Category Archives: Internet

The Bechdel Test for Novels?

womenNote: this post is made directly from my reply on a NaNoWriMo thread. I figured my reply was long enough (and hopefully eloquent enough) so I wanted to share it. For full discussion and other opinions, please visit the board.

The board commenter Millie714 made an interesting thread: can/should the Bechdel test be used for novels. If yes, in what form? Namely, is the Bechdel test applicable to novels, how much effort a writer should put into creating characters that represent our world (characters who represent multiple genders, races, and orientations) and if writers should be true to certain settings (for example, predominantly white towns or time periods) even if it means sacrificing inclusiveness.

As a writer who does think about this stuff, here’s my stance on the issue.

I think the Bechdel test (be it original, race Bechdel test, sexual orientation, etc.) is a nice thought experiment when you want to take notice of cumulative works. Such as, all movies released in the US in 2013. You take the list and see how many movies pass the test. I don’t have this list but I don’t doubt most of them will fail. Heck, I bet many would fail even the first requirement (“having two named female/POC characters”) Which is a good indicative that something is wrong and should be changed.

But on an individual level, it shouldn’t be taken as a law or a rule. There are actually many decent movies that don’t pass the test and many bad (and even misogynistic and racist, etc.) movies that do. Personally, I despise Sex and the City and I think it’s full of backwards ideas about sex and gender, but it passes the test.

So I do see the Bechdel test as a valuable tool. Not sure if it can be easily translated to an author’s individual written work, though. First of all, books and movies are different animals. A novel is, for the most part, a work made by one person; movies are, for the most part, a joined effort. In order to have two women talking to each other about something other than a man, all a writer needs to do is to write the scene and put it in the novel. In order to have the same scene appear in the movie, it has to be written by a screenwriter, included by a director, approved by a producer and it also has to survive the editing and the cutting room floor. It just requires more effort and different rules apply to novels.

But yes, I do think people should take the head out of the sand (or their own ass) and look around.

The problem is not having a predominantly white cast of characters in an area that is predominantly white – the problem is that the majority of (published) stories are centered around predominantly white areas and concerning white people only. Whenever something deviates from this “norm” it is labeled either chick lit (if it contains more women than is considered comfortable/acceptable), African-American/POC (if it contains more black people/POC people), gay & lesbian (if it contains more LGBT* characters), etc.

This is why you still have a strong divide between mainstream fiction (that contains just “the right amount” of minority (here including women) characters) and “minority literature”. As long as diverse characters and diverse themes are not normalized and treated as mainstream, we will have this uncanny situation.

For these reasons, I do think it’s important for mainstream literature to be diverse and to include a wide range of themes or characters outside those that often appear and are actually pretty bad (token characters, white saviours, madonna vs whore dichotomy, rape as motivation, lesbians who only need the right guy to become straight, disabled characters with esoteric powers, etc.)

I don’t, however, think a writer should force herself to be inclusive. Especially if her only reason to do so is because she doesn’t want to appear racist and those “angry POC get insulted”. No. If you truly have to be pushed and forced into even imagining a story that might include two named characters of colour/women, then I don’t think you are a writer who can give such stories justice.

So I kind of hope more and more authors will develop a frame of mind that makes them spontaneously envision stories that include diverse characters and themes. Not that they have to be dragged and forced into it.

Also, yes, an author has a right to write whatever he wants. It doesn’t mean he should be free of criticism if he happens to inject his work with sexism, racism, homophobia and other questionable stuff. Seriously, “I want to write what I want, political correctness be damned!” is often a code word for: “I know what I write is unfair and offensive but I am a nice person (honest!) and I really want to write it so I’d like to be exempted from criticism”. It just doesn’t work that way.

Photo credit: jjay69 via photopin cc

Updates on Me

Guilty as charged
For not updating
Again I am.

That being said, here are some news on my ever-exciting life (read: completely boring).

I participated in a conference (astronomy and culture), and now I have two academic papers to write. Those will be my first papers ever published, because the one I wrote for the last conference failed since my co-writer never bothered to write her part. Lesson learned: I am not a team worker. (Read: I don’t know how to make other team members to cooperate).

My dear hamster Polina died on April 26th. She was more than two years old, and that’s an old age for a hamster. I’ve written more about it in my Tumblr, so please read if you’re interested. I got pretty emotional even though the writing doesn’t really reflect that.

My hamster Polina died (Tumbrl post)

I suffer from insomnia. Well, it’s not really insomnia as much as it’s a weird sleeping pattern. I get really sleepy in the afternoon but when 2AM comes, I am wide awake and full of energy. I end up doing stuff till 7 AM without sleeping. Then I fall asleep and I sleep all day. Not healthy. For example, yesterday I went to bed at noon and I woke up at 1 AM. I also gained a lot of weight – I’ve never been heavier, and while I don’t give a fuck about my sexiness, it is a lot, people. And I don’t eat that much at all. It has to be connected to shitty sleeping pattern. I’m also anxious and depressed and it’s also spring, so I get my allergy from time to time, which means horrible migraines. My IQ also seems to drop by at least 20 percent. I couldn’t remember how to spell Ian McEwan the other day (and I’m not even sure I spelled it right now). All I can do is watch movies and theorize/analyze them. Which isn’t at all that bad if it’s productive (one of the conference papers was about the way astronomy is portrayed in disaster movies), but most of the time, it isn’t.

- I feel guilty for not updating my blog, or visiting other people’s blogs, or replying to emails. There’s so much I have to do, and I just… It doesn’t seem I have time. Well, if you sleep for whole day and walk around like a zombie you wouldn’t have time for anything either. I hate this, you know? I hate when I don’t have anything to do, because I’m a big procrastinator and I can’t function without a deadline over my head and the panic it creates. When they give me specific tasks to do, I do them, PLUS I find time for creative stuff and quality time with my husband. It seems like I manage to find time for everything, even if I have less free time. But if free time is mostly what I have… Forget it. I can’t manage to do anything. It sucks a big time.

So, what’s new with you guys? (Assuming there’s anyone left here because I don’t update often). As usual, I’d like to update more, and I actually have plenty of ideas for new posts. But, you see, time managing and all. Makes no sense, I know. But oh, it sucks.

Online Friendship

It’s easy for me to make friends online. Easier than in real life, actually. This makes me think about the concept of online friendship. Are the people you meet online friends in true sense of the word? Or is it impossible for them to be, because you never really meet them in person?

I used to believe that the people you meet online are not real friends. They can’t be, unless you meet them in real life (which isn’t always possible).

Then again, I tend to spend a lot of time online, and this was even more true for my early 20s. Some of my online friends helped me overcome loneliness in a particular moment in my life, and I was really close to them. Isn’t that enough to call them real friends?

So now I believe it’s quite possible to call online friends “real friends”. It’s not that they’re imaginary or that they can’t be there for you if you need them.

Still, there are some differences between real life and online friendship.

Most of online communication is written

It means you are often limited to what a written word can offer. Unless, of course, you decide to video chat with your friends, which is great, but a) I’ve never done it so I don’t know what is like and b) It’s still not the same as real life contact.

Not me, though. I always felt written communication worked better for me. I can’t read nonverbal signs well, and I am quite shy. It seems like I never know what to say, but I always know what to write. But some people find these aspects of Internet communication too limiting.

Internet is not real life

This is the main problem. The way many people see Internet, it’s not real life in full sense of the word. But how much of it is “really” real? Even if a person on the other side is honest, is it possible to truly get to know her? If you never met someone offline, can you say you met him at all? This puts online friends somewhere between imaginary friends and your real ones.

Plus, because Internet is not seen as real life, whatever happens online seems less important than the stuff that happens in real life. Now, in so many ways this is true: Internet shouldn’t be more important than the real life. But this is what ruins many online friendships: because of real life circumstances, people often forget about their online activities, and that includes online friends.

The closeness you build is… fake?

Here’s a potential danger. It’s easy to (seemingly) become close with someone online in a very short time. Sharing secrets and personal details bring people close, so you might feel like you really know this person (even though you never met him in true sense of the word).

On the other hand, sharing secrets and personal details often DO bring people together, and just because it happened online shouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Online friends tend to disappear

The problem is, while this closeness builds pretty quickly online, it can also be destroyed in an instant. A person loses his interest in a forum or a blog and he’s gone. He stops replying to your emails. Etc.

Solutions

Luckily, there are solutions to these challenges, and it is possible to build and maintain great online friendships. Here are some things that can help:

Try to build stronger connections with your online friends, connections that are not dependent on websites you both frequent. Exchanging emails is a good idea. So is chatting (and video chatting). Depending on circumstances, exchanging phone numbers might be a good idea, too. And, finally, meeting your online friend in real life might make him or her your “real” friend. (Or not. But that’s another story).

Don’t forget about your friends once the message board closes or you lose interest in a blog. You still have your friend’s contact details, so use it to stay in touch.

Try not to share (or demand) any details you wouldn’t share in real life on a given stage of a friendship. Let things build. But sharing some things you wouldn’t share in real life is okay, too; just remember that this closeness can’t compensate for a real life contact.

Don’t forget about your online friends when something more exciting happens in real life. Inform them if you’re going to be offline and try to drop them a note from time to time, to see how they’re doing.

And, the most important one: treat your online friends as real people in full sense of the world. Sounds obvious, but people need to be reminded about it.

All in all

I do think online friends are real friends. But because Internet is so young, we still haven’t learned all the skills needed for building and maintaining online friendships. We simply don’t know yet what works in Internet communication (emotionally, and socially), so we are not sure how to behave.

The ways we meet and socialize with people in real life might not work on the Internet. Different rules apply for maintaining healthy online friendships. I guess we’re still unsure what they are, but I hope we’ll get there soon.

Jefflion.net Must-Reads

There’s a handy blog meme I’d like to use here. Tagged bloggers (or, self-tagged in my case) should identify and present posts on their blogs that fit certain types. I think the idea behind it is to promote your blogging and present some of the posts most of your visitors are unfamiliar with (be it because you wrote them a long time ago, or because they didn’t get the attention you feel they deserved).

It’s also a great way to think about your blogging in general, and see where you stand.

So, here’s where I stand: my early blogging (read: most of the things written in 2007, 2008 and, to a lesser extend, 2009) sucks. There’s no other way to put it. I had no idea what blogging was, or how to write a decent blog post – and it’s not because I’m untalented for writing. I guess I thought blogs were online diaries, and I was never good at writing a diary. Luckily, I realized blogging was different, and it made my posts better.

That’s why most of the posts presented in the meme are the newer ones, from 2010 and 2011.

Also, I’d like to use this opportunity to introduce some changes on the site. I added a new popular posts script, so you can find the most accurate and up to date list of most popular posts at the sidebar. Plus, I added the similar posts script that appears at the bottom of the each post, recommending you similar posts. Because it depends on the words I write, its choices might not be accurate, but so far I like the way it works, and I think it makes my posts more connected, which is a good thing. It can also make some of the older posts visible again. The only bad thing is that it also makes my early, random posts visible.

And now, the meme:

Most Beautiful Post

I think most of my reviews are beautiful, and I am quite proud of them. But I’d like to include another post here, because it is more personal than my usual posts.

Why I like(d) Disney movies

This post turned out to be more beautiful and more personal than I intended it to be. Who knew animated movies can have so much meaning, or to make you remember your childhood (and teenage years?)

I also thought the post might become controversial (because Disney movies deserve a lot of criticism), but that didn’t happen (not that I complain).

Most popular post

It’s definitely something about sex. Cliché or not, it does seem that sex and dating make very hot topics.

Women and casual sex

This is the most popular post on the site, and one of the few that get regular outside hits (which means search engines bring people here). The funny this is that it’s not a particularly good post: there are way too many things I mentioned here, but it’s not well structured and the thoughts are all over the place. I guess the main idea was that women often enjoy casual sex less than men not because their morality and sexuality are different, but because men don’t try to satisfy a woman they have a casual sex with.

Honourable mentions: A Long Penis Rant (once again, I wasn’t sure what was the main idea behind this post), Sunshine (my most commented post, though I’m not sure if it counts because half of it are pictures of Cillian Murphy and some heavy off topic discussion).

Most Helpful Post

Bad Writing Advice

I like this post because I’ve finally managed to formulate what I always found questionable about writing advice. I also discovered I love writing about writing (and my experience with it), so maybe I should consider doing more of those posts.

Honourable mentions: The best sites for bored people (check them out, especially tvtropes.org, which is probably one of my favourite sites on the whole net), Recover a (WordPress) site infected by a nasty iframe (this is an old entry. It worked back then; I am not sure if this advice is still applicable).

Post Whose Success Surprised Me

Things I don’t write about

I wrote this one to explain (mostly to myself) why I don’t like to write about certain sensitive/serious topics that I sometimes feel people expect me to write about. (Both in a blog and in novels). Some of these subjects include: Balkan wars and former Yugoslavia (or anything related to Easter Europe), my father’s death (and the problems I’ve had growing up without a father), etc. I don’t write about former because I am too sick of the subject, and I don’t feel any need to include it in my writing. I am aware that many people (both here and in the rest of the world) expect for someone in Serbia to deal with these issues in her writing (particularly when it comes to novels), but I just don’t find that topic inspiring. Same goes for my family. Some of the things I do find interesting and want to include, but the others aren’t something I want to write about.

I consider this to be a personal post, that wouldn’t make people interested. I was wrong. It turned out to be one of my most popular posts. I guess it’s because it’s more personal than the others. Some people said it made them learn more about me. I am glad, but I am still surprised this post gained such a popularity. (Plus, I had no idea my average reader didn’t have much chance to “meet” me or to learn anything about me and the type of a person I am).

Honourable mentions: Writing chapter titles (I wrote this for myself, to test what chapters of my novel “sound” in English. Who knew people were into that stuff), I’m a flexitarian (it was one of my first posts; it wasn’t much of a success, but it was my first post that got any sort of attention).

Most Controversial Post

The most controversial post I’ve ever written (American privilege) isn’t even on this site. I don’t think there are any controversial topics on Jefflion.net, but it’s not because I want to play it safe. I guess the blog isn’t popular enough to get many hits or commenters, because in order for something to be controversial, there have to be people who disagree with it or view things differently.

The only possibly controversial post is Kosovo independence, but it didn’t generate much buzz.

Post That Didn’t Get The Attention I Felt It Deserved

The Best Movies of the Decade I and The Best Movies of the Decade II

I really think it’s one of my best posts (and I find all of my review posts good). I’ve also taken some extra effort into making pictures to go with this post (and it was very time consuming to Google all the images, find the best ones, and then arrange everything in Photoshop). It’s not that I regret doing it, but I really wanted to discuss the best movies of the decade with my visitors, learn about their favourites and maybe get some good movie recommendations). (The offer is still good, btw).

Honourable mention: Writing Sex Scenes (I think this one is a very good post that deals with a legitimate problem in writing: how to make good, believable, non-cheesy/embarrassing/narmy/facepalm/wtf-was-the-writer-thinking sex scenes. I think it’s a well-written post, and people are usually interested in both sex and writing, so I was surprised it didn’t get much attention).

Post I’m Most Proud Of

A friend claims she’s proud of all of her posts (and I am happy for her), but I am sorry to say it doesn’t work the same for me. I am not proud of my blogging pre-2010 in general.

But there are some posts I am quite proud of. This goes, first and foremost, for my reviews (especially movie reviews). I link most of them at a separate page (Articles), along with some other stuff I’ve written (that I think deserve special attention).

Some other good posts:

Stereotypes About Americans

Women: How not to be seen as fully human

5 songs I like against all odds and 5 songs I dislike against all odds

Rules of a chick lit (and what can we learn from it)

PS- I’m supposed to tag five people to do this meme, but I think it’s too pushy. It’s better if people decide for themselves they want to do it. (And if you choose to do it, I’d love to see your list!)

I’m back! Meanwhile: The Oslo shooting and Amy Winehouse’s death

I’m back! It was fine, considering it was a forced vacation and all. I also went cold turkey on the Internet: I missed it terribly the first two days or so, and then less and less. Now I’m back and I don’t feel the need to go online. I guess I’m cured! (Ha! Not really! But I promised my husband I’ll try to spend less time online).

And some serious things happened while I was away, namely, the Oslo shooting and Amy Winehouse’s death. Both things are somewhat related to my country, in not a pretty way, which makes me pissed off (to say the least).

Turned out that the lunatic responsible for the shootings was into Serbian history. Ok, not really. Just like Hitler misinterpreted famous philosophers and historians, this…. individual did it with certain aspects of Serbian history and culture to suit his needs. Apparently, his manifesto is full of it. Needless to say, we’re quite pissed off here right now. Once again, we’re made to look like the bad guys, and everybody’s more than ready to believe it/accept it.

As for Amy Winehouse… I’m not really a fan of all those RIP posts; it’s a tragedy and it deserves more than a random blog mention. I liked her voice, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan of hers. Still, I am familiar with her work and I do think she was a good singer. Also, I feel bad for noticing she is the newest member of the 27 Club. I hate when I notice those things; the last thing we need at the moment is drawing attention to some kind of a popular culture belief. And how is her death related to Serbia? Turned out her disastrous concert in Belgrade was her last. And some people are already selling the tickets to the concert on eBay for about 1000 Euros. Go figure.

So, that’s it for now. I missed you guys, and I missed the Internet (there, I said it). But not as much as I thought I would. (Not you: I did miss my online friends; I just didn’t miss Internet itself that much).

Related posts:
On Amy Winehouse debacle
Things I don’t write about
I am addicted to Internet