Dear Jill Abramson,
This morning, I read an article on Politico that described you as disengaged, uncaring and distant. It also accused you of speaking in a slow drawl. As a loyal New York Times subscriber, I felt somewhat saddened by this description. Fortunately, I think I can help you out.
As it happens, I once wrote a novel about a woman who had exactly the same problems as you. Except for the drawl. But in fiction as in life, women have to be likeable. So I fixed her, using nothing but a basic set of literary tools that can be easily applied to real life.
Of course I never intended her to be disengaged. I thought I was writing about an everywoman, which is why I did not even give her a name. I only referred to her as the Registrar. The Registrar is working in a town hall, recording births, deaths and marriages, when one day she's told to look into a potential forced marriage between two young Kurds. She embarks on an undercover investigation that eventually makes her confront her own past.
Early readers thought the Registrar was a man (it's a first-person narrative). And here's the interesting thing: once they realized she was a woman, they found her... a bit distant. Disengaged. Uncaring. Just like you!
But fret not, Ms Abramson. Here are five quick fixes I'm happy to share. I used them all on the Registrar, who eventually became likeable enough to be published in my debut novel, The Registrar's Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages.
How to Make a Female Character More Agreeable, on the Page or in the Boardroom:
1. Give her a best friend.
Ideally, the best friend should be the mirror image of your character. If, say, your character is not interested in clothes, the friend should be glamorous. This will make your character appear frumpier and more insecure, which in turn will boost her likeability.
Given that you edit the New York Times, it is going to be difficult to give you a best friend who is more glamorous than you. Perhaps you could ask Michelle Obama out for a coffee? Stick to light subjects such as shoes, diets and boys. And remember to smile. You don't want to come across as "the bitchy woman character".
2. Give her a love interest (and make him treat her badly)
Nothing makes a female character more likeable than her falling for a temperamental, unpredictable man and then whining about him to her best friend. Next time Baquet punches the wall, try to look lovestruck. Then whisper to Michelle Obama: "OMG he totally punched the wall! Does that mean he likes me?"
3. Make her worry about her weight.
I didn't actually use this one for the Registrar, but perhaps I should have. It's pretty easy. Look at a piece of cake on your desk. Look away. Sigh. Then eat it.
4. Force her to act agreeably
Over the course of her investigation, the Registrar runs into some very annoying people. In the first draft, she occasionally snaps at them. In the final draft, she keeps the snapping to a minimum.
Next time someone puts a photo you don't like on the New York Times website, smile at them and offer them a piece of cake. Then ask everyone in the newsroom if they would like a cup of tea. Add quickly that you make the worst tea in the world. Then apologise.
5. Make her undergo a sex change
As I mentioned earlier, no one seemed to find the Registrar particularly uncaring as long as they thought she was a man. So I could have skipped the first four steps and just changed her sex. This is the one fix that's a bit more complicated in real life. On the other hand, it might be worth it: you'll finally get to punch a wall and be fondly remembered for it.**
Good luck and best wishes
** "(Baquet) got so upset when a story didn't make the front page that he drove his fist through the wall. ("I never lose my temper at a person," he said. "I lose my temper at walls.") But even this anecdote is recalled fondly." - Politico
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