29 September 2010

An Interesting Question about Story

Excuse my double negative, but I couldn't not repost this link from author Kate Elliott.  It's a wonderful piece that speaks to the timelessness of cyclic human history, with underlying suggestions about changing future history through family dynamics.

Kate Elliott is an American fantasy author whom I very much respect.  I've only read one series of hers, the Crown of Stars septology (I might have just invented a word...), but it was amazing and I look forward to reading her other work.  Her blog covers many topics, including writing, publishing, her books, her family, and pretty much anything that crosses her mind.  That last has led to a lot of interesting posts including my two favorites on the Bechdel test (very short) and epic fantasy (more complete).

If you haven't heard of it (and I hadn't before Elliott's post), the Bechdel test is a pretty simple sorting criteria for a story.  A story passes the Bechdel test if it:

  1. Has two named women
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than men.
*Note: the original test only asked for two female characters, but increasingly those who are concerned with such things modify it slightly to require that those characters be named.  The original source also only applied the test to movies, but it can easily be generalized to any story-telling medium.

Obviously, we could have great conversations about passing the test in spirit or in letter and the fact that passing or failing doesn't mean a story is bad or good, and Elliott's second entry above discusses these issues in better detail.  But it is an interesting measure of how society perceives gender balance and what we allow to go unnoticed.  We women certainly know that we're named and talk to each other about a wide variety of non-male centric topics.  So surely our story-telling arts reflect that, right?  Right?

I've always felt that my preferred genre, science fiction and fantasy, was more gender balanced than general fiction tends to be.  Looking through the lens of this test brings me to the realization that the difference is not nearly as wide as I once thought.  John Scalzi, an author whom I have not yet read but who writes a great blog and is a creative consultant on Stargate Universe (one of my favorite current shows), demonstrated this pretty dramatically with movies from the past 5 years.

So go ahead.  Apply the test to your favorite movies, TV shows, and books.  See what you get.  Find anything interesting?  Any patterns?  I'm thinking of starting a blog page with a running list of stories that I watch or read and whether they pass, both by spirit and letter.  What do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment