Friday, May 29, 2015

What I’m Looking for in a Love Interest

When it comes to fictional love, I’m a lot less picky. I find social interaction in the real world to be a painful and exhausting experience—making the mild interest and flirtation of most people my age seem more like a burden than a form of entertainment—and so I’m very careful about who I engage. The imaginary men in my life, however, are held to much lesser standards than those in the real world, mostly because they’re easy to ditch once you get sick of them.

It’s also because, as I’ve said, love-stories are practically porn, and it’s rarely important who the situation is happening to so long as their pretty and the moment is sexy enough. But I’ve come to find that while I will accept a high-stakes love story between two unintentionally vapid people, it’s not ideal. I have wants, I have needs, and many times the difference between a great romance and a temporary method to get off is the love interest’s qualities. Like having some.

1) A gift of gab.

Some women find the stoic, brooding guy sexy as hell, and therefore I’m not asking for a restriction on that sort of person. But personally, I find nothing more attractive than a guy who has a way with words. Girls don’t want the nice guys, you say? Well, if you consider sarcasm mean then I’d agree.

I like a talker, a guy who can turn-a-phrase without a second thought. His self-expression may not be completely honest, but still a humorous insight into who he really is. For me, a definite requirement of a sexy man is someone who can talk your ear off.

2) An opinion.

We talk about the Mary Sues of the world not having an ounce of perspective, but what about their Prince Charmings? The protagonist often is a neutral lens to better demonstrate the quirks and flaws of the side characters. I can stand my main characters being sort of banal—it’s typical--but when a love interest can’t seem to formulate an opinion on anything, or even talk about something other than how much he’s in love, I find him boring as hell.

I like watching a guy’s facial expressions and seeing a flash of amused judgment as he listens to someone else’s stupidity. I love it when he goes on a rant about the ridiculousness of Insert-Personal-Preference-Here. The perfect guy with a apathetic and neutral outlook on the world will always crumble to the man who is determined, stubborn, and often wrong.

3) Loyalty.

If you want to make a likable character, you make a loyal one.

Even characters who seem to be selfish and criminal, the ones we love because they’re such God awful people, will always have someone who they are loyal to. Calvin to Hobbes, House to Wilson, Bender to Fry, and even Cartman to Clyde Frog.

They don’t have to be loyal to everyone, and those they are loyal to may even be the butt of some of their more childish behaviors. Sometimes that loyalty isn’t even successful, screwing up matters more than if he’d just left it alone.

But the intent is there. The ability to trust him. There’s a lot of romance novels featuring “players” who then find their true love who they want to settle down with—a concept I understand; it says he can get any woman he wants, he just chooses to stay without you that’s how much he loves you. However, it can cross a line to him just being slutty and insecure.

Loyalty, from both parties, is extremely important for me to root for them. Without it, you’ve lost me.

4) A dynamic.

The weirdest moment for me in the Twilight series was when they go off on their honeymoon and go snorkeling. (Oh. Right. Spoiler alert.)

I did like the series. I was the appropriate age group, and all I need is a little bit of romance and supernatural elements and I’m in my best zone-out zone. But I found it to be sorely lacking in the dynamic department.

What do they talk about when all is said and done?

Most love stories lack a real dynamic. Sure, writers try, but often times the need for a “healthy relationship” and a strong and independent woman force the characters to be perfect, the writing trying too hard and not allowing their flaws to bounce off each other. Or the plot line is so tense and so fast, we never get to see them in a casual, every day moment filled with genuine banter, amusing conflict, and real compassion.

The best love interests have a real bond the audience can feel and understand.

5) Drive and passion. (And not just for sex.)

Passionate lovers are great, but I often find myself saying to the men of these books, “Get a life!”

If the only thing he’s passionate about is the girl then I have to say pass. Most male characters in romance stories contain the desirable traits I’m looking for—the willingness to go after what he wants, refusing to give up, the intense way he feels about things—but I would like it to be placed elsewhere too.

Let’s see him actually give a shit about his company, his plans for the future, focus on his music, go off on his fantasy for his future writing career. I want to see him care about something and go for something that’s not the girl. Otherwise, I think we’ve found the reason why he doesn’t talk a lot and they don’t really have a bond. It’s because he’s a vapid, lustful shell.

Which, I mean, if you’re in it just for the sex, then that’s fine. But when you’re looking for your book boyfriend, we have to hold our standards a little higher.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

I Don’t Know If My Characters are Virgins

White men have no identities. Not until they earn them anyway. A woman always has a purpose, an inherent judgment on who she is no matter what she does. The view of a black man’s actions are warped by pre-existing assumptions. A white character is free to be who he is, judged solely by his actions and words alone, and can easily disappear into a crowd to be ignored by the world.

This is not always a good thing, and it is easy for the white man to be considered unimportant, valueless to society, and I do think the ramifications of this lack of identity is important, and is under the umbrella of sexism we should be concerned with.

As a human being, the way we identify people by race—white or not—or even gender, age, and weight, can be a huge psychological affliction to that person’s understanding of self and his/her place in the world. The restriction of other people’s assumptions is what racism is all about—and I include racism against white men, even though it is of a different breed.

But I bring this up not to discuss race, but as a contrasting example of my real point. Writing the white man versus the black woman has a major effect on perception of a character, and is a prime case of a “non-noticeable choice.” When you chose to have a non-white male protagonist you’re saying something. What that something is can vary: “Look how not racist I am!” to “I'm black and my character's black so it's probably me,” to “See the psychological ramifications of not being able to trust authority figures as protectors?” to “I’m a woman. I’m strong.” But you’re always saying something. When writing a white person, you’re not.

Writing a black protagonist makes a point and can be distracting. If, however, you wanted race to not define your character, you make them white. People don’t question, “Why is he white?” It doesn’t say anything about him, and he is free to be developed into the swarmy salesman or charming bachelor or smartass doctor or whatever niche you want him to be without it being a political statement.

Being white is “normal,” expected, unnoticeable.

Being a virgin, however, is not. And neither is having multiple partners. In fact,

When it comes to sex, there is no normal anymore. After the age of around sixteen, a character’s sexual history defines him. Boy or girl, the amount of partners he’s been with creates an image, end of story; it doesn’t matter if he’s never had sex at all, been only with his wife, a select number of girlfriends, or the whole damn drama department.

You don’t have a norm, a default, a culturally accepted view of what “most people are.” We are so widely different with how we chose to have sex that everything is saying something.

I have a pretty logically accepting view when it comes to sex. For my personal decisions, I’m a misanthrope and a romantic. I like the idea of “saving myself” for someone I truly care about with zero interest in being touched, or even around, someone I don’t know very well. But I also wasn’t raised religiously, and I am not particularly interested in the whole “Wait until marriage,” thing. I admire it. I find it difficult, beneficial, and an example of strong morals, but hell if I’m going to participate.

Same with multiple sex partners. I do believe in not being a moron about it—use birth control, protect yourself—but there is something to be said for being open to new experiences, the ability to get to know people and be aware of what you want. Being a horribly unsocial and fearful person, I also admire those who can put themselves out there.

And yet, no matter how I view other people, the same thing does not apply to my characters.

When I write, most of the answers are immediate to me. I don’t know everything about someone, but I watch the scene unfold, and when it comes time to expose themselves, they are usually natural and forthright. It’s obvious their opinion on something—I don’t even have to think about it. Some things don’t come so easily. Eye color, for instance, isn’t something I “see.” Virginity is another.

My protagonists are often outsiders and introverts. They tend to push people away, aren’t accepted by society, and are lucky if they even have one friend who understands them. They’re rarely moral people, without religion and in survival based situations. They don’t use, loyal, but untrusting. On the unlikely occasion they form a bond with someone, it is thick, nearly impossible to break.

They don’t seem like virgins. The older they get, the less likely that feels right.  If they’re not “saving themselves” and the people they interact with aren’t either, then I can’t imagine that at some point it wouldn’t have happened. What? Does no one like them? Are they really just that uninvested in sex that they haven’t really tried? That rings false.

There’s a stigma in the back of my mind that if you’re not trying to be a virgin—boy or girl—and still are after about 23, it says something bad. I hate that, of course, because I don’t even believe it. Not logically. I could easily see myself as still being a virgin at 25. I don’t know for sure, but I was always the one to pursue the men in my life, and developed a dedicated relationship with them first. No drunken one-night stands, nothing that happened “in the heat of the moment.” Nothing was ever forced on me. I chose a guy, worked my ass off to get his attention, never been with someone who wasn’t respectful and willing to wait, and was always the seducer in the end. Even though I have no qualms with my looks or desirability, I do easily believe that I could have been a virgin without any pressure if I had not made the effort. I think highly of myself, and yet I think it is my choices—not my value in society—that could have easily left me a virgin. How much you have sex isn’t a direct correlation to your desirability, but is much more complicated.

Yet, I still have that judgment. Even if you’re a woman, there needs to be a reason you haven’t slept with anyone yet, or it’s just weird.

And even if being a virgin is off the table, then what are my other options? A one night stand? A whole bunch of one night stands?

I actually let my female characters off the hook on this one, at least more so than the men. It’s not a preferable choice in many cases, but if she’s a strong character who takes risks, there’s a decent chance I could see her as sleeping with multiple partners with no great connection. The issue is the idea of men “tricking” women into sleeping with them. Even in this day and age, having sex seems to be the man’s choice, and if you let them, you’re insecure. While my boyfriends have always been respectful, they will still say shit like, “I’m sorry I tricked you into thinking I was something I wasn’t.”

Tricked me? Try again. You are implying that you have a level of self-awareness that enabled you, not only to convincingly fake a personality trait, but know which personality trait to fake. Besides, when I said, “When I first met you, I thought you were…” that was just a matter of typical first impressions, not me saying I like you less now. It’s not what “got me into bed.” You didn’t design shit. If I have to do all of the work, the least you can do is not act like you manipulated me into it.

This idea of peripheral male characters looking down on my female because they think they had manipulated her when really it was her own volition annoys the living hell out of me. Of course, she doesn’t care what they think, but I hate the smug looks on their faces I imagine. Even decent, kind guys with no malicious intent can have that guilty (and somewhat self-loathing) attitude of, “I made you sleep with me.”

Unless we’re getting drugs involved, you can’t “make me,” do anything. I slept with you because I wanted to. Get over yourself. Or, think better of yourself. Whichever.

As for men sleeping around, this is where my own personal insecurities come in. I have a hard time writing a male character who treats sex as just sex because, while I logically see it being an acceptable mentality independently (the lying that usually accompanies it being what’s immoral), it still touches on a deeply entrenched idea that society has told little girls all our lives:  You are replaceable.

“Men don’t care about who they’re screwing. You don’t even need to have a pretty face. If they’re looking for a wife, then yeah, a hot body matters too. But other than that, to men women are pretty much exchangeable.”

And, of course, as a little girl, your reaction is, “Um… bullshit,” because no one can be that callous, right?

Then you go on the internet.

I still maintain that if you were to walk up to a randomly chosen man, his desires for a sexual partner are far more complex than just, “WOMAN.” I attributed more to the secret fears placed on us girls more so than our actual experiences, yet you can’t deny that those men out there exist. Defining them in the real life is far more complicated than just how many people they’ve slept with (just because you’ve slept with a lot of people doesn’t necessarily mean I think you’re an asshole; you have to have other traits as well), but when I do find someone like that, I don’t like him at all. It seems to be the worst trait you can have.

You can be a good person and sleep around. How many partners you have may have nothing to do with being callous or insecure. And yet, whenever I consider writing a “player,” my admiration of the character drops drastically. Something about him having multiple partners with characters that I’ve never met before and probably never will, characters who are so unimportant they won’t come back in his life, or at least in the timeframe of the book, disturbs me, makes me question what kind of person he is. Even though it doesn’t mean he’s a user, and even though it is a hypocritical opinion of me (considering my above problem with men thinking they’ve tricked women into having sex), I still can’t stand the idea that he would be “that sort of person.” Whatever the hell that means.

So, fine. He/she has had a committed relationship or two in the past. Happy?

Not really. I like the idea of soul mates—a little too much unfortunately. Again, I intellectually believe that it’s important to take risks and therefore make mistakes, and just because you spent a good deal of time with someone that didn’t materialize into a lifelong relationship doesn’t even mean it was a mistake or a waste of time.

But it would also suggest that there was someone important in that character’s past life that ceased to be in their current one. A girl or boy who the protagonist doesn’t even talk about anymore, yet was once extremely important to him. Another fear of mine? Being forgotten by someone you cared deeply for.

And, in some ways, it almost trivializes the new relationship. In reality, you can love many people and have it not dilute your feelings for someone else later. But from a removed perspective, it can make it seem like you are just in love with love, or that you don’t know love when you see it. How could you be completely connected to one person—even if it was long ago—and have that maintain the purity of your feelings now? Anecdotally, I know that’s insane. A ridiculous thought, and yet common enough from a third-party’s point of view to mean something.

Sex is a natural occurrence, an expected part of life. So what is with the inherent judgment? No matter how you chose to lead your life, some anal redhead in the sky isn’t going to like what it says about you. Not discussing it, however, just lends to that judgment, creates false characters, and confirms biases I don’t want to have. I suppose we should be defined most by how we treat each other, and there’s a benefit in that, but it’s becoming very apparent to me why most people don’t want to discuss their sexual history. There’s nothing you can say to be beyond reproach.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

When to Promote like the Kardashians and When to Keep Your Mouth Shut

There’s a lot of reason to hate Facebook, and not wanting to hear people talk about themselves all day long is a good one. Yet, no matter how much you hear people bash selfies and posts about what someone had for lunch, anyone who wants to use social media as a promotional tool would do best to not listen to the naysayers.

Social media is most successful when you are personal. People are more likely to follow and buy from accounts with human photos, anecdotal stories are more likely to receive likes and hits than instructional opinions, and the more someone knows about you, the more likely they are to want to do you a favor. The concept of headshots has been around longer than the internet because there is a benefit from the connection that comes from showing that you're human.

Even though people claim to hate the “self-involvement” of social media sites, when we use them, viewers are often there because we want to know more about someone, and nothing's more boring than someone who refuses to talk about themselves.

What is my friend in high school up to? What is my crush doing right now? What is going on in the lives of other people right now? How do I compare to them? What interesting new stimuli from their life can break the stagnation of mine? If a viewer is there to talk about herself and only talk about herself then it doesn’t really matter what you post anyway because she's not reading it. But if people are there to read about you, they want to read about you.

Personal anecdotes do far better than opinion pieces. They also tend to hold more weight. You’re more likely to convince someone of the “sins of adverb usage,” if you talk about the moment of your epiphany—what you thought before you heard it, and what you were doing that made you understand than if you said, "Stephen King says so."

Talking about how you wrote your book will sell it more than asking people straight up to buy it.

But, like many things in life, it’s not binary. Those Facebook haters have a point. If it were as simple as just saying every inane thing that popped into your head and every stupid thing you did that day, I’d be as famous as Kim Kardashian.


No, actually, Kim is actually a good example. She seems to have banal stories and self-obsessed photos, but people are interested in her because she reveals who she truly is—flaws and all—and lets us in on her life. People like people, even if it’s just to judge them. But you’ll note that the show is, well, a reality T.V. show. They’re not talking about how they did their laundry that day (Do the Kardashians do their own laundry? Hell, most of my clothes need to be dry cleaned and I get them from Goodwill, so I doubt it), but talk about relationships, personal struggles, and generally conflicts. It’s overdramatized, the photographs photoshopped, and a lot of her attention is negative, but she’s an extreme example on how, no matter what people say, they do want to hear about your life—even if they think you’re an idiot.

As an author, you already have something valid to say—a product of hard work that’s hopefully beneficial to customers. The use in social media is to give readers more than just that, to make them feel a connection with the author too, to allow them to get to know you, remember your face, and want to support you. The only way to do that is to be honest with who you really are.

Because you have a more legitimate creation than a sex tape, you don’t need to go as far as the Kardashians. In Kim’s case, the sex tape got people’s attention, and then her personal life kept people coming back. In your case, you want your personal life to get people’s attention and the work to keep them coming back. This allows you to only show a little bit of your flaws, have only a few photographs of yourself, and gives you more privacy and less likelihood to be hated. If you want your work to stand for itself, which is understandable, than social media isn’t the best promotional method for you.

Yet, while my most successful posts are those that talk about my experiences, they can also be the ones with the biggest backlash. (Actually, if you want to really piss them off, make fun of Hemingway.) When you talk about your anxiety, rejection, or anything really honest, that’s when people will really connect and become invested with you. Or decide that you’re a butt hurt, overly sensitive jerk and lose all respect for you.

This, unfortunately, is the risk we have to take, and it happens all of the time. Yesterday I read a post by a poet about a criticism a woman gave him. He was clearly upset, and it was understandable. She was pretty rude about it, saying, “It is obviously written by a man. You might want to consider thinking of your audience—or not,” and I could empathize with his chagrin. On the other hand, I could see her point. His sexual works were vulgar and penetration based, which is less appealing to women than it is to men. He actually seemed like a decent, likable guy, but was clearly sexually obsessed, and had somewhat of an older perspective on gender roles. Even though I found her criticism completely undiplomatic, it was one of the times where I felt it really was the main problem I had with his writing too.

He asked how he should respond, to which the answer always is, “Unless you see value in having a dialogue with someone, don’t try to have a dialogue with them.” He wasn’t going to prove her wrong and getting into a fight does nothing for anyone. I felt as an older writer he should have known that.

Then, today, he posted again (he posts often throughout the day), mentioning how a reaction to an earlier status suggested he was “immature,” and how he had to delete a bunch of people from his friend’s list. This was what tipped the scales for me, causing me to judge him as insecure and inexperienced.

Over the course of time, I got to know him and recognize his name because of his willingness to post his opinions, feelings, perspectives, and events in his life, but it was also his downfall: the constant complaining and sensitivity making me lose respect for him or faith in his skills.

Recently, there was another author who was broadcasting her insecurities in a way that made her look more foolish than human. Her post sticks in my mind because it was the first time someone’s anxiety actually annoyed me. Normally, even if I feel a person is being ridiculous, I at least see where they’re coming from and empathize with the intense desire to make that pain go away. But her status talked about a previous post which announced she might delete her author’s page. The original status was too a complaint—“I’m not getting the support I need. What’s the point?”—and several people liked it. In her next post, she said, “When I said I wanted to delete my author’s page, 16 people liked it. I guess I should take a hint.”

Okay, now you’re definitely being overly sensitive.

Yes, the whole “liking” issue has always been weird. I don’t like that your grandmother died… but I do want to acknowledge your post. What do I do? Most people have realized that liking something doesn’t necessarily mean, “I like this,” but rather, “I support this. I hear you. I have nothing to say on the matter, but I feel for you.” If she really thought that 16 people wanted to be completely rude to her and say, “Yes, do it already!” then I can’t imagine her understanding of the human race.

While being vulnerable is the best way to connect with people, being butt hurt is the best way to lose them. But how can we find the line? When is a negative reaction to criticism normal and relatable and when does it look like you’re an overemotional hack? When are the problems in your life interesting and when are they petty? When are the selfies a good look into your life and when are they just narcissistic?

Generally, it depends on the viewer’s perspective with no absolute guidelines, but I have found a couple of correlations to the posts that have lost my respect versus the interesting ones:

You’ll be relatable when…

-It’s about the reader, not the poster.

Don’t post complaints with the hopes of receiving a catharsis or compliments. Do it to show other people solidary, to make a point, or because it’s a funny story. When posting a status, consider what the readers get out of it, or whether or not you’re trying to make yourself feel better. (Turning to people when feeling rejected is a great method of overcoming pain, but do it privately.)

-You don’t look constantly miserable.

Post a variety of messages with different moods. A post about a rejection letter among a joke about wanting to kill your characters, how your cat rewrote an entire page by sitting on your keyboard, or a question you had about writing philosophy will, at worst, be accepted as a bad day, at best, just a part of the trade. Constantly showing insecurity makes other people feel uncomfortable. Make sure that your self-deprecating moments, your balking at criticism, and your anxieties are balanced out by positive and confident anecdotes as well.

-You always assume the best of people.

Even when someone is arguing with you, they probably don’t want to offend you. The problem with social media is everything comes in text form and most people sound pissed, but there are not many who actually want to hurt your feelings. Those who do are usually obvious about it.

On the majority of occasions, people aren’t trying to be mean—sometimes they think it’s the only way to say something that needs to be said, often they’re not even aware of how they sound. So if you’re not sure if someone is criticizing you or just cracking a joke, then give them the benefit of the doubt. If people are liking your post, it’s better (and more accurate) to believe they are trying to show support rather than offend you. If you feel a post is hostile, make sure that it actual is before going off on them.

-You don’t think two wrongs don’t make a right.

Just because someone’s a dick to you doesn’t mean that you’ll look innocent when posting a fuck-filled status. On the internet, there will always be someone who doesn’t take your side. When bitching about someone, just because they didn’t consider your feelings doesn’t mean you can just fly off the handle, cursing without thought or punctuation.

Again, make sure to post it for a reason other than, “I’m pissed,” and use that reason to determine how to word it. When dealing with immature people, it’s hard not to look immature yourself, and so the only way to maintain your dignity is to not stoop to their level, especially when posting something that is an external rant and not a comment to the person who was being a dick in the first place.

-It has an ending.

When it’s cathartic, it will probably just stop the moment everything is out there. A successful rant, however, usually has some sort of point in it, and a clear ending. Usually, it’s the punchline—a last remark to make people laugh, even something simple and not all that funny like, “Someone slap me.”

When you post about your insecurity, the ending should make it clear what you want from you readers: a laugh, an answer to a question, or even just a change in their thoughts about a subject. If you can’t figure out how to end it with a good conclusion, it’s a sign your rant really didn’t have a purpose other than making you feel better. The subtext of the ending should be, “I’m telling you this because…” If you don’t have a reason, then maybe it shouldn’t be said to your readers.

Honesty, vulnerability, and humanity is an important part of making people interested in you, and refraining from doing so because you want to look good can make the whole point of social media useless. Be careful when you’re feeling down or angry, but also remember that most occasions, it’s flexible and subjective. It’s better to be too honest than it is to say nothing at all if you don’t want to be boring. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

I Don’t Relate to Strong, Independent Women

I think female characters are like pancakes. You always have to feed the first try to the dog.

For many years now the stereotype of the “Strong, Independent Woman,” has been a blight on my entertainment experience. My brother says I hate women. Possible. I certainly do get off on bitching about them enough. But I think I have more of a binary outlook on them. Many of my favorite characters are women, and so are my least favorite. In most cases, I think, I have to have it one way or the other. There are many underdeveloped male characters who I just don’t care about. Yet you stick this flat female version of Clark Kent and I’m running to my blog to have a pissy fit.

The cliché of the Strong, Independent Woman is so engrained that you can often just look at a cover or poster and tell that’s what’s going on. I remember when seeing a certain children’s book for the first time (not an extraordinarily well known one or anything), glimpsing the girl standing in the background with her arms crossed and strong gait and thinking, “Yep. There’s your token strong woman.” Upon reading an interview by the author, he admitted, “I wanted to write a strong female character.”

Yep. Of course you did.

Writers all around brag and pitch their “Strong, Independent Women,” but does anyone really like that anymore? I think there are some older counterparts—women who grew up before the 90’s—whose accumulated experience of not having them still makes find these characters refreshing, but even they will suggest that many of these women are just lip service.

To me, anytime someone says proudly, “I write strong female characters,” I feel like I’m hearing, “I’m pro-integration.”

Well, that’s a good thing, I suppose, and while there is still some work to be done, for the most part I feel like you’re a little behind the times. It’s really not about proving that women can be strong anymore. Sure, we still have issues with women being perceived as weak, but I think now the priority is proving they belong in the world.

No matter how much you make her kick ass and have all the answers, even if she is your deus ex machina, no matter how strong you make her, if she doesn’t have a good dynamic with anyone, if she doesn’t have a niche outside of being the “woman,” if she disobeys all the social rules you set up in your own world, she is still an interloper, which is what many female readers feel when they see so few girls in stories, and why implanting one woman who can kick ass won’t do the trick.

Statistically, men have a 7:3 male to female ratio in fiction novels, while women have closer to a 5:5. Keeping in mind that this is the average (You have three authors, one writes 5:5, one 10:0, one 7:3), it still suggests that many men subconsciously don’t see women in their lives. Their imaginary world is populated by the default (guys). For the women who are there, there’s obviously an importance to them, highlighting the importance that heterosexual men place on women. It’s the discomforting idea that girls don’t belong in daily lives, and when they do enter, the man’s life has to change to orient around her.

Note that this is definitely a generalization, and if you feel like you naturally have a more realistic implementation of male to female characters, you probably do. This isn’t intended to be an attack on male authors, but rather explain why I don’t like or care about most of these characters in current films.

These strong women aren’t confronting the real issue. They’re supposed to be suggesting that women aren’t weak—and in some ways they do so. I can see the difference between the surprise of my mom’s when she sees a “strong woman,” and the natural acceptance I have. There is a huge difference in expectation from my generation to my mother’s, so in that aspect they’ve been successful.

But these women don’t necessarily belong, they aren’t really people I would like to be like, they tend to be singularly defined, their priorities make them look far weaker than what physical limitation would, and they’re often the embodiment of what women fear most.

There are some common problems I see with this stereotype that make characters I don’t relate to, don’t want to be like, and even don’t want around at all.

-She is so concerned with proving how strong she is, she comes off as insecure. (And that’s if she’s well written. In most cases, it just looks like the author is so concerned with proving how strong she is that it comes off as he/she doesn’t even believe it. Look how strong she is! Isn’t that different?!)

-She doesn’t have a niche. You have this ensemble of characters, each of which have their own unique purpose, whether that be their superpower or their personality. There is something that only they can do. And yet, because she is just “a good fighter,” without a unique trait, there’s no reason to send her versus the other guy who is also a good fighter. Not unless she’s going to use her sexuality to manipulate someone, which I consider petty, not admirable.

-She doesn’t have an exterior life. The Bechtel test suggests that a movie should have more than one woman who talk to each other about something other than a man. I’d be happy if she talked to anyone outside of the protagonist. Get some friends and have your actions directly influence the plot for hell’s sake.

-Her goals are either too extreme or mundane. She needs to pull the stick out of her ass. She is often completely focused on “the mission,” unable to stop and smell the roses, crack a joke, or have an objective outside of it. Or, all they want is to “see the lanterns,” or something banal. God forbid we show her with some common ambition or selfishness.

-She has no sense of humor. People have been trying to make female characters funny since Buffy Summers actually succeeded, and yet many fail. I can’t say exactly what this is (Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are both written by the same people, but she couldn’t deliver a joke if she said his lines.) I think a part of it is how important it is for her to be funny—an importance that inherently makes it not funny. In any case, most strong, female characters are way too serious for me to be interested in them.

-She never cannot give a shit. She cares. She cares a lot. About everything. Everything is life or death with her. There’s no point where she doesn’t care what other people think. Even when the writer says she doesn’t, it’s obvious that her actions are still about how she appears to people (look how strong and independent she is!) You may say that this is an accurate representation of women in general—which I see to some extent… asshole—but it’s overdone and makes her a buzzkill.

-She mothers the protagonist. She is the voice of morality, always has the right answers, and always makes sure to keep people on track and clean up after them. It makes sense from a love-interest’s perspective; how do you stop someone who doesn’t care about authority and is fearless from doing something incredibly stupid? You have the hot woman tell him not to. Men, despite everything they say, can respect that. From a woman’s perspective though, why the hell would I want to always be the responsible one?

-She propagates femininity as a bad thing. This is getting less and less true as time goes on, but there is definitely this attitude that if she “acts like a woman,” (behaviors typically attributed to women) she’s being portrayed as weak and sexist. I definitely blame female readers for this one over authors of either gender. I personally enjoy diversity in attitudes. And if we were to limit people’s behaviors to either feminine or masculine, honestly, I rather men become more like girls. (If I had to choose.) I find representing strength as behaving like a guy and weakness as behaving like a girl very insulting, and a big reason why I don’t relate to them. I don’t mind having masculine women, but that should be their character, not a promotion on what strength is.

-She is superwoman. I don’t mean in terms of flight. I mean this in terms of Perfect Mother, Perfect Career Woman, and now, Able-to-Kill-in-Stilettos. Women feel a great deal of pressure these days to be good at everything. In our attempts to demonstrate that women are capable of anything, we must be good at everything. We write these “perfect” women who are still obligated to look hot, be good at their job, always having the right answers, and know how to fire a bazooka.

And I don’t think that having hottie badass men on screen affects men the same way. Yes, I believe that it causes men to feel bad about their body image too—and that’s important—but men in American society fear a lack of identity and the need to attain value in our world, while women fear the failure of not being capable in every aspect of a typical life. Being a bad driver doesn’t mean you’re a bad driver, but that women in general are. Suddenly, our failings aren’t just a matter of character, they’re a matter of proving the oppressive assholes right.

Having a superwoman who is always right, good at everything, and never fails is akin to having the few male characters always be rich and solidifying that that’s all that matters. The “You need to be good at everything,” mindset is a huge detriment to women, as much as, “No one cares about you if you’re not wealthy,” is to men. In the same way portraying all the female characters as rich wouldn’t bother most viewers, portraying a man as a perfect father, worker, and killing machine makes him more boring than it does strike fear of inadequacy into the hearts of its audience.

Secondly, male characters usually fuck up, and in a big way. That’s why we like them. So while many men are portrayed with ridiculous abilities and successes too, that usually is accompanied by a plot carrying ramification.

Strong, independent women exist in real life, but usually they have more to them than that, and honestly, I could do with seeing more flawed and interesting women than those who prove how good a fictional character can be.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Recipe for Writer’s Block Fudge

I’ll let you in on a little secret—The only difference between Writer’s Block Fudge and fudge is that I’m the one who’s making it.

However, in recent history, I’ve come to find making fudge as a great catharsis for me whenever I have writer’s block (or any sort of frustrating moment.) It’s not just about eating it, but the actual process of making it calms me down and gives me a moment to think. By exercising my brain in a somewhat remedial task, I allow myself to breath, think, and possibly have a “shower epiphany.” The power of getting your mind onto something else can be amazing.

Realize that I am a writer, not a cook, and as such, instead of specific planning and measuring, I enjoy the finer process of “winging it.”

If you would like a more left-brained approach to cooking—with actual measurements and everything—I’d recommend trying someone who does this for a living.

What you will need…

Coco Powder
Cream (Preferably half and half.)

(Yes, it can make you puke.)

Make sure to have a large microwavable bowl. The biggest you can get.


Three cups of sugar.
Two heaping table spoons of coco powder. (Don’t be precise about the amount. You can experiment with how chocolaty you want it, and there’s a decent flexibility.)
Shake, shake, shake, a regular table salt shaker. (Like a pinch of salt, really. Also don’t be precious.)

Mix in large bowl.

Poor in cream until it is the consistency of syrup. Start with a little, you won’t need a lot, and then add some in while stirring. You want to be able to pick up your spoon and have it as thick as possible, but still have a constant stream instead of the clump, clump, clump dripping.

Put in microwave.

This is the most problematic area. With candy, the cooking time is extremely important and never consistent. It can be affected by altitude, time of year, and even humidity of that day. I was told to cook it for six minutes, but I would recommend cooking for four minutes first, then intervals of a minute after.

To check if it’s done, put cold water into a dish you can touch the bottom of. Drip some fudge into it, ball the fudge up and try to balance it on your finger. If it clumps enough to balance there for a moment, it is done. If it is too liquidy and falls off, stir the large bowl and try another minute.

I, however, find this process entirely gross, so gauge based on how it clumps in the water. If it looks like diarrhea, it’s not done yet. If it clumps a decent amount, you can take it out. If it is stringy like little worms, it’s overcooked. No, I do not consider this description more gross than touching fudge in water, thank you.

Add marshmallows. You will want about two fistfuls, but again this is something to experiment with.

The freshness of the marshmallows only matters based on how long you want to be stirring for. Even those harder than the back of God’s head won’t affect the taste—but you’re going to be at it all day. A freshly opened pack will go quickly and quietly.

Butter two plates (though I never actually butter them myself) and pour. Chill for at least thirty minutes.

Don’t worry too much about screwing up. For the most part the only thing you’ll affect is the texture, but it will still be completely edible and delicious. You want it to be firm, but not sticky or grainy. A caramel-like texture is a sign of too much marshmallows, a grainy texture is that of under cooking.

Enjoy until you puke. Then get back to work.

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