Men and women?

I’m musing on gender issues in my stories again. I’ve had some issues with “bad” stereotypes in previous stories and I’m pondering whether I’m about to stumble down that path again.

I want my female protagonist to be rich characters with depth and personality, and with the strength to carry their own stories forward, like people in the real world. That’s my goal, and it shouldn’t be so difficult now should it – at least it oughtn’t be, but who knows…

As a way to develop my characters a little bit I did a series of behind the scenes monologues with them (here). I pretend the characters are actor playing themselves and I have them hold a monologue about their role in the story. It was good fun.

I started with Roy, as he’s the first one to show up, then Alene, and Toini last. Roy’s male, Toini and Alene are female.

All three monologues loosely follow the same pattern. The character introduces themselves and then they describe their place in the story. What I found is that both Alene and Toini use Roy as a way of defining their place in the story.

I like to think there are good reasons for this. It fits with how the story is laid out and designed. It just feels a bit off – on principle. I want my female characters to be their own people, and they are, but even then I ended up having them describe their place in the story using the male character as their point of reference.

Am I overthinking it?

Yes. I’d say I am.

Both Toini and Alene are their own people and they carry their own stories. They’re more than backdrops for Roy’s story – a lot more in fact – and they know it. This whole rant is more a reflection on the topic as such. Am I letting my female heroes define themselves by the male hero?

I hope not. I don’t think I do.

I think there’s probably a line between where you describe your place in a story in relation to the other characters, and where a women describes her place in life in relation to a man. It’s a thin line, and I may be skirting close to it, but I think I’m still on the “right” side of it.

Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, or bonk me onna heid for being overly concerned with something that’s not an issue. Either is fine, really.

Advertisements
Men and women?

Soundtrack for a Fading Champion

Whenever I start on a more serious story project I put together a playlist for the main character that reflects their personality and how I see them. Once I have a number of songs selected I pick out five signature songs and list them in a blog post along with how they relate to my character.

This time the character is Roy, a werewolf wrestling champion at the end of his career, and these are his signature songs. First is a short spotify playlist, and then there’s a youtube video of each song along with a few comments about how it fits the character.

1. Clawfinger – Bigges & The Best

Roy’s a world class wrestler and this is his theme song. He’s tough, merciless, and confident. He knows he’s the best. No matter what the critics and the press and the rising stars say, Roy know’s they can’t beat him. He’s just that good – just that tough.

2. The Phantom of the Opera

This is about the mask the phantom wears. It’s about what he hides from everyone else. There’s the obvious public face of Roy the wrestler – the persona represented by the previous song. But, there’s more than that to the mask. Roy also hides a dark secret that no one knows and that few have even seen hinted at. He hides it, and hides it well, for if people knew, they’d see him for more of a monster than just a werewolf.

3. VNV Nation – Beloved

This video is for the original version of the song, with a very sweet little animated video to go with it. However, I’d also recommend the orchestral version (Allegro Grazioso) which carries a lot more sadness in its sound, and as such is more fitting.

This song represents Roy’s love for Toini, his childhood friend who was killed in action so many years ago – and he still loves her just as much.

4. Depeche Mode – Wrong

Roy may be a world famous wrestler and multiple times world champion, but his life hasn’t been easy, and it’s not what he wanted. He’s made wrong decisions. He’s been in the wrong place at the wrong time, hung out with wrong people and said the wrong things.

Time and time again. Wrong.

Sure, he’s got fame and money, but he’s alone and disillusioned. Bitter. Cynic. A consequence of all that’s gone wrong and all he’s done wrong.

5. Empathy Test – Here is the Place

There’s also a charming live version of this song here. It’s well worth watching, but I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the album version first.

Of the previous songs, three are of a failed and miserable past, and one is about a fake public persona. This is the song for the future Roy dreams of. It’s about going home to where he came from and to where he belongs. It’s about nostalgia and it’s about having somewhere you belong and where you’re safe.

Final Comments

There are plenty of songs that qualify, but didn’t make it. I could easily have picked five tracks by VNV Nation alone.

As a character, Roy is pretty sad. He’s had a tough journey, and he’s close to giving up, but he’s not a quitter. He’ll keep going. Stubbornly, stupidly, until there’s nowhere else to go and nothing left to do. He’ll deal with it when he gets there. That’s just the way he is.

Sort of, I think…

The story’s still being planned. The real writing has not yet begun.

Soundtrack for a Fading Champion

What does Kala want?

2015-12-10 19.00.03Right, let’s do a little brainstorming.

In my last post I wrote about my new story idea and how it’s taking shape and how I have a lot of questions to answer before I can even start figuring out the plot. One of these questions was “What does Kala want?” and I’d like to try and come up with a few suggestions here.

I’m sharing it as a blog post because knowing that others could potentially read this helps keep me motivated to strive for some sort of coherence. A public notepad if you will.

So, anyway, what does Kala want?

My train of thought is already running, but it’s not really coming from anywhere. There’s another question to answer first:

Who is Kala?

Let’s start with this. Who is she?

First of all, here’s the Kala playlist I put together. I built it more to get a feel for the story than for the character, but they’re so closely entwined it doesn’t really make any difference.

 

What I’ve decided so far is she’s a young woman, somewhere just on the border between a teenager and an adult.

Family etc.

Kala lived alone with her father Leifur. The rest of her immediate family is gone. Let’s say her mother (Agnes) and younger brother (Tryggvi) went through the ice and drowned a few winters back.

Kala’s older brother (Larus) married and moved out about a year ago. He lived in the village with a woman (Svanhildur, aka Svana) from down the coast. He was on the same boat her father was on, the one that never made it back to port on the last evening of autumn.

There’s an uncle (Bjarni) as well, but he’s moved to another village to marry.

Also on the boat was Kala’s betrothed, Agnar.

Kala has no grandparents. They’re all dead. Life is harsh.2016-09-23-12-26-16

Now, Kala is alone. All of her family and relatives are dead or gone. Svana is still around, but now that her husband is dead she will move back to her family down the coast.

It’s possible that Kala could go live with her brother Bjarni, but it won’t be an option for some reason (I’ll think of something).

All names taken from Behind the Name, except Kala – I just made that up, but apparently it an Indian and Hawaiian name.

Is Kala special?

Apart from being the main character of the story, Kala is also a talented weaver of magic. However, like the majority of weaver she’s not able to channel the aether into weaveable strands of magic. She can’t do magic on her own (this is normal in this setting).

In order to do magic, Kala always had to pair up with her friend Agnar (also her betrothed) who’s a strong channeler. He had the ability to pull the aether into strandes for Kala to weave. The two of them practiced magic together ever since their respective talents were discovered and with time they become quite skilled.

Now that Agnar is gone there’s no one to channel the aether for Kala. There’s no one else in the village able to do it for her. She’s no longer able to practice the art she’s spent her entire life trying to master.2015-03-19 10.13.54

She will have an average set of practical skills – the kind you pretty much gain automatically when growing up in a small fishing village – but they’re nothing special. It’s the same thing everyone else knows as well.

The other thing special about Kala is that she’s sensitive to motion sickness. She starts getting nauseous as soon as she’s in a boat for more than a few minutes. If she stays on board any longer than that she’ll start throwing up uncontrollably.

Normal skills?

Like mentioned earlier Kala has the “normal” skill set of anyone in the village, apart from anything that requires her to be in a boat. This includes:

  • General crafting skills: mending nets and clothes, sewing, cooking and baking, house and boat maintenance, woodworking.
  • Wilderness survival skills both on land and on ice.
  • Fishing on ice.
  • Hunting: both with rifle as well as with longbow. Including skinning and such.

Her skills in these tasks are as good as anyone else her age. Kala and Agnar practiced their magic during the times when there was nothing more important that needed doing. Often this lead to them spending time alone together instead of hanging out with the other kids which resulted in neither of them forming any strong bonds with anyone else their age.

Current outlook

By “current” I mean at the time just after the story starts – the morning after the boat with her father and her betrothed doesn’t come back.

  1. Kala is alone (yes, that’s the title of the book as well, I’m liking it)
  2. Kala is useless.

Let’s elaborate on number 2 for a bit. Technically, Kala can do whatever any other land-bound member of the village can, but is there any need for her. She can do things, but is there any need for her to do it?

2015-11-13 19.26.44 - CopyThe margins for survival are tight in the village, and while an extra pair of hands would be nice for chores, it’s also an extra mouth to feed. The village can take care of Kala for the winter (they may be bound by honor or duty or something), but the lack of two fishermen and a boat is felt by everyone – maybe there were more people on the boat as well.

Once winter ends she’ll be asked to leave if she has not found a way to meaningfully contribute to the village.

What if…

What if Kala doesn’t make herself useful? What are her options if she has to leave? What’s at stake?

These are the main options I can think of at the moment:

  1. Join the army. The nation has a standing army in which Kala can enlist.
  2. The City. Kala can take the train to the big city and try to make a living there.
  3. Other villages. It’s possible there will be a place for her somewhere else along the coast, but that will most likely mean she’ll have to marry.

There are a few less likely options as well – things she may consider in her more desperate moments:

  1. Suicide
  2. Roadswoman. Wander from village to village and beg for shelter and food. Probably die alone and cold.
  3. Torpare. Find or build a cabin in the forest inland. Live from hunting and foraging. Probably die alone and cold.
  4. Find another channeller. Unlikely. Will require traveling, but may be possible in the army or in the city.
  5. Enroll at the university. Unlikely. Will cost money. Will require travel to the city.

There isn’t anyone for her to marry in the village, and it’s unlikely anyone else will come to try and marry her during the winter.2016-08-29-00-05-26

That’s Kala

Now I have a somewhat better idea of Kala’s situation. There’s still a lot to figure out before I can say that I know who she is, but I know a little more now and I have a few clues about what experiences will have shaped her in the past.

She’s alone, and she needs to prove herself in order to keep living the life she knows, even if it’s changed.

What does Kala want?

Like a lot of other people, Kala is worried about change. She doesn’t want to leave the village. She doesn’t to have to prove herself useful. She doesn’t want to be alone. She wants everything to be the way it’s always been.

Unfortunately for Kala, none of that matters.

Things have changed and she’ll have to adapt.

At the start of the story, Kala will want to stay in her village and she’ll want to try and prove herself useful in some way. She wants things to remain as close as possible to what they’ve always been.

I have not yet decided if this will change during the story or not. Chances are she’ll probably change her mind more than once, but I have not made my mind up about how it will end – yet.

For now, Kala wants to stay in the village, and she will try to make herself useful.

2015-08-27 10.36.06

Unfortunately, there is not much for her to do. The village slows down during the winter months. People stay inside as much as they can. They eat, sleep, and get drunk.

The stores in Kala’s house are full. Agnar and her father stocked them up before winter, and they also stored food for themselves. Kala has enough to share if she wants to – this winter. She’ll survive, but she still goes fishing on the ice, or hunting in the mountains now and then, for a bit of variety and for something to do.

It’s not far fetched to think that she’ll get the idea of becoming a good hunter and be able to help out the village that way. She probably starts to spend a lot of time outside to practice her hunting skills.

There’s not much ice fishing to do in the summer so that’s not really a viable contribution. That said, there are things out on the ice to challenge even the most experienced of land-bound hunters. It wouldn’t be too far fetched to think that a desperate youngster with nothing left to lose may go hunting dangerous prey, would it?

The “other” option

The majority of the villagers don’t have much need for Kala, but there is one for whom she may be useful: Fannar – the village’s shaman.

Fannar is a snowspeaker (a winter shaman), and he’s getting on in the years. He’s been looking for an apprentice for some time, but none have come forth that had any talent for it.

So far Kala has also not shown any talent, but she also hasn’t been tested very much. After all, she had a talent for weaving, and it was more important for her to practice that. Now though, she has some time to spare, and since she’s got an understanding of the aether already, maybe she can pick a thing or two up from the old shaman? Maybe she has some latent talent that can be awoken?

I don’t think Kala will have the talent for becoming a coastal snowspeaker like Fannar, but I think she may pick up a thing or two from him anyway. He’s not reluctant to help, and he’s happy to share his knowledge. If he can’t pass on his shamanistic skills, he can at least share some of his life experience with her.

Furthermore…

Kala might not be in tune with the coastal spirit, but she might find that Fannar’s teachings will help her discover things in other places – perhaps in the forest inland, or far out on the ice.

The Plan

For now, as per the above. Kala will want to try to prove her usefulness to the village by becoming either a skilled hunter, or a shaman, or a combination of the two.

2015-03-19 10.02.02

What does Kala want?