The Woman In The Story (2nd edition) by Helen Jacey (book review).

January 20, 2017 | By | Reply More

I never saw the first edition of ‘The Woman In The Story’, although I would suspect, if anything, it’s the examples used in the story that had the overhaul as some of them weren’t around in 2010 with its first edition. The sub-title is ‘Writing Memorable Female Characters In Trouble, In Love And In Power’ which clues in much of what Jacey is exploring although this is through TV and film material. Oddly, she doesn’t pay much attention to who is writing the material, just whether its giving a representation of the leading female characters. Her examples are from across the board and does feature a few from out genre, including ‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘Game Of Thrones’, so country is no boundary. If you don’t know anything about some of her examples, she goes into detail ticking off the aspects that are covered.

Something that is always a puzzle about such books is why are there no examples given of where characters or those writing them are doing it wrong. I did have a long ponder on this and do wonder if American authors fear being sued for giving such an opinion. Even so, it would be useful for any budding scriptwriter to be able to compare between the two, even if they are much older examples.

Jacey explores female motivation a lot and this might of use in other mediums as well. As I write a fair share of female characters myself, it did give me pause to ponder on why I haven’t covered female relationship to offspring and how other normal life is disrupted by the adventure or dilemma I put them in. With short fiction, there tends to be emphasis on the event more than any side issues but it has given me some pause for thought on this. I think what Jacey is getting most at is not to just change male to female characters but to build up from wanting them there in the first place and avoid typecasting so they are more individualistic. She breaks her role choices into four sets, heroine, nurturer, dependent and believer before breaking them down further which you’ll have to read this book for. Jacey does a comparison to the male versions of these and they do exist.

The analysis of conflict is something that can apply to either sex and can add depth to your characters. The bonding to a child or even a family isn’t something I normally consider in a genre story and I suspect in film, the Ripley/Newt connection in ‘Aliens’ tends to become too apparent. Look at how much military SF uses the same film as its template. For both, there is a need to find something else to say in either facet. Then again, the sex angle or that level of intimacy isn’t always a necessity neither and likely to be put in to please the publisher that sex sales although this isn’t discussed here. Even with films, this has been slowly eased off in recent decades.

There are some things that I wish were covered. Women scriptwriters, let alone women directors are still out-numbered by men so are less likely to cover some aspects of this book although I do hope the male directors read it and give women more script work.

I do think strong women characters have been written in the past although I can understand Jacey wanting to use modern reference for people who might have seen those instead. Even so, showing that there is a history that hasn’t missed strong women characters from the likes of Emma Peel, Dana Scully and Buffy Summers (who had a hefty female support cast).

You will learn a lot from this book and even have some issues that you might be able to apply to script or prose, making it a worthwhile read.

GF Willmetts

January 2016

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 257 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £15.18 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-257-3)

check out website: http://www.mwp.comand www.helenjacey.com

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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