Tag: Contemporary Fantasy Thriller

Action Scenes with Women Characters: We’re Not Men!

As a reader, I’m almost always never happy when I read action scenes with women characters.  Male writers default the action to the male characters, or they make the women like men.  Women writers either make the women into victims or give them super strength and healing, ruining the suspense.

One of the workshops I attended at Ravencon was “Writing Action Scenes.”  The panel consisted of three men — what, no women writing action?  I asked what had been a popular question at Alan Baxter’s webinar last year: “How do you write action scenes for women?”  The guys all got queasy and uncomfortable and started talking about not wanting to do “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.”

But there are differences between the genders, which either makes a story believable or not to me.

When I was in the army, these differences were apparent on the physical training test.  The original test was tailored to men and broken down by age group, but when women came in, the army had to create different standards for them, probably because of how our bodies are built and that we’re shorter.  Talk to any of the men, and they thought the women are getting over.  Talk to someone like me, and I had problems keeping up with men with long legs on marches.

Those differences make action scenes a challenge to write.  I had a scene where the heroine had to escape from a room guarded by two armed men.  Even if she’d known karate or judo (Nancy Drew anyone?), she would have been outmatched and outsized by the two men, so a traditional method of escaping was out.   I was surprised at how difficult it was to come up with an alternative!

Women don’t have the upper body strength, and would certainly have trouble against any opponents who outweighed them by fifty pounds or more.  But women do have a lot of strength in their legs and hips.  Day Al-Mohamed said that women make excellent mountain climbers because of that.  So the legs can be used in an action scene.  Tools like guns could also be used, but again, that’s not a matter of giving the character a gun without paying attention to the gender differences.

But the women would also need to be clever, think fast, and come up with unusual solutions that plays to their strengths.  Does this character know chemistry, or how to swim?  Maybe she’s a doctor.  What could be done with that?  If she has a gun, why does she have it?  I think it’s a greater challenge to characterization itself, because all of these pieces need to be built in and developed throughout the story.  Some of the best action stories I’ve seen have resulted from getting creative with solutions.

What’s been your experience — either as a reader or a writer — with action scenes involving women?  What do books get right, and what really annoys you?  I’d love to hear your opinions!

Why I’m Going Indie

I’m the new writer at Unleaded, and yup, I’m going indie.  It wasn’t an easy decision.  I started writing at eight years old, and my goal was always to get a novel published by a publisher.  Self-publishing was a guy pulling out a book from a closet and trying to sell it.  For fiction, it screamed “Failure.”

But last year, I was taking Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel, and she decided to go indie.  A lot of writers followed her path.  I looked at it, dismissed it as “not for me.”  But I was drawn back to it more than once, perhaps because it represented a big change to the publishing industry.  I had seen trends I didn’t like, such as books becoming too similar, as well no longer being able to find backlist books by authors I enjoyed.

I considered the pros and cons.  Traditional publishing has more firepower when it comes to promotion.  But they promote to distributors; promoting to the reader is up to the writer.  Books going through traditional publishing get edited a lot, by an editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader.  I’ve seen the value of working with an editor on Washington Independent Review of Books, and I’ve also seen indie books that needed an editor, and more revision.   With these reasons, I might have just gone with traditional publishing.

But there were a few more, including the trend of books being similar.  My writing has always been different.  Over the course of three novel submissions, I’ve had trouble finding agents who would take the stories. I don’t think they’re that different, but it comes through in the agent research the books don’t fit.  I could spend a year submitting the book, have agents like it, but reject because they can’t sell it.  Or tells me to change/take out an element that’s the reason why I wrote the book.

Length was a second reason.  I tend to fall significantly short.  It’s an utter nightmare to add more words.  The entire book has to be pulled apart and rewritten to add new words, and all the while, other parts are being revised out.  It’s very demoralizing to spend a lot of time adding words, and seeing the word count go down!  I’m working on this, and maybe what I’m doing will help.  But I’m terrified I will be up against a deadline with a too short book, and I’ll blow it because it takes soooo long to fix.  Indie doesn’t have word count requirements, so that takes the pressure off me having to reach a specific word count.

The third reason is that I’m a pantser.  I can’t outline.  I’ve tried — I can’t connect my creativity to an outline at all.  But publishers want to see an outline up front.  I asked a published urban fantasy writer about this, and she said if I couldn’t outline, I’d have to write the stories on spec.  Which means I could write a book and torture myself getting the word count up, and then have the publisher reject it for being too different.  Then I have a book I can’t use, and a contract I have to fulfill with a deadline.  I end up taking all the risk, and honestly, that’s not fair to me.

Once I added up these three reasons, indie looked a lot better.  But I’m not going to toss the book up and hope for the best.  I’ve been working on building my Twitter following, as well as my blog, since those two are huge promotion opportunities.

How do you feel about indie books?  Have you been checking any out, or are you in the ‘wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole’?  What’s the biggest mistake you think indie writers make?

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