Category Archives: Write

Does Stephen Moffat Have A Woman Problem?

I keep being surprised to find people who love Doctor Who and Sherlock but hate Stephen Moffat. One thread seems to be to say that he has a ‘woman problem’.

One new friend posted this one her Facebook wall:

“Here’s a game for my fellow #Sherlock and #DoctorWho fans…name me a principal female character written by Moffatt that isn’t a puzzle, a problem, or a sacrifice.”

Some Background

OK, before I rise to the challenge, I should set the stage: I’m a lifelong Doctor Who fan who came on board at the end of Leila’s journeys with the doctor, and grew up under snotty-Romana-then-flirty-Romana, whiny Tegan and the gloriously glamorous AND SMART Nyssa (I so wanted to be her). I barely survived Mel and Perry and was  rewarded with intelligent and fierce Ace who might have been great if they stories hadn’t been mince, just before the show went on indefinite hiatus.

When it came back, i felt utterly betrayed by Russell T. Davies, who let the Doctor become a romantic figure (“Is this a kissing show?”). Part of the appeal, as a kid, of Doctor Who, was the idea that you could either BE the Doctor or run away with the doctor. It was an intelligent, family show, where young people ran off with a (mostly-)avuncular alien and had adventures. Now, as a grown up and new parent, I felt very queasy at the idea of parents being asked to trust this man with their barely-adult children, if he was going to get all sexy. Ugh. Plus there was an awful lot of emotional angst and despair.

Then along came Moffat’s episodes. I was thrilled to see powerful, cheeky women who were largely dismissive of the doctor — certainly not defined by him — and who, more often than not, turned out to be self-rescuing princesses.

Powerful Women In Moffat’s World

The Empty Child turns out to be not just about a creepy child  but about his courageous female relative. Before she even meets the Doctor she is saving kids and being incredibly resourceful (and cheeky) while doing so. With the help of the Doctor she’s even more powerful and becomes not just her own savior but that of her family, her country and quite possibly the world. Huzzah! Everybody lives!

Then along came Sally Sparrow, who carried a whole episode, solved the mystery and saved almost everyone, including her man AND the Doctor, before he even knew who she was.

And OK, The Girl in the Fireplace was a big icky because the little girl fell in love with the Doctor and waited for him, but to her credit she became the most powerful woman in France and saved herself from harm by being level-headed in a crisis and summoning the one person she knew could help.

Other Moffat Women Who Are Not Puzzles, Problems or Sacrifices

Linda from The Press Gang –  She was the editor of the school paper, with all the power and all the flaws you’d expect of a leading character. (I watched and enjoyed this long before I’d heard of Stephen Moffat)

Jeckyl’s wife – She wasn’t a character who appeared much in the show, but she was his motivation for resisting his demons. Does that make her a ‘problem’? If so, then love is a problem, and that’s not an idea to which I can subscribe. No, she doesn’t help out much, but Jeckyl is a show about a man wrestling with his demons. I don’t remember him letting ANYONE help much.

All the women in Coupling – OK, one of them was fairly bonkers, but so was at least one of the guys. Yes, the main woman was a problem for the main character, because: drama and comedy and romance And the other two characters (one male, one female) were pretty and shallow. So ti was completely balanced.

Molly Hooper – Yes, Molly is defined by her relationship to Sherlock, but she has skills and an education and you know she’d be just fine if he disappeared off the face of the earth. You can imagine her having a life without Sherlock and that, I think, counts. But she’s not a leading character (as requested in the initial question).

Detective Donovan – again, not a main character, but still, not a weak, traditional helpless female.

Mrs Hudson – yes, she’s doing traditional domestic work, but she is a well-rounded character.

Mary Moorstan/Watson – I think it’s unfair to criticize Moffat for writing a character who was introduced as a romantic interest, and writing her as…a romantic interest. She’s given a kick-ass job, a mysterious past, more skills than her husband, an ability to make his life better and be made better by him, and she gets more screen time than any other email character in this male-male buddy-cop version of a classic detective story. In the original stories, Mary appears to allow Watson to get heroic for a minute and then, when the practicalities of domestic life got in the way, she was promptly killed off with no ceremony, off-screen (and with no complicating offspring).

Puzzles, Problems & Sacrifices?

And to the extent that any of these women  are puzzles, problems, if they weren’t, where would the conflict come from? If we want characters to be interesting, they can’t just be badass and perfect. Are they used this way more than the men?

Yes, Amy sacrifices her future in this timeline to be with Rory in his timeline. But would you rather be the blundering bloke who accidentally gets zapped back in time or the determined, devoted character who CHOSES which of the people she loves she’s going to be with?

Yes, Clara sacrifices herself (twice) but she comes out of it all right. As does, eventually, Buffy Summers, who has a much harder time of it, I’d argue and Joss Whedon is lauded for writing ‘strong female characters’. In contrast Rory sacrifices himself so often it becomes a punchline. And I didn’t hear anyone complaining about Aslan…

Which leads me to a point: Moffat grew up in a culture steeped in Christian messages. We’re very big on self-sacrifice in Britain in general and in Glasgow in particular: socialist and Presbyterian/Catholic and chip-on-the-shoulder as we were throughout the 20th century.  It’s a culture that believes suffering is good for the soul and that no greater love hath man than he lay down his life for a friend, and all that.

The Doctor sacrifices all the time, in this current incarnation (except when he runs away for a while before facing up to a challenge. A lesson worth learning).

What Else Moffat Does Right

His women have jobs that are not traditionally female, they have skills and abilities, they are sassy and opinionated, they might like a bit of romance but they don’t cease to exist without it.

His couples (especially his married couples) are devoted to each other. They don’t gain their strength from putting the other half of the couple down. They bring out the best in each other, even when they’re bickering. I LOVE this. It is rare and beautiful and healthy.

His scripts are clever. You have to pay attention. They are witty, and all the characters have more going on than they’re telling you. You can always imagine them in their own, spin-off story.

He’s hopeful and funny. Unlike the end of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor who, which was a maudlin, drawn-out sob-fest full of regrets and misery, Moffat writes stories with endings in which “Everybody lives!” or, even when they don’t get what they want, there’s hope that they’ll get something they can live with (e.g. Clara). We’re not finished with Sherlock yet, and we’ll see where that goes.

So I Respectfully Disagree

No, I don’t think Moffat has a woman problem. I don’t think all his women are problems, puzzles or sacrifices in any way disproportionate to the dramatic needs of the stories he tells or the way he treats men (most of his bad guys are men!)

Few things annoy me more than a shallow, one-dimensional helper-female character, but I just don’t see it with Moffat, unless you’re determined to find it. I don’t think it’s worth sacrificing complexity or dramatic needs to make a character all powerful just because of gender,

First Draft

I think I just finished the first draft of my novel.

There are scenes missing and a lot of cleaning up to do, but I think I’m there. The first draft is as complete as it’s going to be.

I feel remarkably calm. I think it’s because I’m aware of how much work I have to do now.

I’m going to do a ‘scene grid’ or, as I like to think of it, a ‘motif grid’, as recommended by Stuart Horwitz. There are several things that came up during my last few scenes that I realize are key to the story and the character, and I want to make sure I’m getting them in early and often.

I’m going to try not to get overwhelmed in the revision process. Then, hopefully I’ll have a second draft, ready for polishing when I go to UnCon in November.

[small w00t]

I do enjoy my StoryADay stuff and the non-fiction writing I do, but nothing quite compares to the way I feel after I’ve written a piece of fiction. It’s lovely.

Into The Foggy Blue Yonder

Today, I typed up and tweaked the last of the writing I did on the plane last month.

I had used Larry Brook’s Scene Checklist from Story Engineering to help me figure out what I wanted the scene to achieve BEFORE I wrote it, which made it really easy to revise. I noticed that I’d forgotten which character was supposed to be having which emotion, so I tweaked that as I typed it in. Made it stronger. Yay.

Now What?

From here on in, it’s all new material until I get to the actual end of the draft. Because I don’t know exactly what happens next I’m going back to the Scene Checklist from Larry Brooks to figure out what’s IMPORTANT in the next sequence of scenes.

Using this checklist helps me avoid wandering around aimlessly in a scene.

It’s relatively easy to write ‘stuff happening’.

It’s harder to write good, meaningful scenes unless I know in advance what I’m trying to achieve: who are the key players; what’s the key piece of information I want the reader to learn (and have I set that up properly in earlier scenes or will I have to go back and do that?); what emotions do I want the reader to experience when they’re reading it?

Even if you resist outlining, this checklist is a really helpful way to get into the next scene you want to write. It manages to whet my appetite for writing the scene, instead of taking all the joy and anticipation out of it (as I always fear outlining will do).

The plan now is to spend a while, later today, outlining the next scene and thinking hard about what I need to achieve in the first draft of the resolution

It’s important to remember that this is the first draft of the end of the book.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written.

Sometimes The Slog Pays Off

Today’s writing progress: I found a fragment of Holeheads that I had handwritten back in June and typed it up today.  (Z’s on a boat!)

Threading the Bridges

I remember that, when I wrote it, it felt like a slog. It wasn’t advancing the plot fast enough. It felt like marking time. I only wrote about 600 words in that session then gave up, defeated by the weight of the amount of story I had to tell in the section after this one (which is kind of a transition)

But when I came back to it today, it became the framework for a bunch of character-development moments as well as simply filling a ‘how they got from there to here’ hole.

Sometimes  you have to slog through the unexciting parts to make something you can revise later.

Just keep putting words down and coming back and revising them. I guess that’s how this works?

Blogging About Writing

I’ve decided to blog every day AFTER I write my fiction words. I used to try to write random stuff first as a warm up and sometimes that works, and sometimes I run out of time. So I’m going to try to work on fiction first and then blog my progress. It might be boring, but I’ll try to share insights that will help Future Me (and possibly you, if you’re a writer-who-isn’t-Future-Me).

Saturday today.

I was, amazingly, up before everyone else. I did some other, random thing that was on my mind and then realized I should be using the time to work on my writing, so I didn’t get grumpy and time-grabby later.

So I did.

Of course, by that time, everyone else was up. And I made the mistake of cleaning out the office yesterday (even buying new chairs) so that this room is now attractive. A couple of hours alter and the entire family is in here with me!!

HOWEVER, I did discover that it’s entirely possible to write in here, with the whole family on the other computers and devices, by putting on my headphones and declaring “I’m ignoring you”.  The fact that they’re ALL here, means they all have someone to talk to, who isn’t me.

Everything’s coming up Julie…

So I typed in (and revised) a scene for my novel, Holeheads, that I wrote on the plane last month on they way to Scotland. It was incredibly sketchy at the time, but it gave me something to revise. I realized there was nothing in there about the people who were supposed to be pursuing the heros (they just sort of disappeared), so I added that. And I added some more emotion and physicality, and a bit more chat. The straight transcript was around 600 words and the revised one 700.

It is liberating to realize that what I write doesn’t have to be perfect.

I don’t have to be sure this scene is important or going to survive. I just have to write it down. I might end up cutting this whole scene out and maybe one sentence of it will survive. But the scene exists as part of the story (whether or not readers ever see it) and I needed to write it. And it was only 600 words. It’s not like I spent three months on it.

There. That’s me, conquering my fears, right there.

(“Conquering”. Ha!)

N.B. I also wrote what I think will be the heart of the final big sequence while on the plane. Haven’t typed that one up yet.  Looking forward to sharing pages with the critique group. It’s been too long.

A Good Writing Day Is Hard To Beat

I was having trouble getting started on my writing this morning, even though this book unblocked me and I had a scene already started. Something was holding me back.

So I browsed some posts from myself, that were recommended by the Related Posts Thingy at the bottom  of this blog. This one, from 2012, was the one that finally sent me scurrying to my computer.

3741 words later, I’m exhausted and happy, and have blown past my 10K-words-of-fiction-a-month goal for the first time since January. And it’s only the 24th of the month!

When will I learn that I’m happy when I’m writing? Everything is better when I’m writing. When?!!!

How I Made Some New Habits Stick, in January

Habits Update Jan 2016

Last month I was writing about habits over at StoryADay.org and trying out various ways to change my habits — not just for a day or two, but for the whole month.

I had varying degrees of success and I learned a thing or two. I thought I’d share them here.

picture of Asian Zoodle Salad Jar from FoxesLoveLemons.com

photo: FoxesLoveLemons.com

Habits I Was Trying To Develop In January

  • Taking a new medication every morning (Routine? Ugh!)
  • Writing fiction regularly, to a goal of 10K words a month.
  • Reading a spiritual meditation every day.
  • Tracking my food intake.

Things That Went Well

Anchoring

I wrote about this at the start of the month. I had taken part in a study once that used this technique to make habits stick, so I knew it ought to be powerful, but I don’t think I really believed I could make it work so well.

But I did.

Now, every morning when I wake up, I roll over and take the medicine that’s sitting next to my bed. (My incentive to remember this is actually pretty perfect: it has to be take on an empty stomach, so if I don’t stick to this, my first coffee is delayed by every minute I waste. Aargh!)

My 30-day challenge for January was to read a spiritual meditation every morning. I anchored that habit to “the moment my son gets in the shower”.

Logging

Logging My Words

I have had a love-hate relationship with logging in the past. When I set daily goals for my writing, all it did was make me feel terrible. Partly because I was setting ‘best of all possible worlds’ numbers. And partly because I’m not built to write consistently every day.

Realizing this, I settled on 10,000 words of fiction a month, early last year, and made that my goal.

Logging the words (especially on a day when the writing is going slowly) really helps me to feel like I’m making progress.

Unexpected Bonus

My fitness trainer, sick of hearing me whine about how I can’t lose weight, made me promise to log my food intake. He promised he wouldn’t judge me: that we were just going to use what I wrote down as data. (He made me sign something because I was making such terrible faces at him).

And when I thought about it, I knew, from logging my words, that I could use the data to help me feel better. So I did. And I went from losing no weight (or gaining) to losing a pound a week two weeks in a row! (Trust me, for me, this is huge).

The simple act of recording and quantifying a thing is a powerful way to take misconception and emotion out of the equation.

  • Setting a reasonable goal (323 words a day or 1300-ish calories) and trying to meet it MOST days, is manageable.
  • Tracking it, over a month or more, lets you see that you are neither as awesome nor as awful as you suspect you are, on any given day. And that’s OK. Because “consistent” is what will win the race.

Make It Friction Free

Everything that worked to make my habits stick, was based on my lifelong pursuit of laziness efficiency.

If I have to prepare a lot of stuff before I start on The Thing, I’ll never get to The Thing. So I try my best to have a smooth entry into every task.

My medicine

…lives by my bed and my lovely husband brings me a glass of water every day when he gets his first coffee. If I had to get up and go downstairs, find my meds wherever I dumped them yesterday, find my slippers because the kitchen floor is cold, get water, then take the pill, I would not get it right every day.

Spiritual Meditation

My book of spiritual meditations is sitting next to the bed with a hairpin marking the page of the next meditation (because I always have hairpins lying around). As soon as I hear the shower turn on, I grab the book. It takes very little time to read, but having it on my bedside table, and anchored to a specific action is what makes this habit work.

If I had to search for the book every day, my son would be out of the shower and demanding breakfast before I’d even picked it up. If I tried to find a time every day to squeeze it in, I’d end up scrambling to read the meditation as I fell asleep every night, which wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

Fiction Writing

I keep all the notes for my novel in the same notebook I use as my journal and my list-maker and my ‘taking notes while on the phone’ book. This saves me from having to find the right book either when I want to make notes, or when I want to find them again.

I number all the pages and, from time to time, go through and add to the “table of contents” that I create in the back few pages of the book. This helps me scan through the ToC and find out where my latest brilliant idea is, for the next part of the novel. I also have a list of scenes that I know I want to write soon, right in Scrivener. They’re brainstormed and ready to go, which helps me figure out what to write each time I sit down.

Food

Food, ah food. How I love it. But one of the reasons I eat badly is also the reason I hate logging food: I don’t plan ahead.

If I’m scrambling for lunch when I’m already hungry, then whatever is to hand is what goes in my mouth. Lots of it. Then I have to figure out how much I ate and how to log that (I use MyFitnessPal, which is good because it has a massive database of food, but bad because you have to find the foods, then figure out how to quantify your portion, then do it again for every component of a recipe…)

In January I took my doctor’s advice (a lovely woman who struggles with all the same issues I do!), and started making up salad jars. It’s an easy portion-control method and means I always have something to grab. It almost doesn’t matter what I put in there, because of the built-in portion control aspect.

I pick one recipe a week, shop for the small quantities you need to fill four 16 oz mason jars, then spend a little while on Sunday or Monday, making up lunches for the week ahead. (I like this Spicy Peanut Zoodle Recipe and her Chicken and Spinach salad jars with grapes and a mustard-thyme dressing. I know I’m a year or two behind on the Mason Jar Salad trend, but I’m here now. Let’s party!) Even making up your own dressing and chopping veg doesn’t seem so bad when you do it once and feed yourself four times. And I LOVE all the freshness and crunch. I especially love being able to open the fridge and eat instantly (mmm, fooooooood).

The other thing (and why I went off on this rant in the first place) is that if I eat the same thing every day (or rotate a few receipes over a few weeks) I can log the ‘meal’ in MyFitnessPal once and I never have to enter in all those individual ingredients again. I just select “Asian Zoodle Jar” from the “My Recipes” tab, and it’s done.

See? Friction Free.

It doesn’t work for every meal or every situation, but batch-cooking makes it easier to prepare healthy meals and log them. (I know, rocket science, right? Reinventing the wheel, sure. Discovering things for yourself: sometimes essential!)

What I’m Still Working On

Weekends

Our routine goes way out of whack at the weekends. I need to develop different anchors for the some of the habits at weekends.

Also, I get embarrassed about logging my food. I don’t know why, but I do. Any suggestions for getting over that?

This Month’s 30-day Challenge

This month I’m trying to relax for 15 minutes a day, with something unrelated to housework or reading/writing (I’m mostly doing meditation, exercise, knitting, and musical things so far).

I don’t have a good way to trigger this. I’m thinking maybe ‘after lunch’, but that’s kind of nebulous. I do need to take a little sanity break midday, but I haven’t found a good way to anchor it yet. Do you have any ideas for me?

Next month I’ll be back to talk about my Relaxation Challenge and about the Permission To Write theme I’m writing about all month long at the StoryADay blog.

Time And Focus

Sometimes I beat myself up about not writing more. And I should be writing more, don’t get me wrong.

But I sat down to write today and it was 3:58 pm.

I knew roughly what I needed to write (because I’ve outlined this thing). I knew the characters I was writing about (because I’ve sketched them out). I knew that I was only really writing about one transaction and then throwing in a ‘wha—?’ at the end of the scene.

And I wrote it, pretty much that easily.

And now it’s 5:56. Just like that. Boom…two hours later. Time-travel!

It worked because I had no other responsibilities. No one interrupted me. I didn’t have to stop for anything, pick anyone up, make food for anyone, fill in any forms, or answer any phone calls.

Theoretically, I could do this every day, while my kids are out at school and my husband’s out at work. And that’s certainly the aim.

But I just wanted to capture this here. Because that was two solid hours of bum-in-chair, tippety-tapping away at the keyboard on a story that I’d already done most of the planning for. 1935 words. Two hours.

Writing takes time. And focus.

I can still write when I don’t have both, and when the stars don’t align, but it’ll be harder. And I’ll have to try harder. And I should be kind to myself if every day doesn’t go like this (which it won’t). Which is not to say, ‘make excuses for myself’. This was a good writing day. One to shoot for.

Bum-in-chair, lassie. Every day.

Novel Number Two

You’d think that, having just worked ridiculously hard to finish the first draft of a novel, I’d want to do anything but work on another novel.

Except I do. I want to do it all over again.

I know I still have to wrestle the first one into shape, but I can’t do anything with it until 3/27 at the earliest, when my critique group will have returned it to me with their comments, suggestions, notes and corrections. In the meantime I feel like i want to take everything I learned in the past few months, about writing a long long story, and put to work again.

So I dragged out the draft of the novel I started in 2012 (two years after I started the Novel Number 1 as a NaNoWriMo project too). It’s set in the same universe and I’m itching to get back there again. I remember why I gave up on this one. I lost the voice. I lost the lightness I had intended it to have. I hadn’t yet finished a novel and it felt pointless to be working on another one, without knowing (believing) I could finish it.

So now I’ve imported the existing 35K words into Scrivener, broken it up all into scenes, started capturing character notes and plot points, and read through it. Instead of being discouraged by its imperfection, I am now tickled by the bits that do work: The things that I know I can use to power the plot of the story.

I have an existing story that I can refer back to. I have a really strong sense of this world, this city, that I have created. I know the people. I want to hang out with them some more. (A different cast, mostly, but the same city).

Next steps: Identify the through-story, the big action scenes that’ll make the story fun, and then think really, really hard about all the pieces that have to be put in place to make it all hang together.

I’m excited.

Novel Draft 1.0

This morning the phone rang at 5:30. It was the school, to say that the boys would be staying at home today. Noooooooo!

Not that I don’t love my boys and enjoy their company, but today was the last day I had to work on my novel before my critique group expected to see it in their inboxes.

Knowing that the kids would sleep in unless roused, I stumbled out of bed (at 5:30. Yes, I did) and fired up my laptop. I’d been working fairly intensely for the past two or three weeks: printing out what I had of the manuscript, cutting up the papers in to scenes, paperclipping them together and writing notes on index cards clipped to each scene. I had been writing linking scenes, rewriting scenes and making notes on what I still had to do. I knew I was close. I just needed to push on and get it done.

K appeared, at some point, to say his work was closed too, because of the approaching storm. Something in the back of my brain said “whoopee”, but I don’t think I even stopped to acknowledge him. I just kept working. The sun came up. The boys started moving around. I smelled eggs and bacon cooking. I worked on.

By noon I had been though the whole manuscript and typed up the ending I had written a couple of months ago. I was just about to pat myself on the back for being done, when I discovered a whole slew of scenes that I thought I had already written, that I had in fact only written “[this is what happens here]” notes for. Eek!

Two hours later, I stumbled, crazy-haired and unwashed, out of the office and declared my novel (first draft) DONE.

Four years, four months and four days after the first line was written.

I could/should have proof read the whole thing again before I sent it off, but I was so drained that I just compiled the text, gave it a quick once-over and sent it off.

I wrote a novel. And people are going to read it. It was a Herculean task and I feel pretty amazing for having wrangled the darned thing into some kind of shape I’m happy with. It’s a first draft. It’s not ready for prime time, but the pieces are in place and I’m happy to let people look at it in all its imperfect glory.

And I’m taking the rest of the day off.