East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Getting at least the basics straight


A few months back, I was the witness of a surreal discussion among (male) writers about how to write (female) characters.
It was one of those things that REALLY make me feel like a rude mechanical that gatecrashed a party of fine intellectuals, because the guys brought up literary theory, polling the feedback of female beta readers and conducting interviews with control groups to be sure of “getting it right”, and then of course Jung’s theory of the Animus and Anima, yin and yang, Freud’s letter to his chiropractor and what else.
Real heavy stuff.

Now, I usually think about the women I have known in my life – friends and lovers, relations and acquaintances, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, strangers overheard on the train and at the supermarket.
Characters in books, films, comics.
For certain bits – like the name of certain items of clothing, current or past fashion trends, make-up and grooming, I do a spot of research.
The rest I make up.
So far nobody complained about my female characters.

But then last night, I was shown this…

And I think we need to talk.
So take a deep breath, stop laughing, and let’s talk.

The quote comes from a book called Desperate Measures, written by Stuart Woods. The book is published by Penguin/Random House (it is not, in other words, one of those ugly self-published things that everybody claims are killing literature), it will set you back 10 bucks in ebook, and is the 47th volume in a series.
The novel has 201 reviews on Amazon and an average of 4+ stars, and is described thus by a reviewer on Goodreads…

I actually think this is one of his better books, at least of late. While it’s still formulaic, here’s a new twist: the first woman he sleeps with tells him she only has sex with a guy three times so she does not get attached so Stone forces himself to do the nasty only twice and then hires her as his new pilot (as he swaps his plane for a larger one requiring two pilots.) Turns out she is the same type of women being serially killed and won’t play it safe. Good backstory on catching the bad guys here, including sexy, competitive twins. Stone also becomes one of two suspected perps when a divorcee who he helps is murdered and he finds the dead body. The ex-husband hedge fund manager has a temper, and Fred drops him when he’s stalking in the neighborhood. Herbie handles the divorce. Dino bops in and out. No politics in this one: what a relief!

Four-star Goodreads review

And yes, the thing I find really disquieting is the hint at the fact that the author – at least according to one of his fans – handles politics a lot worse than he handles sex: think about the vaginal purse holding credit card and driver’s license, then think about what this guy can do to current politics.

Now I have no right when it comes to criticizing an author’s choice of plot or characters, and a reader’s choice of reading matter. To each their own.
But what the heck, do some kind of research!

And I can understand you do not actually feel like asking a female friend whether bags you can stuff in your nether regions are actually a thing or just a clever idea you had and nobody else ever did, but for heaven’s sake, use google!

I often stop reading thrillers when the author blunders on silly stuff like mixing up revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, or slips in a gun-carrying London bobby or other such things. Writing is a con-game, and I want my writers to do the hard work and con me properly.
You call a Walther PPK a revolver, you tell me you are making this up – and then how can I believe all the rest about international politics, stolen warheads, the actual effects of a dirty bomb and all the rest of technobabble that so often fills thriller books?
Research should be taken seriously.
We need to get at least the basics straight to help the reader suspend incredulity.
And if you want to write about a ladies’ man that beds whatever comes in sight, giving me the vagina carry-all is not a good start.
Or a good finish.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Getting at least the basics straight

  1. I googled “vagina purse” to see if such a thing was actually a thing. I gave up after six pages. There were links to purses shaped liked vaginas and a few article about women smuggling things in their vaginas but no links to commercial products intended for storing items in the vagina.


    • Well… I googled too while writing this post. Same results.
      That, and the sarcasm of my contacts of the female persuasion convinced me this is not actually apiece of brilliant research, but just a gross invention.


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