Writing Strong Female Characters – the trick

Hey you.

Yes you, over there! The guy with the pen.

I see you there, sitting, poring over your script. Trying to figure out how to write a strong female character. And all you’re ending up with is … well… a weak female character.

Want to know the trick?

The secret…? How to get into a woman’s head, and turn her into Sarah Connor in Terminator 2? Or Ripley in Aliens? Or Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill? Or heck, we could go for less overt strong female roles.

It’s easier than you might think.

Just write them as if you’re writing a guy. Stop thinking about it so hard.

It’s really just that simple. Most guys (and a few female writers) will write their characters in over stereotypes. Just drop your concept of gender, and write them as you. Don’t color them in such gaudy strokes – remember, your actress will have all kinds of wonderful tricks to remind the audience that they’re female. And heck, you can have sexual banter in your script even. But don’t make the mistake of writing the girl as a girl, or even a guy as a guy. Because the reality is that we’re actually a lot more similar than you might think.

For example, the stereotype of the rational, clear-thinking man, and the irrational, illogical woman? Complete balderdash. Every woman I’ve ever met has been way more clinically logical and ruthless than every man I’ve ever met – especially when it comes to relationships and love. Women seem to have this ability to boil everything down into a set of logical rules that they apply without actually letting their emotions get in the way, and no matter how in love they are. They have to – this is an evolutionary thing; they’re looking for the best chance at their (potential) child’s survival – and this requires ruthless choices.

Men, on the other hand? If we fall in love, our critical reasoning skills fall to pieces. Ruthless logical, rational thinking? Forget about it. Our hearts drive us more than our brains in these situations. That pint of Haagen-Dasz stereotype where the girl is unhappy, and watches romantic comedies while crying into tissues? Sure it happens. It happens to guys too. Just typically without the ice cream. Or the romantic comedies. We’re just not officially allowed to show it in modern society, because we’re supposed to be manly men, all chest hair and permanently erect, looking for the next vagina to be inside of.

(And frankly, women don’t want to see that soft stuff anyway… there’s nothing less sexy than a guy having a pity party… although oddly it worked in Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

About the only valid stereotype is that when discussing something that’s annoying them, men want to attack the immediate problem and fix it, whereas women want sympathy for the problem. And even then, that’s not always true. It really doesn’t cross gender barriers either – most men will get annoyed if you try the fixing it role when they have a dilemma which is causing them emotional pain. They really just want sympathy too.

In short, don’t rely on stereotypes when you’re dealing with gender roles and characters. It’s a way too broad brush unless you’re writing slapstick comedy.


Friday the 13th!

Today is the 2nd Friday 13th of 2009. There’s actually three. (Spooky eh? Well… spooky if you’re paraskevadecatriaphobic maybe).

Just so you don’t need to worry any more, here’s a C# program, so you can figure out when it’s going to happen again.

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;

namespace Friday13th
    class Program
        static void Main(string[] args)
            for (int i = 1601; i < 2500; ++i)
                int fricount = 0;
                for (int j = 1; j < 12; ++j)
                    DateTime dt = new DateTime(i, j, 13);
                    if (dt.DayOfWeek == DayOfWeek.Friday)

                if (fricount > 2)
                    Console.Out.WriteLine("{0} has {1} Friday 13ths...", i, fricount);

Now, of course, this program only dumps out the years which have three of them, which is actually not all that many. In fact those poor souls who are tri-paraskevadecatriaphobic have had a relatively free ride since 1998 – this being the first year since then that we’ve had three in a year.

Unfortunately, the next few years are going to be rough for those poor souls, because it happens again and again – next time is 2012, then 2015, then a period of respite until 2026.

Good thing I’m not superstitious. (Touch wood). Here’s the output of the program for the next few centuries.

2009 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2012 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2015 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2026 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2037 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2040 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2043 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2054 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2065 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2068 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2071 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2082 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2093 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2096 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2099 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2105 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2108 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2111 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2122 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2133 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2136 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2139 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2150 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2161 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2164 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2167 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2178 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2189 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2192 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2195 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2201 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2204 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2207 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2218 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2229 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2232 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2235 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2246 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2257 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2260 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2263 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2274 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2285 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2288 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2291 has 3 Friday 13ths...

#programming, #horror
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Comcast: Some of Our Channels Are Missing!

Darci and I were really looking forward to seeing Breaking Bad on AMCHD tonight (channel 697).

Breaking Bad,as we expected to see it

Unfortunately, for some reason, all we were getting is a blank screen. A huge block of channels from 679-695 and 697 and higher are all gone. Missing. No idea what has happened.

Artist's rendition of Breaking Bad,as we actually saw it

We rebooted the Tivo. The Comcast support tech we called did some magic trickery on his end, and he has no idea what happened with the channels either.

So I did a quick check on the website. The channels are missing from the lineup there too!

Apparently, several areas are experiencing missing channels; the Comcast support tech we talked to said that the channels are not appearing in the line up, and are completely missing. They have no idea what’s happening. No idea at all.

They’re going to check into it. They think it could be hardware changeovers, or any other number of weird things, but it is weird. They’re gone, baby, gone.


The Pyramids, Skyscrapers and Evolution

(Why Evolution Just Makes Sense: Part 2)

One common argument of the Intelligent Design crowd is that things like the eye, the brain, even the cell are too complex to have arisen by chance.

They say there’s too many moving parts. Too many things to go wrong. Too much infrastructure.

And you know, they’re absolutely right! There is absolutely no way a cell could arise randomly out of nowhere. (Well, ok, there is a finite probability that it could happen, but it’s probably much less than the previous article’s number of die-rolls we arrived at of about 1 in 8x1063).

Allow me to introduce a Pyramid, and a Skyscraper.

pyramid Skyscraper_Lovely

What do these have anything to do with evolution?

Well, the argument that it requires a lot of infrastructure misses one very important point.


In case you’ve forgotten what scaffolding is, here’s a picture:

scaffolding It’s that stuff that lets you build buildings. You put it up, along with all of the other machinery and structure that you need to make the thing. You know, thing like cranes. Diggers. Pile drivers.

And what do you do when you don’t need it any more?

You get rid of it.

Here’s the trick with randomness. I already gave you a pretty straightforward argument as to why things get more complex – and more efficient – in their environments as they exhaust resources. (Namely, because if they don’t, they die off, and it’s the end of the line… so it’s do or die).

Randomness doesn’t care which direction it goes. The only thing is, in a competitive environment, only the efficient solutions will survive.

Nature doesn’t care how long it takes to arrive at a solution though, as long as it doesn’t radically hamper the efficiency/survivability of a random change. And don’t forget, we’re still dealing with a huge number of possible random changes. Most of which, by the way, we’ll never see – again, there’s that efficiency criterion coming into play here. The bad solutions are fleeting – they only last one generation. The good ones? They persist.

But once Nature finds a solution, that solution will stick. It can take as wandering a route as it likes, and the moment it builds that better mousetrap, that solution will take over rapidly. It’ll grow exponentially, killing other things in its niche.

What happens then?

Well, we have an interesting situation. We’ve already got the best of breed. But it has all that nasty scaffolding. It doesn’t need it any more.

But carrying around all that dead weight has a cost – it’s not as efficient as it could be.

You can probably guess where this is going.

What we have here is a gradient. If the random changes get rid of the advantage, then it won’t survive – it’ll get eaten by the other entities. But it’s going to change anyway – it’s not as efficient as it can be. So…

The scaffolding comes down. It has no choice but to. The only changes which make the entity more efficient are those that get rid of it. So slowly, over time, randomly, the scaffolding is taken away. What you’re left with is the building.

Pyramids have a lot in common with evolution. There are those out there – crackpots – who believe that aliens built them. Because there’s no way any human could have done it.

But that’s wrong.

And so is Intelligent Design, for exactly the same reason. The scaffolding has been taken away. All you’re left with now is the end result.

#religion, #evolution
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Why Evolution Just Makes Sense

A lot of Intelligent Design proponents believe that cells are too complex to have arisen randomly. They point to the micro-machines of the organelles and say that there is no way this could happen randomly.

This is a total fallacy.

Here’s the trick:
You only need to create ONE reproducing structure for it to multiply. At that point, things are self-sustainable.

Once you have one thing that reproduces, it’ll reproduce like wildfire. Every time it reproduces, you now have two things which can reproduce, until they exhaust their environment.RNA

Now in a small environment, you’ll quickly exhaust the source of raw materials needed to make new things. Which means that unless you provide more raw materials, that particular strain of life is gone.

There is another solution though – more random changes. Until you end up with something that more effectively uses those resources – or can cannibalize the other entities.

This, in and of itself, pretty solidly ensures the direction of evolution – the pressure to more efficiently cannibalize resources form the environment ensures that complexity will increase in the long term. The only other alternative is the whole system stalls and dies out.

So that first guy happens randomly. Pure chance.

And it has millions of years, and changes on the orders of milliseconds within which to do it (chemistry works fast).

That's just for the first one. Once you have one, you can have random variations. But the one that works still exists. And it can change any way it likes, as long as it keeps making new ones that reproduce and compete better. Otherwise, again, something else that competes better will win. And that will gain the upper hand instead.

By the way, on the timeline of the Earth, a million years is nothing. If you have one variation per millisecond, that's about 31,536,000,000,000,000 opportunities for one combination of chemicals to turn into something useful.


Cool it down, and long-range low-entropy effects take hold, allowing some protein machinery to work differently - forming interesting configurations which are necessary for life. (A guy did an experiment a while back with some chemicals in ice (sorry for the pay-only NewScientist link); after 25 years he checked back, and he had amino acids in there. And RNA can replicate without its usual need for enzymes if it’s cold).

But let's ignore the cooling for now. That 31,536,000,000,000,000 opportunities? That's in one place. If we allow one of these experiments to happen per square meter on the earth's surface, the changes we can have over a million years start looking like 6,312,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Or 6x1036.

The universe started - as best as we can tell - about 1.37x1010 years ago. So if you want the number of chances you have for life to randomly happen in its simplest form, it’s more like 8x1040 opportunities. That’s per Earth-like planet. Assuming that Earth-like conditions are required for life (which they probably aren’t).


There are roughly 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1x1023) Earth-like planets in the universe.

So let’s run that experiment again. We now have 8x1063 chances for life to happen. While you were reading this blog post, life had the chance to spontaneously arise approximately 1x1040 times.

The question you should ask yourself is not how unlikely is it that life would arise purely by chance, but rather, why don't we see it everywhere we look?

Next time… The Pyramids, Skyscrapes & Evolution. I promise you that all these things really do go together - like Peanut Butter & Jelly.

#religion, #evolution
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