Over the summer I dedicated a lot of time to working out the problems in the story. The main issues I had with my first draft was the characterization of my archaeologist and the stereotypical plot elements. I ended up spending a lot of time figuring out what agency really is, and how to go about making a strong (read: well-written) character. Here are a few results of my research:
-She must have a unique ability that makes her special/valuable/integral to the story
-Things happen based on her choices, and don't just happen to her
-She can ask for help
-She can be weak sometimes; crying is okay
-She can be strong in ways other than physical strength
-She has meaningful relationships with other women (and men) that are not romantic
-She has, or finds, her own voice
Now my thought process:
The heart of the story and the dual story line structure have stayed the same, but there have been some significant changes. It was pointed out that the attack on the street might be cliche, especially knowing that most cases of violence are done by someone known to the victim. The more I thought about this, the more I moved away from the idea of her dealing with a past trauma and towards a story where her situation is clearly in the present. This makes her situation more an ongoing struggle, than a lingering fear.
I had thought the prehistoric story was set in stone (haha), but I was wrong. I wanted her story to represent the sort of inner strength that her contemporary is trying to find and it seems the way I had it plotted wasn't the best way to do that. Not to say there's anything wrong with a romance (I'm a sucker for them), but it really down played her own abilities and didn't leave her on an equal playing field with her partner, as much as that's what I was intending. From the feedback I was getting, it just wasn't reading that way. A female partner (romantic or not) was suggested. But I wasn't sure that would fix the problem. So I fell into a cycle of self doubt (it gets a bit convoluted, but hear me out). I thought that by pushing the boundaries in ways done so much right now (gender norms, sexuality etc.) I'd be falling into a new cliche... So I simply defaulted to a more traditional story line.
Because that clearly makes it so much better.
What this really meant is that it felt strange to stick in female characters just for the sake a having female characters. But why use male characters by default? It made my brain hurt. Why have them, but why not? There needs to be more women in stories, so I'm going to write women? Is it that simple? It doesn't seem like such an act of ingenuity, and yet when speaking with others, the feedback is positive - I'm helping break ground. So I'm thinking that my own bias is just causing me to see a female focused story as nothing out of the ordinary when that's not really the case. I just happen to read a lot of the comics that do focus on women. And so I gave myself the kick in the butt I needed.
What does this mean for my ice woman's story? She is valued by her family/clan, not just as family but because of her craft. She has relationships (non romantic) with men and women. The place in the story her male partner held is now held by not just a woman, but by a mother and the clan's best hunter. It could be a sister, a friend, a lover - to me it doesn't really matter. What does matter is their deep connection and social equality.
I can thank inspiration from the recent bone discoveries in South Africa for putting the final pieces of the plot puzzle in place. The biggest plot change involves the role of the knife, which now focuses on it's relation to the skull the archaeologist is reconstructing. It's not about the knife itself, but her discovery that it was made by a woman. In fact it is just one of many knives and artifacts found. This moves the importance from what the knife can do, to what it represents - the unexpected role/job of a woman in her society. As the plot no longer needs the knife to trigger a past trauma, it's existence becomes inspirational instead. Instead of fear to overcome, the knife represents inner strength.
I did do some rough page sketches, was inspired by Magical Girls, and had the chance to draw some scenery in Banff - a great opportunity to get a first hand view of the mountain range from the top of a mountain. The first head set is Kana, my ice woman. And the second set is my new hunter, Hana. The pencil crayon sketches are some of the drawings from my holiday ("Look at what she's drawing kids! We get to meet a real life artist!" (yes. it happened XD)), and the remaining page was when I had the story going in a more magical direction - which is funny since it's ended up less supernatural then before!
Thanks for reading! More images in the next post. :)
Christine is a Canadian illustrator and comic artist. She recently graduated with a BA (English) and a BFA (Visual Arts) from the University of Regina.