Linda Maye Adams

How do people think this is good storytelling?!


A woman in a sun dress runs into the surf on a beach.

Okay, I admit it. I picked this for the beach picture.  Isn’t the water pretty? Photo from Clipart.com


For my 10 Stories in 10 Weeks, I’ve been submitting the stories to a new market to complete the week.  All of my stories have women characters.  Not necessarily a woman protagonist — Story #4 has a male protagonist, but a woman character figures prominently in the solution of the story.

I know magazines are hungry for stories with women characters (as well as characters of color, and characters with disabilities).  So I look for places that want that and was quite shocked to see this guideline on Shimmer:

We are extremely unlikely to be interested in rape stories. We encourage you to find other dimensions for your female characters besides their rapeability.

My jaw hit the floor.  How can any writer think this is good characterization or good storytelling?  Worse, the fact that the magazine had to post this particular guideline means that a lot of writers do think it’s a good way to characterize women and tell a story.  Doesn’t all the news about the sexual assaults in the military mean anything?

In my novel Miasma, my male main character has a female sidekick who is a soldier detached out to him.  In the original conception of the story, she had been stalked while at war and beat the crap out of the guy when he came at her with a knife.  Even though it is a reality for women in the military, I took all that out after the story broke on the efforts to make Lara Croft “vulnerable.”

There has to be a better way than making a woman a victim to build a story.

5 Comments

  1. “There has to be a better way than making a woman a victim to build a story.”
    Centering the entire story around a rape seems rather overdone at this point and even “an easy way out” if one is to victimize a woman, but on the other hand, if the author feels the need to add her two cents to the pool of rape stories / rape discussions, I can’t see any harm in that — except it won’t be accepted by some magazines or publishers. Being sexually harassed is quite common in many a woman’s life, especially when you’re young and pretty, so if the author strives to be realistic, s/he probably has to take this notion into account if they write e.g. a particularly lawless world.
    -K. Trian

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    • Young and pretty has nothing to do with harassment.

      And so much is being written on the gratuitous side that it has made me think: Which is better — showing the woman as a victim (which unfortunately a harassment story does) and showing the woman as a character.

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      • I have to disagree with the first line. While Google is not the Most Prestigious and Reliable Source in the Universe, with a critical eye it’s possible to find examples of e.g. anti-harassment tactics, one being acting less girlish and more lady-like (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_harassment#Study_on_the_behaviours_women_use_to_manage_sexual_harassment). Though I’m by no means saying that being young (and possibly pretty–what is considered pretty varies from culture to culture of course) means you’re bound to get harassed and being older keeps one safe from harassment.

        Rape portrayed gratuitously is just sick. If the female character is defined by being “the victim” instead of being a multidimensional character with many traits… sounds like one-dimensional and shoddy characterization.

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      • Thinking the women are all young and pretty is a bit naive. I know someone who was assaulted who didn’t fit in with that qualification (in her 30s), and the investigators were mystified as to why the guy would have been interested in her, since she wasn’t “especially pretty.” The assailants look for someone vulnerable, and that’s any age. Granted, the assailants tend to target lower ranks because those are the more vulnerable, and those do tend to be young, but not always.

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      • I agree. I’m also sorry to hear something like that has happened, I hope the assailant was caught and sentenced accordingly. Anyhow, this was a thought-provoking blog post, thanks for it.
        -K. Trian

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