Unless you were off the planet back in 2008 and 2009, you probably caught Beyoncé’s music video for her hit single, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Perhaps you’re singing the first line right now—“All the single ladies, all the single ladies”—against your will and are cursing me for mentioning this extremely catchy song. The official music video has over 260 million views, so I can safely say that quite a few people saw it. You can watch it here if you like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m1EFMoRFvY
Or, maybe you caught the parody of the video (http://vimeo.com/79670268) on Saturday Night Live, which featured Justin Timberlake impressively rocking some heels.
Here are a few of the “Single Ladies” lyrics that caught my attention:
Don’t treat me to the things of the world
I’m not that kind of girl
Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve
So, why am I bringing this up, besides the fact that I happened to watch both videos recently? Appropriately enough, the videos got me to thinking about all the single ladies in my novel (those with dialogue). See, I was in the middle of writing a scene where one of my teenage main characters seeks the attention of a guy she really likes. Since the setting is medievalish, she can’t exactly text the guy or ask him to join her for coffee at Starbucks—something a twenty-first century teen might do. Beyoncé sang, “I’m not that kind of girl.” Well, I needed to think about what kind of a girl my character is. Not one to bust a move like Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake for that matter. So my task was (and still is, since nothing is set in stone yet in this book) to help her work through her feelings without her seeming too forthright or too timid.
It’s all about the social mores of the day. I’m not a fan of slapping a twenty-first century attitude on a historical setting, even if my audience would understand that attitude. And employing it certainly would be easier than all of the conversational fumbling I have to write. (Not that twenty-first century relationships are fumble free.)
But I’m the first to admit I’ve fumbled when it comes to all the single ladies in my book. I haven’t fully explored what it means to be a single lady in my world. You see, my book has a range of female characters: teens, married women, and an older woman who refuses to ever marry. They have stories to tell, and mine needs to be the first listening ear. And their stories aren’t all the same, like mass-produced goods.
As I consider the tasks of listening to them and chronicling their lives, I can’t help thinking of words spoken by one of Jane Austen’s characters—Anne Elliot, the main character in my favorite of Jane’s books: Persuasion. Jane knew exactly what kind of woman Anne is—a gentle, well-bred woman who loves someone she believes no longer loves her. In a conversation with Captain Harville (a friend of Anne’s love interest) about the differences between males and females in regard to love, Anne says this:
We certainly do not forget you so soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us. (221)
I wish I could give the full context for this speech—and for the scene in general, which contains some of my favorite lines in literature. I won’t since it is so critical to the outcome of the book. But I love Anne’s words here, because they remind me of my challenge in writing the scene I mentioned above. How do you convey that you really like someone when just coming out and saying so is totally against what society deems proper? This is the kind of social dilemma I wanted to tackle in my book, though my story does not take place in the same era. But I love the restrictions placed on human emotion and how people work around those restrictions to gain what they need (love, companionship, whatever).
Yet seeking male companionship is not the only thing my single ladies are about. And this is where the fumbling on my part comes about. I’ve been so focused on romantic relationships, that I’ve failed to give my characters a fuller interior life, thus making them interesting people regardless of whether or not they find romantic love. I need to work on that.
So none of my single ladies will be working leotards and high heels in a music video (though a medieval-style music video would be interesting) and singing about love. Instead they’ll be living life just like I do, exploring what it means to be fully alive. I’d better get busy to ensure that they do.
Austen, Jane. Persuasion. New York: Signet Classic Edition, 1964. First published in 1817.
Beyoncé video parody photo from dailymail.com. “Single Ladies” lyrics by Christopher Stewart, Terius Nash, Thaddis Harrell, and Beyoncé Knowles.