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    1. I know some people don't even think about theme and I tend to be one of them, but it's hard to miss some of them :-) I think I tend to gravitate toward a variation on fighting their way through the world--a lot of my characters don't quite have a full sense of self yet. I wish I could find that blog post again, but it was years ago!

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  2. Yes, we do need to write about people we want to read about - because if we don't want to, why would anyone else..?

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    1. Exactly! Who else is going to do it, if we don't? Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Completely agree with you, Michelle. Write what's (and who's) within YOU. Love the message you're sending here today. Glad I stopped by :)

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    1. Hi Randi! Good to see you around again!

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  4. Great topic for a IWSG post, Michelle. I think we do write around a theme, whether we intend to or not. It took me several projects to realized they all dealt with female friendships. I agree that we do need to write about complicated women in complicated situations. I struggle with the "unlikable female character" issue in my work and keep coming back to the same thing. Readers won't stop expecting all the female characters to be likable unless we, as authors, unapologetically write more complicated female characters.

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    1. I think that's definitely true, Elizabeth--that readers won't stop expecting nice female character until more authors write different kinds of female characters. Maybe not so much that the female character is unlikable, but that she has angles and shadows, just like the men do. Or...well, yeah, unlikable.

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  5. Absolutely. Please, keep writing books with interesting and varied female characters. Be the trend setter. Our grandmothers and daughters need your stories!!!! I need them, too.
    Play off the Page

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    1. Hi Mary! I'm certainly trying. I have two female leads in this one and several other supporting female characters and they're all pretty different from each other. I hope they come across that way!

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  6. I'm with you on the female protagonists. There's a lot of that going around. We want badass female leads--with flaws, of course. It's inspiring. Think Harry Potter (Hermione), the Hunger Games (Katniss) and Divergence (Tris). All strong female leads.

    Gwen Gardner, IWSG Co-host (and new follower!)

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    1. Thanks for co-hosting Gwen (and following!) We need all the badass female leads we can get.

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  7. Great post! I do find myself gravitating towards the same themes (self-discovery). In poetry I find myself writing a lot about vanity, and heartache. It's the stuff that resonates within us that we hope also resonates within our readers :)

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    1. Definitely. I think there's a fair bit of self-discovery and identity and defining yourself in my stuff, too--that's in this project as well!

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  8. Oh this got me thinking. I know my themes come accidentally and are always about surviving terrible tragedy (or not), and there is often implied mental instability too. Unlike popular thought, I favour fragile female characters who struggle but scrape through somehow. I'm so tired of kick-ass super-women; they have little in common with most of us. Well, me. Lol.

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    1. But I think that fragile women who struggle and scrape through ARE strong, in the end. I think that a variety of female characters are needed in literature, whether "strong" or not.

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  9. Amen. I definitely write about characters/stories I want to read. I love exploring the mother/daughter relationship, but that might have something to do with my own family dynamics and being the mom to three girls. I can't even imagine writing a main male character. Interesting post!

    My IWSG Post

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    1. Hi Tia! One of my POV characters in my last project was a man and he was the hardest character to write.

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  10. This post is a great reminder to write the stories we want to read and to create the characters we want to read about.

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  11. Great post! I've not analyzed my underlying themes but I will now. It's a good idea to keep that theme or those themes in mind while going through that first round of edits! Thanks for this!

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    1. I think it helps in editing, definitely, so you know if the story is effectively expressing that theme. I don't think you need a theme to start writing though.

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  12. I'm currently working with dual protagonists as well. Something I never thought of, but the story worked out as such and needs to be told that way. I've got one or two underlying themes which will flush out a bit more after this first draft gets a good read through.

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    1. Oh, the same thing happened with me. I had two story ideas and decided to combine them. It's a little complicated, but I'm actually kind of happy with it.

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  13. I didn't mean to do it, but under all of them you'll find addiction. I didn't even know at first. Now that I have, I write openly about it.

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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  14. Great post. I think if we try to write around a theme, the story will seem forced. Themes should evolve within the story without the author being aware. I'd hate to have someone psychoanalyze my books. LOL

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    1. True. I think that's what happened in my last project.

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  15. I'm definitely a bit of a feminist writer too, and for far too long, male writers have told the world how/what/who women are. I love writing kick-ass female protagonists; absolutely writing the women I want to read about.

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    1. You definitely should. Who else is going to?

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  16. My stories are filled with twists and turns... there's always somebody deceiving or doing something underhand... so maybe deception/revenge may be my underlying theme?

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    1. Interesting. That could express skepticism, too.

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  17. The more books I read by a specific author, the more I become aware of the subjects that preoccupy him/her. It's nice because I start to feel like I know them better as people. As a writer I've realized I do the same thing. My stories tend to have a few underlying themes in common. I explore them in different ways, sometimes making the underlying theme unrecognizable for everyone but me, but I know it's what prompted me to write. I guess it's just the nature of our brains. When we write, we are technically exploring our own minds.

    Great post!

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    1. That's true that some authors will have a similar theme or characters or plot running through different books, most likely by accident. I suppose there are just some things we are all preoccupied by or want to explore more.

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  18. I've noticed that my underlying theme/message in my work in progress is about finding one's own path. I noticed by accident but ever since I have, I plan to explore more on the issues of destiny/fate and predetermination vs free will.

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    1. Very cool. I wonder about those things, too.

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  19. Nice post :-). I do notice that my writing tends to gravitate towards themes that have affected me in real life (such as gender roles, emotional abuse, distorted perceptions of reality, etc).

    I like your reflections on women protagonists. I'm a feminist also and I try to write about women's lives (though not only women's lives). I'm very interested in the idea of how gender perception and expectation (both for men and women) are damaging and lead to inauthenticity.

    Tam

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    1. Very interesting, Tam. Thanks for commenting.

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Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts. Check back soon. I reply to all comments. Happy reading!