Usually I blog about what I’ve learned as a writer, hoping to be useful to someone else. But in this entry, I want to write about two problems, one small and one big, that I’m currently wrestling with. I don’t pretend to know what to do about these problems. I do know that often the problematic parts of a story show you where you can do interesting stuff if you can figure out how.
Remember the dog!
The small problem has to do with a dog. My current book is the third one in a trilogy. In the first book, The Wind Reader (due out in September), there are three street kids: Doniver, Jarka, and Dilly. The Wind Reader is Doniver’s story. The second book, due out sometime in 2020, is Jarka’s. This third book is Dilly’s.
In The Wind Reader, I gave Dilly a dog, probably just because I like dogs. You would not believe how hard it is to remember that dog is around and to put him in just about every scene Dilly is in. Because I am not a monster, I can’t kill the dog. But I’ve felt his presence as an annoyance I have to deal with.
Then last week, it occurred to me that I should make use of him to develop either plot, theme, or character, the three things you’re always trying to advance. His presence might allow me to resolve a plot point in some unusual way, for instance. So I put that hope in the notebook I’m keeping for this book and recording ideas as I manage to generate them.
Writing about girls
The larger problem makes me uneasy on a personal level as well as on a writerly one. I have always found it harder to write about female central characters. Perhaps you can’t tell from the names, but Dilly is the only girl in that trio of kids. I am embarrassed by this difficulty. I don’t know why it exists. Maybe boys are easier for me because I can slip into their point of view and borrow the power our culture gives to men. Maybe the girl’s experience is too close to my own so it makes me uncomfortable.
And there are real difficulties in writing about girl central characters. I want to write a strong girl or at least one who becomes strong. But what does it mean to say a girl is strong? Does she have to become a warrior? Does she have to do the things boys traditionally do? I know I want to write about her seizing independence, but I also want her to be able to form relationships.
(On Friday, writer Erin Dionne blogged with questions about what it means to call any character strong. Take a look!)
Last week it occurred to me that because I write fantasy, I have to create a culture, and I might be able to do that in a way that examines opportunities and limits for women and girls an interesting way. Maybe there are rituals aimed at girls. Maybe there are gods or prayers that speak to experiences like pregnancy or menstruation as a sign of adulthood. Again, I entered that notion in my notebook and am thinking about it.
Run toward the hard parts
In general, I’m trying to run toward the hard parts of the story rather than away because I know interesting stuff potentially lies there.
And yet, knowing that doesn’t magically make the hard parts go away. Some days, even saying “I know” feels like too big a claim.