Writing Strong Female Characters

Look who’s back!  Thriller and sci-fi author Steven M. Moore is my guest blogger today, and he’s offering advice on portraying strong female characters in your writing.  Whether you are a male or female writer and/or reader, please consider the points Steve makes here, because they certainly apply to both perspectives.  And female readers, Steve would really like to hear from you especially.

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Female characters, four years later…

I’ve been writing full speed now, trying to satisfy Ashley Scott and my muses.  Who’s Ashley Scott?  For those who have read The Midas Bomb and Angels Need Not Apply, Ms. Scott is a DHS agent and analyst and a good friend of NYPD detectives Chen and Castilblanco.  She thought it was time to receive top billing and my muses agreed.  She will appear in my new novel The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan, which she and the muses are tasering me to finish (about 60% complete now—I can’t wait to see how it ends!).

I wrote the post “Female Characters” four years ago (http://stevenmmoore.com/?p=224).  Based on my own experience with just three novels (eight now—yep, I’ve been doing this for a while), I gave some advice about portraying strong female characters in your writing if you’re a male writer.  My thesis:  It’s tough, but you have to do it.  You stand to lose half your potential audience if you don’t.  I won’t repeat any more of that advice here (writers and readers might enjoy reading that old post), but I’ll make some comments about what’s gone on since then.

For those in the know, strong female characters are as much a part of my writing as sci-fi and suspense.  Dao-Ming Chen blossomed in Angels; Kalidas Metropolis and Jay Sandoval foiled a conspiracy in Full Medical; Sirena was more than a match for Rupert Snyder aka Vladimir Kalinin in Evil Agenda; Caitlin Murphy and Asako O’Brien kicked butt in Soldiers of God; and Jenny Wong played a pivotal role in Survivors of the Chaos and Sing a Samba Galactica.  In my YA novel The Secret Lab, Shashibala Garcia tamed Mr. Paws, the mathematical cat, and thwarted his evil master, and she was only twelve!

Readers, especially female readers, have the final word about whether I’m any good at portraying female characters.  I find the human female as strange as any other human male does, often thinking that we’re separate species that just happen to play together to perpetuate the human race.  As a consequence, I have always challenged myself to write about the “divine feminine,” albeit less directly than Dan Brown.  You can tell me if I’ve succeeded in giving an accurate portrayal—I’m still learning.

Stereotypes abound when male authors write about female characters.  Here experience counts.  I can’t imagine how anyone can be a marriage counselor without ever being married, especially a priest (historically priests have given both men and women terrible marital advice), so a care-free man about town (more likely, an introverted ostrich with his head in the sand) who has never married has one strike against him when he sits down to write.  As I said four years ago, I’ve been lucky to know, admire, and love some strong women in my time.  That experience counts and allows you to avoid the media and pop culture portraits of women that are often two-dimensional stereotypes, especially when the writer or screenwriter belongs to a different culture.  I’m aghast at some of TV’s sitcoms, for example, and their portrayal of women.

Some of that experience is lacking when the male writer has no female siblings.  For eighteen years of my life, my main experience with women was the apple-pie relationship with my mother.  I had one brother and no sisters.  My knowledge of the divine feminine was minimal when I wrote my first novel at thirteen.  That contributed to its inferior quality that made me chuck it when I left for college (the plot wasn’t bad, though—something akin to the movie City of Angels).  Like many pubescent teenage boys, my ideal woman could be found in the centerfold of Playboy (my apologies to all women except those who have seen the Matthew McConaughey movie or read Fifty Shades—you have no right to complain about Playboy).   I think this would have been different if I’d had a sister (don’t look for Freudian meaning there).

Male writers have to get beyond women as sex objects if they’re attempting to write about women.  Even if they write erotica or romance novels or cross-genre novels involving erotica or romance (historical-fiction-vampire-romance?), they will have a tough time if they can’t get beyond this.  Of course, both males and females treat each other as sex objects at different times, but the male-female relationship is much more complicated than this.  Moreover, a lot of fiction, beyond that already mentioned, doesn’t even need any sexual tension.  Hollywood is notorious for ruining good stories with their insistence on adding a female part to be the protagonist’s love interest, or vice versa.

There is very little sex in my books, for example, much less than you might find on cable TV.  There is often sexual tension.  I’ve progressed in my view of women and can chuckle when recalling that thirteen-year-old and his first novel.  My characters, men or women, aren’t asexual—they’re just normal.  And by normal, I’m thinking normal as we should define it today—heterosexual people and all their LGBT friends.  (Don’t have any?  Your loss!).  Kalidas Metropolis, one of my finest characters in my opinion, is a lesbian who sings arias from Carmen while in the shower (she’s in Full Medical and Evil Agenda).  I don’t think I made her into a stereotype, but readers might think otherwise.  There’s also a teen’s search for sexual identity in The Secret Lab—yeah, parents, your teen can have sexual angst.  It’s all part of life.

Here’s the key, I think, when writing about male or female characters:  their sexuality is part of their personality.  A writer should focus on the personalities.  Of course, many characters are finely annealed alloys of several real people whom the author has observed.  I don’t see how you can write without being a people-watcher, in fact.  Anyone can include female characters in a novel.  The author who has trouble with them hasn’t studied enough women in real life.  The movie As Good as It Gets where Jack Nicholson portrayed an OCD romance writer who couldn’t relate well to anyone, especially women, was hard for me to understand.  How could this guy be a successful writer?

That doesn’t mean the writer has to describe everything about a woman, including her personality, to the nth degree.  For physical description, give some clues and let the reader fill in the details.  To get inside her mind, give some clues too—imagine yourself in there as an observer—then let the reader fill in the details.  Sounds kinky and a bit schizoid, I know, but a writer has to do it.  You have to do it for any character!  It’s kind of fun imagining how a female character thinks or reacts to certain situations, a bit like being an amateur psychologist in the abstract.  Maybe all marriage counselors should have some writing experience?  Or, should all writers be amateur psychologists?

And so it goes….

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Readers, what are your thoughts?  Writing from the perspective of the opposite sex is tricky; many writers have succeeded, others…not so much.  Any suggestions for novels where the character came alive, or fizzled, because the author just didn’t master the trick?

Many thanks to author, Steven M. Moore, for his contribution.  Be sure to check out his web page for information on his latest project and to order any of his thriller and sci-fi books, including his new release, Come Dance a Cumbia…with Stars in Your Hand!  Also, check out my interview with Steve from a few weeks back to learn more.

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Also, if you’d like to guest blog on Gina Fava’s Blog, please contact me via my website

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Welcoming Connection

Writers seek to relate to readers with every piece of writing that we create.  We also associate with other writers for camaraderie, information, and empathy.  We crave connection, the essence of community.

Today, I invite you to connect with me.

Welcome, officially.

The purpose of this blog is all about skeletal recomposition:  I add flesh to bare bone.  That is, as a thriller  writer, I regularly post information and then categorize it according to some of the typical elements of a thriller novel.  Let me flesh out the categories for you:

  • HEART (Characters):  Brings the Story to Life
  • SPINE (Plot/Scenes/Structure):  What Holds the Story Together and Moves It Along
  • SKULL (Style/Voice/Theme):  Getting Inside the Reader’s Head
  • FEMURS (Setting/Description):  Legs to Stand On
  • BLOOD (Spattered Information):  Miscellaneous Posts
  • SKELETAL REMAINS…OF THE DAY:  Book and Movie Reviews

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A little bit about Gina Fava, and why I leap at every connection:

Born 20 minutes from the Peace Bridge that connects Canada with Buffalo, NY, and residing somewhere between the Boston Zakim and the Cape Cod Sagamore, I attribute my writing philosophy to taking the plunge at every opportunity.

At 9, I stood with my dad on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.  He pointed to a rainbow and told me to “dream farther than the end of it”. I took the leap and filled three journals about it.  I’ve never stopped writing, or dreaming.

Later, the young man who’d rescued me from a bomb threat to our university in Rome asked me to marry him under the Bridge of Sighs after braving Venice’s Grand Canal, inspiring my suspense-driven novels and short stories, and many thrilling years of marriage.

My bios at Twitter (@ginafava) and Facebook both read:  Gina Fava, Writer of cliffhangers.  Bridge jumper.  Now you know why. I hope you’ll connect with me there, too.

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THE RACE

Connecting with Readers

I’ve recently embarked on a journey toward the publication of my two novels.

The first is a thriller, entitled THE RACE, about car-racing covert agent Devlin Luccesi, who must save Rome from annihilation and rescue his young son from an elusive international criminal and his race of followers.

THE SCULPTOR

The second novel, entitled THE SCULPTOR, is a suspense novel in which Mara Silvestri is the only woman who can stop the Sculptor from murdering Rome’s female grad students, and the one woman he truly covets for his collection.

Please take a few minutes to explore my website at www.GinaFava.com.  I hope you’ll find something that grabs you, perhaps a novel synopsis, or one of the many photos that inspired my novels, maybe a short story, or a link to another great resource that resonates with you.

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Connecting with Writers

Please take note of my blogroll.  Each one represents a part of my community, and they all truly mean a lot to me, personally and professionally.

A) Initiation Blogs

These blogs initiated me into the industry.  I still turn to them when I need succinct, sometimes brutal, always honest, never shy advice about writing and publishing.

B)  Life Support

I’ve come to rely on these blogs for great lessons in craft, or just plain old positive energy.

C)  Colleagues-in-Arms

The people who write these blogs are those authors who’ve gone above and beyond the call.  They’ve been there to kick me into gear or pat me on the back, with a post, a message, a tweet, a coffee, or a phone call, when I truly needed it.

To all of the writers listed above, I am truly grateful.  Also, not a day goes by that I’m not pleasantly surprised by a newly discovered blog, one that tickles my phalanges or inspires murderous thoughts (in a good way, I’m a thriller writer!), so be sure to check back for new ones that might pop up on my blogroll in the future.  It might just be yours.

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Coming Soon

Getting back to skeletal recomposition, consider these juicy bones to chew on in future posts:

  • Chernobyl, 25 years later
  • F1 Racing in America, professional and amateur tracks
  • Household weaponry
  • Using international slang to spice up dialogue
  • Fava bean recipes
  • Italian museums, churches, and artwork that are often overlooked
  • Reviews of great thrillers, that just might be yours
  • And many more…

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Thank you for reading this blog.  I invite you to link up with me, and the rest of the writing community, at our usual haunts.  We’d love to connect with you.  Do you have a favorite blog you’d like to recommend?

A Thriller Audiobook That Hits You Like Bleach

It’s audiobook month, and I must recommend Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants.  I implore you, vigilant reader, do not read the written word this time, but rather listen to the thriller master’s symphony of words via audiobook.

The first novel in Follett’s ‘Century’ trilogy, Fall of Giants, which debuted at #1 on The New York Times’ hardcover fiction bestseller list in 2010, follows the destinies of five interrelated families – one American, one Russian, one German, one English and one Welsh – through the First World War and the Russian Revolution.  Intense, fast-paced, rich in detail, mood, and setting, the novel traps you inside the web that these families intricately weave.

The lilt and cadence of every dialect and accent will transport you, whether to Wales, or to Buffalo, NY, or to the battlefields of Russia, or onward. This historical thriller audiobook hits you like bleach!  (After falling in love with the sing-song Welsh dialect, I couldn’t help but seek out some Welsh slang:  “hits you like bleach” means “stimulates your senses.”)

Hurry, because the second installment in the trilogy is due out in September.  Entitled, Winter of the World , the second book thrusts Follett’s five original families and their offspring into the intense drama of the Third Reich, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War. Again, stick with the audiobook.

A best-selling author and a true master of suspense, Ken Follett, has been cranking out mega lush thrillers for decades, like Eye of the Needle, Code to Zero, and The Pillars of the Earth (also a TV mini-series), among many others.  Check out his website for a list of books, as well as excerpts and video clips.  Ken Follett аффтар жжот. (Russian for “the author rules!”)

Why not check out Follett’s “Masterclass” for lessons on outlining, researching, and writing your own novel, as well as tips for publishing it.  If you’ve always had an idea for your own thriller, it couldn’t hurt to be schooled by a master.

Any suggestions for favorite audiobooks?  Was it the author’s words or the performance that made it so great?  I’d love to hear what you think!