Writing journal, no. 2

Bone Jack: Gender roles. Are any changes big or small?

Today, at least, I feel pleased to have started to journal about writing. The act of writing down what I have on my mind helps me think past what I have on my mind and think the next thing.

So essentially what’s up is this: I’ve been struggling with writing new prose in the new novel, City Song, Part Two, that I mentioned yesterday.

What keeps getting in my craw and giving me something to chew on is these two big editorial projects that I feel hungry to work on. First one is to print off and do an assessment of City Song, Part One. So I think that’s today’s goal: go print off the book.

But the real nasty problem that keeps giggling at me in quiet minutes is this significant editorial overhaul I have been putting off making to the last novel I finished, Bone Jack.

Bone Jack, described in a few words, is a piece of Romantic/Enlightenment Era navy fiction — sailing ships and similar — taking place in a landlocked prairie. It also indulges my fancy for highly disciplined, warrior monks. I discovered that Zen/Jedi type monks having adventures during the Age of Sail creates a fascinating ideological contrast that appealed to me.

So here’s the thing: I have a tendency to write male main characters. I don’t know if that surprises too much. Statistically, I understand that makes a kind of sense.

In general, it kind of strikes me as peculiar that I write male characters. I usually find men obvious, boorish trolls, present company included — meaning me. And hardly interesting to follow on adventures. I have never known why I tend to write men, except if it’s because, as a man, I tend to have a better grasp on their problems and thought processes.

Know what, though? I’ve occasionally written female main characters. I always liked doing it. And people who read those stories said I did all right too.

Long and short of it goes like this: the main character in Bone Jack kind of bored me. Not because he’s necessarily a boring person. He’s just the kind of person who might do better as a side character than a main character. I just never quite got on his side.

Something kept happening while I wrote the first draft and edited the second draft, though. It started when somebody noticed that I had not included any women in the story. Which, you know, I hadn’t, and it niggled at me from the start. I couldn’t think how to have many female characters in the book. I was writing a piece of fiction based in an ideological context similar to the late seventeen and early eighteen hundreds in which a bulk of the action took place on the vessels of what you might call “high risk traders.” Not only that, almost all the scenes took place between three characters — the main character, a blacksmith who sort of became his teacher, and a ship’s captain. Which doesn’t preclude the presence of women. It would just make women less common. There’s lots of ways that I can work around that, which I kept musing on.

I’m not sure if it was that exact spark, or just me running thought experiments. Whatever the reason, I eventually had the thought, “I could just make Itzal a girl. In a sense, that would be the easiest way to get a woman in the narrative.”

Itzal’s the main character. And Itzal’s the only character who is more or less not subject to the rules of the late seventeen hundred early eighteen hundreds sexually restrictive ideologies, because Itzal is the Warrior Monk character.

I kept kind of musing on that on and off during the first draft. Then, after finishing the first draft, I showed it to a few trusted readers. The subject of Itzal’s weakness as a character kept rising during the subsequent conversation. Sort of inevitable.

The question was proposed: if he isn’t as compelling a character as, maybe, he could be, what can we change to make him more interesting?

I said, during one of these conversations, that I had considered making him a girl.

Which, entirely past expectation, felt incredibly right. I mean to say, I thought back over the character, and just flipping Itzal all the way over to “feminine energy” helped with all of the parts that made him difficult for me to fully invest in before. It’s almost like he knew he was a girl all along.

I keep using the masculine pronoun because I have not yet made any changes to the manuscript.

Next mission: revisit Bone Jack and start making whatever changes need to happen to make Itzal a girl.

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