the Bechdel Test

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I’ve been trying to cruise the Kindle boards more often, and figure out what it is that other indie authors are doing that might give me some insight to getting my work seen and read. I’m still nowhere near ready to publish anything that’s just prose, but I’m trying to figure out everything I can to help get these comics out in front of people who might like to read them.

So one of the threads (beside the super helpful one on where to get bookmarks* made) that I read was about how having your work pass the Bechdel test can help you increase profits.

The thread quickly did what any thread on the internet does, which is to say that it unraveled.

So I thought I’d talk a little about the Bechdel test here.

You can wiki it up to get a fuller sense of what I’m talking about, but please keep in mind it’s not a test so much as it’s a social commentary.

The really messed up thing? The lady, Alison Bechdel mentioned it and defined it in a comic she drew, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and the test is far more famous than the comic – which, as a comic creator, sort of makes me wince.

Okay, back to social commentary: the part I found particularly fascinating was how angry some writers became when talking about the Bechdel test. They began to set up strange “men only” scenarios (straw man argument) and then used them to mock “The Test” as being too simplistic a way to create great selling work**. One of the other interesting comments I saw was that by not including women (or women who were able to pass the Bechdel test) the authors were remaining “true to the authenticity” of that particular story, time, and place. (Which was then counter-argued that even in a WW2 story, women were present, and were active: WW2 did not happen in a female void.)

Authenticity. Now that’s something we can have a conversation about at some point later, because that’s a fascinating term as well, especially when we start looking at who defines it,  how they do so, and what it really means to be “authentic.”

Back to the thread. One author mentioned that if you’re writing a traditional romance (so I guess that means man and woman?) then because the whole story is about them hooking up, that’s all they will ever talk to their friends about, thus automatically failing the Bechdel test. Some genres, they suggest, are simply not able to pass it. A few other authors argued against this, talking about how the Bechdel test is about creating well rounded characters that have other hopes, dreams, and goals other than just “getting the man.” One author even threw down three quick lines about two women talking in/about a coffee store, and bam, how something that simple would have allowed any romance  to pass the Bechdel test.

There were other comments***, but I don’t really want to dwell on this all day.

What I think about the Bechdel test, is that if you are so inclined, use it to look at your characters. Use it to see if you are writing believable people, or if you are writing caricatures of what you think “those” people are like. If you are writing about a bunch of men (or a bunch of women) isolated without any variation of sexuality or gender, question why that is.  If you are writing a story that is all white****, question that. Don’t rely on what your schools taught you when you were a kid: many “discoveries” are being made that people of all races were all over the place. For example, did you know that there was a Japanese delegation in England during the Napoleonic wars? They were examining the engineering of the British Empire so that they could go back and begin an industrial revolution in Japan.

So why are there almost no Steampunk novels with badass Japanese diplomats in them? I can totally see a scenario where some ninjas follow the delegation to steal the technology plans and then the Steampunk Brits and the Japanese have to fight and chase and deal with the ninjas, and then there’s probably a sky ship battle or something near the end with diplomats jumping across burning zeppelins with unsheathed swords in hand. And some explosions. ALL THE EXPLOSIONS.

I digress. I just think that the Bechdel test is an interesting way for you to examine your own work. (There was another one, that deals with PoC, but I have to find a link for that). The worse that could happen is that you find out you really want to write more about a character, and then they take over the whole damn book.

Holy crap. Another 900+ word blog post. Why aren’t I writing my stupid stories with this energy?! WHY?!


* I can’t find the thread. It was there yesterday. It’s a mess of confusion in there. Anyways, the people say to use Got Print and it looks like there’s some great prices for bookmarks. We’ll probably do some Era of Great Wonders if I can ever get a cover finished!

** Emphasis on “selling” not on the quality of the work itself.

*** So very many comments. So many.

**** I call out “white” fiction because that tends to be what I am overexposed to the most. Maybe some day I’ll be overexposed to something else, but until then, I’m just… huh… wanting to make a pun out of “overexposed” and “white.” There’s a film joke there… I just know it.

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