While there has been some progress in the raising of racist and sexist issues in fiction, I believe we are still struggling to pull ourselves as writers out of the dark ages.  One has only to read minimized perspectives to realize the American fiction market still has work to do.

For comic books, the women in refrigerators syndrome has come to the forefront of some very interesting conversations.  I’ve followed it, mainly because I’m no longer interested in conventional stories.

I’d like to see rare and uncommon points of view get more play in the mainstream.  But this is difficult, because the system of manufacturing consent internalizes values in those who develop the privilege of being able to generate culture beyond a step 6 or 5 art line.

A while back, while examining the question of agency for women characters, I came across a checklist chart from heroplay.  You basically counted the number of situations a hero was helpless (in need of rescue), tortured, and turned evil/sexy for women and men characters in a story.  Are the characters struggling or helpless during the situation?  Defiant or frightened?

Techniques like these are useful for rationally examining what one-sided tropes of a story might be manifesting.  I’d like to see more tools like the Bechdel Test (not just for women but other under-represented groups) appear out there, so we can reflect on what we’re doing.

They aren’t foolproof systems of thought, just springboards for constelating coordinates.  A means of asking questions and identifying positions so that we might test them.  The point is to make more-informed decisions, not proscribe or enforce lines of thought.

So, Tribal Writer explores writing like a bad girl.  This is not an easy approach, as it’s not an either-or proposition.  Women have both qualities existing inside of them as if they were living characters themselves.  Allowing both a wholeness of expression is the moral problem.

Too much good girl and there’s no joy of life.  Too much bad girl and personal relationships disintegrate.  The key, I think, is to generate tools that give these qualities a means to exist free from repression—personal or societal.

I think of the good mother/bad ogress in Japanese culture.  The endlessly patient, yielding and long-suffering mother figure is serious business there.  Everyone else is subordinate to that, even father—who is often portrayed as an impotent buffoon.

But the ogress is always waiting to jump out, tenaciously strong and voraciously sexual.  The housewife manages the finances, goes on golf trips with her girlfriends, and makes arrangements for her husband’s mistress.  Both figures exist side by side without contradicting the other.  This is as natural as a mountain vista.

So, I’ve been contemplating another tool—a checklist of characters based not on situations but on qualities.  Specifically, how often do male and female characters in a story show:

  • Desire
    Actively pursuing the fulfillment of sexual appetites or ambitions?
  • Mobility
    Actively demonstrating a literate mind or a useful/practical/marketable skill?
  • Interiority
    Actively confronting authority or asking difficult/awkward questions?

How many predominantly unambitious, timid, unskilled male characters will one come up with?

Actually that sounds rather interesting to me.  But the point of this exercise is to examine your own fictional characters, or the characters of others.  With the hope one will gather clues and learn how best to construct characters for one’s own formula.

Because each of us has a magic potion we are formulating in our combination of technique, inspiration and meditation.