Is There Another Way To Create A Heroine?

Reading & Writing


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.


3 comments on “Is There Another Way To Create A Heroine?”

  1. pheeny says:

    Sounds interesting.
    Sadly most of the time it is only by adopting “male” values that women can attain positions of power and authority – and even then are subjected to a weird double standard of behaviour ( men are assertive/women are bossy)
    Interestingly in the original “Alien” the character of Ripley was originally written as gender blind and it was refreshing to see a strong female lead not revert to type at the end, either by falling into the hero’s arms or (the more usual fate for strong women characters) by being killed off

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    I’ve always found that in each foreign country, there is with a contingent of overseas resident citizens who belong to a women’s organization that is set up to do charity work and organize functions like the national day’s celebration and other “good works”. These organizations tend to be run by the wives of senior officers and staffed by junior to midlevel wives. Participation in the organizations are pretty much “mandatory”, if the husband wishes to rise up in the ranks. (Male spouses get drawn in, too, but it’s awkward.) There often is/are a senior woman or two who RUN(S) things and the assistance asked can be rather tough: “Alice you can bake five dozen cupcakes. You know with different icings and the sprinkles the locals find so attractive.”
    Some of these organizations can be rather too much. Unless… a wife has an out, as my wife did: She is German (American now) and ignored all the heavy suggestions to join, while keeping on everyone’s good side.

  3. Mim says:

    Sounds very interesting – I loved JG Ballard’s ‘Cocaine Nights’, which explored similar themes, though that’s more to do with transgression and creativity than conformity and rebellion. I look forward to reading it.

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