Aspiring writers looking to craft realistic woman at war, not stereotypical dudes with boobs or worse, attended an hour-long workshop in the Hyatt Hanover on Friday at 5:30PM with Janine K. Spendlove.
Like any good story, you need to know the main character’s background. Spendlove is an active duty US Marine who’s been in for 17 years and was the first female C-130 pilot to deploy. She’s currently stationed at the Pentagon and works for the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which is one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his think-tank. Spendlove’s current position is to think about things and then sometimes to write about how issues will affect the fleet.
One thing that writers often struggle with is writing characters and settings that they aren’t familiar with or fully understand. “If you don’t know about something, ask someone! People love to talk about what they do,” Spendlove advised. “Just because you don’t know it, and you haven’t experienced it, doesn’t mean you can’t write it. You shouldn’t be afraid to either.” Spendlove went on to explain that you should do your homework and write the right character for you. You may not get everything right, and you probably won’t, but don’t be afraid to get it wrong. Listen to what people say, and learn from your mistakes.
When building the world that your strong military women exist in, you must understand the stereotypes that they may face. When writing science fiction or fantasy, you can build the world in a way that these stereotypes don’t exist, but also know why they don’t exist. While you should avoid writing your characters to be one of the stereotypes, it’s important to understand that stereotypes occur in their world, and she may have to overcome them.
One of the reasons that these stereotypes exist is due to women’s low representation in the military. Once a population reaches the 20%-25% mark, like in the Air Force, then those stereotypes become less pronounced and may not happen as often. In the Marines, 7% of total enlisted are women; in Marine Aviation the number drops to less than 4%, and only 11 total women are in the general officer corps.
Spendlove said that when you’re writing pioneering women she could have a strong desire to be the best and not screw it up for all women. There’s a drive in their character to be perfect at all times, so that she won’t lose the opportunity for the women who come after.
How do you write these women? The same way you write your other female characters. Ask what inspired her to serve. Then ask yourself, why? Once you understand her biography, you can write about her and then create the world she belongs to.
From there, know and understand what women in military roles can and can’t do. You have to know the military roles of that world. In order to move to this rank and have that title, she has to be able to do these things. That helps you to craft the story and bring it to life.
Finally, be true to the character as she progresses. Will her environment or moving up in rank cause her to change the way she interacts with others? Keep her and her journey in mind. Not sure how she’d react as her character develops? Remember Spendlove’s above advice: Don’t be afraid to ask someone!