I think I just figured out agency (Dammit.)

6 May

Thanks to the obituaries for Joanna Russ, I’m getting an education in female roles – both in genre fiction and in life.

I may be slow, but I’m on my way up.

I’m working through some sticky issues of agency and point of view in my long-languishing novel-in-progress. I had started the novel – with outline, plot sketch, etc. – with a strong female character: a woman in her 50s who survived a multiple-collapse apocalyptic event 30 years prior. In the first scene, she shoots an 18 year old male in the leg… and doesn’t make a non-reactionary move the rest of the book. Ugh.

Ugh, I say again, because I am so strongly reminded that I was older than 30 when I first took agency in my romantic life. Relationships were things that happened to me, before that – I fell in love, and it was always a surprise, ’cause wasn’t it supposed to be? When the relationships weren’t right (and they weren’t right) I clung to them anyway. Who knew when the next would happen to me?

The rest of my life had to fall apart catastrophically before I woke up. I took a look at the mediocre relationship I had been nursing along, and suddenly realized: I was worth more than that. My time was worth too much to spend any more of it there, and there were more valuable things I could do. I called up the other person, and broke it off. I made the choice, and took action. And there it is: agency.
In Gathering Grace, there are two strong female leads: the superhero and the supervillian, both women in their 60s. Both show agency, thankfully – but you know who’s better at it? The one doing evil. [SPOILER (highlight to read): She starts to show less agency when she starts to be a little less evil. Dammit.]

For me, this relates to the difference between being nice and being kind. Nice is passive, even when it’s active – no boats are rocked. Kind is a choice, an act – even when it’s the choice to not act. Good females of any age, I learned in EVERY media source, were always “nice” – even if the result was misery.

As an author, am I contributing to this ludicrous poison?

Consider the consequence – do I take the complete-draft 120,000-word novel back from the boy?

It means a MAJOR fricken’ rewrite.

I think I have to. As the author, it’s time for me to get some damn agency, myself. I throw the rocks at the characters – but even my females – maybe especially my females – better have the grit and presence to dodge or bat them right back. If I had a strong sense of agency when I started it, 2.5 years ago (already?!?), I never would have let the boy run with the book. The central female character needs to make choices and drive her own motivation forward.

Other writers – do you have this same problem? Advice and encouragement are appreciated! I may be getting better at taking charge and driving forward, myself – but it’s more pleasant to do with others.


One Response to “I think I just figured out agency (Dammit.)”

  1. Jeremy Zimmerman May 7, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    As you know, I struggle with the same thing.

    On the other hand, you’re smart and pretty.

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