The Bechdel Test For My Stories


   When a screen-writer friend recommended this blog JohnAugust.com I expected to find discussion about screenwriting and writing advice that would apply to my writing. I found all of that, but also something startling that I’d never heard of before: The Bechdel Test for movies.

I think this video explains the test quite well.

This clip not only got me thinking about movies (some of my favorites don’t pass), but also about whether or not my stories could pass the Bechdel Test. Some do; some don’t. The story I am currently working on passes with flying colors and it isn’t even finished yet.
Again, applying the parameters of the Bechdel test is not a judgement on whether a work is good or bad, (or even feminist) but just something that, as a feminist, I find fascinating.
Does the Bechdel Test even matter? I believe it does. However, this does not mean that I will shoehorn a pointless conversation into a story just so the story will pass. For me, the test makes me think about whether or not I am creating strong, interesting female characters whose concerns and challenges reach beyond love and relationship issues.
Creating those kinds of female characters won’t mean a story will automatically pass the test, but it does make it more likely. While doing this may not be important to all writers (or editors or readers or anyone else), it is important to me and the kind of stories I wish to write.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Catana
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 20:28:00

    I think some people may take the Bechdel test as a kind of measure of whether they’re being politically correct. But some stories aren’t about women, and there’s nothing wrong with portraying a woman as weak if she really is. Heaven knows, there are enough phony standards we’re supposed to meet. I’m a woman who would be totally incompetent to write about women in any way that would be acceptable. I’m an outlier and my women would be outliers who’d be likely strike most people as unrealistic.

    • lorettacasteen
      Jan 22, 2011 @ 11:40:21

      Well, for me, the Bechdel Test was eye-opening. It was just something I’d ever heard of or considered before.
      Personally, I’d be totally incompetent at writing about men. 🙂 The female perspective is what I best understand. Most, if not all, of my main characters are women. That’s not to say that they are all “heroines”, quite often it’s the opposite.
      Like all writers, there are certain issues and themes that interest me more than others. Mostly it is issues of power–who has it, who doesn’t, how someone gets it, exploits it, at what cost, etc, etc. Because of my interest in fairy tales, folklore and mythology, exploring the traditional depiction of women ( ie: mostly powerless, or if powerful, then evil) within those stories comes naturally to me.
      All of this may be an outgrowth of all the literary criticism I did in college. When given a choice, my analyses were always feminist criticism.
      ‘Sorry it has taken me so long to repy. We had a stomach bug rage through the household. Bleah–‘had lots of laundry and steam cleaning to do.

  2. Catana
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 13:08:07

    The stomach flu seems to be raging through the ranks of writers lately. Hope you’re fully over it by now.

    I read a huge amount of fairly tales, folklore, etc., when I was young. What I took away from it, when I look back at how it influenced me, is that the strong women were always the ones who interested me. The ones who overcame adversity, challenged their traditional roles, and even triumphed over male opponents.

    But the Bechdel test is certainly a good guideline for writing about women if it helps steer writers clear of stereotypes or keeps them from creating populations in which women hardly exist even though it would be natural for them to be a significant part.

    • lorettacasteen
      Jan 22, 2011 @ 14:03:54

      Yep, me too. Though often the strong women in those tales are wicked. The story I’m working on now happens to be about the “Evil Queen” in Snow White. I’m exploring her beginning. What’s her story? How did she get her power and just where does one pick up a magic mirror anyway? Among other things. Actually, she’s more of a composite of other “evil” fairy tale characters.
      Have you read any books by Gary McGuire? I really liked Wicked, but my favorite of his is Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister. I love that he gives a version of the other side of the Cinderella story. Even the wicked step-mother is somewhat sympathetic (to a point). In his version, she wasn’t wicked, just desperate and afraid of starving to death.
      As far as the Bechdel Test, I agree with what you said. Not every story is about women. I get that and even enjoy such stories, but I probably won’t be writing any.

  3. Catana
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 14:12:13

    I don’t read much contemporary fiction, and when I do, it’s usually speculative or near-future SF. My taste runs to very dark rathe than light. I’ve also been reading a lot of erotic m/m romance to figure out what’s going on in the way such relationships are presented, and where my writing does or doesn’t fit in. At least I found out that, even though I wrote mostly about men, I have no interest in writing romances of any kind. That kind of book gets boring so fast.

  4. lorettacasteen
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 15:22:20

    Oh, that reminds me! On one of your blog posts you mentioned that you were reading m/m romance books as a type of research. May I suggest Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice? The book is wonderful and the sex scenes are wonderfully steamy and beautifully done. It is about …ah, the Amazon link will explain it better. Yes, it’s Anne Rice but there are no vampires, witches, etc. It’s one of her best, imo.
    http://www.amazon.com/Cry-Heaven-Anne-Rice/dp/0345396936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1295727373&sr=8-1

  5. Catana
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 15:33:49

    I have it. I read it years ago and always remembered, partly because the history of the castrati is fascinating. I bought a copy and few months back and read it again. I enjoyed a lot of Rice’s vampire books, but Cry to Heaven is my favorite of hers.

  6. lorettacasteen
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 18:33:05

    Oh, I loved her vampire books, and Cry to Heaven only comes after The Feast of All Saints as my favorite. Loving New Orleans as I do I suppose that’s only natural.

  7. Monex
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 14:37:58

    00 00 00 0000 00 .The Bechdel testnamed for the cartoonist who wrote a long-running comic strip called Dykes To Watch Out For and the critically acclaimed graphic novel Fun Homeis a test to assess whether women have a meaningful presence in a movie. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?.Once you start thinking about it youll be surprised by how many films dont pass this test. In fact there are entire genres action-adventure for example that seem to fail the Bechdel test by and large.

  8. bank accounts offshore
    Jan 30, 2011 @ 01:56:38

    ………….Many of you are probably familiar with the named after and originally posited by Liz Wallace. The test simply asks whether a movie meets the following criteria . 1 It has at least two women in it who 2 talk to each other about 3 something besides a man..The rule works with written fiction too and can be applied to more than just gender. For example The Stepsister Scheme passes the test with flying colors but if you ask whether there are at least two nonwhite characters who talk to each other well no. Likewise it fails if you apply it to visibly lesbian gay characters..Red Hoods Revenge on the other hand passes all three of those permutations of the test. Yay I win at Bechdel right?.Now lets time how long it takes someone to point out that the series fails the test miserably when applied to men. There are more than two male characters but I dont know that they ever talk to one another and if so I doubt its about anything except our heroines..BECHDELFAIL!.So does this mean I should add a pair of male sidekicks? Maybe goblin males who can chat about the finer points of barbequeued knight? The armor holds in the juices okay actually that sounds like fun. But Im gonna say no..The point isnt that a good story must be like Noahs ark having at least two of every character variant. To me the test is a way to illustrate how few stories actually have multiple female characters and if so theyre often present simply as accessories to our male heroes..I dont worry that my books fail the test when applied to men mostly because I cant remember the last book I read that didnt pass the Male Bechdel Test but I could give you a long list of books that fail when applied to women to LGBT characters to nonwhite characters.Its an awareness thing. Its something I think we need to be more conscious of both as readers and as writers. Stepsister Scheme has only a single non-white human character. Was that a deliberate choice or did I simply use white as the lazy default?.Or take the zombie story I just sold for example those characters were white because I had a week to write the story and I didnt bother to think about it. I just defaulted to white. Okay more of a grayish tinge actually but still. .Was I wrong to make them white? Should I have made them black or Native American or Inuit or something else? Not necessarily there might be valid reasons why most of the zombies in that situation and location would be white. But as the writer that should have been a conscious decision on my part not a default..Discussion is welcome as always…..Share and Enjoy .. Dellamonica 1 Alma Alexander 2 Alyx Dellamonica 1 Anton Strout 1 autism 2 Bechdel Test 1 Beth Bernobich 2 Brian 1 C.

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