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.

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Review:Cloverfield

I am going to admit that I love the Cloverfield series right here. I like how they blend different genres and styles. The first one had a found footage feel with a Godzilla origin. The second had a thriller/horror vibe with an alien invasion, and the third has a science fiction action adventure and lost in space feel. And yet all work together in the same universe. As a story creator myself, I LOVE THIS!

Now, I admit there are a lot of plot holes, and some big science aspects that really miss the mark, especially in the third one. Still, I enjoyed the actual story. I liked what they did with the main character. I like the mystery of what’s happening. And I think it fits in this…universe…?

For a non spoiler review: Don’t go into this expecting the best picture you ever saw. That’s not what this is. Don’t go into it expecting Godzilla monsters. That isn’t what this is. Don’t go into it expecting hard sci-fi with absolutely flawless science to back up what’s happening on screen. That is DEFINITELY not what this is.

What you should expect is a survival adventure on a space station slowly falling apart. And it does an okay job of being that, as well as expanding upon the universe of Cloverfield a bit. There are some good special effects, some interesting character moments, and as a survival space movie it is good.

If you’re trying to bridge the gap between Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane then you might get annoyed. Don’t watch it for that.

Now, for the spoilery stuff. You’ve been warned:

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Values

I wrote a post on Quora today that iIthought would be fitting here. 

Question: How do I write a character to contradict their values. 

My answer: What is the value? What value do they hold higher than that? They will make a choice.

Example, they value life and think guns are bad. But they value their life and their child’s life more. So when a masked guy breaks into their home and somehow the main character gets a gun in their hand they have a choice…. Die and hold the value that guns are evil, or use it against the bad guy.

We make choices like this all the time. Sometimes it’s as simple as “don’t hurt bugs” until the creepy spider shows up in your bathtub. Sometimes it’s something bigger. There is always the question of what is more important to them.

Of Gods and Goddesses

I once wrote an article about the origins of fantasy, namely mythology. It was many years ago, under a different name, still existing in cyber space somewhere, and it makes me cringe a little if I think about it. Not because my ideas were wrong, but because I, as a writer, have increased my skills so much in the last ten years or so that the old article just looks bad.

It’s a good reminder of where I was, and were I am, and hopefully a prelude of where I am going.

I loved mythology as a child. I couldn’t get enough of Greek and Roman gods causing wars, cheating, turning people to stone, and wrecking the world around them, or saving it at a whim.

There was the bittersweet love story of Psych and Eros. A woman who’s curiosity, and distrust, deprived her of the wonderful love given to her by a god.

There was the Trojan horse, and a war fought all in the name of love (or ownership) of the beautiful Helen of Troy.

There were the heroes, like Hercules, and Perseus, who braved mythical beasts and crossed entire continents to fulfill their quests.

In each of these stories we see the first structures of modern day tales. Romance, quests, revenge, war, suffering. Each an intrinsic part of the human narrative. Each a part of what has made our history.

When I wrote Forgotten Ones I attempted to pull on subtle hints of these gods, to capture their struggle with each other, and with the humanity which myth said they created.

That battle, in many ways, is real. Created from primordial pools of DNA, evolving into thinking, feeling, creative individuals, we still struggle against the world, the universe, that created us, and against one another. Massive natural disasters. Fires. Floods. Wars. Famines. The list goes on…

Struggle is what makes a book interesting. Overcoming adversity, and beating the odds. Whether it is a god, a goddess, or a human being.

And why shouldn’t the ancient myths reflect a very real struggle between man and the environment? Ancient men labored closer to, and had greater fear of, the wild places then we do in this day. They did not have guns to protect them, or metal sky scrapers to take them up above the wilds. They didn’t have planes, and satellites to tell them when the waters would rise, or crops fail.

But it’s a new age. The weather seems to be changing drastically with every turn of the clock. Tsunamis, fires, sinkholes, and even meteors pose real threats to people. So now we’re creating our own mythology in movies like “Dante’s Peak” and “Armageddon”. And it makes sense. Our myths are based on science, instead of gods, even if the science is faulty.

I think one of the reasons the old myths are so interesting is the human quality of a god or goddess. Maybe they are more powerful, invincible, and immortal, but they still love, and hate, and fight. They still have emotions. Something an equation, or a volcano can not do. You can reason with a god, or trick them. A volcano will blow no matter what you do, or what you promise.

So, yes, fantasy and story telling started with those great myths from the past. They started with fears, hopes, and dreams of men who came long before us. But we are continuing on in their fashion, fighting against the shadows in the night with words, and hope in the form of new stories, and new myths.

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.