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.

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We Can’t Let Evil Win

Today, I began a post called, “What Is Happening to the World?” which was full of my anxious thoughts about recent events. I had gone to bed the other night, feeling anxious and angry after the news account of the attack on London. I woke up with the same anxiety. Hence the post I just mentioned.

But I scrapped that post.

Look at this.

    

And this.

And this.

I’m reminded that the world isn’t totally full of sadness and evil. There is beauty, kindness, love, joy.

Yes, there is grief. I’m grieved by acts of senseless violence.

Maybe that’s why one of my favorite comic book characters is Wonder Woman. I haven’t yet seen the movie. But my friends and I plan to see it on Tuesday. When I was a kid, I read Wonder Woman comic books, and dreamed of being a superhero. While I didn’t love her outfit, I loved her strength and outlook of hope. I loved that she used her gifts to make a difference in the world—her way of combatting the darkness.

See that glint of light on the poster? I chose this poster because of the light. Though darkness might seem to hold sway, a little bit of light always shines through.

We can choose to bring the light of hope to someone in the darkness of despair. (Yes, there is a way to do that without sounding Pollyanna or giving false hope.)

We can choose to be fully present to those around us who need a listening ear.

We can choose to let a child show us the wonder he or she sees in the world.

We can choose to be kinder to each other.

A friend sent this video to me on a day when I needed a laugh. Maybe you need this right now. It’s not the cure for cancer or hopelessness. But it’s a start.

Wonder Woman movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Where the (Super)Girls Are

Happy Labor Day! Here in the U.S., we have the day off. Sounds ironic, huh? For more information on the holiday, click here.

Labor-Day-wallpapers

The other day, I listened to a TED Talk by a media studies scholar: Dr. Christopher Bell. Though the talk was given in 2015, it caught my attention, because I’ve discussed on the blog before an aspect of what Bell talked about. Click below for that video. Warning! It’s about fifteen minutes long.

After talking about his athletic young daughter who likes to dress up as her favorite characters, Bell said

Why is it that when my daughter dresses up . . . why is every character she dresses up as a boy? . . . [W]here is all the female superhero stuff? Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

It’s not that Bell wanted to diss male heroes. On the contrary, his daughter had several favorites among the male heroes. Bell went on a hunt for female superhero costumes and toys, because his daughter also loved characters like Princess Leia, Black Widow from the Avengers, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. But after searching the stores for costumes, he came up empty. He also discovered that these characters were missing in the toy aisles as well.

Guardians of the Galaxy International Character Movie Posters - Zoe Saldana as Gamora    black_widow_natalia_romanova-1920x1080

I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of female heroes. You can also find female villains who do heroic things. After Bell’s talk, Wonder Woman appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will have her own movie next year. Harley Quinn and Katana were in Suicide Squad. Supergirl has a show, now on the CW. Jessica Jones has a show on Netflix. There also is an animated show for kids that has become a favorite of mine—Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, which features a Parisian teen named Marinette Dupain-Cheng, who turns into a superhero called Ladybug. She works with a crime fighting partner—a dude named Cat Noir—to foil the nefarious plans of Hawk Moth, a supervillain.

Miraculous-Ladybug-Wallpaper-miraculous-ladybug-39335186-1920-1080   Tumblr_nualsphVXR1uu5wooo1_1280

And Raven (below right) and Starfire (below left) are on Teen Titans Go.

Teen_titans_go_team_photo_by_imperial96-d6839mr

But, as Bell pointed out, if you look at the lineup of superhero movies in the upcoming years, only two females—Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel—will have a starring role. (If you have heard of others, please comment below.) Kinda sad, but some progress at least. And Gamora and Black Widow will costar in some movies.

As for costumes, after Bell’s talk was given, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted and provided inspiration for costumes. Like Rey. A little girl I know plans to dress as Rey for Halloween. Online, I saw a Princess Leia costume—the iconic white dress with the bun hairdo—at Target, which also has an adorable Captain Phasma costume. (The one below is from Halloween Costumes.com.) Since Felicity Jones will star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, perhaps her character will be popular enough to have a costume in stores.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-classic-girls-rey-costume-cx-809217   child-deluxe-star-wars-ep-7-captain-phasma-costume

Also, Mattel developed a line of DC female superhero dolls (see below)—a fact also mentioned by Bell, who cautioned against only marketing these to girls. Boys too could benefit from learning about female heroes. As Bell mentioned,

It’s important that boys play with and as female superheroes just as my daughter plays with and as male superheroes.

dc-superhero-girls-dolls

Interestingly, though an actress played Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the costume shown above is marketed for kids, rather than girls only.

Bell’s point is not without its supporters and detractors. I mentioned in a previous post how a little boy I know was criticized for liking the color purple, because, he was told, it was a “girl” color. In his talk, Bell brought up the tragic results after a boy who loved the My Little Pony show was ridiculed for loving it.

Some people are of the mindset that it’s okay for a girl to want to emulate a male hero, but not okay for a boy to emulate a female hero. Note that I said some people, rather than all, so please don’t yell at me if this is not your viewpoint. I think it’s sad that we live in a world where a kid is bullied for any reason.

So to wrap up, I found Bell’s talk interesting. I’m working to produce the kinds of stories that a kid—male or female—will want to read, and characters with whom they can identify. Other authors are too. But I hope we get to the point where no one has to ask where the female superheroes are.

What would you say to a kid who greatly admires a show heavily marketed to the opposite gender?

Labor Day image from wallpaperspoints.com. Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop.com and sidereel.com. Teen Titans Go image from the Teen Titans Go wiki. Rey costume from costumeexpress.com. DC superheroes from TechTimes.

Convenient Incompetence?

I get on various kicks. These days, I’m really into the Justice League animated series, having seen most of the Justice League animated movies. Though this series is well over ten years old, I’m finally getting around to watching the episodes of season 1 that I missed. Better late than never, I guess.

Justice_League_the_Animated_Series

The Justice League (from left to right) Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Flash, Hawkgirl

Maybe it’s the slo-mo hero walk as the theme music swells that gets to me, but I can’t get enough of the show. Here. Watch the opener for yourself.

Like it? Makes you want to put on a cape, doesn’t it? Or, perhaps it inspires you to find six people and make them walk with you in slow motion. While I love the series, one thing irks me: many times the heroes get a serious beat-down until the last few minutes of the second or third episode. (Episodes have at least two parts in this first season.) I’m not against a hero getting the worst of it in a fight for the sake of building tension. But some aspects are frustrating to me, especially if a character is (allegedly) almost invincible. Take Superman and Wonder Woman.

jl-tradingcard-supes1 Justice-League_450

They have super strength and are bullet proof (Wonder Woman through her bullet-proof bracelets), among other skills. But in many episodes, someone who seems to have less power is able to slip in and sock either of them on the jaw, which sends them flying back. Maybe I’m missing something, but if you can’t even use scissors to cut Superman’s hair (since the scissors would break), I ask myself, Does it make sense that someone could punch him on the jaw or in the ribs without breaking several bones in one’s hand? Same with Wonder Woman. I just watched an episode where a woman raised on Themyscira (home of the Amazons) and given super strength via magic, gets the better of Wonder Woman more than once. But shouldn’t a woman who was born an Amazon have a slight advantage over a woman who is merely given super strength? I don’t pretend to be an expert. I’m just curious.

And Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz), who supposedly is one of the most powerful creatures around with his super strength, regeneration ability, as well as his ability to shape shift and mind read, regularly gets knocked unconscious.

Martian Manhunter

I know I’m quibbling here. May I remind you that I do love the show. But having watched some of the behind-the-scenes features, I learned that other viewers had issues. Some described Superman as “a wimp” (according to producers Bruce Timm and James Tucker). The producers admitted that they pulled back on Superman’s power to make the threats the Justice League faced have more weight.

Okay, I can understand that. If Superman or Wonder Woman could easily defeat certain villains, the stakes would seem pretty low. And with their abilities, watching them take down a villain practically with one hand tied behind their back would seem boring by the third episode. But that’s the issue with seemingly invincible characters, isn’t it? We don’t feel the tension if we know that they will easily defeat an antagonist. (That’s why I’m a huge Batman fan. He lacks super powers, so the stakes are usually high for him.)

batman

But I still feel frustrated when a character’s “incompetence” seems convenient for the sake of the plot. For example, if a villain is able to slip in and attack a character who supposedly has super hearing or psychic ability.

I know, I know. These characters were developed over many decades. So nitpicking comes easily to someone who does not have to write or produce an animated show every week. That’s why I need to carefully assess my own characters. If they seem too powerful (the Mary Sue effect), the threat is neutralized. But if they have certain abilities (like super strength), there needs to be a good reason why an allegedly physically weaker antagonist can get the better of them. A good example of this is Lex Luthor waving a chunk of kryptonite at Superman, knowing that kryptonite is Superman’s weakness.

Lex Kryptonite

That’s why I’m inspired by a Justice League movie—Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths—which seems to hit all the right notes. In that movie, the Justice League are faced with their evil doppelgangers on a parallel earth. I won’t go into the plot. You can find that out here. Suffice it to say that the stakes are high for each character. And that’s what I want to keep in mind—high stakes for hero and antagonist alike.

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Making sure a character lives up to his or her abilities while keeping the tension high is a tightrope walk. But it’s worth the journey!

Maybe you’re not writing a superhero book. But if you have a hero (male or female) and an antagonist in some capacity, what do you do to keep the stakes high while avoiding making your hero seem conveniently incompetent?

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Hello Kitty, after assessing her archnemesis Jordie’s skills, has deemed him incompetent, and therefore worthy to attack.

Justice League image from supermantv.net. Wonder Woman from halloweencostumes.com. Superman from supermanhomepage.com. Martian Manhunter from dcmovies.wikia.com. Justice league: Crisis on Two Earths image from murrue02.tumblr.com. Lex Luthor image from listofcomicbooks.com.