The Damsel-in-Distress Switch Up

Okay progress update and then on to the meat of today’s posting. That crippling inability to get to the end of NightWind has dissipated (SCORE!) and I am off and running. The final chapter has turned into a series of chapters showing a couple of different perspectives of a single scene, but then the story will progress a little further before concluding. It’s been fun to coordinate between the two characters and I think it will bring about the resolution of the story nicely, or at least nice enough that I don’t have to write a sequel.

Before I dive in, I do want to mention that this post will have some plot reveals, so if you’re planning to read NightWind once it’s published, then please don’t keep reading, or read with caution. I’m trying to share this writing issue and not reveal too much of my story so I don’t spoil it for you, but that’s tough!

Anyway, here we go. An interesting dilemma has cropped up recently over the course of my writing. The overall story of NightWind is a role reversal. I’ve taken the damsel-in-distress plot and turned it on its head. So, the male protagonist/love interest gets kidnapped and Rion (i.e. NightWind), the woman, goes on a journey to rescue him.

This role reversal wasn’t supposed to go farther than simply being a change of places in the plot arc. But, it has turned into a lot more than that. While reviewing the story, I’ve noticed that Eli, the male protagonist, appears feminized in the eye of the reader. Simply put, he lacks agency (which in the world of literature studies means he’s been “feminized”).

As I said previously, this was not my intention. But, throughout the course of the story, Eli doesn’t exhibit any sort of control over his situation. This lack of agency stems from the fact that his journey is pretty simple (basically, he’s a plot driver) and if he was able to engineer his own escape, along with the others who were kidnapped with him, then you negate the need for the story.

It’s interesting that this situation has come about. As a man and someone in possession of a rare and dying power, he winds up in a secondary or beta position at two key points in the story. First, (taking place prior to the action of the story) it is Rion who chooses to change sides during the stirrings of the coup, thus joining up with Eli. Then, Eli is unable to prevent his own kidnapping or orchestrate an escape. Putting this into perspective, I’ve really crippled this guy.

But, then again, maybe it’s not so surprising that he winds up in this subverted role. The Mystics decided decades ago (taking place prior to the action of the story) to no longer use their control of the spark as a weapon of war. Therefore, they end up putting themselves in a subservient position and are unable to help themselves even though they, theoretically, possess the power to do so.

The Gothic genre began as a female-centered genre, though the women in those first stories were decidedly limp. As time progressed, the female protagonist gained agency and power. The men in many of those stories did not necessarily revert to that “feminized” position, however. But now, from the simple change-up of a trite plot device, I’ve managed to do just that….and create a pretty significant problem with one of my characters that affects the overall perspective a reader will have of this figure. Even in the academic setting, as a graduate student, when I studied the feminization of characters, the act of doing this to a male character was deliberate. I’m specifically thinking of Caleb Williams written by William Godwin (you might know him as Mary Shelley’s father). The story I’m telling is less about making a political or social statement and more about telling the story of a crop of characters that came from the seed of an idea during a reiki session.

So, now that I’ve discovered the problem, how do I fix it? Well, I have a couple of ideas. First, I think the resolution of the story should hinge on Eli’s ability to affect the outcome. Rion might be the rescuer, but she is also not in possession of all of the information regarding the catalyst or impetus for the kidnapping in the first place. If this doesn’t work out over the course of the last few thousand words I have to go, then I’ll have to go back in the manuscript somewhere and either change something that’s happened to allow Eli to have more agency or add a new scene to give him that power he is currently lacking.

Just like in the real world when our words can have unintended interpretations and consequences, in the realm of fiction, you can make statements or reveal your characters in a certain light without meaning to do so. The last few thousand words of my project have been a little dicey, but I’m working on making it through and will hopefully have a completed draft in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’ll be pondering over this unintended development with my character and will be refashioning him and his story slightly so that he doesn’t appear to be so limp.

Have you ever taken a trite plot device and turned it on its head? What sort of unintended outcomes occurred? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments!