Tough Love

moon      I’m sitting on the floor of what I’m beginning to consider my room. It’s a dangerous thought to have because Moon Children don’t own anything. And yet, here I am, hunched over a book and pretending the squiggles are supposed to make sense. The doctor’s clothes hang off my frame loosely; I’m like a scarecrow from that children’s story, wishing for brains.

            The scarecrows here live under the city and dine on flesh, but it doesn’t make them any smarter.

“Mags?”

            Dr. Barrows raps me gently on the head to bring me back from my woolgathering. It’s on the tip of my tongue to mention the scarecrows, but I decide the joke will fall flat. Moon Child humor is not for the faint of heart.

            “This is useless. I cannot make sense of scribbles.” I turn the book so it’s upside down, but the words aren’t any clearer. “ We’ve been at this for hours.”

            His mild gaze falls to his cup of steaming chai.  “It’s been thirty-five minutes, Mags.”

           “Well, it feels like days.” My stitches itch and I slap at them, scowling. “When will ye take these out, anyway?”

            He sips the chai and scratches something in his moleskin notebook with a worn stick of charcoal. “When you’ve made some progress.”

            “How can I make progress when I’m itching all the time?”

            Now he peers at me from behind his glasses, his eyes gleaming with humor or anger. I’m not sure which. I’m not sure it really matters. He doesn’t say anything, though. Just stares at me until heat rushes over my face.

            I shift so my back is to him. Let him stare at my bony shoulders, then.

OOO

Bit of a rough scene from the current WIP.

I was chatting with Darchala the other day – actually, we were both throwing out our respective writing plots at each other to see if they made sense to anyone but ourselves. When I’m in the middle of writing a draft, I don’t pull things apart too much until I’m ready to move into the editing stage, but sometimes it’s useful to bounce concepts around with someone to at least make sure I’m not completely hanging out in left field.

I don’t think I’ve really written a character like Magpie before and it’s fairly interesting.

But one thing I worry about is if I’m being too tough on her. Her world is pretty wretched, so obviously things can’t be too pleasant on a day to day basis. But I recall reading somewhere how it seems as though women characters are often broken down to rock bottom before they can be rebuilt into something resembling a hero, whereas male characters don’t.  (I can’t find the exact link to it, but I do remember some of it surrounding the Lara Croft controversy, where the developers were basically gloating over the fact that all her friends are murdered in horrible ways as she tries to survive this terrible scenario, including sexual assault, so that players would “feel protective” of her or some such bullshit.)

So I sometimes wonder if we are just harder on our female protags. Like we have to prove they’re worthy of the hero mantle.  Sometimes it feels like we judge them a bit more harshly, anyway.

I know I tend to be pretty hard on my characters in general, but it can be a fine line to walk. Make a character too powerful, too quickly and they’re accused of being a Mary Sue. Make her too weak and she’s automatically labeled Too Stupid To Live.

The Mary Sue phrase in general is starting to piss me off, because people drop it the moment a woman character starts doing anything. Is she beautiful? Oh, she’s a Sue. She’s ugly? Oh, well she’s also a Sue, because you only made her ugly to prove that she wasn’t a Sue.

I don’t know if there’s anyway to really win that sort of argument and it’s probably not worth it to try. There was a really interesting post on Tumblr a while back, which I’ll quote here:

So, there’s this girl. She’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet. Every guy she meets falls in love with her, but in between torrid romances she rejects them all because she is dedicated to what is Pure and Good. She has genius level intellect, Olympic-athelete level athletic ability and incredible good looks. She is consumed by terrible angst, but this only makes guys want her more. She has no superhuman abilities, yet she is more competent than her superhuman friends and defeats superhumans with ease. She has unshakably loyal friends and allies, despite the fact she treats them pretty badly.  They fear and respect her, and defer to her orders. Everyone is obsessed with her, even her enemies are attracted to her. She can plan ahead for anything and she’s generally right with any conclusion she makes. People who defy her are inevitably wrong.

God, what a Mary Sue.

I just described Batman.

Mmm. And I know Batman sometimes gets called out for being a “Gary Stu” from time to time, but does he get a free pass overall because he’s male? It certainly feels like an idealized male is celebrated, whereas an idealized female is put down for being unrealistic.

*shrugs*

I’m probably not in any danger of having my books or characters  scrutinized at such a micro-level, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking into. (These are things I think about at 3 AM when I can’t sleep, btw, so maybe it’s just me. >_< )

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2 Responses to Tough Love

  1. Shades says:

    Your WIP seems interesting, is it a sortof post-apocalyptic type setting? (or some sort of future that isn’t too great in general, or perhaps she’s just mad?) Magpie appears to have a nice, strong personality coming out in the writing which I really like.

    Being able to discuss writing ideas with someone who understands what you’re talking about can be a huge help. When I was in my teens I had a friend who I would roleplay with in chats. We both had characters for our own stories and would constantly tell each other about new ideas we’d had (and we were both enthusiastic about each others stories which is what I mean about understanding what you’re talking about). The roleplay was pretty much used for figuring out the personalities of our characters and how they interacted with others since our story universes didn’t cross over at all. Sadly we’re not anywhere near as close now and our lives are much busier than they were back then. Although I’ve since done a lot of story and character development on my own the core of that story still has what I nailed down while swapping ideas with that friend. There’s nothing quite like it.

    I’ve tried to share my ideas with people twice since then. With one person I just got a kinda generic response, they weren’t really interested in what I was talking about. With the second one they just… didn’t get my tone. Again, this is the understanding thing, this person was frequently suggesting that I do these things or make these changes to make things all happy and lala. Which wouldn’t work at all. So finding someone who you can happily share ideas with and who will in turn share their own ideas with you is a wonderful thing and can be very helpful.

    As for being too tough on her… hmm. I’m also someone who is absolutely terrible to my characters. I’m not sure why, but I guess for some of them going through so much crap makes them realize what they’ve got and what is really special to them, or it forces them to have to stand up and do something for themselves etc. I actually don’t see it as a bad thing. If anything I see the way typical male protagonists get stronger and become heroes without having to go through any pain or suffering to get there much more unbelievable. You don’t get to feel like you’ve been with that male character through the worst and seen them come out of it and still carry on to their goal. I think there’s a better feeling of accomplishment if you’ve worked hard for something as opposed to just having it handed to you as with male characters. I’d say they’re less strong emotionally and mentally than their female counterparts.

    As for the Mary Sue thing, eh. Everyone seems to have a different view or definition of it anyway. No matter what you do someone is probably going to have a problem with it, so I say do it the way you think fits best in your setting. You can always go back and look at it again later to see if you want to change anything.

  2. Aaron says:

    Great post. I bet you’re being too hard on yourself; just because your character has strengths doesn’t make her a Mary Sue, and anyone who argues that it does is probably just nitpicking or giving you a hard time. Putting a character through rough times and making her grow stronger out of it will make readers sympathize with her, and ultimately admire her.
    Aaron recently posted..Premature Editing

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