15.1.11

female characters

Before I started writing multiple viewpoint fiction, I wholeheartedly identified with a notion that there is no such thing as “characters taking over the story”. The characters are figment of my imagination, they do nothing unless I tell them to, without me they don’t exist and if they start taking over it means that I don’t know what I am doing. But since then, things  have changed.
Writing in first person can still produce good fiction, but it is a lot easier to do than try to present the story through the eyes of more than one person.
Recently I learned a lot about viewpoint in writing, and how it can be used to successfully execute the plot, create suspense, build characters and aid the reader in identifying with the character of our choice. So, fair enough, most stories are best advised to present one main point of view, say 70% of the time we are reading through the eyes of Character A, and at times, for various reasons, we see the world through the eyes of Character B and Character C. This gives author the opportunity for multiple subplots, because the viewpoint characters must have their own stories. This answered a lot of my questions on “how to of sub-plotting” which was really helpful, but overview of my ideas so far plunged me into my own neurosis far beyond the insecurity about my abilities as a writer.




I am very much an average reader - a justice-loving person, I hang on to a happy ending to convince myself that there is some goodness in the world left, and while I require an “edge” to every person I am interested in - a dark secret or a tragedy, I need to know that they deserve to (and will be) ok in the end. So where there is tragedy there is survival, where there is vice there is a virtue and so on. But having conceptualised most of my main characters, the most developed ones so far are antagonists, villains or at least - tragic heroes.
The two women I “feel” the most are essentially bad, and another well developed character (with excellent backstory and logical but not immediately apparent connections with other strong characters) is a male villain.
So basically all my favourite characters are “baddies” with a reason to be bad, with a lot of internal struggles that allow for great character development but they are never going to be truly good. Nor are they funny. Even when they go ahead and carry out a sacrifice of a selfless act, it will sooner or later get drowned in the sea of their own failings - sick ambitions, grief, greed, madness. Because such is their nature.
I have tried to approach my heroine 3 times already - twice the result was creation of the two female characters I have already mentioned. Both were in all honesty my “brilliant” ideas for a female lead and then I realised I created monsters. The monsters I am very attached to. One is a mother and a grieving wife, another is a daughter whose femininity was sacrificed by an ambitious father, both embody shadow aspects of our female sides, the reader can sympathise with them but they generally refuse to play along. They hinge the plot very strongly and they are so rich in potential that I have a lot in store for them, but they are not heroines, at least not the ones that readers like to see because they need to root for someone who is convincingly a good person.
By the time I approached my heroine for the third time, I got frightened of how crazy she might turn out this time, so I haven’t really created her yet and that is a bit of a problem. While a lot has already been written about the other two, both when I thought they were heroines and since I accepted they weren’t, my desired heroine exists only as a collection of fragments.
So I thought about my favourite heroines, and then my favourite characters of all time, hoping for some guidance.
All of them are from the movies (some from the movies made after books) because I am essentially a filmophile and it is easier for me to think this way.
MY FAVOURITE FEMALE LEADS:

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The Bride from “Kill Bill” played by Uma Thurman
She embodies the notion of femininity for me - she is strong and viscious in defending her young. The gorgeous visual appeal she has is also very feminine, as well as her humour, giving into her emotions sometimes and trying to get along with everyone especially in tense situations. There are so many beautifully feminine scenes, such as the one where she convinces a female assassin to let her live because she just found out she was pregnant, or even the rape revenge scene -  The Bride is a superb heroine that I doubt she would not manage to get readers to identify with her every step of the way. Kudos to both Tarentino and Uma for creating her.

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Cynthia Rose Purley form “Secrets and Lies” played by Brenda Blethyn
Superficially speaking, this woman is a complete crying mess. She is poor, a single mum from East End, quite hopeless with her daughter who pretty much hates her, she is vain and afraid of her own shadow. Also she is adorable in the way she speaks. Her remarkable strength, sense of humour and viscousness in fending for her children is told both through the backstory volunteered by her brother and in a touching way that she embraces the daughter she was forced to give up when she was only 16.
Incredibly uplifting story with a lot of amazing female characters, but Cynthia is a star here and makes me so envious of Mike Leigh’s talent.

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Eliza Doolitle in “My Fair Lady” played by Audrey Hepburn
Apart from being a fantastic actress, Audrey managed to give dignity to a female character that could have been just a damsel in distress but instead was a protagonist of a rags to riches story that played out entirely on her terms. She is a carer and mentor to important men in her life, whether they want to admit it or not, capable, strong and genuine. Also, she is quite hilarious and dignified despite being stunningly beautiful amidst quite strong misogynist connotations of the movie, which is sort of a good parallel with how a woman struggles to gain respect to exist in the real world.

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Ripley in “Alien” played by Sigourney Weaver
For me it wasn’t all those other movies when Ripley was kicking ass in the most competent way possible, when she self-sacrificed, when she multiplied, when she became immortal through her DNA or when she proved to men that “anything you can do - I can do better” (although surely it was a wonderful thing to witness) it was the scene when she and the human/alien hybrid recognise each other as mother and offspring of sorts, that I am still messed up about till this day.

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Ruth Patchett in She-Devil played by Roseanne Barr
She is a typical example of a woman one really doesn’t want to identify with, a woman who can't possibly be admired for anything let alone be a heroine, but then she crosses off the final entry on the list -  “6. Freedom” - and you realise there is no two ways about it - there is a method in that madness and good for you Roseanne!
Other female leads I love:
Mia Farrow in “Alice”
Frances McDormand in “Fargo”
Kathy Bates in “Misery”
Ellen Page in “Hard Candy”
Charlize Theron in “Monster”
Kathleen Turner in “Serial Mom”
Reese Whitherspoon in “Legally Blonde”
Rene Zelwigger in “Bridget Jones’ Diary”
Noomi Rapace in “The GIrl With a Dragon Tattoo”

FAVOURITE FEMALE SUPPORTS
Since in Hollywood most of the roles for women are supporting roles, often they hijack the plot and the audience because nothing can keep a good woman down for long, so I went through this to have more of a look into female characters I love.

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Mary Fisher in “She Devil” played by Meryl Streep
So self-indulgent, vain and romantic, above all hilarious, she is a lovable villain, everything she does is for personal gain and just as you think she has learned something you realise that she hasn’t really, she just changed the clothes. And which one of us can say that we do not identify with that?

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O-Ren Ishiii in “Kill Bill” played by Luci Liu
What a backstory! She is the fallen hero to Uma Thurman’s Bride, and perhaps just too beautiful to be good. A perfect example of the same values that the villain and a hero share but in this case O-Ren failed in attaining them and that cost her everything. I was very sad when she died, I wished there was room for both of them in that movie, and if she was my character, I would have a very hard time killing her off.

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Mary Ann Lomax in “Devil’s Advocate” played by Charlize Theron
Even though here Charlize is little more than passive doll for the devil to play with, she is so beautiful and expressive and she single handedly carries all the emotion in her. She is indeed the epitome of the saying that woman is a hole that all the futility of this world pours into.

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Lisa Rowe in “Girl, Interrupted” played by Angelina Jolie
It is surprisingly easy to accept the beauty of this girl, and somehow she seems to get more beautiful the crazier she is (also something that as a woman I can identify with) but what impressed me about this character most is her integrity. Living in the ’50’s and ’60’s America would drive any woman insane so I have no issues with Lisa’s rage. But it is the strength of her convictions, her intuition and courage to say what everyone is thinking, and above all her fierce devotion to her female “sisters” that makes her into a character that very few can forget.

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The Devil in “Bedazzled” played by Elizabeth Hurley
It was about time a woman was put in charge of something, even if it’s Hell itself, and despite otherwise inhibited acting talent of Elizabeth Hurley, in this role she was perfect! Incredibly stylish without really wearing sex on her sleeve, she was strong, hilarious and unapologetic about her self-esteem issues. Finally a temptress with a cause.
Other female supporting characters I love:

Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places, Fish Called Wanda and True Lies
Victoria Abril in “High Heels”
Michelle Yeoh in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Milla Jovovich in “Fifth Element” and “Zoolander”
Juliette Lewis and Angela Basset in “Strange Days”
Julianne Moore in “The Big Lebowsk
Lisa Kudrow in “The Opposite of Sex”
Thandie Newton in “Chronicles of Riddick”
Anjelica Houston and Christina Ricci in “The Addams Family”
Maggie Smith in “A Room With a View”
Rachel Weisz in “The Mummy”
Michelle Pfeifer in “Batman Returns”
Louise Fletcher (Nurse Retched) in “One Flew Over the Coocoo’s Nest”
Glenne Headly in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”



Muse - Muscle Museum .mp3
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2 comments:

  1. i've never thought about this...probably because my favorite novels are more Kafka like:)

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  2. Unfortunately, he has mainly male characters (especially the heroes) :)) I love Kafka too, but something along those lines would not sell well today :))

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