Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Writing About Women? Consider the word "Agency"

Years ago as I started writing fiction, a question came up about adding more main characters into my series of books. It's true. I was asking it of myself. No one else was in the room.

Cale Thomas was rapidly filling out and developing as THE main character. The plot was coming along, aided by numerous research discoveries that left me shaking my head over how truth and fiction were colliding (more on that throughout this month). But Cale couldn't just talk to himself nor could the books rely on internal soliloquies as a tool to move things along. Enter more characters.

It's only natural that a lonely military guy camped out in the middle of nowhere needs to meet someone right? Sorry to be so predictable, but yes. Cale meets Dana, back in the beginning of River and Ranch, the book prior to New Grass Growing. So we have these two characters now. They are together BUT...they are also apart. And that is the segue leading up to today's letter.

Yes, the letter "A" is brought to you by the always fascinating word "Agency".

Just what is agency? Why is it the first entry in this 26 day A-Z blogging challenge?

It is the first entry, because the women that appear throughout this book series are complex strong, capable, and more than nuanced enough to carry their own plot lines. Does anyone beside me think of Prairie Home Companion, where "the women are strong"? Garrison Keillor's voice rolls through my head carrying that phrase, but I digress.

Thanks for hanging in there and tolerating my sudden left turns into trivia.

Back to "agency". Wikipedia's definition of agency is more than enough to start this ball rolling. Go ahead, click the link and read the definition. I'll wait, I need more coffee anyway.

Before I forget, I hope you will tune in for one of tomorrow's entries. Yes tomorrow is a double day. One of those entries is "the Bechdel Test", a neat way to consider agency, initially in female movie characters, but now used in fiction as well.

Turns out there's a ton of mostly relevant content you can find with Google's help on the word "agency". One that does not appear on the first page linked to above comes from Chuck Wendig's authorial wanderings. His version of the meaning of agency hits home for me. Agency implies strength, so initially you have strong female characters and this leads the reader's eye to somewhat expect men in women's clothing and character roles. I think The Athena Project from Brad Thor is a good example of this.

Chuck Wendig's blog entry (above) about strong female characters and agency does a superb job of working through this stereotypic treatment of women in lead roles in action type genres. I won't repeat what he writes and what the always worthy comments (and there are hundreds of them) further flesh out. Suffice it to say that "agency" as it applies to female characters, at least the female characters in my books, means more than just strong in a male definition of the term. I like "nuanced" and "complex" at least as much as "strong".

For me, the heart of this word agency is writing characters that are women leading their own lives, solving their own problems and happily enjoying the company of men all in such a way as to be human and independent, rather than falling back on the annoying tendency in fiction where most female characters fit in the narrative where the male characters need them to be. Think "Nell" tied to the railroad tracks in the old Dudley Do-Right characterfrom the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon back in the day.

Being the father of three daughters has helped me in understanding the balance that "agency" carries. My wife and I have raised and are still raising our three daughters to be strong and independent. One of the many meanings I take from this word comes from listening to my daughters talk about boys and their "hotness", "who is dating who" and "who said what". But in the next second, they are talking summer jobs, physics test, why a low cross is better or worse than a cross that comes off their foot and goes high, where the oldest one wants to live next year, and how can they find a room mate because one of them suddenly decamped to another school (sorry for the long string of dependent phrases there). In short, they are living their lives, much of which revolves around them and what they need to do to get by, and less of which puts them in an orbit around someone with a Y chromosome.


  1. I'm going to have to check out the novel of yours.Your daughters are going to grow up as smart independent women because of their father. (Yes that is you). Great start on the AtoZ challenge.

  2. Inteorroresting post, I'll have to ruminate on such, and look forward to tommorows posts. Thanks for stopping at my blog earlier today, as well.

  3. Wonderful post. It's fantastic to hear girls growing up to be strong and independent women. Good luck during the Challenge!

    Visiting from Untethered Realms