Is There Another Way To Create A Heroine?
They’re known as WIP films, and have been around as long as cinema. I suppose my favourite Women In Peril films would include ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Link’, ‘Wait Until Dark’, ‘The Hidden Face’, ‘Suspiria’, ‘Julia’s Eyes’, ‘Panic Room’, ‘The Hidden Face’ and ‘Penumbra’, but there are many others. One could even describe ‘Aliens’ as a WIP film.
I’ve always been drawn to strong female characters, but there’s a problem. Usually writers empower the woman by making her a surrogate male, which always struck me as false. Look at ‘Aliens’, in which Ripley all but morphs into a male action figure. This reaches surreal heights when strong female characters knock out a powerful man with one punch.
What I’ve tried to do with a new book I’m just finishing for next year is take the traditional approach to the heroine and turn it on its head.
I’ve played around with subverting female characters many times before, most recently in ‘Plastic’, which was light-hearted with a dark undertow, and ‘Nyctophobia’ (out in three months) which plays it straight into darkness with a headstrong female lead. Next year’s ‘Dream World’ takes the idea into a bigger, more paranoid arena. The main character, Lea, is rendered powerless by circumstances, but it would be absurd to suddenly transform her into a heroine. Instead she becomes ever more trapped until a way forward presents itself because of her curiosity and refusal to accepts societal norms – which feels more natural to me.
Here’s the revised outline;
‘Dream World’ follows Lea, her architect husband Roy and 15 year-old daughter Cara as they travel from London to the Middle East, where Roy has been hired to deal with teething problems at the titular resort complex. The thought of living in guaranteed sunshine near a beach excites them, and the ex-pats who live on the employees’ gated estate prove almost too welcoming.
However, the endless heat quickly becomes oppressive. The other wives are happy to follow behind their husbands, cooking and arranging tea parties, but Lea finds herself a virtual prisoner. Her husband is often absent, and she fears that Cara is growing distant.
But at least there are fellow outsiders, misfits who don’t enjoy the conformity of the ex-pat community – until one night, when the most outspoken one is killed in a bizarre hit-and-run accident. His death is only the first in a string of disturbing occurrences. Lea starts to fear that someone is committing terrible acts of cruelty – but is there a real threat to her life, or is she becoming paranoid?
Fearing for the future of her family and her own sanity, Lea starts to suspect an unthinkable truth about the twin natures of conformity and rebellion…
What I’m trying to do here is find an organic approach to telling Lea’s story. Only you’ll be able to tell me whether I’ve succeeded.