I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for writing an essay on the transformation of women characters (protagonists) and the cathartic experience offered through these types of stories. At the end of this essay, I’m going to ask you to write a short story with a woman protagonist who answers a call of action, goes on a type of quest, and is transformed in the process, even against her will.
I ask both women and men writers to take on this assignment. The reasons why I’m asking men to write a transformational story about a woman is that most literature focuses on the male experience, yes, even today with women’s liberation. And by charting the journey of a woman, men get in touch with their feminine side, which is lacking these days too. Just think about how you’ll improve relationships with spouses, friends, and women family members.
One character that never seems to leave my consciousness is Marian McAlpin from Margaret Atwood’s “Edible Woman”–a classic in my opinion revolving around the transformation of a woman. Marian works a deadend job testing products for a marketing company. She is engaged to a man who looks great on the outside, but has some violent tendencies, though is not outwardly abusive, even if he is controling of Marian. She has also befriended an English major named Duncan, who is as self-centered as Marian’s fiance.
At the opening of the novel, we can see the traps that bind Marian even if she has fallen into deep denial. Like the good girls of her generation (story takes place in the 1970s), she aims to please her parents by marrying the well-packaged man. But something is amiss, Marian finds that certain foods offend her and she can no longer eat them. This circle of food widens to included just about every food you can imagine. This is Marian’s call to action.
Her transformation occurs when she has a brief affair with Duncan, experiences a nervous breakdown, though a small one, and breaks it off with the perfect husband material. She bakes a cake in the shape of a woman then she devours it, reclaiming her life. She begins anew, breaks her friendship with Duncan, moves out of the apartment she shares with her feminist roommate Ainsley, and quits her job. Of course, Atwood leaves readers hanging and we fill in the gaps of Marian’s future.
In the realm of cinema, my favorite transformation stories occur in the movies “Satin Rouge” (a movie from Tunisia), “French Kiss” with Meg Ryan playing the transformed woman, and “Under a Tuscan Sun” with Diane Lane playing the character Frances who thrives after a terrible divorce and relocation to Tuscany.
In each of those stories we see the characters’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities along with calls to action. In Kate’s (“French Kiss”) situation, the call to action comes in the form of her fiance hooking up with a Parisian goddess, forcing Kate to get on a plane and travel to Paris to save her relationship with Charlie. Only she meets a French trickster-thief on the plane who provides the catalyst for transformation.
“In Under a Tuscan Sun” the call to action comes in the form of a divorce and a trip to Italy. Frances doesn’t understand her desire to buy a rundown villa in Tuscany, but follows her soul’s yearnings. Her transformation involves forgiving her X and herself, allowing new people into her life, and developing poise under stress. Once she does all of that, she meets Ed, her future husband.
In the movie “Satin Rouge” a shy Tunisian widow spies on her teenage daughter who has been hanging out at a nightclub. The widow falls under the spell of belly dancing and then lives a double life. She sleeps with her daughter’s boyfriend, who is a drummer at the nightclub. In shedding her widow garb, for something more sensual, and exploring sex again, the widow’s life is transformed. She ends up as a belly dancer, and she marries off her daughter to the drummer.
Think of your favorite women transformational stories to inspire you or watch one of the above movies. Then write short fiction, even flash fiction, in which you transform a woman character. Let me know how this exercise goes.