Saturday, April 20, 2013

Girl Power: Exploring Female-Centric Storytelling

Going as far as back I can remember, everything I wrote had the same formula.
Girl meets guy that is usually very mysterious or simply is unlike anyone they'd ever known before. Whether it's the first time they're opening up to another person (Jonas), they're a softie under a tough exterior (Lucas), it's always the fascination about the guy that drives the story. Then it's something that has to do with them that propels it forward.
I keep writing to find out what happens to them.

At the same time, although there's always a love story in whatever I write, my focus is almost always on the guy. Like the guy is my main character and the girl is the observer who become a key source of inspiration slash love interest.

I've just always had this issue with writing female characters because they have a little too much of me in them. I see my flaws pop out in them, whether it's brashness I'd never act on in reality or my insecurities.
Just for the heck of it, in a few short stories/sketches I wrote in 2011-12, I vented through my character, who was caught up in some kind of depression, just so I could work through something I was feeling. After a while, though, I just got sick of it because it's always the same thing. Kinda like my life at this moment, but I'm hoping for things to shake up a little next week.

Another issue is the mere fact I didn't have that many female friends.
This is gonna sound super crazy, but I think I can literally count the number of girlfriends I'd had in my life on one hand.
Of those 5 really substantial girlfriends, we're all Facebook friends, but don't really talk all that much... we occasionally comment on each other's statuses (more common with some than most)
but the latest addition, Sam, who I met so many people/friends through... we still keep in touch semi-regularly and for her friendship, I'm extremely grateful. 

None of them were the kinds of girlfriends you see in the movies where there're always trips to the mall, trying on clothes, checking out boys and all that.
It's nothing like what they show in the movies. I enjoy my favorite movies despite the fact I don't have that in common in reality, but all the same, I wouldn't mind something similiar in addition to what I have.

Anyway, there was a reason why I was going into all this... and it does involve something I wrote. Unlike the previous short story I discussed, this one shakes out a lot better with the logistics and the storytelling and such. I thought it might be a good idea to try expanding beyond the usual stuff I wrote with a girlfriend-type story.

It'd bring into some small things from my own life, but I wanted a friendship between girlfriends to blossom through a time of crisis that makes them besties for life.
It was one of those many whispers in the back of my head of something I wanted to attempt, and it was a matter of the right muse showing up to get me started.

That muse happened to be American Idol Season 8 alum Alexis Grace.
So much time had passed now that... aw, who'm I kidding? I literally forgot every other performance of hers after she slayed Dolly Parton's "Jolene." 

I only remember her "Dirty Diana" cover the week before because it was the top 13... I have zero recollection of her semi-final performance or even what song she did, but she was labeled a dark horse after whatever song she did.

In my view, it was a perfect marriage between her and that one song, and I was shocked that she went home as quickly as she did. One of the most devestating American Idol eliminations I experienced... and I'd include Clay Aiken missing out on the title in that discussion.
The only thing substantially more difficult to swallow was Colton Dixon last season going home in 7th... and for the life of me, I couldn't get why Phillip Phillips got all the votes and went on to win... I didn't get him... I still kinda don't, but I have warmed up to his original material.

Another writing trend I went through in these past couple years, after I couldn't put forth the effort to write something of novel-proportions... is that something would come up, either on TV or in a movie, I'd get really attached to a character or person and something happened to them, and I put down on paper (figure of speech, it's always via keyboard) how I saw them so I don't forget what they were like.

This was the first time I went through that process.
I'm kinda amazed, and perhaps there will come a time where I'll kick myself because of this, that considering how much I missed Colton after his elimination, I didn't fall back into the same pattern... write a little something about him.
I might hate myself in a few years for not getting his essence down in paper in the form of a character, although I did write lengthy reviews after each week of American Idol and continually say that, even though I wanted it to be a girls' year, he made me fall for him week after week.

Luckily, he got a record deal and released an amazing album, so there is zero chance I'll forget him entirely.

With Alexis, several elements came together... and it started with her physical description and the few lyrics of "Jolene" I could remember, despite having listened to her sing it half a dozen times, between the performance night, the "save me" performance and on YouTube... 
going by the song as a whole, she could have turned into this girl of unsurpassed beauty that my character would develop a strong relationship with, but then a guy would come into the picture and his attention would be taken up by her...

other than "she was a beauty beyond compare," none of the other lyrics ever went into the story I ended up writing. the "Jolene" Dolly sang about had auburn hair, and supposedly was a bank teller that astounded her husband with her beauty, and she made a big thang about it by putting it in song. Somewhat of an overreaction, I'd say.

Alexis just had this look that set her apart and of course, she had a charming voice I adored. 
I guess you could say she'd go on to join a list of "girl crushes" I procured over the years.

Elements clicked into place little by little the story practically wrote itself over the course of almost 3 months
22 pages, 10,905 words

The end result that blossomed became more than I could have ever imagined. 
I found a pretty good vehicle for myself in Casey Carlton, who began this story as Nick Carraway getting glimpse of Gatsby, that type of narration. Then she stepped away from being the observer, going on about all these things about this girl Jolienne Carine (its a little redundant, both names are derived from words that meant pretty/beautiful), to seeing her for herself. The one time they meet, they hit it off right away, and suddenly she disappears.

Enter the meat of the story: 
Jolienne is hospitalized with leukemia, dropping the name she adopted (according to her, "I traveled abroad one summer for my French class and Pierre, one of the boys in my host family, gave me the name. When I first arrived, he kept telling me how I was ‘jolie,’ which is French for ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful.’ Somehow, the name caught on and nobody’s known me as anything else.), and seeing as Casey happens to be a volunteer at that particular hospital, their friendship grows little by little.

Supposedly, her reputed popularity was an illusion. She got this reputation because nobody else in their school looked like her and she exuded this electric vibe everyone wanted a piece of. Now that she was off the map, though, her existence as "queen bee" was forgotten about.
Naturally, she is nothing like her rep, and is a down-to-earth, extremely sweet person that got dealt a bad hand with this diagonsis. 

Without Casey's friendship, she might not have survived all the treatments and such... heck, she might have been on the bone marrow donation list until it was too late to save her...
although in a later draft, I might have to change up a few facts cuz, supposedly, you have to be 18 to donate bone marrow, and I may have written them as high school freshman... 

Interestingly, they said that you must be 18 and due to the voluntary nature of this procedure, they don't allow a parent or guardian to sign a release form for it... you learn something new everyday. 

I doubt I'd ever be enough of a people person to follow the example of my character, getting in volunteer hours at the hospital to take down information, change IVs and such, and be a source of moral support to people who don't get regular visitors. Later on in another story, I write that she is gearing towards becoming a psychologist for cancer patients.
I wasn't aware at the time that people do do that kind of thing for a living. Anna Kendrick plays a character who has that exact position in that Joseph-Gordon Levitt film "50/50."

Casey's kind of a blank canvas that I could put in a number of situations. I'd even considered redoing this story so she and Jolienne/Alex were hospital room mates when Casey had her procedure done that would go on to inspire her decision to do the volunteer work and so on.
Taking a paper out of my own life, she had surgery to take care of her scoliosis.

Supposing I were to do it all again with that part of the story, Alex's leukemia came back years later, and only when they meet in the hospital again, under different circumstances, they recognize one another from years ago, getting all the more closer.
With all that, I could make the story twice as long as it is.

Or maybe years later, I could have a number of stories done with those two characters, with a few extra additions.
If I were to take it to the publishing routes, I'd have to change at least one name in process because when I reunited the two of them, I brought a character from "Less than Zero" along for the ride.... although the movie moreso than the book.
Speaking of things I had trouble getting over... but that's another story entirely.

Quite possibly, despite the relationship blossoms between my character and his, I could play with the idea of Alex/Jolienne and Casey going beyond friendship as well. Really playing up the "girl crush" thing and playing around with the possibilities of that.

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