Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Of Girls and Boys, Heroes, and Keeping Your Characters in Character

I have a son and a daughter, pre-teens, and they both love things like Star Wars and Doctor Who, playing video games, dressing up as superheroes and running around with toy Styrofoam Thor swords. They love comics and anime and Legos.

My daughter is drawn to strong female characters. Black Widow is her favorite Avenger. I try to find stories that have strong female characters for my daughter, because it’s not hard to find strong male characters written, but sometimes harder to find the girls. And while my daughter loves both, she relates to the girls.

I started watching an anime last week—and I’m not going to name it, because I don’t feel like getting into an argument about how and why these characters acted the way they did, and how it might have been rational or logical in some ways. It started out great. It was intriguing, the animation was gorgeous, and it seemed to have strong characters of both genders. At first. By the time I hit the second arc of the story, I felt like everything I had come to know about these characters was sucked out or flattened. Boy became the stereotypical hero off to save the damsel—and let me say, I don’t mind damsel in distress stories. They can be written well. Not all girls want to be the hero—some girls dream about a knight in shining armor coming to sweep them off their feet. But some girls want to be heroes. Some girls need to be heroes. Some girls want to see the heroes they can relate to. And when the writers take a girl who was shown—at first—as a strong, capable character and slowly tone that down and then flat-out rip the heroic rug right out from under her, it disappoints me at first—and then just makes me mad. Why would you do that to your character—just so the guy can become a white knight to a girl who shouldn't have needed it?

There was a line this female character said when she was basically being tortured that made me so, so mad, and I can’t say what it was without giving the anime name, but let me just say: it was not cool, because it made the girl’s pain all about the guy. It was not only an injustice to the girl, but also an injustice to the characterization of the guy, who had once had confidence that the girl could protect herself pretty darn well and that just…vanished. It was like watching Body Snatched versions of these characters.

I’m not saying the guy can’t rescue the girl. I’m not saying the girl can’t rescue the guy. I love a good story that has mutual rescuing where characters of both genders get to be the heroes. I love when the girl is able to escape on her own. I love it when the guy comes to help her or save her. I love when the girl gets to save the guy.  As long as it is well-written and in character. Look at Disney’s Tangled. Eugene and Rapunzel saved each other back and forth through that movie. Look at Frozen. Anna and Kristoff took turns saving each other and at the end, Anna gets to save herself, which is the best thing ever—but she wouldn't have gotten to the point where she could if she hadn't had friends to help her along the way. Everyone needs a leg up sometimes—boy or girl. Heroism comes in all sorts of forms. It’s not just physical strength. The shyest, quietest character might be the bravest one. Characters who some might see as weak could be the strongest.

I want stories that tell my son he can be the hero. But I also want the same for my daughter. I want stories that can tell both of them that it’s okay to rely on other people, male or female, and that they don’t always have to be the hero, but they also can be. They need strong characters of both genders in the things the read, the stuff they watch, what they listen to.

And when I’m watching something and it starts out with a strong female character who dissolves into an object of conquest, it frustrates me and makes me want to go sit down and write a book about a strong female character for my daughter. (Then I remind myself I’m already writing a series about a strong female character—but darn it, I want to write a brand new one. A book, not a series. Why can’t more of my books come in one-shots?)

I say again: We need strong characters of both genders. But please, fellow writers, please—do not taunt me with an awesome, strong, female character and then make her an almost completely helpless object. Don’t. Do. It. I wouldn't want to see that happen to a male character either. Keep your characters true to themselves. Characters are supposed to grow, and yes, characters change when they go on journeys, sometimes for the worse, but it should make sense.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm still alive!

Wow, it has been AGES since I posted on this, and now that I have some time and some energy to spare, I'd like to say a huge hello and thank you to anyone still reading this.

Let me take a minute to fill everyone in on my life the past five months.

Hubby, Kiddos, Cats, and I moved to the Gulf Coast in Texas at the end of last August.

I absolutely love it here--I love the warm winter (it's been in the 60s and 70s this week). I love the laid-back, small-beach-town atmosphere. I love getting to go to the beach, and I love all the activities there are to do around here. Hubby and Kiddos love it too, and Daughter is very happy because she adores all creatures great and small, and the seaside is flouring with all sorts of life. When we moved here, she got a tank and some land hermit crabs, and she's been taking excellent care of them.

Granted, there are some things I could do without--like the huge wolf spiders that race like speed demons across the floor when they get in the house, or the scorpions (fortunately, the scorpions here are not deadly, unless you happen to be allergic to them like some people are allergic to bees), or the giant cockroaches. But other things more than make up for that. Like the cute little tourist shops that sell mugs like this (which Hubby got for me because it was perfect for me):

But. The first few months after the move were really hard, because Hubby had to be gone most of the week for work. He transferred here to open a store, and the opening of that store got pushed back a lot further than anyone had expected, so for two and a half months, he had to work out of a store several hours away. This was hard on all of us, because even though he got to come home two days a week, we missed each other like crazy for the other five days. (My hat is off to all of you people who are separated for much longer than this for work or military duty.)

By the time November rolled around, I didn't have the mental energy to focus on anything writing-related. Actually, at that point, I couldn't even think about writing without working myself up into a giant mess of tension and panic--and my writing partners all reassured me I just really needed a break. I'd been going and going all year long on my editing jobs and writing, plus stuff like being a wife and mother and homeschooler, and then moving on top of it all, and I had barely stopped to breathe.

So I took half of November and all of December off from writing. I read some books. I did stuff with my family. My kids were in a Christmas play. My in-laws came to visit, and then took the Kiddos to Disney World. I did some editing, because I did still have some stuff on my plate. I watched movies. (I got to see Frozen in the theater twice, and it was just gorgeous. I've had the songs from it stuck in my head for weeks, probably in part because Daughter bought the soundtrack and we've played it a lot. A LOT.)

And I finally got to the point where I could think about my book again without wanting to curl up in a little ball, which is especially good, because last year, I wrote a YA fantasy novel. It was super fun to write, and then I put it through the beta-reader/CP gauntlet, and then I sent it to my agent, Natalie Lakosil. Natalie read it and got back to me in September, right after we'd moved, with a list of things to work on in the rewrite--which led to me realizing I need to pull it apart and rewrite about half the book. I got about 30,000 words of the rewrite done (original draft was about 84,000 words), and then took my break.

Not long after I got to the point where I could start thinking about my book again, I got one step further--I could look at the book with excitement! All of the words didn't look like a jumbled mess! It was like an after-Christmas miracle! Or, you know, a refreshed brain finally getting some clearer perspective.

So now I am back in the writing game, and it's just so nice to have words again. Hopefully I'll finish my rewrite before too long and I can send it back to Agent Natalie for further perusal.

And also, Hubby and I celebrated our twelfth anniversary this week. :D

There you have a very short summary of my life since August, and why I haven't been blogging. I'm going to try to be better about it. :)

I'm sure I've missed a million and one things on the blogosphere over the past months, so if anyone has any news to share, please let me hear it! :)

Oh, and on the EXCITING NEWS front, I'm celebrating with two of my writing partners.

First, Barbara Kloss's third book in her trilogy, Breath of Dragons, was released yesterday. The first book, Gaia's Secret, is available for free for a limited time on Kindle. Her writing is awesome and the series is beautiful and just gets better and better with each book. :D

Second, E.K. Johnston's debut novel, The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, releases in less than two months and is receiving excellent reviews in the publishing world. I'm excited to read the published version, since I haven't read it since its early draft days.