Every time you see someone’s bright-and-shiny, remember: They have their own crappy truths too. Of course they do. And every time you see your own crappy truth and feel despair and think, ‘Is this my life?’, remember: It’s not. Everyone’s got a bright-and-shiny, even if it’s hard to find sometimes.
Hey, everyone! I wrote a speech for my AP American Literature class this year and I was really proud of it, and I would be really thankful if you guys (especially @thegeekyblonde because I quote her) would take a look at it and tell me what you think. Thanks!
Edgar Allan Poe said “The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world”. While to many this sounds like an odd, yet charming, artistic statement, in actuality it was made out of fear and self defense. Like most men in the 19th century, Poe held sexist views and often mocked successful, professional women, especially female authors claiming their writing was mediocre at best, because he felt threatened by their work. Poe had very few lasting female figures in his life; his mother died when he was two, and his wife died at the age of twenty-five. This resulted in Poe becoming increasingly violent in his poems, often killing off female characters, if they can be called characters; they’re more of symbols than anything else. However, I have to say, if Annabelle Lee was written by Virginia Clemm, Poe’s wife whom the poem was written about, she would not be the one dying, as she was often troubled by Poe’s alcoholism and frequent affairs. This literary sexism isn’t exclusively confined to the 19th century; it seeps its way into our time like a poison or a plague slaughtering the female characters in our books, poems, and sonnets claiming that women always represent “innocence” or “purity” and their deaths represent the loss thereof, and while I appreciate the deep thought, sometimes it’s nice to have a character survive long enough to become developed, or better yet, relatable. Of course she cant be too relatable; God forbid she have character flaws, because we all know a bossy woman is a brat while a bossy man is assertive and knows how to take charge. As said by poet, Rhiannon McGavin “the violence of creative men is more of a burning library than a closed book”. Yet again, this literary sexism isn’t detained inside our books; it leaks out infecting our female authors.
I have seen the argument time and time again, “if female writers want to be recognized like their male counterparts, then they should write about something important”. But have we not already? Was Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) or Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) not good enough? Did Laura Hillenbrand (Unbroken), Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God), or J.K. Rowling (the Harry Potter series) not prove themselves to you? And on top of all of this, there are scores and scores of women we’ve never even heard of that so rightfully deserve our acknowledgement: Maxine Hong Kingston, Natalia Ginzburg, Ruthann Robson. After reading these women’s essays and poems, I am sure the world is missing out on a great deal of unbridled wisdom by choosing to turn its eyes from these authors. Few women have been able to resist being thrown from the spotlight of recognition, one of those women is Jane Austen.
When most people hear the name Jane Austen, they automatically think girly romance novels. However, if you harbor this opinion, are you prepared to think the same thing about F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose most renowned novel, The Great Gatsby, is about the build up and eventual downfall of a romantic affair? The reason Jane Austen’s writing is so unique is because she wrote about men the way men write about women. By this I mean, her male characters are written for the sole purpose of romantic interest and really have no other role, while her female characters are allowed to experience different emotions and be flawed. For example, in Austen’s most well known novel, Pride and Prejudice, Charles Bingley, the single man in possession of a large fortune mentioned in the iconic first line of the book, is a static character, meaning he doesn’t change; he stays as happy and oblivious on page 442 as he is on page 1. The eldest Bennet sister, Jane, on the other hand, is a dynamic character; she goes from joy to heartbreak to newly found strength, growing perhaps as the reader grows, allowing for a sense of relation and empathy
In conclusion, it is clear that literary sexism is not dead. In no way am I attempting to condemn male authors, I think Poe was a fantastic writer, I just think some of his ideology should have died with him. According to Princeton University, women spend more time reading than men and read a greater variety of genres. Yet, if this poisonous line of thinking continues, more and more women will be turned away from literature, actively killing it. The only antidote for this calamity is to read. Educate yourself. Read new genres, read essays, read poems, and most importantly read without prejudice, without the notion that a female author’s work will be too emotional or romantic for you. Refuse to carry the weight of the death of literature on your shoulders.
I hate going to look at reviews of women’s fiction books and they all start out with “normally I despise chick lit”
Okay that’s great?? Have a cookie?? I hope you, as a woman, can explain to me why you hate a genre written for and by women and every protagonist is happy in the end and has a good job and sometimes a boyfriend and learns to love herself in a lot of them. Please tell me what you hate about this. Times New Roman. 12 font. Double spaced. I will need it by tomorrow.
Love does that. It makes you feel infinite and invincible, like the whole world is open to you, anything is achievable, and each day will be filled with wonder. Maybe it’s the act of opening yourself up, letting someone else in—or maybe it’s the act of caring so deeply about another person that it expands your heart.
Regardless of the genre that you write in, and the type of main character that you have, it’s likely that your main character is going to have friends. Or allies of some kind, even if they’re not the type of have “friends.”
Writing realistic friendships can be surprisingly tough, though. That’s especially true if you’re writing about a character who’s quite different from yourself. Not everybody has the same needs when it comes to friendships, so the type of friends and friendships your character has may be very different than the type you have in your life.
Your character may be a social butterfly with a wide network of friends. They may be a political figure whose friends are also the people they work with and network with on a regular basis. They may be a loner who only has one or two close friends. You may be writing a cyberpunk story with a character whose only friend is their robot companion.
What’s the First Thing to Think About?
First - what is available to that when it comes to friendships? Not every character is capable of easily making friends - perhaps due to mental illness, or isolation, or other circumstances.
Or, if they can easily make friends or socialize with a lot of people, are they the type to forge deep friendships with these people? Or do they keep people at a distance? Do they “put on a mask” and not show their “true self” to the people they come in contact with? If so, they may know a lot of people but not feel that they have any true or close friends at all.
What is their situation regarding friendships as your story begins?
As your story starts out, think about the people around your character and their social circle. If you are starting them out with a social circle and friends, then you’re going to have to establish their relationship with these friends right out of the gate - which can be a difficult task.
It’s really not enough to just say Character A and Character B are friends and to leave it at that, especially if the friend character is going to play a significant role in the story. This is where a lot of novels in the romance genres and chick lit genres fail. (This isn’t to say I dislike those genres at all. Just that I’ve read a fair few and found this to be an issue.)
We need to see how these characters became friends. More importantly, we need to see why these characters are friends. All too often, friendships come across as fairly unbelievable, especially when characters have conflicting personalities, which leads me to my next point -
Friends Need to Have Reasons to Be Friends
Just as in romantic relationships, friends fulfill needs in each others lives. It’s all well and good to create a character that’s interesting and dynamic, but if that character doesn’t fulfill some role for the main character - provide something for them beyond simply being comic relief, or someone for them to talk to like a brick wall for dialogue, then that character can feel very flat for readers.
Imagine if you will two characters as friends for Character A. Character A is going on a quest to save the kingdom from an evil wizard. She has two companions.
Her first companion is a drunken dwarf. Her second companion is a beautiful elf. The drunken dwarf is revealed over time to have lost his wife to the evil wizard during a raid on his tribe, something which he reveals to her over several conversations with Character A. This helps her to realize the full extent of the evil wizard’s power and motivates her to continue on with her task. Their friendship is also cemented by the fact that she lost her parents to the evil wizard.
The beautiful elf has several conversations with her about good and evil. We learn a lot about his life with his clan, and he’s a well developed character by all accounts. And yet, even though he travels with her through the entire story and they have several conversations, they never really “feel” like friends or companions. He doesn’t fulfill any role for Character A as he doesn’t tell her anything she wouldn’t already know.
Remember - Friends Fight Sometimes
One of the great things about Harry Potter is that J. K. Rowling remembered that friends fight sometimes. It may be a little annoying to read about, but that’s only because it’s a little too real for people who’ve been there. Letting your characters disagree, fight, and get pissed off at each other adds to the realism of their friendship (and also helps them become stronger friends in the long run).
Don’t Be Afraid to End Friendships
I rarely see it happen in fiction, which is surprising. But in real life, sometimes friendships end and people realize they have to part ways. Maybe that’s because you suddenly figure out that being together has become unhealthy or toxic for the two of you, or because other things get in the way and you reach a point where you know you just can’t continue on the way things were.
But it happens. And it could make for some interesting, poignant moments for your characters to deal with, especially if those friendships have made a big impact on their lives up to this point. Just a little something to think about.
Then Carol slipped her arm under her neck, and all the length of their bodies touched fitting as if something had prearranged it. Happiness was like a green vine spreading through her, stretching fine tendrils, bearing flowers through her flesh. She had a vision of a pale white flower, shimmering as if seen in darkness, or through water. Why did people talk of heaven, she wondered.