Writing Formidable Women - OryCon 33


Writing Formidable Women
Karen Zinger, M.K. Hobson, Steve Perry, Victoria Blake, Scott (Dark Horse Comics) - worked with Joss Whedon on Buffy stuff.
  • What do we call formidable? How do we apply that to fiction? How are women different than men in skirts?
  • Blake: My single criteria is if the woman wants something other than to please someone else.
  • Scott: Mike [...] writes his female characters pretty much the same way he writes his male characters. They are just doing their jobs.
    • With one of the characters, recently did a story about their childhood, in that treated them somewhat differently.
    • In Buffy, it’s more that we wrote the men to be more like women.
  • Hobson: depends on genre. In military fiction, we are writing female characters to be masculine. There isn’t room in that genre to explore the other sides of the character.
    • So as a writer, we can make room for the character to do that. To explore their conflict over fitting into that world. To explore what they are giving up to do it. Not necessarily to show them baking a cake.
  • Azinger: I consider anything that a woman does to gain, keep, and wield power, they have a broad palette of ways to do it: by swords, by sexuality, by guile, etc.
  • Perry: There is a physicality that you have to take into account. If you have a 5’2’ woman wade into a room of bikers, she’d not going to fight them all and win. If she goes up against another martial artist, he will have a height, weight, and strength advantage over her. This stuff has to be taken into account.
  • Hobson: Does the woman have a discussion with another woman in the book that doesn’t revolve around a guy?
  • Blake says that if the only function of someone is to take care of the kids, taking care of a sick parent, or be pleasing (even in a way that isn’t sexual or sexualized), that’s not going to make a formidable character.
  • Scott: If you put a lot of T&A in there, it’s going to turn off women readers, regardless of.
    • when D.C. comics recently relaunched - 52 #1 issues in the month of september. They oversexualized Catwoman and Redhood, and there was a huge reaction from the overgrowing woman readership, and they freaked out when they saw these woman characters.
  • What do you considered a formidable woman character?
    • Blake: I am not looking for a woman to kick ass. I am looking for someone who is in pursuit of their goals.
    • Hobson: I think you can still be in service and be formidable. The whole core of Buddhism is that you are supposed to be in service to others. To me, it is somebody who has integrity and courage. They are true to themselves. They are not subsuming themselves to anyone else.
    • Scott: I write action adventure. So the nature of it is to have people who kick ass.
    • Blake: I am talking about an active character vs a passive character.
    • Azinger: Someone who has a goal and progresses to the goal or makes a difference in the world.
  • A protagonist overcomes obstacles to reach goals. This is the core of any story.
  • Comment from audience: the pleasing thing is an adaptive behavior of woman across cultures and history that they needed to do that in order to survive.
    • A strong woman today in Afghanistan will be murdered.
  • Writing formidable woman is more complex than writing formidable men because of these limitations.
  • A 5’2” woman will find a way to overcome the situation other than direct action. 
  • Azinger: It pisses me off when a woman starts out formidable, and then she turns into a wimp. This happens in Lord of the Rings. How can the writers create a great female character and then flip a switch and turn her into a wimp. It is so disappointing to me.
  • Hobson: Let’s talk about T&A and sexuality. 
    • I think there’s a difference between female characters that are sexual and ones that are over-sexualized.
    • There are men who want to see that and there are women who want to present themselves in that way.
    • Scott:
      • Someday i want to figure out how to do a Vampirella character that has integrity.
      • If you write men one way and women another way, then you have a problem. If the women are there only for the sexuality you have a problem.
    • Azinger: To me it’s all part of the palette that’s available, and you can use it all. You can use it badly or well. You can’t look at how woman gain, keep, and wield power without doing it.
      • But to me, what’s missing is the gray-haired characters.
      • Scott: It’s great when you can mess with expectations.
  • Blake: [To the panel] Do you feel a responsibility to write formidable female characters?
    • Hobson: I have a 13 year old daughter, of course.
    • Azinger: Absolutely. I write to overcome stereotypes and prejudices. 
    • Scott: I feel a responsibility to donate to charities. I feel like writing formidable female characters is a responsibility to tell the truth.
    • Perry: I am writing for my readership. I want to sell books. The first and only sin in writing books is if it isn’t entertaining. So anything in there has to be snuck in in such a way that it’s not a lesson, it’s part of the entertainment. 
      • It’s all part of who we are. Short, fat, young, old, - it has to represent everywhere.
  • Discussion of Sarah Conner in Terminator 2:
    • Perry: She’s cartoonish.
    • Scott: She was a defining moment in genre fiction. There was nothing like her before. I believe female fans and male fans ate that up.
  • Hobson: It’s a trope to put a woman in a man’s world, and make her pass for a man. It would be an interesting thought exercise to put a man in a woman’s world.
    • Scott: And not just to treat it as a comedy, which is the first thing that comes to mind:
    • Perry: I was a male nurse, and that is a case where you have a man in a women’s world.
Post a Comment