Category Archives: Inspiration

Women in series and Jessica Jones

I mostly stick to posts about written narratives on this blog, but during the past couple of months I’ve been spending a fair amount of time watching movies and series and there was one that really stuck out for me. I recently finished watching the first season of Jessica Jones, and I need to share my happiness about this series having been created.

It’s a solid story, gritty, noir, with a couple of nice plot twists. It’s an interesting take on super heroes, and the dark sides the concept can bring along. It properly tackles a couple of big issues, like PTSD, consent and sexual violence, in its storylines. They even tackle, which I especially like, a sense of entitlement that people feel towards women smiling. And this is all really, really, cool, and combined with the solid acting makes it a good show, but it’s not why I am this excited about the show’s existence.

The reason I am thrilled about this show, is because it is female driven. It doesn’t just have a female lead, and themes relevant to women’s issues. Most of the main characters are female. The story itself also is about Jessica, who is effectively a female antihero with superpowers. She’s dark, traumatized, drinks a lot and is unapologetically herself. She, and the other female members of the cast, are the driving factors in the story.

There is a ‘test’ applied to movies which assesses the place of women in the movie, the Bechdel-Wallace test. Introduced jokingly in a comic in the 1980’s, it exposed a fairly important issue with a lot of movies. The test is met if there are 1) at least two women in the movie, 2) that talk to each other, 3) about something other than men. This should be easy, right? Realistic female characters talk to each other about all sorts of things all the time. So with an exception for a couple of romcoms where all conversations in the entire movie are about dating, this should not be an issue? Wrong! A shockingly large amount of movies fail this test. If you want to read more on this, you can find more information on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test and http://bechdeltest.com/

Jessica Jones doesn’t just meet the tests criteria. The show flips them. There are very few conversations between men, and most are about women. Men are almost entirely relegated to the parts of eye-candy, sidekick and villain. They’re not empty characters, that have nothing to say, but it’s the women that dominate the show.

Now, I don’t believe that men do not deserve an important and significant role within fiction. I believe both genders deserve this, and that it’s important to show genuine and believable characters on both sides. However, the current discourse, the sum of all movies out there that are being watched and spoken about, is still mostly male dominated. There are A LOT of shows where women can pretty much be replaced by ‘a sexy lamp’. That’s why having a show like this matters. A show that flips expectations. A show that shows the other side of the coin, and that adds a couple of powerful, complicated, jaded female characters that aren’t there to ingratiate themselves to the body of work out there, and to the societal dialogue we have.

The Relativity of Time in Narratives

Something I find tremendously interesting is how time is treated in different types of narratives. I’m currently reading a book where they’re playing with the flow of time. Time does not progress at the same rate in different areas of the story’s world. But this is by far not the only way an author can play with time.

The way we experience the flow of time, varies from day to day, year to year, activity to activity. Everyone knows the hours that feel like forever, while sometimes years go by in what feels like an instant. By slowing part of the story down, interestingly enough generally achieved by using more words to describe a certain scope of time, authors can change and/or increase the feel of the experience their readers or viewers have.

An author can also change the flow of time for only one of the characters, like for instance the reversal of aging in Benjamin Button. Another example of this is the brief flashes of forward moving time that were out of the ‘normal’ sequence for one of the characters in The Time Travelers Wife.

Another possibility of manipulating time is not in the manipulation of the flow of time, but in the sequence of which the story is told. A particularly memorable example of this to me was the movie Memento. How there was just enough information provided for the story to move on, while keeping it exciting until the very end, is something that still deeply impresses me.

A recent example I encountered of how time can be manipulated was how extreme speed and the time continuum can affect each other. It proposed the question: if you go fast enough, would you travel to the future or the past?

I try to play with these effects when I am writing myself, although I do not do this in every of my stories. This is mostly because I find most manipulations of time work best if the manipulation of time is the central element of the story. Also, balancing your time-continuum can be… tricky. I totally love to read books and watch movies that play with the concept of time, though.

What was the most memorable way an author manipulated time that you have encountered?

Writing Exercises

Last week I met with my writing group. We do something reminiscent of a write in every couple of months. It’s great fun and while I always write less than I expect going in, I always leave massively inspired. This was the first time we did a writing exercise in advance.

We’d agreed to all write a letter of approximately half a page from one of the characters out of one of our stories to another character from that story. It’s a great way to help develop your characters motivation further. It makes you think about what that character would say, how they would say it, and how they relate to that other character. This effect was what I’d hoped for, and pretty much an expected result based on the experiences several members of our group had at a writing event a couple of months earlier.

What I hadn’t expected was how excellent of a discussion starter it would be. I thought there was little left to learn about world-building, but we ended up having an interesting discussion about information distribution and character motivation that was both inspiring and educational. As far as I’m concerned it was a very successful experiment. It left me looking forward to see what effect other writing exercises have.

Which brings me to a question for other (aspiring) authors: do you have other writing exercises you’d recommend?

Lyrics and Poetry

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, to the point where I have been a bit blocked on writing narratives. There has just been too much on my mind for me to be able to sit down and string multiple pages together.

Mostly my mind was filled with good things, though, which was a welcome change to the bittersweet months that came before. Amongst others, I’ve been working hard on several really cool things at the ‘day-job’, which to me were personal achievements. Also, I’ve had the honor to attend a bacheloresque party of two friends, a slightly alternative version of a bachelor party which suited them very well. We spend the day building bridges and climbing things.

All in all, they were good months, but they left me with a lot of thoughts on the brain. As a result, I’ve been a bit blocked with regards to overarching storylines and stringing plotlines together. The images and ideas I usually try to capture in narratives have not left my brain, though. So instead, I’ve been writing lyrics and poetry.

For me, playing with ideas, words and descriptions comes kind of naturally. For a long time, I believed I didn’t have the.. well.. serenity to write a novel. Once I had the idea of the story worked out in my mind, I found it difficult to stick to it long enough to commit it all to paper. But I loved to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing. I’ve always had a very active imagination, which I tried to express, capture and share. Mostly, I did this trough writing poetry. I wrote a lot of poetry as a teenager. I wrote it on anything I could get my hands on. Notebooks, post-its, pieces of decorative paper, napkins, even receipts from stores. To this day, almost a decade and a half later, I still encounter random bits of poetry every now and again that I wrote back then. After a while I started playing around with form and I started writing lyrics, too.  Most were never put to music, something I wasn’t good at then and still am struggling with now, but I’ve always enjoyed trying.

Nowadays, I write poetry and lyrics less often. When my brain is too full to spend a lot of time examining a single idea, though, I still tend to switch back to poetry and lyrics.

What kind of poetry or lyrics I write can vary greatly. While I had scholarly training into how to read poetry, place it in the time-period and social context it was originally written in, finding the layers within the poetry and placing and interpreting it’s imagery, writing poetry is very different from studying it. Writing poetry to me, is more like an experience. It can be light and fun, or heavy and complex. I like to play around with rhyme schemes, concepts, types of repetition and the type of story I’m trying to tell. A couple of years ago, I took a Coursera class on songwriting, which left me with many ideas about balancing and unbalancing, even and uneven stanzas, integrating concept and form. Nowadays, I vary between free form and highly structured, depending on where the idea behind the piece I am trying to write takes me. And although as a scholar I doubt most of what I write can be considered ‘good’ poetry, I do enjoy myself immensely building my intricate word-constructs and am able to use the writing process as a creative outlet regardless.

Climbing

The Added Value of Bling and Pride

Last week, I got to attend a book-gala (by verge of e-mailing them ‘I would like to attend’ in time, no special circumstances or anything) organized by a newly founded local initiative for promoting the fantastical genre. There were a couple of writers there I really admire, and a very large of aspiring writers like myself.

One of the big things where they deviated from earlier book events I have attended, was the dress code. We were supposed to dress up for this event.

Now, I have a slightly troublesome figure for affordable black tie dresses, since the waistline tends to be too high for my figure, or the chest-space too small, so I figured I’d make one myself. I didn’t manage in time, so I had to settle for more of a cocktail dress(those tend to be more figure-hogging and thus work just fine). Still I dressed up, and so did almost everyone else.

I thought it was merely just fun to dress up, until I was at the event. The atmosphere had somehow transformed from a group of people hanging out, to an official event. Instead of feeling like an enthusiastic hobbyist, I felt like an aspiring professional. That was a very magical feeling. I realized it was something that mattered to me, and that while growing from an aspiring writer into an actual writer might be hard and in the end might even prove impossible, it is something truly worth aspiring to, to me.

This very personal realization was not the only the only realization I had at the event. One of the people hosting the event, and one of the founders of the initiative, said that he wanted people to be proud of writing fantasy, and proud of reading it. Even though there are a lot of people enjoying fantastical tales, and most works within the genre is not what you’d call ‘light’ reading, especially not in the literal sense, and even though it is a big part of books for children where fantastical tales are celebrated openly, there is not a lot of pride in reading these books for adult. Sometimes, a lot more frequently then I’d like, when people speak about books in the genre, the fantastical elements are downplayed as unimportant. Like it’s uncool to read or write fantasy, and the related genres. You have to ‘look past’ those elements. Like it’s easy to craft a well developed world, or like you can not tell interesting, worthwhile and inspiring stories through fantastical tales. He wants to change that reputation, and I wholly support this initiative. Besides all the other things I read, I read and write fantasy, and I am proud of this.

Editing in the Dark

Coming up from feeling sick, I’ve been spending a bunch of nights, while the world outside feels wet and dark, motivating myself by doing some editing. This may sound funny, but unlike most people, I enjoy the hell out of editing. For a long time I felt like I didn’t have the patience to finish a long story. When I am editing, I am looking at the proof that yes, I sat down and actually wrote all of those words. And now I get to fix the mistakes I made the first time around! (I am a total perfectionist. Making things better is something I always enjoy doing.) Also, I tend to write what I love. Wading trough the words is therefore fun. And because it refreshes my memory on what I’ve built, it’s very inspiring. I always end up having new ideas for little pothooks, either for the story I am polishing or for a different one, sometimes within the same story-world. It gives me a platform, all mine, to explore from.

One thing I have been spending a lot of thought on while editing, is the action versus detail balance. I have written about this balance before. This time, I have been working on a different balancing of this concept. Sometimes, describing instead of showing can speed up the pace of the story. Less detail, more skipping the less exciting parts. Sometimes, though, it turns something that could have been beautiful, meaningful or exciting into a bland description. I guess it’s also a part of the ‘showing’ or ‘telling’ balance, where I generally prefer showing wherever it doesn’t boggle down my story with too many details.

So within my editing I’ve been addressing a lot of smaller descriptions, asking myself, whether or not the description mostly speeds the story up or makes it more bland. And then the task of turning the bland bits into bits with more detail follows. I do hope in the end, this edit will improve the story. I think it will, and regardless of whether or not I’ll be successful, I am learning oodles about balancing my stories.

From Fall into Winter

When the days shorten, lights illuminate the world and leaves fall off the trees, I get inspired. Spring, summer, I passionately love those seasons, but they can’t inspire me like the fall can. Whenever I spend some time in town or out in the forests, I return refreshed and ready to write.

Fall to winter

Which is convenient, because fall is a time when disappearing into the story I am crafting, with a cup of tea or some hot cocoa, is one of the most pleasant ways to spend the time, avoiding the cold rain and snow outside. Because as inspirational as the world might be, I’m not a fan of the cold or the winter weather. Or the shortening of daylight by itself.

I do notice that the slowly darkening of the world tends to not just inspire me, but to tip the scales of my story. I write darker stories, or stories where hope is a strong motive.

I guess inspiration is a funny thing. It both motivates and shapes thoughts, helping me craft stories that would not have been there without it’s specific source that brought me ideas.