Two days! Two days of writing left before we turn in the drafts of our Grimm Challenge Plays. I'm down to the wire, racing against the clock with my back against to ropes. My second act is in shambles and all I can think of are over-used idioms!
Courage in the Upside-down World. Granted, that play was supposed to be biographical. But still...
In general, I have a hard time putting away the books and closing my web browser and getting down to writing. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Perhaps. And now I'm doing that idiom-thing again.
Because of my research, many things have changed in the story. I envisioned a good part of my second act taking place on the pack ice in the Arctic Ocean. After reading more about how polar drift works, and realize my gross ignorance on the subject, I decided the story would only work on terra firma, or more specifically: pre-Soviet Franz Josef Land.
Another hurdle has been my own personal challenge to make the play - the story of an expedition that takes place in the Jazz Age - inclusive. The number of male and female characters are equal, plus there are about ten, smaller characters who can be cast as women or men, depending on the needs of the production.
My central character is a women. The leader of the expedition she is part of is a woman. Did I mention the story takes place in 1925? There is a certain amount of alternate history involved, of course, but even in fantastical stories people seem to have a hard time accepting women in adventure - especially if they are not romantically connected to the other characters. Several years ago I was watching National Treasure or something similar with my housemates. We were juniors and seniors in college and we enjoyed taking a break from our work to enjoy a movie together. This time though, I found myself a little bored with the film and I wondered aloud why there seemed to be such a shortage of women action heroes. (As a child, I had always sought out books where this was explicitly not the case). On the screen, the hero swung across a ravine or something similar on a rope. The helpless female love-interest was busy being helpless.
"They're not strong enough," one of my (female) housemates promptly replied.
"What?" I said.
"Women are not strong enough to be action heroes."
The other housemates agreed, further implying that they would not care to see a woman action hero - that the idea was silly. "But-but it's not silly," I said. "One man isn't strong enough to do all the things the guy in this movie is doing." Besides, I thought. It's not about muscular strength. If it was, then why did I recently spend nine and a half hours of my life watching tiny hobbits trying to take a ring to Mordor? No, I decided. There are many types of strength needed for an adventure story. There is muscular strength, but also endurance, strength of mind and most importantly, strength of character. No, this problem had deeper roots and it had something to do with the way men and women were seen in fiction.
Of course, in this project, the last thing I want to do is write one of those self-aware, condescending heroines that have appeared regularly in Hollywood movies in the past decade. You probably know her. The pretty princess who sort of needs to be rescued, but then holds her own by kick-boxing her way out of a gang of thugs. Her eyes twinkle and you can practically hear her saying: "Tee-hee! Girl power!" She is almost never injured or killed.
I find this sort of pseudo-empowerment highly disturbing.
Well, here's what I think works, and here's what I am attempting to do in my play: develop the characters. All the characters, male and female need back story and real character traits. They should not be merely plot devices, tokens or eye candy. This is not easy. I've found hypocrisies and false presuppositions in my own thinking that I have had to address. It has not been easy, but so far it has been extremely gratifying. I hope most of all it will help people see women in adventure stories as real characters - real heroes. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this topic, please comment. I would love to hear your ideas. But for now, I must get back to this writing challenge. Good luck to my fellow challengers, and I will leave you will one last idiom: time is fleeting!
-P. O. Anna
P.S. My play is inspired by Sleeping Beauty. I've swapped the genders of the princess and the prince, but I'm hoping the play will leave people wondering: who rescued who?
P.P.S. More of my illustrations can be found at www.acupofteaandadventure.com.