Writing Female

Writer: Jo Harper

This article was published in Thereviewshub.com Feb 23 2022 https://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-post-writing-female/

Recently I’m writing alot of female characters – I wrote an all-female short film Daughter and now an all-female play – The Beach House. I was always writing women but coming out of lockdown I decided I wanted to actively pursue stories about women and develop female protagonists. We’re half of the population, there’s millions of women to write about. I have two sons and I harped on to them about how few women feature in the movies they watched as they were growing up, in particular how few complicated women, older women make an appearance. So it felt like the right time to sharpen up my writing focus and push on. Having said that, I don’t want to alienate half of the population, I want to write stories that men relate to, that feel universal with female characters, that’s what I’m passionate about.

So I posted online that I was going to be writing female-focused stories, make it a statement of intent, freshened up my bio. Immediately a guy DM’ed me with some advice and research about how to write female characters. He’s a script consultant. He’s compiled research about creating female characters and now he was offering it to me for free. I did start to read the research. I did message back and say thanks and I’d be reading it. I’m sure it was really interesting, well thought out, it’s great that we’re discussing this, that men are discussing this as well as women. But I didn’t read any of it. I smiled about it and I tried to unpick it instead. It felt like that little DM landing in my inbox deserved more attention than the actual research.

Sending research, advice and feedback is a two way thing. Giving and receiving advice. I didn’t ask for the research to be given by the way. I didn’t ask for anything, I was shouting about my own statement of intent, I was hoping people would take me more seriously as a writer of female characters. And I find it intriguing that a male script consultant chose to give me advice about writing for women, my own lived in experience. I’ve never reached out and given advice to men about writing male characters, it’s not something I would feel comfortable doing. It’s not something I would feel confident about doing either.

And then the receiving part, I did want to read the research and take it on board because I like to think I’m a good listener, I want to be a good listener. If I’m writing characters people believe in it’s only because I’m listening and developing my characters based on the people around me I’ve listened to. But I didn’t read the research because I also need to trust that I can write stories about women without being validated by men. I am someone who looks for validation with my writing but I’m trying to not be that so much and trust that my own experience is valid, finding a way with my own research and characters feels like more fertile ground for me. Female writers need the space and the platforms to get their voices heard. That’s how we create more female characters on stage and screen.

My characters in The Beach House came from my own female experience and my experience of being with women and listening to them. They also come from a collaboration with, most importantly, my dramaturg Yaël Shavit who is a feedback genius, and my director Bethany Pitts, who is a different kind of genius. And of course our three wonderful actors, Kathryn Bond, Gemma Lawrence and Gemma Barnett.

Come and see our play about three female protagonists Kate, Liv and Jenny. They’re all surprising and entertaining, at times they’re beautiful but they also do ugly stuff like we all do. Come and watch their messiness, I think it’s a universal messiness that we can all relate to.

The Beach House plays at The Park Theatre, London until 11 March 2023

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