Two Articles—One Connection

Last week, I read two online posts I hadn’t realized had a connection until a friend pointed it out. Here are the links to both:

http://writerunboxed.com/2017/06/19/heartened-by-wonder-woman-the-case-for-sincere-storytelling/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-ya-gets-wrong-about-teenagers-from-a-teen_us_594a8e4de4b062254f3a5a94

The first post included a quote by the director of Wonder WomanPatty Jenkins:

I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied from sincerity, real sincerity, because we feel like we have to wink at the audience because it’s what kids like.

Before I reveal the quote from the HuffPost article, let me ask you a question: What do you think a typical teen is like? Is she cool and confident—queen of her domain?

Or is she awkward, shy, hopeful?

That was a trick question. Is there really a “typical” teen—one that represents every teen on the planet? Nope. With that in mind, here’s the quote from the second post:

[N]ot all teens are adorable, wise-cracking, defiant, sarcastic little squirts. . . . Most of us teens are awkward and spend bus rides thinking up comebacks for arguments that we lost hours ago.

In other words, many real teens are not as cynical as those found in fiction books. Many are sincere—the connector to the Wonder Woman post.

Both posts fed something within me. I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice at the theater. The first post helped me realize what I especially love about the movie: the sincerity of the main character. Oh, she kicks butt with great skill. But (hee hee) she has a genuine interest in helping others.

The second post reminds me of teens I know. Sure, they sometimes grumble about what’s boring. (Read the post above, and you’ll see what this teen finds boring.) But they also talk about what they want to do to make a difference in the world. They have hope. This brings to mind something else the teen author of the above post said

I have something to say that may shock an inexperienced YA writer: I do not automatically and inexplicably hate any of my classmates. . . . In my school, most people like each other!

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I hear you caution. “What about all those teens who bully other teens or shoot those who bullied them?”

Please note that the teen who wrote the above article mentioned her school, not all schools. I also was bullied as a teen back in the day when everybody had a stegosaurus for a pet. I also know teens today who have been bullied. But there are many, many teens who don’t bully others or shoot them.

Also, not every teen has the expectation that in order for a movie to succeed in entertaining him or her, the main character has to be cynical—always ready with an apt, sarcastic quip. They can appreciate sincerity. Men too, if you took note of the author of the first article.

Both posts remind me of what I love: writing about people who aren’t sure of themselves; who get scared or feel lonely and tongue-tied. And yes, some of these individuals are antagonists who harm others because of the pain they feel inside. But they aren’t the quipping sort. In their own way, they are sincere.

Please don’t get me wrong. I appreciate good sarcasm. I’m just not the kind of clever writer who can produce it with aplomb. I’m too earnest and awkward to be convincing.

So lately, I’ve been tempted to give up writing fiction, feeling pushed aside in a world craving something other than what I’ve been writing. But these posts give me hope. They remind me that maybe someone is looking for what I’m writing.

Patty Jenkins photo from slashfilms.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Macy Macaron (fourth photo) and Gemma Stone (third photo) are Shopkins Shoppie dolls by Moose Toys.

What Do Girls Want? I’m Not Sure

Before I get into the post, I wanted to announce that I’m still reaching out to authors as I mentioned in my last post. Expect the interviews at some point.

Back in the day when I had a Barbie (or four), I tied a cape around her and made her a superhero. This was before Supergirl action figures existed. (More on that later.) A napkin made an excellent cape. And a parachute. My Barbie also was a spy who parachuted out of trees. She knew karate and had super strength. (Interestingly enough, the latest Barbie movie is Barbie: Spy Squad.)

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My BFF and I wanted our Barbies to be empowered before we even knew the meaning of the word empowered. Now, before I go any further, this is not a Barbie-bashing post. This doll has had enough controversy in her over 50 years of existence. (By the way, a really good book about Barbie is The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone.)

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Last week, I went to Toys “R” Us with a friend and her little son, and saw a huge display case full of Barbies in various professions. She’s a doctor, a spy, a businesswoman, a pet groomer—you name it. She’s even a pizza chef.

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Barbie’s handlers want her to be a role model. Female superheroes are getting their day too. Recently I read an article about a line of DC action figures for girls (including Supergirl)—something I would have wanted when I was a kid. You can read that article here.

Getting back to Barbie-like dolls, the Elsa doll pulls in more sales than Barbie. With her ice powers and staunch determination to be herself in Frozen, Elsa seems the picture of empowerment. (You’re probably thinking of the “Let It Go” song now, aren’t you? And after months of finally getting it out of your head. Sorry.)

Elsa-Doll-disney-frozen-35517836-872-1500      Frozen-Elsa

Her sister Anna, however, didn’t have ice power, but was heroic in a very moving way. (Which makes her my favorite from that movie.) Awhile ago, Time and Fortune featured articles on the empowering influence of Elsa and Anna. You can read them here and here.

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Now, many channels on YouTube feature discussions about toys, and include dolls in various fanfiction scenarios. (For example, Elsa marries Jack Frost; Baby Alive becomes a superhero.) So imagine my surprise when I saw not one but several fanfiction depictions of Elsa being kidnapped and having to be rescued. And those are just the YouTube videos. You have only to Google elsa kidnapped fanfiction to find a host of stories—some rawer than others. (There are several Anna-as-the-damsel-in distress scenarios too.) So much for empowerment!

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “Anna had to save Elsa in the film.” True. And what a beautiful moment of sacrifice. But Elsa was not hand-wringing helpless. So many girls had mentioned how much they love Elsa’s ice powers and let-it-go attitude. And since many of the YouTube videos are fan-driven (many YouTubers asked fans, “What do you want to see?”), fans obviously desired to see the helpless-Elsa scenario. (I saw one of those videos just today in fact.) Many of these fans are girls.

You might think, Who cares? But as an author who is trying to provide strong heroines in books, I care. Yet I’m confused by the mixed messages. Last year, many people complained about Black Widow’s damsel-in-distress scene in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. (I was not one of the complainers.) Which leads me to believe that people want to see strong heroines ala Wonder Woman, Supergirl, etc.

The audience for Frozen, the YouTube toy videos, the non-YouTube Elsa fanfiction, and Age of Ultron differs to a degree. After all, Frozen had a very high preschool fan base (girls and boys) who probably did not see Ultron. I wrote probably, because I saw small children in the audience at the theater I attended. But there is some overlap, obviously, since Frozen grossed over a billion dollars. Many teens and adults loved Frozen, and were inspired enough to write fanfiction or request it on YouTube. But many younger kids also watch YouTube, sometimes with their parents. They make their desires known too. Based on what I’ve seen online, not only do I wonder what they want but also whether they have a different definition of empowerment.

What say you?

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I asked these girls how they defined empowerment, but they remained mum on the subject. I guess I’ll let it go.

Barbie images from ricardodemelo.blogspot.com, shoppingsquare.com.au, and pixmania.fr. Black Widow action figure from tvandfilmtoys.com. Barbie Spy Squad poster and Elsa doll from fanpop.com. Elsa and Anna dolls from disneytimes.com. Elsa with ice powers from blogs.disney.com. Photo of Popette (Moose Toys), Donatina (Moose Toys), Hello Kitty (Sanrio), and Strawberry Shortcake (Hasbro) by L. Marie.

Unconventional Love

Hope you had a pleasant Valentine’s Day. Now, don’t groan at me for mentioning the day. I spent part of it not in the conventional, eating-in-a-restaurant-while-gazing-into-my-date’s-eyes way, but eating chocolate and watching Justice League Unlimited episodes from 2004–2005. (It’s okay if you run away in horror. There will be slight spoilers soon, so go if you must.)

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Since it was Valentine’s Day, an episode called “Double Date” (written by Gail Simone) seemed very appropriate and helped me realize something else later. The episode involved these members of the Justice League:

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Huntress and the Question

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Black Canary and Green Arrow

It’s okay. You don’t have to care who they are. (Click here if you want to find out more about the members of the Justice League.) The episode wasn’t a conventional double date, since Huntress and the Question weren’t a couple (at least not right away) and all four were on a stakeout for various reasons. Black Canary and Green Arrow, however, were a couple. I grew up reading comic books in which their relationship was mentioned. Though they’re superheroes, they’re more conventional. I mean look at them. Both are pretty. And we like looking at pretty people, don’t we? Okay, I’ll speak for myself. Better still, I’ll let these images speak for me.

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Prince Zuko from Avatar and Stephen Bishop from Being Mary Jane

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Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers and Chris Evans as Captain America

Getting back to the Justice League, I have to admit that the Huntress and the Question were more interesting to me than Black Canary and Green Arrow, because H and Q were labeled as “unstable” by their colleagues. Toward the end of the episode, Huntress asked the Question why he agreed to help her in her vendetta against the man who killed her father. When he finally gave his reason—“I like you” (as in “I like like you”)—I melted faster than chocolate in a microwave. And though the action in the picture below (top right) caused Black Canary to say, “I’m sorry, but ewww,” I was totally down for it. They were broken people who found a connection.

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So, what did I learn? (See the first paragraph, where I mentioned that I learned something.) I learned that I love characters with baggage. Not the psychotic serial killer baggage, but emotional scars nonetheless. I can relate to them because of my own issues. A character can be as pretty as a picture. But to really get my attention, that character has to have a wound of some kind.

28da5770f2c53556e75b4356fde68ebaThat’s why I still love Moonstruck, a 1987 movie written by John Patrick Shanley and starring Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri (photo at right). Everyone in the movie has baggage. One of my favorite quotes related to baggage was spoken by Ronny. I’m sure I’ve used it before in a post. Here it is again:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

“Love the wrong people”? Been there, done that! “The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us!” Truer words were never spoken.

Which character(s), if any, really resonated with you recently? Why?

Huntress and the Question from pinterest.com. Black Canary and Green Arrow from caballerodecastilla.blogs. Prince Zuko from twitter. Stephen Bishop from cocoafab.com. Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier from movie.anonforge.com. Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers from pinterest.com. Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri from pinterest.com. Valentine from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com.

Soft and Strong

007A glance at the label of the generic brand of bathroom tissue I use (yes, I dare to go there) got me to thinking. I can see the value of softness and strength in bathroom tissue. But as human characteristics, softness and strength seem like polar opposites, because softness is often equated by some with weakness. I take umbrage to such a notion.

My mom’s got the softness and strength combination down. You probably think the same thing about your mom. My mom’s a hand patter. If you’re miserable, she likes to sit beside you and pat your hand, telling you that everything is going to be okay. But Mom morphs into steel when she goes into battle mode. She’s quick with a handbag upside your head if you decide to break the law. Yes, there is a story attached to that statement, but I won’t go into it now.

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Kate Spade handbag—a classy way to hit someone on the head

I love the juxtaposition of softness and strength in the males and females who populate various fictional worlds. Yet I have very little interest in heroes or heroines who are only seen in one light—that of strength, whether they are viewed as purely cool, physically powerful, or hilariously snarky. I can’t sympathize with a character who completely lacks a soft side. I can understand if he or she desperately wants to hide the fact that he/she is vulnerable. But the absence of any discernible softness causes me to put a story down.

Even Captain America (played by Chris Evans) has a bit of softness beneath his rock-hard abs. Don’t believe that? If you saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) [SLIGHT SPOILER], remember the hospital scene when he visits Peggy (who has her own show now on ABC—Agent Carter)? [END SLIGHT SPOILER.] That scene caused even my jaded heart to melt. And I loved the scenes between Cap and Sam Wilson (the Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie), where they talked about their difficult adjustment to civilian life.

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Cap and Peggy

34529Here’s a great example of softness and strength from Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. (For the plot, click on the book title.) The narration below shows what a character named Shawn thinks about a witch named Magrat who needs to rescue Shawn from some murderous elves. [SLIGHT SPOILER] Shawn doubts her ability to help until he realizes a fundamental truth:

Mum was right—Magrat always was the nice soft one . . .
. . . who’d just fired a crossbow through a keyhole. (268)

Shawn later learns that Magrat (who works with Greebo, a vicious cat described as “just a big softy” [269]) was extremely lethal, even as she “daintily” raises the hem of her dress to kick an iron-allergic elf with shoes bearing iron attachments. [END SLIGHT SPOILER.] Good stuff!

Because of the desire to portray heroines in a strong light and not as damsels in distress, sometimes authors (and I’m thinking mostly of myself) fight against bringing out a heroine’s soft side, hoping readers won’t judge their characters as weak.

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You might get the impression of softness when you see this cupcake. My plans to take over the world, however, might cause you to think something entirely different.

In the first incarnation of my novel, my heroine didn’t seem to have any flaws. She only mildly annoyed some of the secondary characters. Her inability to laugh at herself—to see herself as flawed—was a flaw on my part as the author. I had to start over with her and her story.

The first thing I needed to do was take myself out of the equation. While I hate to be ridiculed or abused, that doesn’t mean I should avoid writing a character’s journey that involves horrible bumps in the road. And while I like to be liked, a character who is liked by everyone isn’t a very compelling character.

One of my VCFA advisors once told me to pay attention to the way secondary characters act toward the main character. While that might seem elementary to you if you’re an experienced storyteller, that advice instigated an epiphany for me. The friction of interactions, often caustic, helped shape the pearl of a better character. Even more interesting, it provided the mixture of softness and strength I find compelling.

In what ways are your characters soft and strong?

Pratchett, Terry. Lords and Ladies. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Print.

Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter from somewhere on the Internet. Kate Spade handbag from thebusinesshaven.com. Book cover from Goodreads.

Color Show

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While researching sight in horses, I learned that horses can’t distinguish as many colors as humans can. The human retina has three cone photoreceptors while the equine retina has two (dichromatic vision).

Horse SightHorse-Eye

One of the articles I read is “Vision in horses: More than meets the eye” by Neil Clarkson for Horsetalk.co.nz. The following line from the article made me sit up and take notice:

The research showed that horses, with their dichromatic vision, cannot distinguish red.

love-red-colorHumans with protanomalous (red-weak) vision have the same issue. And since red is my favorite color, well, you can see why I took notice, especially since the color red led me to research the topic in the first place. While writing a story with shape-shifters, I wanted to know which colors a teen in his animal form (horse) could distinguish. Could he distinguish the color of blood on snow?

I guess it’s up to me whether or not he retains his trichromatic color vision or switches over to dichromatic while a horse. (This is a fantasy book after all.) Since I wound up dumping the snow in the scene, the color aspect became moot anyway. But it caused me to think of how enriched my own world is due to having trichromatic color vision. Since I love bright colors (note the nail polish in the first photo), I have to fight the temptation to make every person, place, or thing I write about brightly colored. But I love using colors as symbols to show the emotional landscape of a character or to show mood in general.

Color choice can be very important when you’re using an objective correlative. If you’re wondering what an objective correlative is, here’s a handy definition from Merriam-Webster.com:

Something (as a situation or chain of events) that symbolizes or objectifies a particular emotion and that may be used in creative writing to evoke a desired emotional response in the reader.

A great post on objective correlatives with a helpful (and color-filled) example can be found here at Ingrid’s Notes. I can wait while you jet over there. I’ve got coffee to drink anyway.

You’re back? Good. Moving on, I also love to use color in an ironic way; for example, a depressed character who has the most colorful hair or wears the most colorful clothing (or both).

Color is one of the reasons why I love superhero ensemble shows or movies—all of those colorful costumes. Yet some of the most interesting heroes are the ones in basic black (or “very, very dark gray”; if you’ve seen The Lego Movie, you probably recognize that line). Here are some of those heroes:

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Black Panther (in front) and Lego Batman

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Black Widow and Hawkeye

(Still wondering about the “dark gray” line? Watch this video.)

How do you use color in your stories? What, if anything, have you admired about another author’s use of color?

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Hello Kitty and Jordie wanted to be part of the color photo shoot, since they’re colorful as well. However, if this post were a magazine, this photo would be one of the alternate covers.

By the way, I mentioned in another post that I was going to make myself a puppy hat. Mission accomplished. And yes, I wear it proudly.

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Horse eye from commons.wikimedia.org. Color wheels trotusa.com (which had the same photos from the Horsetalk article). Red wallpaper from love-wallpapers.com. Batman from jeffajohnson.com. Jeremy Renner from Hawkeye from fanpop.com. Black Widow from hdresimler.com. Black Panther from fanpop.