The Strong Female Character

I will admit I do love a good novel with a female lead that kicks some serious ass. I read the entire Hallow Series by Kim Harrison, Mercy Thomson series by Patricia Briggs, The Baine Chronicles by Jasmine Walt, The Little Flame by Melissa Lummis, and almost every single book by Anne McCaffery, who really preferred strong women as her leads. I even wrote my own series with strong female lead characters, Witch’s Trilogy because I love it so much.

The characters in all of these books have something in common. Things happen, sometimes horrible things, sometimes world destroying things, and sometimes more personal. The main characters don’t sit and wallow because they can’t do anything about it, they get up and they find a way to deal with it. But they have one other thing that is vital to their journey. They fail. They fail a lot. Then they get up and try again.

Failure is a big part of a good story. Within the hero’s journey it is actually a phase that english teachers teach you. Luke Skywalker looses all his friends. Frodo Baggins has to leave the Fellowship of the ring. Neo is ambushed in the matrix. They all fail, they have to get back on the horse and try again. This shows dedication, resolve, persistence…things every person could use. It also shows that even a hero, like a fire fighter, police officer, or teacher, can make a mistake sometimes. We can all fail, and we can all try and get back up and do it again.

In the Hallow Series the main character gets near death in many of her books. Mercy Thomson is kidnapped, abused, hurt, and lost. In the Baine Chronicles the main character is lost in time as well as space. Each of them have their own flaws to overcome. Each of them have weaknesses that can be exploited by others that they have to learn to overcome. And each of them aren’t afraid to ask for help from friends and loved ones.

This is just good storytelling. When you put a “strong female character” into a story that has no flaws, no weaknesses, no room to grow, then your story ends up feeling flat. The only time it does work is when there is no overall story, say like in John Wick where the whole point is mayhem, or Commando from early Schwarzenegger, or any other high action movie with little plot and all action. If you put a woman in the same sort of no plot high action movie I am sure people would enjoy that too. The trouble comes when you put a wooden character into a plot, give them nothing to add to the plot, and no personality to really endear you to them.

This wooden character with no flaws that always wins no matter what….It’s called the Mary Sue who masquerades as an infallible character. Highly prevalent in fan fiction, the Mary Sue has made it’s way to main stream writing, and even tv and movies. They are stoic, unchanging, they don’t need anyone, and they never really fail. Granted, some people really enjoy this type of strong female character since it keeps cropping up in main stream media. Many don’t. It’s all down to taste.

I would say it’s not conducive to good story telling. There isn’t a lot of difference between John Wick and Alice from Resident Evil. Both movies were well received, both movies centered on the main character fighting their way through a bunch of bodies. Not a lot of plot, mostly action. That’s all the needed.

But when it is bad for the story is where there is clearly a plot and the plot suffers because the main character does not change, has no flaw, and never fails. In fact John and Alice both have a moment where they fail. They loose their weapons, seem outnumbered, and have to fight back. They just don’t have an emotional story line to go with it for the most part, which is fine, it isn’t that kind of movie. On the other hand…. and here is where I don’t want to say the name because I don’t want people to get pissed at me, but I need an example….Rey, from Star Wars, is inside a rich universe, with lots of emotional things going on around her, but she remains very much the same from start to finish. She’s good at everything, she never really fails, and she has no flaws.

The difference between Resident Evil and Star Wars is everything going on outside the action. Resident Evil is mostly action from start to finish. Star Wars has political posturing, heart felt moments, love stories, and a whole lot of history behind it. Resident Evil has zombies.

Because Rey is set against this backdrop of a rich world with all this characterization, successes and failures, she ends up coming off as more wooden. She doesn’t really need anyone, not even Luke in the long run. In the original series Luke was a bad ass, but he needed his friends, and was stronger for them. Rey ditches everyone, goes and does her own thing, and is fine. When Luke went off on his own he regretted it and realized he needed his friends.

This Mary Sue story telling, especially in a world that already has a huge fan base, leads to a divide in the fan base. Some like it, some don’t, and the fans decide….I’m going to go watch something else.

For a better story telling experience add a flaw. Add a moment when the character looses everything, and has to fight their way back up from the brink of destruction. Have them evolve and change over time. Have them overcome an inner conflict of some kind. Give me, the reader, something to root for them about. I want to love your character! I want to go along with them on this journey, and care about them. I want to laugh at funny things they do, or cry when they are hurt, or cheer when they finally overcome their trouble. I want to FEEL. Do that and I’ll keep coming back for more.

Thoughts on Star Wars the Last Jedi

Is been a few weeks since I saw the new Star Wars movie, and I had to think about it because I wasn’t sure what I thought about it at first.

On the positive side, there were some cool new creatures. Crystaline wolves, fish people, and porgs (that were flavor to the set rather than integral to the story, which I liked.)

I loved the final battle scene. The beautiful reds and whites playing off each other, and marking every move made in the field.

I really liked the development of Rey and Kilo. Tense hatred, punctuated by bitter betrayal, and a risk finding answers for both of them. I almost felt their story line was a little rushed to add in bits for other people, which disappointed me.

I even liked the bomb run. It had a very ww2 vibe to it, risking everything to stop the enemy, which is what the original SW fight scenes were based off of.

So, there was a lot to like in the movie, and even love.

But let’s get into the things I didn’t like as much. Here there will be spoilers, so you’ve been warned.

The biggest problem I had with the movie is that while we were watching I would be really into what was happening, on the edge of my seat, and then something would happen that just pulled me out of the scene and ruined it for me. I thought about it too much, stayed analyzing and trying to figure out why it didn’t fit, and it took me a while to get back into it. There weren’t a lot of those moments, but they were sometimes big moments.

In writing one of the worst things you can do is throw a reader out of the story. It becomes less likely they will pick the book up and continue reading. There were other things that pointed at bad, or sloppy writing. No foreshadowing, missing continuity, sub-plots that lacked cohesion with the main plot (casino planet?). You probably want specifics, but it’s been a few weeks since I watched it so I can’t give you a very detailed list of anything. But I can tell you why I think the purple-haired-lady was such bad writing.

In a story you have to make people care about characters. Make them hate the character, or love the character, but make them FEEL something about them. Either you see them a lot and grow accustomed to them, or they save a puppy, or kill a puppy…SOMETHING happens to make them endearing or hated by you, and then when they die you care. Either you cheer, or you’re sad. It really impacts the audience. But you have to SHOW that they are worth caring about, not tell us.

If I said “hey, that dude over there killed a puppy,” you might look at him a little sideways, but you’re probably not going to believe me. If I show you a video on youtube of the guy tying up a helpless puppy, putting it in a sack, then throwing the sack into a deep, fast moving river…you’re calling the cops more than likely. Showing has far more impact than telling ever will.

In this case they introduced a character, told us she was some great commander that did some awesome thing, then she promptly told Poe (someone we really liked) to get lost. She keeps telling him to get lost, and has no meaningful interaction until the very end. Even then she tries to destroy the one chance we, the audience, can see of the rebels survival by trying to capture Poe. Then after she’s destroyed all chance of anything good happening (from what we see) someone finally speaks up and says “oh, she had a plan.”

We spent no time with purple-haired-lady. We knew nothing about her, other than Leah said she was a good general. We did not see her kiss a kids boo-boo, rescue a puppy, or teach some young trainee to shoot. She did NOTHING except stand there and tell Poe to sit down and shut up, over and over again.

I saw a video from I Hate Everything that said we also didn’t care about Admiral Akbar, so it wouldn’t have mattered if they would have switched it out. I disagree. The fact is Admiral Akbar has been a staple meme of Star Wars culture. “It’s a trap!” is imprinted on us. We quote it, time and time again. We see his face, hear his voice in countless videos, pictures, and jokes. We knew him. No, he didn’t save a puppy either, but he did try to save the fleet, on screen, while we watched, and that resonated with us. We watched as the ships were decimated, and we knew Admiral Akbar tried to save them, but it was too late. If he had been the one on that ship to sacrifice his life than it would have meant something. Instead we got a “and Admiral Akbar is dead too” from some lady we didn’t know, or care about. They didn’t even have the decency to show him die.

You know what it felt like? What a lot of the movie felt like? The director said “how many women can we cram into this movie” and he cut out as many men as he could, making their rolls insignificant if he couldn’t out right cut them. Unless they were the bad guy. Notice that most of the fighter pilots they showed were women? Or that all of the generals were women? Poe was cast as even more of a screw up maverick than the first movie, and Fin was painted as an idiot at times. Mostly due to sloppy writing. I try to imagine this is because most of the men already died in battle and all they have left is women, but it’s still awkward that they make the male’s in the rebel group look so damn incompetent. Even Luke had become a coward, though I was glad to see he learned from it.

Lastly, the way they destroyed the ship at the end was kind of bad ass, I’ll admit. It was beautiful imagery, and looked amazing…and it left a lot of questions. Like why didn’t they sacrifice any one of the other three ships that were being destroyed before that? Oh, I can see not sacrificing a ship unless you had to, but you’re already dead. Why aren’t you doing something heroic instead of letting yourself get blown up? And how did purple-haired-lady know it would work? Was she really the first person to even think of doing it? Even so, it was a beautiful scene, and I think with a little bit more story they could have made it fit in better.

And no, I’m not talking about the casino planet. Let’s just forget that ever happened, okay?

Overall I loved the imagery, and the battle on the salt planet was beautiful. I even liked the end of Luke, it was fitting. I thought the dice on the mirror were kind of dumb, but what can you do? There was sloppy writing, and inconsistencies, and it kind of didn’t fit entirely in the Star Wars universe, but it was a really good space adventure film.

Would I watch it again? Maybe, if it was on late night cable or netflix. I’d probably even like it more the second time. If you believe the film theorist watching something repeatedly makes us like it more. I will probably even go to the theater to see the next movie in the series…and hope it has a better writer next time. Or the director stops trying to make it so female-centric. Whichever.

Thoughts about Farescape

I watched Farscape a long time ago. It was one of my favorite sci-fi series, possibly because I didn’t have a lot of them to watch when I was younger, possibly because Chiana was the cutest grey alien I’d ever seen. Either way…

Gregg turned it on today and started watching the first episode while I was writing and I was struck by something I hadn’t noticed before, a theme that weaves itself through the entire series and I never really noticed it; Nature vs Nurture.

It’s most prevalent in the character of Aeryn Sun. When she is charged with alien contamination she is sentenced to death and must either submit to her breeding, to the life that she has always known, or run. Choose a new life. Find a new way of being.

Her entire character arc revolves around the examination of nature verses nurture. Can she be more even though she was bred, raised, and brainwashed to be a specific thing? On top of that the people around her, including other Peacekeepers, are influenced by her actions to break from the Peacekeeper mold and become something more, something new. I suppose you could say that the show teaches that one person who steps outside of the norm can make a difference. Sometimes a huge difference.

The whole story revolves around John Crichton and his search to get home, and his adaptation to the new world. At least it seems to be. Looking back on all the episodes it seems the main story was really about Aeryn Sun, and how John Crichton changed her life, and set her up to change so many other lives. The other characters have their own arcs, as does Crichton, but over it all there is Aryen Sun. The person who seems to be the secondary lead, and yet her entire story and characterization is driving the plot forward more than anyone else’s.

I’d have to re-watch the entire series to see if that holds up throughout, but my educated guess, based on watched the entire series a few years ago, is that I would find even more plot points that revolve and change because of her. It’s a brilliant use of characterization that you don’t even really notice as that at first. All of the other characters, even Crichton at times, are mere window dressing. But Sun matters.

I suppose that is a lesson to me, as well. Make my characters, even the minor one, matter to the story. See how they change the plot, change the direction of the other characters around them, and that will make the story better, fuller, and more complex.

As for the nature verses nurture part, by the end of the series Sun has definitely become something entirely different. She changes far more than anyone else, and chooses nurture of herself over nature she was born with. Crichton, and the others on the ship, encourage that growth, but much of it comes from within herself. And I think that is also attainable in the real world. If we choose ourselves, instead of choosing the culture we come from, or the family we were born to, we can rise above all of that and become something better. Something more. It’s not always easy, and those around you might fight against it (like Crais trying to stop Sun at every turn) but it can be done.

Have any of you watched Farescape? What did you think about it?

FAQ: I’m stuck, now what?

download“Writers Block” is often synonymous with “I’m stuck, what do I do?” It isn’t that you don’t want to write, or can’t write, it’s that you’re not sure what you should say, or how to say it. It is usually the “how” part that gets me to stumble. When that internal editor starts telling me my writing is terrible, and I need to do better. That nothing I write is going to be worth the effort, that is when I have to dig into my repository of tricks to get the words flowing again.

The first trick is to reread what you alread wrote. Not all of it, just the last couple of pages. eventually something might spark the flow and get you moving again.

If that fails, then you can use stream of thought writing. This is like “beats” (or rough outlining) but a bit more specific for the area you are working with.

An example from “Mermaids Curse”

the kraken is flailing about, and gets stabbed, and immediately flails more, grabbing acolyte’s and tossing them into the waters.

Koric is trying to reach his wife and daughter, but the tentacle falls in front of him, blocking his path, and two priests grab him from behind, thrusting him up against the skin of the kraken where he is covered in a layer of slime from the tentacle.

It isn’t the best writing. It probably won’t even be the finished plot, but it gives me a good idea of where I am heading, and when I come back to that little section I can rewrite it and polish it up.

First drafts are often messy and need to be stripped down to the good bits before sending to an editor, so this is your first draft. Keep going.

Another trick would be to start filling in the world building a bit more. Just write about the culture, the town, a person, or and event that happens near your story. It may not effect your story directly, or it could be the extra plot point you were missing.

And besides, you might use the little bits of world knowledge that don’t make it into the final product somewhere else. It may become a new plot point in future tales, or reference in this work. Don’t discount world building just because it doesn’t fit right now. In general, someone like Tolkien who had so much extra world building that he put it into a separate book of it’s own, writes fuller and richer worlds then someone with no world building at all.

Happy Writing

The Story Writes Itself- NaNoWriMo Day 8

I’ve done a few interviews this month, and a common question is: “Are you a pantser or a plotter?”

It’s a good question. A lot of new writers struggle over this one, trying to figure out what works best for them. And in the end, that’s the real key; finding what works for you.

I am both. I write out some plots, and I know that the more detailed the plot the better writing the actual story is going to be. But while I am writing that plot out I am also writing some of the scenes, dialog especially, that will appear in the final version.

In fact a lot of my stories start with a conversation with two people concerning a person, place or thing.

But once you have your plot, and it’s marked out in detail, don’t be afraid to deviate from it. Let the story go where it wants to go. Sometimes it will just loop right back to the end. Sometimes you’ll find something was missing from the original plot. Every now and then you’ll discover an entire person missing from the plot.

This NaNoWriMo I started with a basic plot that outlined all the chapters. The first two chapters dealt with Marizza, a witch, and how she fell in love with a merman, and conceived Okira, the cursed mermaid. The novel was suppose to be about Okira, and her struggles.

As I wrote it I realized I was struggling because Marizza’s back story, and the world building, were just a little thin. So I set about exploring it one day thinking I would just add little bits to it later, but it would be just for my information.

The story didn’t want to go that way, Marizza was more important then I realized, and her story wanted to be told too. So “Mermaid’s Curse” is going to be in two parts, in one book.

At first I rebelled against this notion. It’s suppose to be a paranormal romance, and romances do not come in two parts, and they usually do not follow the lives of a mother, then a daughter. But I realized I had to let the story write itself. If I forced it to be something it wasn’t then it wouldn’t be as good a story.

The wonderful thing about being an indie author is I don’t have to conform to conventions. I don’t have an editor or publisher to answer to. I can just write the story and let it be what it wants to be.

So maybe the story is more epic fantasy then romance at times, and other times it’s more romance. The main plot of the first half is the romance developing between Marizza and a merman, and how the curse came about. The second half is about the romance between Okira and Brother Hawk, and how they defeat the kraken. In both cases there is a lot dealing with their love lives, so I’m still going with “paranormal romance” for now.

But if the story wants to be epic fantasy… well I guess that’s what it gets to be.

Writing Backwards

I had an unusual solution to an old problem today. I’m probably not the first person to come up with this, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

I was working on a chapter for “Forgotten Ones” in which the two fates, Maylin and Jadina, are walking down a tunnel in search of a particular creature that will hopefully lead them to the big bad guy. I knew how it began, and how I wanted it to end, but the middle… not so much.

So, I started writing it backwards. I read the last paragraph and thought “how do they get to this spot”, and add a paragraph describing that. Then write the paragraph, or mini scene right before that.

For example….

June is walking down a path, and knows that the monster under the bed is at the end of the path. She’s going to walk down the path, see some interesting things on the sidelines, and eventually end up at the monsters den. She goes in the den, there is a little fight, and June ends up sitting on top of the monster with the monsters feet tied up.

So, that is my beat. I write the first section with June walking through the woods, and entering the den, no problem. I am really good at that part. I write the ending with June sitting on the monster, and a little quip about the monster having too many hands and not enough brains. But in the center I just have “battle”.

Battle scenes are the hardest scenes for me to write, which is annoying since a lot of my books have them. But what are you going to do… unless I try and find myself a co-author I’m stuck for it.

So, with this particular story that I am just making up on the spur of the moment, if I try writing it backwards as I just did with “Forgotten Ones” I would think… How did she get on top of the monster? Well clearly she had to have all his hand already captured so the paragraph before would be her locking up the last hand, then swinging her leg over the beast and having a seat.

Then what happened just before that? Well, it has a lot of hands, so she is going to have to dodge them as she is tangling them up in a long ribbon. (This is where I just realize she has a ribbon to tie up the hands.)

Before that, there needs to be some tension. Maybe the monster grabs her ankle and drags her down, and she manages to get herself loose by tickling him.

And just keep going backwards until I have a full story. (On a side note, this sounds like a fun story to write as a children’s book with pictures. Maybe some day.)

In other news…..

I now have nine books available on Kobo. I have two more in queue to be on Kobo, but they are coming.

“Forgotten One” is now 25,000 words long, and I am a little half way through the final edits. Plus the two chapters with battle scenes that I have to finish… sigh.

“Potion Shop” is almost done, also. I really need to just get that out there. Perhaps this weekend.