February 22

Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a bit controversial. I’ve heard complaints that judging a book or movie based on whether it passes the Bechdel test is unfair. A good movie is still a good movie, and I tend to agree.  But the Bechdel test isn’t meant to decide if a book or movie is good or not. The original Star Wars movies fail the Bechdel Test but the first two episodes of the prequel trilogy pass. The Bechdel test doesn’t even  determine if a show is feminist. In fact, there are shows that are misogynistic but still pass the Bechdel test. Instead the Bechdel Test is a standard for judging female interactions in a piece of media.

For those who aren’t aware, to pass the Bechdel test:

  1. There must be more than one female character
  2. who must have a conversation
  3.  about something other than a man

Other than a man.  That does not mean the movie or book passes the test if they’re talking about their father, grandfather, brother, nephew, because those are men! The topic of discussion doesn’t matter so long as it doesn’t involve men, so it could be something stereotypically feminine, such as clothes, hair, shoes, or they could talk cars or sports, etc.

However, the definition of “conversation” can come into question.  Depending on how you want to interpret the information, the last Harry Potter movie may or may not pass the test. The women do speak to each other.  Professor McGonagall tells Molly “I’ve always wanted to do that,” when she brings the stone statues to life and Molly calls Bellatrix a bitch.  Technically they’re communicating with another female, but if they’re talking at the character and the character they spoke to doesn’t respond–did they pass?

Some say yes.  Some say no.

There are times when it isn’t necessary for a woman to appear in a book or movie, such as if the story is in a male prison, and not every movie needs to pass.  The Bechdel test attempts to show how women are presented in the media.  They’re often trophies or shown as obsessed with men, but men have more to them than simply being interested in women.

Other Bechdel tests have emerged as well.  One is the Racial Bechdel test.  To pass that one:

  1. There must be more than one character of color
  2. At least two characters of color must have a conversation
  3. The conversation has to be about something other than a white person

The Movie Hachi with Richard Gere passes the Racial Bechdel test. However, the Racial Bechdel test has the same flaws as the traditional one.

The most that can be said for certain of either Bechdel test is that it gets people talking.

If you write books, do your stories pass the Bechdel test?  Does your favorite book or movie? Do you think the Bechdel test is good, bad, or neutral?

February 18

V for Vendetta: Body Language

I’ve spent some time recently watching V for Vendetta. For those who don’t know it’s a movie set in England. V is a terrorist both seeking revenge and trying to free the people from the military-state government that has formed. As a writer what caught my interest the most with this movie is the fact V always wears a Guy Fawkes mask. We never see his face.

While we never see V’s true facial expressions, we get a good idea of his emotional state from his body language. It could be how he tilts his head, places his hands on his body or a prop, or the tone of his voice, but we know when he’s angry, sad, lonely, etc. It’s an interesting study.

As writers we tend to focus on the characters facial expressions to convey their emotional state. V reminds writers that body language can say just as much, if not more of a characters thoughts and emotions. Capturing every mannerism is impossible, or at least unrealistic. Some of the descriptions will be far too awkward or would slow the pace too much, while others would be too vague with what you’re trying to convey or misinterpreted to mean something else. However, watching V interact with people on the screen, is a great reminder that when trying to convey a character’s emotions, don’t be afraid to turn the eye from the character’s face to their body.

There is a fantastic book that will help you figure out what type of body language you can show for a particular emotion, if you struggle with that aspect in your writing. I highly recommend The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  So, grab the book, if you need it and find a scene in your current Work in Progress and see how the scene reads once you replace descriptions of facial expressions with other types of body language.