Writers can sometimes get inspiration, help, plot points, characterization etc, from the most unlikely places. My novel is set in Ancient Egypt, before the Ancient Greeks were more than a few disorganized tribes of shepherds and before France was even the glimmer of a twinkle in the eye of Europe. But I’ve gotten a little help today from Ancient Greek heroes and from one badass 17th Century French lady.
The first of these, came about during an online course I’m taking (CB22x: The Ancient Greek Hero. It’s free and open to anyone in the world, and I believe you can still sign up. Very cool!). Currently we’re discussing the Iliad, and most specifically a passage about Achilles (Iliad IX: 410-416). It’s one where he talks about his choices, and the stakes for the choice he makes. Which basically boils down to: Go home and die an old man in obscurity, or become the hero of the Iliad and die young and tragically (spoiler alert: he dies young). You wouldn’t think a guy (Homer) dead for thousands of years would have anything to teach the modern scribbler, but he does. Simply put: make sure the stakes are clear to the reader. Also, at some point, the stakes should be clear to the character as well. This is important because ultimately plot is a product of a character’s choice, and an informed choice is more compelling than random chance. An informed choice leads to character development and resolution. Random chance is just something that happens.
So, that’s something I need to make clearer both to myself and to my Main Character: What are her choices, and what are the stakes for each choice?
The second thing was the French Lady, Julie D’Aubigny or La Maupin. I first discovered her here at the Badass of the Week, but you can read more about her here too. La Maupin was this amazing swashbuckling Lady born in 17th Century France. She was taught swordsmanship at an early age and quickly became a Master. She was a bisexual, cross-dressing adventuress, an opera singer, and a clever and wily woman. She’s one of those fascinating characters from the pages of history, and I’m thoroughly disappointed I hadn’t heard of her before.
But one thing she has reminded me is that the women of history are a lot more bad-ass than we are often led to believe by the patriarchal media/education machine of Western (and most other) society. Society would often have us believe that women who stood up and said “screw the system”, who did and said amazing things and led extraordinary lives, and maybe even changed history just a bit, were rare until recently. That the push-back by women against patriarchy is recent, a 20th Century phenomenon. We are led to believe that the rare celebrated woman from history was just that; rare. The occasional extraordinary queen, or saint, or great writer. But that just isn’t true, and La Maupin is just one example of many women who are quietly pushed to the side and forgotten by all but a few dedicated historians.
La Maupin reminded me that Meretseger should finish the book an accomplished and slightly bad-ass lady herself. She can’t begin that way of course, but the point of the story is to show her transition from unformed child to Woman of Destiny. She must be worthy of the story, no matter how common her origins or commonplace her story might seem.
Though I grant you, she probably won’t actually kill anyone, never mind ten men, at the end. Probably.