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Career changing Publishing

Writing Needs Editing Part 1

Editing Part 1

What’s this All About? Editing in a Nutshell

Check out editing part 1. If you don’t do any editing, don’t expect people to read your work.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Editing Tips

Unless you normally write six-word horror stories, you are going to need an editor. Everybody needs this service. However, you should edit your work before handing it over to a professional. In particular, if you are just coming off NaNoWriMo, you need to trim the fat. Because we all pad in order to make word count for NaNoWriMo. Don’t be ashamed of this! And a lot of it might turn out to be the good kind of fat. In particular, if it helps you introduce a new and interesting character, or set a new scene, or transition a story line properly, it can be terrific. But you still need to go through it with a fine-toothed comb. Everybody needs to do this. And there are no exceptions.

Adding Words

Sometimes, you actually add words in order to edit a story. And that is perfectly fine. If a description was rushed, or a scene feels forced, you may need to add words. In particular, if you wrote your story with placeholders such as: fix this later or add transition here, you must address those problems!

Getting Started

Are you wondering why this post was not added in November? It’s because editing requires some ‘leave it alone’ time. Frankly, this is too early. Because I highly recommend leaving your work for a full month before tackling editing. Just, find something else to do during the month of December. Between the holidays and the end of the quarter and the end of the tax year (and up here in New England, you might get some snow to shovel), I’m sure you can think of something.

Okay, Now We’ll Really Get Started With Editing Part 1

So you’ve set your work aside for a month. Your first job is to read your manuscript through from start to finish. Want to take notes? Sure. Or not. This is your show. But read all 50,000 or 100,000 or whatever words.

In the next post, I’ll show you where to go from here.

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Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Childhood

Getting Inspiration from Childhood

Childhood

Ah, childhood. What is it about our younger years that gives us such feelings of nostalgia? Is it because things were so much newer then? Or were they simpler? We had fewer responsibilities.

Yet plenty of people don’t have lives like that. For those who lost a parent, or were abused, attaining the age of majority must have come as a relief.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll call a person an adult on their eighteenth birthday. It’s just easier that way.

School Days

Education is a somewhat separate topic and is addressed elsewhere on this blog. So let’s, instead, talk about the other trappings of being children.

A Lack of Impulse Control

Why don’t we let young children drive? It’s not just because they can’t reach the pedals. Rather, it’s really because they tend to lack impulse control. Patience is more than a virtue; it’s a mark of maturity. While people mature at different rates, and there are some kids who are very patient, the child population tends, as a whole, to be a lot more impulsive.

While this means triggers are pulled more often, and faster (and sometimes quite literally), it also means younger people are more likely to take chances. They aren’t as set in their ways, and they are not wearing golden handcuffs.

Taking it all too hard

Passions can often run hot and hard for minors. Hormones are directly responsible for some of this. An overall lack of impulse control may also be causing it. Or maybe it’s due to many young people not having too many good bases of comparison. Whatever it is, first loves and first losses hit very hard.

Flexibility

Some of this is certainly physical. We tend to be in better shape. Our joints are younger. And we might be thinner, even if that just means we haven’t yet had the chance to eat all of the things which are going to make and keep us fatter later in life.

However, flexibility also goes to being able to bounce back more quickly. So maybe the term is actually resilience. None of our experiences or relationships has terribly long track records. Even if we fall in love with a toddler playmate, it’s still not a lot of time when compared to couples who have been together for several decades. While we might flit by and not know what we’ve got till it’s gone, we are still able to (usually) move on.

Of course there are exceptions. And there are plenty of depressed teenagers out there. I am not discounting their experiences!

Takeaways

Nondepressed teenagers can often be rather resilient. Impulse control generally takes longer to develop, so adjust your characters accordingly. Younger people can also, at times, take things a lot harder than more mature folks do. Again, adjust your character traits accordingly. As for very young children, read up on everything from child care theories to the development of the brain, in order to really nail it. And not every little kid lisps. Please, please bury that cliché once and for all.

Thank you.

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Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Friendship

Grab Some Inspiration from Friendship

Friendship

Friendship is as inspiring as the memory of old love affairs. Our friends can help us write. Sometimes it’s because of something we did together. And sometimes it’s because we want to honor them.

Names

For stories which need a lot of names, why not ask your friends whether they want their names used? I’ve come up to people and asked, “Can I kill you in my novel?” People usually love this. Bonus – when you write about them or you publish, or if you post a quote, be sure to tag them. Because your best friend from sixth grade will probably be thrilled (but ask, in case they aren’t).

And if you’re going to make a friend a villain, be particularly careful about asking permission. A suggestion: for truly villainous villains (e. g. sadists and despots), don’t use friends’ names. For my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel, I needed to populate a space ship with crew members. Some got more screen time (page time, I suppose) than others. Asking whether I could use my friends’ names was the fastest and easiest way to populate the ship.

Furthermore, it paid dividends with social sharing because so many people were tagged.

Friendship Characteristics and Quirks

Why do we love our friends? Is it how they play poker? How they sing? Their love of the same fandom we love? Then find a way to adapt these details and put them in your work. It can be something as simple as a man stroking his mustache or a woman’s Kentucky accent. Maybe your friends collect stamps or they run track. All of these are good details.

Of course, don’t spy on your friends and take extensive notes. But you know these people well. You have already observed their teddy bear collections and their overly full makeup drawers. You don’t have to spy.

Scenes Inspired by Friendship

Did you and your friend meet in some interesting manner? Did you bond over something funny? Then ask, can I adapt this for my novel? And I say ask – don’t assume. Because some people may feel that’s overly private.

Takeaways

Be respectful, of course. And your friends might not want their memories used for writing fodder. So ask! And if they allow it, do be sure to thank them. The acknowledgements section of your book is a great place for that.

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Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Myths & Legends

Grab Some Inspiration from Myths and Legends

Myths and legends are perhaps the oldest stories we humans tell each other. They go back to before human beings were literate. They may go back to before agriculture, which would make them some six to ten thousand years old. Yeah, legends are that old.

Myths

We might, at least here in the west, think of Greek and Roman mythologies before we consider others. Or maybe we do not know any others. But there are plenty! However, rather than getting into specific culture’s mythologies, I would instead suggest considering certain ancient tropes.

Flood Myths

Floods make for great storytelling. This is because they are a kind of ancient people’s disaster movie. The effects are legitimately frightening and off the scale. Furthermore, most of us have experienced some species of flooding in our lives, even if it was just water rising in a creek and pooling around our ankles.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Getting inspiration from myths and legends
Getting inspiration from myths and legends

For a religious group, a flood is also a great way to separate out the righteous (using whatever criteria the group so desires) from the wicked. The best people can be quite literally be saved and the evil people can be swept away.

It is also far less messy than a fire or earthquake would be (although being swallowed up by the earth is another option when it comes to the fate of the wicked). There is nothing to clean up.

Legendary Battles

The fall of Troy makes for a great story. Can it inspire? Of course. Between the death scenes, Helen’s love affair and then her fall from grace, and the Trojan Horse itself, the story is fascinating reading.

Another (probably) mythological battle is Joshua’s invasion of Jericho. The story includes the image of a wanton woman (Rahab, who was most likely intended to be a prostitute) offering aid and comfort to the enemy’s spies, to the walls falling from trumpet blasts and not traditional attacks.

Takeaways for Myths and Legends and Writing Inspiration

Without getting into faith or religion (which will be handled in a different post), it is perfectly legitimate to use myths for writing. They are, after all, within the public domain.

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Career changing

Libraries—How to Get Your Book into Them

Libraries

Getting into Libraries

Libraries are the unsung heroes of the American (and other countries’) educational system. They are where people look for jobs, listen to lectures, or teach themselves all sorts of things.

They are also a marvelous home for your newly-published book.

Connections

First of all, you probably can’t just write to or visit every library in creation. While writing is something of a numbers game, it won’t do you much good to just launch your book at all the libraries out there. You need to have a plan.

The best and easiest plan is to go with a library where you have some sort of a connection. Did you grow up in Cleveland, go to college in Dallas, and are now settled in St. Louis? Then try your local library from when you were growing up. Don’t try every single Ohio or even Cleveland library. The same is true of Dallas, plus you may want to try your alma mater. For St. Louis, do yourself a favor and get a library card before you even start. They want to know you, at least a little bit. So go and let them at least know that much about you.

The Approach

I’m going to give you three approaches.

With the Book

Take your book with you, in a purse or tote bag or backpack. Ask to speak to whoever is in charge of acquisitions. Go to them, book in hand, and explain how you are related to the library. E. g. “I grew up down the street, on Parkland Road.” or “I just got a card three months ago.”

Now explain what you’re doing. “I’m a first-time author. This is my book. It’s about ____.

At minimum, tell them the genre. I find it’s helpful to tell them either where it’s shelved elsewhere (is it science fiction or fantasy, for example). Also tell them whether the work has any triggers or heavy sex or violence scenes. Mention if it is LGBT-friendly. This isn’t just a courtesy to help keep small children from taking out works with explicit sex scenes. It also helps the library decide how they are going to display the work and what they are going to say if anyone asks them about it.

Then give them the book. Yes, just hand it over. Make sure it’s a perfect new copy. Do not give them a signed copy. Why not? Because those can potentially be stolen. In addition, the library has to think ahead. Your book will probably end up in their book sale, and maybe even in less than a year. A pristine copy is easier for them to sell.

Without the Book

No book? No problem! Come over with a business card instead. Again, ask to speak with whoever is in charge of acquisitions. Explain who you are and what your book is about. Hand over your business card. And if you’ve got the ISBN handy, then write it on the back. But also get their address of where you can send the work. Don’t make them ask for it. You have to do all the legwork here.

On the Phone

This one is similar to when you go in but don’t have a copy of the book with you. Again, ask to speak to whoever is in charge of acquisitions, and explain about your work. Make it clear the book is free to them. Then ask for their shipping address, and whose name should it be addressed to. And the best part about this approach (or if you need to mail the book for any reason) is, you can just have Amazon ship it to them and send it as a gift.

What do You Want in Return From Libraries?

Pictures. Yes, really! Tell them you will do this if they take pictures of your book on their shelves and send the images to you. Explain you are going to use them in your marketing campaign. And then do so, making sure to thank them profusely and link back to any libraries which help you out.

Libraries: Takeaways

You just sold another book! Never mind that it was to yourself. You still sold one, and that counts for Amazon’s rankings system. Plus your book now is in a position to be seen by others. And the librarian knows your title. Finally, I have personally found talking to librarians to be easy. Because you’re not really selling. Instead, you’re giving them a donation. Libraries want authors to succeed.

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Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Employment

Getting Inspiration from Employment

Adventures in Career Changing Getting inspiration from employment
Adventures in Career Changing Getting inspiration from employment

Working Stiffs

Employment colors most people’s lives (or the lack of a job). And whether your job is a creative one, or has to do with business, athletics, science, the Internet, or anything else, it can help propel your creative spirit to new heights.

Employment as Metaphor

So let’s say your characters are on a spaceship deep in the Andromeda Galaxy. Hence the time frame, pretty obviously, is the deep future. Yet even if you feel we’ll all be part-cyborg pod people, you can still see your current position (or a past one) as a kind of metaphor. Because even your heroes in space suits might become peeved if someone else uses their favorite ray gun. Or maybe they have a conflict over a meal – even if that meal is an alien carcass or a mess of nutrition pills. Since it’s your show and your universe, why not show someone who resents the person in charge?

Repetitive or Unpleasant Work

For even the most exciting and glamorous occupations, there can often be a great deal of repetitive work. Actors have to memorize lines or go to cattle call auditions or autograph stacks and stacks of head shots. Models have to travel a lot and miss their families, and they wait around a lot at photo shoots. And singers get colds. In addition, lawyers have to answer emails and phone calls and travel to court. Furthermore, doctors – even world class ones – sometimes deal with less than cooperative patients. And politicians deal with the polls and the press.

Most noteworthy, you’re a writer. So you know all about artist’s block.

Hence consider what you do, over and over again, at work. Maybe it’s running database queries. Or filing papers. Maybe you fill out tax forms or dig holes to embed fence posts or you clean animal cages or perform oil changes.

Now, please keep in mind, I want you to stay safe at all times! However, doing a repetitive task can sometimes lead to your mind wandering. So why not let it wander to and then linger on your writing? Maybe you can envision one of your characters performing your repetitive task. Never mind if the time frame is wrong; this is just an exercise. And then start thinking about other tasks your character could be performing. While writing about a repetitive task might not make it into the final cut of your work, it could give you insights into your character’s personality and motivations.

Maybe your character makes mistakes. Or maybe they’re perfect at executing the task. In addition, some character might rebel or be repulsed by your task. So, can you extrapolate that to your work and your universe? Maybe you can.

Takeaways

Whether you’re an accountant or an astronaut, you might be able to use your employment as a vehicle for writing inspiration.

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Inspiration Writing

Getting Inspiration from the Military

Let’s Look at the Military for Writing Inspiration

Inspiration is all around. And so it should come as no great shock that the military can be another source from which to draw.

So let’s look at military service in depth.

Basic Training on the Military

Probably the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s not all a monolith. And it’s not all about war and wartime.

In the United States, the main branches are the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. The newest addition is the Space Force.

In addition, consider that there are very big differences between people who are drafted versus volunteers. There are folks who only stay for their single tour. And there are others who reup and become career soldiers.

Yet another type is people who attend military training schools.

It’s a Job

Yep, it’s a job. It has hours, duty rosters, supervisors, and training. The TV show M*A*S*H shows the bureaucracy of the military. Watch the characters Radar O’Reilly and then Max Klinger and see all the forms they fill out.

Another good example of military bureaucracy is in the book Catch-22. In both instances, soldiers are drowning in paperwork.

And don’t forget that the military has courts, judges, and lawyers. The Judge Advocate General’s Corps can bring a legal twist to any stories about the military.

Starting with the Military

Volunteers may want to serve their country. Or they may want to go kill the enemy if we’re at war or are about to be. Or they may just want the benefits. These days, joining the military comes with major perks. It can be the ticket out of poverty for many.

But draftees, on the other hand, may resent being forced to serve. They might feel their lives have been interrupted, or they don’t want to risk themselves. In particular, if to them it feels like an unjust conflict, they could end up becoming downright dangerous.

For both types of soldier, basic training is a must. It can be very indoctrinating, turning reluctant law-abiding folks into killing machines.

Military Colleges, Academies, and Schools

There are dozens of schools for soldiers and sailors. They go from Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont to the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. Military prep schools offer something of the experience to high schools. Plus many universities and colleges—otherwise unaffiliated with the military—have a chapter of the ROTC on campus or nearby.

Recruiting

Recruiters promise civilians a lot. And sometimes they deliver. But during the war in Afghanistan in particular, there were a number of soldiers who hadn’t quite expected to have to fight when the only thing they were in the military for was the free education.

In addition, there’s been some spoofing of the recruitment process, in films such as Stripes.

The Front… and the Back

So the front, of course, is where the real action is. However, in this, the age of nuclear bombs, the front might just be everywhere. In addition, with the advent of drone warfare, there may not be an actual front. At least, not one that any human beings actually go to.

Contrast this with the fighting in the Somme during the first world war. Or Pickett’s Charge. But while both of those were happening, there were still soldiers who were nowhere near the fighting.

Casualties

Without getting into medical care, of course members of the military can be hurt or even killed. And sometimes the wounds are psychological, where a veteran suffers from PTSD. For a good portrayal of a veteran with PTSD, check out Downton Abbey episode two of the second season, where new valet Lang has what at the time they called ‘shell shock’.

There’s also the matter of self-inflicted injuries so as to escape the front. Again, Downton Abbey delivers; this time it’s Thomas the butler raising his hand in a trench to have it shattered so he can come home. This is episode one of the second season.

Military Deserters

Every war has soldiers who get sick of the fighting and just plain go AWOL. Changing sides and betraying your country can be great fodder for drama, as can the reaction of the folks back home.

Conduct Unbecoming and Court Martials

The court martial is a particularly good source of drama. A Few Good Men makes it the centerpiece of the film. So there’s even a court martial in the original Star Trek series.

Discharge

Getting out can mean an honorable discharge. But discharges can also be dishonorable. Soldiers get out because the war ends, or their enlistment period does. They may get out because of injuries making it impossible for them to fight. Older career soldiers and sailors can retire.

Or you can be kicked out essentially. A dishonorable discharge may be rendered only by conviction at a general court-martial for very serious offenses (e.g., treason, espionage, desertion, sexual assault, or murder) that call for dishonorable discharge as part of the sentence.

There are also general discharges and bad conduct discharges.

Military Veterans

One role for veterans in real life can be attempt to correct a less than honorable discharge. Veterans might also march in parades or speak at schools—and not necessarily for recruitment purposes. Plus there are veterans with permanent injuries. The VA administration exists to help with their transition to civilian life, but the VA is chronically underfunded.

As a result, there are homeless veterans, and vets who need medical care but aren’t getting it.

Military Inspiration: Takeaways

This barely scratches the surface when it comes to all the ways you can turn to the military for writing inspiration.

Dismissed!

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Writing

Snowflake Novel Outlining Method Revisited

Snowflake Novel Outlining Method Revisited

Snowflake is but one method for outlining a novel. It’s not the only kind, and your methodology is probably best for you. But this is what I do.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | SnowflakeI do a variation on snowflake. Do this on paper. I’ve never been able to do it on a screen and I think paper gives some semi-permanent feelings. But if you can do it on a screen, then have at it.

The First Snowflake Falls: Getting Started

1) Start with a concept. Let’s say the concept is that the world has run out of pumpkin spice.

2) Name a main-ish character (this can always be changed). So let’s go with a sapient chipmunk.

3) Write the main character’s name in the center of a page and circle it.

4) Write the concept down as well, maybe at the top of the page and circle it.

The Next Snowflake Will Fall: Making Connections

5) Draw 3 lines between them, but fewer if it’s a short story, more if it’s meant to be a series.

6) Along those lines, write possible connections. But don’t worry about them sounding stupid. Your sapient chipmunk might be hoarding it (and thereby is the villain). Another option is they might be searching for it as some sort of chipmunk holy quest. Or they might stumble upon it by accident. It could be that they might have to pay it as ransom to the mean squirrel which kidnapped their baby chipmunks, whatever.

7) So now you’ve got more characters and more scene concepts.

Look, Another Snowflake: Supporting Characters

8) New page of paper. Same name in the center, circled. Now surround it with the names or at least descriptions of the other characters you came up with. In this case, the mean squirrel, whoever sent the chipmunk on the quest, whoever hid the pumpkin spice treasure our heroine stumbles over, the kidnapper, etc.

9) Draw connecting lines to the main character and, as before, write along those lines what the connections are. And do this even if you already have them written elsewhere. Otherwise, you’re going back and forth between pages, which is a pain.

Flurries: Supporting Scenes

10) Third sheet of paper: do the same with the concept and possible scenes. So these are scenes like the dramatic kidnapping, receiving the ransom note, a news story about the spice theft, the stumbling, etc.

More Flurries: Create Order (for the Scenes)

11) Fourth sheet of paper: take your scenes and put them in as coherent an order as you can and number them accordingly. Plus this can be changed. You’re just getting a rough idea here. So #1 kidnapper makes plans. And #2 spice is stolen; #3 meet the chipmunks, etc. Maybe you need to go back earlier to when the kidnapper first thought of the idea of kidnapping – that’s scene #0. Hence maybe you want the news story between #2 and #3 – then rename it #2a and move on.

Snow Showers: Moving Onto Your Computer

12) Transcribe the scenes into a word processing document. I use Word; some people like Scrivener or Google docs, etc. In addition, continue to reorder the scenes and see where the filler and the exposition go.

13) Transcribe the character types and any names you’ve got. First of all, you’ve got to get across that the chipmunk heroine is sapient. So does she have an amazing backstory? Sketch it out. Because it may or may not end up in the book. Sometimes a backstory doesn’t need to be explicitly stated, but if you know your chipmunk was an escapee from a science lab, that might inform how you write her.

Just because you researched or thought of something, does not mean it absolutely must end up on the page.

The Blizzard: Assign Tasks

14) Time to figure out who does what. Hence maybe the crow delivers the ransom note, or the wolf acts as the squirrel’s henchman and does the actual dirty work of kidnapping.

15) Keep refining and go back to the paper if you need to.

** Note: a lot of people who don’t like outlines feel they have to show every single little thing planned out. But this does not have to be true. Because all you really need is a general idea for a scene, like chipmunk babies are kidnapped, pumpkin spice shortage reported in the news, etc. Just know what your scenes’ purposes are.

Post-Storm Clean-Up: Do You Really Need That Scene or Character?

A scene should have one of two purposes (it can have both):

1) Develop characters (particularly the main character) or

2) Advance the plot.

So any scenes which do neither get scuttled or altered.

Lather, rinse, repeat. This is my version of the snowflake method. But it’s not the only way to write a snowflake novel.

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Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Education

Getting Inspiration from Education

A Vital Component of Life is Education

Education is of course something anyone in a wealthier country, who is over than the age of five, has in common with everyone else.

But what does it have to do with writing?

The Process

Consider the process you go through, and even the rituals which accompany schooling. You get up in the morning. Then you often eat something and you usually leave the premises, although not always. You read a lot, and answer questions. Plus you might perform mathematical operations. Some of these tasks may be simple. Others may be grindingly difficult.

Then at some point you knock off for the day. You might have assigned homework. And then you go to sleep so that you can do it all over again. It’s a little different if you’re homeschooled. But a lot of the activities are the same.

The Subjects

After primary classes, you start to see variations. French instead of Spanish. Physics instead of advanced Biology. College-bound students tend to track one way. Those who are going to stop with a High School diploma or GED tend to track another.

Interactions

There are some interactions with homeschooling, but not as many as when you leave your domicile and go to a school. There may be bullying. Students may self-divide into cliques. Some join clubs or teams. Or even go to work.

There may be divisions made due to athletic ability. Or academic ability. Another group might be artists, or musicians. Some students know what they want to study. E. g. they know what they want to be when they ‘grow up’. Others take longer to find themselves.

And, of course, don’t forget students who get pregnant, or marry, or drop out—perhaps all three.

Education, Inspiration, and Takeaways

If your characters are in school, what is it like? Both Harry Potter and The Lord of the Flies allude to scholastic pursuits. Are your characters failing? Teacher’s pets? In trouble? Coasting? Ready to drop out because they think it’s pointless?

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Career changing Publishing

Bechdel Test in Writing

A Look at the Bechdel Test

You may have heard the term—Bechdel test—but what the heck is it?

What is the Bechdel test?

The Bechdel test is best defined by the Bechdel site:

… sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel‘s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. For a nice video introduction to the subject please check out The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies on feministfrequency.com.

Okay, But What Does it Really Mean?

Films have shortchanged women for decades. How so? It’s less in the area of leads versus supporting and bit players.

If a female main character is hurt, and the female doctor character treating her has a nametag, and they discuss the main characters injuries, voila! The film passes the Bechdel test. Make that throwaway character male, and the opportunity is lost.

The test is not necessary for cinema, and it is certainly not necessary for prose. However, it’s still a helpful gauge.

Walking the Walk

Consider the following. These are bits of my prose. These are the points where my first three NaNoWriMo novels passed. First off is a sentence from Untrustworthy, and it is the first dialogue spoken. It is in the first chapter, page 1.

“Good morning, Ixalla,” Tathrelle said…

And the second one is from The Obolonk Murders. It is in the first chapter, page 3. Selkhet (who is a female robot) is speaking to the main character, Peri Martin.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” said Selkhet…

Finally, the third is from The Enigman Cave. It is in the first chapter, page 3. The speaker is the main character, Mariana Shapiro.

“Yeah, Astrid? Can you patch me through to Jazzie and Trixie?”

The Point of the Bechdel Test

I don’t pretend to always write stellar prose. Yet all three of these works pass the test. And all they do so within chapter one. Rather than making the reader dig, I lay it all out quickly.

For other writers, though, it may be more difficult. Lewis Carroll takes longer to bring Alice together with someone named. And even then, the name is ‘The Red Queen’. But does that count? Beyond the name question, does it count because Alice is a child and therefore probably would not be talking about men?

And what happens if the piece is about lesbians? If they discuss the objects of their affections, does it count?

The Bar is Set Low

Talk about setting a low bar! The two women don’t need to be strong. They do not need to be intelligent. A film or book can pass the test if two named women discuss crocheting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

However, my point is, passing the test doesn’t automatically turn anyone smart. Or kick ass. Or anything else. Instead, it just means two named female characters spoke, however briefly. And their subject, however briefly, was not a man.

But hey, it’s something. And it’s necessary. Good lord, is it ever. Because the last thing we need in the indy writing community is people writing about “Girl 4”.

Return to Prose

Let’s go back to my three examples. The speakers in Untrustworthy are married to each other. The ones in The Obolonk Murders and The Enigman Cave are colleagues. While Selkhet is subordinate to Peri, and Astrid is to Mariana, they are still addressed respectfully. Especially relevant, the interactions are professional ones. However, Mariana is more informal than Selkhet.

Do the interactions have to be meaningful? Not really. Ixalla and Tathrelle could be beating each other for all the reader knows. At least, given the one sentence, above. Maybe Peri smashes Selkhet to bits right after the above statement. Maybe Mariana fires Astrid.

So the test doesn’t ‘fix’ any of that. It doesn’t guarantee heroic characters. It just guarantees names and the power of speech. And they, at least one time, don’t talk about a man.

More Issues with the Bechdel Test

The test is imperfect. It’s very hard to pass it when writing historical fiction. Of course female characters in the past could have names. They could speak of something other than men. But the time and place dictate something else.

In the 1880s (for example), men drive most of the action outside the home. That’s not sexism; it’s reality. Still, since Scarlett O’Hara and Prissy discuss Melanie Hamilton Wilkes’s baby, then yes, Gone With the Wind passes. So it’s not impossible. It’s just tougher.

Takeaways

Creating well-realized female characters means naming them. It means having them speak. And it also means giving them more than one subject.

After all, when was the last time you thought a male character should only be discussing relationships? When was the last time you thought he shouldn’t have a name (unless the character is truly minor, seen for a paragraph or two and no more)? And when was the last time you thought it was okay—barring any specific all-distaff settings like sororities or women’s colleges—to not see more than one of them in a piece?

If any of those are a problem for you, then you know what the Bechdel test is really about. And you know your work should easily pass it without having to tie itself in knots.