Tag 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,

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 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.

Writing Amidst Life

Life is happening around here.

Biohazard

It’s interesting stuff. There’s been serious illness, hospital visits and rehab. Not to mention international travel insurance, car hire, and the whole Christmas and New Year stuff.

I was feeling quite good about myself, getting in some writing here and there, while waiting for a scheduled 3-week family visit to wind down, whereupon I would plunge back into the writing.

But then…life.

And it’s fine. Because it’s important stuff. And I am thrilled that things are now going well. And that I have all these new experiences to draw upon.
I do, however, have to figure out how to write amidst it all. It’s a challenge, but one I’m kind of enjoying.

Because I’ve finally realized that life will continue to happen (at least until it doesn’t, and I certainly won’t be writing after that!).

Summer vacations will be part of my life for the next 8 years and probably longer. I have to figure out how to not put my writing on hold during them. Busy times with the kids will happen. Jobs might come and go. And I have to figure out how to write during them.

Listened to a WritingExcuses podcast yesterday where the hosts were talking about what they and people they know do, to keep writing amidst life. It was eye-opening and thought-provoking. Still not sure I could write during a foreign-language lecture, like Neil Gaiman apparently did, but you never know: there have been times when I’ve been in the middle of a story AND in the middle of the family, with the TV going in the background, and still able to write because the writing was flowing.

So.

Life.

And writing.

Watch this space.

Current projects/priorities:

  1. Finish draft of the novel (so I can revise it for the critique group)
  2. Post weekly Write On Wednesday prompts to StoryADay
  3. Start prepping for April’s build-up to StoryADay (choose projects, pare down projects, write and produce stuff e.g. this year’s prompt book)
  4. Non-fiction book proposal
  5. Reading
  6. Regular column for other site.