Sleeping Beauties vs. Gonzo Girls

9 March 2013

From The New Yorker:

When Stieg Larsson’s girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, encounters a man who regards her as “legal” prey, we quickly realize exactly what sets this skinny hacker apart from heroines of the past. Salander invites Advokat Bjurman into the bedroom and leads him to the bed, “not the other way around.” Her next move is to fire seventy-five thousand volts from a Taser into his armpit and push him down with “all her strength.” In a stark reversal of the nineteenth-century playwright Victorien Sardou’s famous formula for successful theatrics—“Torture the woman!”—Salander ties up Bjurman and tattoos a series of vivid epithets onto his torso. A sadistic sexual predator is transformed in an instant into her victim.

We’ve come a long way from what Simone de Beauvoir once found in Anglo-European entertainments: “In song and story the young man is seen departing adventurously in search of a woman; he slays the dragons and giants; she is locked in a tower, a palace, a garden, a cave, she is chained to a rock, a captive, sound asleep: she waits.” Have we kissed Sleeping Beauty goodbye at last, as feminists advised us to do not so long ago? Her younger and more energetic rival in today’s cultural productions has been working hard to depose her, but archetypes die hard and can find their way back to us in unexpected ways.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” series have given us female tricksters, women who are quick-witted, fleet-footed, and resolutely brave. Like their male counterparts—Coyote, Anansi, Raven, Rabbit, Hermes, Loki, and all those other mercurial survivors—these women are often famished (bulimic binges are their update on the mythical figure’s ravenous appetite), but also driven by mysterious cravings that make them appealingly enigmatic. Surrounded by predators, they quickly develop survival skills; they cross boundaries, challenge property rights, and outwit all who see them as easy prey. But, unlike their male analogues, they are not just cleverly resourceful and determined to survive. They’re also committed to social causes and political change.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

5 Ways “Difficult” Women Can Energize Your Writing and Make Your Fiction Memorable

4 March 2013

From Ruth Harris on Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Before there was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Lisbeth Salander, there was Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, the heroine of a novel called Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. Smilla is part Inuit and lives in Copenhagen.

According to the flap copy of the FSG edition, “she is thirty-seven, single, childless, moody, and she refuses to fit in.” She is complex, thorny, obstinate, blunt, fearless, she loves clothes and, when required, she can—and does—kick ass. Like Lisbeth—who’s a talented computer jock—Smilla has her tech side and sees the beauty in mathematics.
Thinking about these two “difficult” women—Lisbeth and Smilla—I began to realize that the “difficult,” unconventional female character, like Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, appears in fiction again and again in different guises.

. . . .

Jane Tennison, the DI in television’s Prime Suspect, played by Hellen Mirren, is a “woman of a certain age” as they say in France. Her love life is on the gritty side, she drinks too much, she can be flinty—not flirtatious. The men she works with give her a hard time and she isn’t shy about pushing back.

. . . .

Ellen Ripley. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the warrant officer inAlien, is courageous, authoritative and has no personal life that we know of. She’s a sci-fi heroine who must rely on her own guts, brains and fearlessness.

. . . .

Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper with no first name inRebecca, is dedicated to her dead employer, the first Mrs. Maxim de Winter. She is intimidating, manipulative and willing to drive the second Mrs. DeWinter to suicide.

. . . .

The “difficult” female character can—and will—do the shocking, the unexpected and, as a consequence, will give your story an immediate jolt of energy. She is the character who doesn’t fit the mold. She is the boss (M), the beginner (Clarice Starling), the domestic employee (Mrs. Danvers).

2. The “difficult” female character will live in the “wrong” neighborhood, drink too much, have sex with the “wrong” partners—all good ways to add sizzle and wow! plot twists.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Picturing Books

4 February 2013

From Jacket Mechanical:

What do we see when we read? (Other than words on a page.) What do we picture in our minds?


. . . .

Strangely, when we remember the experience of reading a book, we imagine a continuous unfolding of images. We imagine, in essence, that the experience of reading was like that of watching a film. For instance I remember reading Anna Karenina: “I saw Oblonsky, and then I saw Oblonsky’s house, and then I saw this, and then that…”

But this is not what actually happens.

If I said to you “Describe Anna Karenina,” perhaps you’d mention her beauty … if you were reading closely you’d mention her weight, or maybe even her little mustache (yes. It’s there). Mathew Arnold remarks upon “Anna’s shoulders, and masses of hair, and half-shut eyes…” But what does Anna Karenina look like? You may feel intimate with a character (people like to say of a brilliantly limned character: “it’s like I know her) but this doesn’t mean you are actually picturing a person. Nothing so fixed—nothing so choate.

. . . .

Most authors (wittingly, unwittingly), provide us, readers, with more behavior for their characters than character description. Even if an author excels at physical description, we are left with shambling concoctions of stray body parts and random detail (author’s can’t tell us everything). We fill in lacunae. We shade them. We gloss over them. We elide. . . . Anna: her hair, her weight: These are facets only, and do not make up a true image of a person. They make up a body type, a hair color … But what does she look like? We don’t know. (Our mental sketches of characters are worse than police composites.)

Link to the rest at Jacket Mechanical

Courage And Curiosity: The Best Heroines Of 2012

5 January 2013

From National Public Radio:

The most dangerous trait a woman can possess is curiosity. That’s what myths and religion would have us believe, anyway. Inquisitive Pandora unleashed sorrow upon the world. Eve got us kicked out of paradise. Blight on civilization it may be, but female curiosity is a gift to narrative and the quality my five favorite heroines of the year possess in spades.

These women come to us from history, from a novel, from the pages of a diary and from an ancient poem. They’re women who want to know things, who want to devour the world. Refreshingly, they aren’t primarily defined by their desire to love or be loved — or even to be especially lovable — these are sublimely stubborn women, frequently at odds with themselves and always at odds with their times. They’re on quests. Which isn’t to say that these quests are necessarily successful (the heroines of one particular book were flamboyant failures). The outcome is immaterial; the wanting is all.

. . . .

But from the outset, Calle’s inquiry is too serious and strange and plain difficult. A few people refuse to speak to her. Others agree to meet Calle, but can’t recall Pierre. The testimonies add up; our quarry comes into focus then blurs again: He lives alone. His hair went white the week his mother died. He has conventional sexual fantasies. He wears ill-fitting clothes, like a clown. Assembling a personality from these shards is intoxicating, a bit like solving a mystery, a bit like falling in love. But whom are we falling in love with? Is it Pierre? Or is it our guide?

. . . .

Sophie Calle: The Address Book

In 1983, the French artist Sophie Calle found a lost address book on a street in Paris. She rang up the people listed and asked about the owner of the book, whom she calls Pierre D. (“I will try to discover who he is without ever meeting him.”) She published her findings in a newspaper — to the outrage of the real Pierre, who threatened to sue. Calle agreed to hold off republishing the pieces until after his death.

Pierre died in 2005, and this book is now available in English.

. . . .

All We Know: Three Lives

Lisa Cohen gives us three stylish, independent heroines for the price of one in her triptych of women, once famous, now forgotten: Esther Murphy, a spellbinding conversationalist who never managed to produce the books her public so eagerly awaited; Madge Garland, a gifted editor at British Vogue; and Mercedes de Acosta, the “first celebrity stalker” who became the lover of the most glamorous women of her time, including Marlene Dietrich, Isadora Duncan and Greta Garbo. The three women, who were intimates, moved in the lively and quarrelsome lesbian circles of early 20th-century New York, Paris and London, and Cohen vividly brings this world to life. She also makes an original and persuasive case for her subjects’ métiers, the fleeting, trivialized forms of cultural production: conversation, collecting and fashion.

Link to the rest at NPR

You Need More Scoundrels in Your Life: How to Write a Han Solo Hero in Six Easy Steps!

15 November 2012

From author Tiffany Reisz on The Other Side of the Story:

Han Solo is the real hero of the Star Wars world because, unlike Luke, he has a compelling character arc. We learned to look at our own heroes and decides if we’d written dynamic Han Solos or flat Luke Skywalkers. But what if you’re just starting your book? How does one write a Han Solo-esque hero, a real alpha scoundrel for the ages?

. . . .

#1 – Be a scoundrel. 

The best heroes are often the worst people. Annoying, infuriating, arrogant, these are the people born for heroism. Read the Old Testament and you’ll find that many of God’s chosen heroes have some of the biggest character flaws (King David the adulterer, Jacob the trickster). Modern heroes need to be equally wicked or they won’t have a character arc in our books readers can believe in. If they start out nice and kind and giving…where do we take them? Nowhere anyone wants to go. But an asshole? He’s got lessons to learn, hearts to break, and damsels to save along the way.

. . . .

#3 – Be bad every chance you get. And be good only at the last second. 

In STAR WARS, we have a character who is good almost every chance he gets—Luke Skywalker. There’s nothing particularly interesting about a totally good character. Usually there’s only one right thing to do, but there are an infinite amount of wrong things to do. So if you have a character who always does the right thing, he’s going to be dull and predictable. A scoundrel like Han Solo is morally flexible. Nine times out of ten he takes the money and runs. But there’s always that chance he’ll surprise us, and we’re all the more delighted as readers when someone we thought of as a lost cause shows up out of nowhere, shoots the tie fighters off our back, and helps us save the world.

Link to the rest at The Other Side of the Story

Author James Patterson’s 10 favorite detectives

19 October 2012

From the Orange County Register:

 First, here is that list of qualities that Patterson says can be found in the best fictional detectives:

1. They are not afraid to walk on the darker side. In fact, they relish the opportunity.

2. They are obsessive puzzle lovers who think creatively.

3. They are willing to put their lives on the line for justice – or at least to limit injustice.

4. They possess a sense of humor, preferably a very dark sense of humor.

5. They keep life in perspective – or way out of perspective.

6. He/she maintains a good life/work balance – or is a total wild child.

. . . .

J.J. Gittes – Legendary screenwriter Robert Towne created a gumshoe for the ages in Jake Gittes, the character brought to life in the classic 1974 film “Chinatown” by Jack Nicholson (with a little help from director Roman Polanski). Gittes is a former LAPD officer who learned how to bend the rules during his assignment to a maddening section of downtown Los Angeles called Chinatown. At the end of the movie, a frustrated Gittes stares off in the distance while a cop buddy tries to console him with the memorable line: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

. . . .

Philip Marlowe – Raymond Chandler featured the private eye in eight novels, the first of which was published in 1939. Marlowe is one of the most popular fictional detectives ever adapted for the big screen. Dick Powell was the first to play him (“Murder, My Sweet”), followed immediately by the most famous Marlowe incarnation ever – Humphrey Bogart in “The Big Sleep.” Other actors who have played Marlowe in films and on television include James Caan, Danny Glover, Powers Boothe, Elliott Gould, James Garner, George Montgomery and, of course, Robert Mitchum.

Link to the rest at Orange County Register and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Best Young Adult Novels.

13 August 2012

Your Favorites:  100 Best-Ever Teen Novels, from NPR:

“It’s almost a cliche at this point to say that teen fiction isn’t just for teens anymore. Just last year, the Association of American Publishers ranked Children’s/Young Adult books as the single fastest-growing publishing category.

“Which is why we were only a little surprised to see the tremendous response that came in for this summer’s Best-Ever Teen Fiction poll. A whopping 75,220 of you voted for your favorite young adult novels, blasting past the total for last year’s science fiction and fantasy poll at, dare we say it, warp speed.

“And now, the final results are in. While it’s no surprise to see Harry Potter and the Hunger Gamestrilogy on top, this year’s list also highlights some writers we weren’t as familiar with. For example, John Green, author of the 2012 hit The Fault in Our Stars, appears five times in the top 100.”

You can read the entire article here:  NPR

I can’t say I agree with all the choices but then I also wasn’t asked.

Julia Barrett


How to Make Jane Austen Coasters.

24 June 2012

From Indie Jane:

“I love finding crafts that others sell and making them myself for a fraction of the cost. Today, I will show you how to make your very own Jane Austen coasters for less than a dollar a piece! (Plus your possibilities are endless. Got extra party napkins, cool tissue paper, or scrap pieces of fabric or scrapbook paper lying around? You can totally use all of those too)!!

“Here are the items you will need:

Read how to do it here:  Indie Jane:  How to Make Jane Austen Coasters.

These are super cute!  I think I’ll make some Herman Melville coasters and some Bronte Coasters.

—  Julia Barrett


What Your Character Really Needs, The Central Question

22 May 2012

From bestselling author and former writing professor Dave Farland:

The script doctor Michael Hague has pointed out that for every successful motion picture, there is a central question that revolves around the protagonist: “Who are you?” After studying this insight for a dozen years, I’m convinced that Michael is right. You can’t write a powerful story of character without it.

In other words, your protagonist often has people around him who define him. Let’s take a romance story. Perhaps your protagonist is young, from the “wrong side of the tracks.” He’s poor white trash. His dad is a convicted felon who strips copper pipes out of houses that are in foreclosure and then sells the copper for recycling. Thus he’ll do a hundred thousand dollars in damage to a home in an effort to steal a few hundred bucks. Our young protagonist rides a motorcycle and has biker friends. He’s been arrested for taking meth. But he wants more out of life. He’s determined to go to college, to make something of himself, and there on his first day he meets the girl of his dreams.

Now, who is he? Is he the brilliant young doctor that he imagines that he could be, or is he the pond scum that past evidence shows him to be? Well, that’s what the story is about.

Imagine that he falls in love with a beautiful young pre-med student. Her father knows all about the boy’s dad. After all, the guy’s face is all over the newspapers. In fact, they’ve had run-ins since high school. The boy’s family are all losers.

So the “story” revolves really around the evidence for what your protagonist is. Is he drug-using biker? Is he from a creepy background? Everyone agrees. In fact, it is best if even your protagonist doesn’t know who he is . . . yet. He’s in motion, trying to move from one definition, “Creepy druggie,” to a higher status, “worthy young doctor.”

. . . .

In fact, at some point, our hero will even need to struggle with self-identity. Maybe he’ll go take some meth. Maybe he’ll hop on his bike, borrow a gun, and consider robbing a Pizza Hut in order to get the money he needs to stay in school. In short, he’ll have a crisis of some sort.

At the same time, we as the audience should also see evidence that this young man has potential. He did great in chemistry in high school (possibly because he was studying so hard, trying to learn how to make meth?). We might see his kindness, his compassion. We may see him studying at night, straddling his motorbike out in the garage while he reads a textbook.

Link to the rest at David Farland

Creating Characters – What You Really Need

12 May 2012

From Dave Farland:

I’ve read dozens of articles and books on characterization, all written by well-meaning people, and personally I found them befuddling. While each had a few good ideas on how to generate characters, most of the authorities found themselves trying to give so much detail about what makes a round character that the writer eventually got stuck down in the weeds, creating detail that could never be used.

That’s a waste of your time and your mental energy.

There are some things that you really do need to know, and the first one is “What is your protagonist’s character arc?”

You see, stories are about character advancement, about the opportunities that come with risk, about growth and learning, and a whole bunch more. One easy way to begin plotting a story is to look at your character and ask, “What is the opening state of my protagonist?” and “How does he change through the course of the story?”

. . . .

Yet if you look at a tale as being about a character moving from one phase of life to another, you can immediately begin to see some of the conflicts you might want to establish, and you’ll get ideas for what needs to happen.

Take the movie Gladiator. In it, our protagonist moves from being “Most trusted general and family man,” to “accused traitor,” “to widower/bereft of family” to “slave” to “gladiator” to “arena champion” to “avenger” to “gaining heavenly reward.” That’s a great character arc.

. . . .

Just about any noun that defines a state will do. How about “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”? Or “Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief?”

Using this method, you can literally suggest an entire plot for a novel or series of novels in a few words. Here is one that I’m working on: Jester, Outlaw, Defender, Wizard.

Link to the rest at David Farland

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