I’ve mentioned before that I’m a massive fan of the Writing Excuses podcast. For Season 10 they’re doing things a little differently, with writing exercises at the end of most episodes, rather than simple writing prompts. I’ve found these much more engaging, and have actually found myself working with them more than I ever did with the prompts.
As part of the exercise for Episode 2, we had to take a short synopsis we’d created in Episode 1 and do a gender / age swap on the characters. This led to a massive lightbulb moment.
I would say that I love to write strong female characters, largely because we still live in a world where we have to use terms like ‘strong female characters’. Anyhoo, I found myself merrily swapping until the third character when I thought ‘no, I’ll keep this as a man otherwise there’ll be too many women’.
Feel free to internet slap me. I did to myself.
Of course, in writing down my original little synopsis, at no point did I think to myself to hold on, there were far too many men going on here. In my defence, it was a piece of historical fiction, so I do have the weight of history behind me when making women secondary in the key moments. Yet in an entirely fictional realm, I had automatically restricted the characters, and the only female in the story was about as dynamic as a Disney princess. Not one of the newer ones either. One of the ones that do the cleaning until their prince comes and they can finally live out the rest of their mundane lives in a better frock. Whoop!
Completing the swap, the synopsis now actually seems much less mundane and prosaic; something I could actually consider building up into something bigger, rather than just a simple writing exercise done for fun. The question of why these characters weren’t the ones that presented to me intuitively is something I will have to dig deeper within myself to try and understand. I’m hoping the awareness at least will mean I pause for a moment next time and ask myself: am I just following the well-worn path that society and history has already conveniently laid out in front of me?
You can access the writing excuses podcast here. It’s well worth checking out.