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Tag: characterisation (page 1 of 3)

Ghosts, Flaws and the Psychic Wound in Fiction

There are various words to describe the event from a main character’s past which holds them back in the present: the fatal flaw, the psychic wound, the ghost.

Fatal flaws aren’t always fatal and suggest they tend to be inborn. Fatal flaw refers to what I prefer to call the psychological weakness, and the ghost is a bit different.

‘Psychic wound’ is good, but other people use the word ‘ghost’. (John Truby, Karl Iglesias.) This is even better because I can visualise this thing as an alter-character following the main character around, actively getting in the way of their goals. However, ghosts refer to supernatural creatures, so let’s stick with ‘psychic wound’.

Most often, the Ghost involves traumas such as abandonment, betrayal, or a tragic accident which leaves the character permanently injured or disfigured, or causes guilt if the character feels he has caused another’s death. It can also be the death of a loved one. Basically, any traumatic incident that created a sense of loss, or a psychological emotional wound. […] The difference between Backstory and Ghost is that the first molds the character’s personalty, whereas the latter is still an open wound which haunts the character in your story and affects his inner need. Both, if interesting, can add emotional complexity and fascination to your character.

— Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias

Notice Iglesias mentions injuries and disfigurements. A disfigured character is a trope of yore, and modern writers need to be careful about that one. In these more enlightened times we know that a disfigurement or injury or missing right hand does not actually say anything about that person at all, but earlier stories conflated physical wounds with evil and mal-intent.

MOST COMMON TYPE OF PSYCHIC WOUND

Continue reading

Children’s Stories and Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye was a Canadian literary theorist who died in 1991 aged 78. Frye was considered one of the most influential literary theorists of the 20th century. Sometimes his theories applied equally to children’s literature; at other times he was off the mark. One of his theories — The Displacement Of Myth — does not apply well to children’s literature.

Northrop Frye’s Five Stages Of The Displacement Of Myth

Frye treated literature as ‘displacement of myth’. Here are Frye’s stages, in consecutive order, between full-on myth to what we get today:

  1. Characters are gods (superior to both humans and to the laws of nature)
  2. Romantic Narrative (idealized humans who are superior to other humans but not to the laws of nature)
  3. High Mimetic Narrative (humans who are superior to other humans)
  4. Low Mimetic Narrative (humans are neither superior nor inferior to other humans)
  5. Ironic Narrative (characters are inferior to other characters)

northrop frye

(Terminology note: The ‘mimetic modes’ are also known as ‘realism‘. Mimesis basically means ‘copying reality’.)

Examples Of Modern Popular Characters From Each Of Frye’s Five Stages

  1. Superheroes in general, though writers sometimes limit their powers in aid of a more interesting story. Superman is one of the few who actually fits this category because Superman was never meant to be relatable. (Before he was known as Man of Steel he was known as Man of Tomorrow, in a much more optimistic age when it was thought that humankind is making its way closer to the ideal mindset of altruism for altruism’s sake.
  2. The male love interests in Harlequin romances, in which the story ends before more human aspects of his character are revealed.
  3. Walter White and other genius characters who live among us e.g. Marty Byrde of Ozark which seems to be modelled upon Breaking Bad.
  4. Don Draper; the alter egos of secret-identity superheroes. (See: A Psychoanalysis of Clark Kent.)
  5. Mr Bean,

If you try this exercise yourself, you’ll probably find that contemporary stories tend to fall into the bottom two categories. It’s much harder to find genuine examples from the top two tiers in particular. Some have argued a case for more heroics in stories for adults.

The conventions of literary fiction are that the bourgeois hero (more likely the heroine) be vulnerable, prone to shame and guilt, unable to fit the pieces of the larger puzzle together, and on the same banal moral plane as the “average reader”: sympathetic, in other words, someone we can “identify” with, who reflects our own incomprehension of the world, our helplessness and inability to effect change.

– an example of why we need to read about amazing characters, in an opinion from Anis Shivani

The Displacement of Myth and Children’s Literature

How does Northrop Frye’s Five Stages map onto children’s literature? According to Frye, children (and animals) fall into the fifth category — children are regarded as inferior. Since almost all children’s literature stars children, this suggests all children’s literature is ironic.

This is not the case.

In fact, the corpus of children’s literature includes characters from each of Frye’s levels. This has been pointed out by specialist of children’s literature, Maria Nikolajeva, in Aesthetic Approaches to Children’s Literature: An Introduction.

Examples Of Children’s Characters From Each Of Frye’s Five Stages

  1. The superhero side of Miles Morales; Christopher Robin who to the toys seems like a God. (This also applies to Andy of Toy Story.)
  2. Edward Cullen and other paranormal love interests in young adult romance; Harry Potter winds up here.
  3. Rory Gilmore types, who is herself the granddaughter of Anne of Green Gables (very smart). That said, Rory Gilmore had been cut down a peg or two in the Gilmore girls revival, and Anne With An E showed a more vulnerable side to Anne Shirley. Perhaps this means a contemporary audience likes to see more ordinary characters?
  4. Laura Ingalls, Tom Sawyer, Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins and all of these kids’ descendants populating realistic fiction, but who sometimes enter a fantasy world. (That said, entering a fantasy world often in itself denotes ‘chosen ones’.) In YA we have Francesca Spinelli (Saving Francesca), the ensemble stars of Tomorrow When The War Began and other ordinary teens who learn to become self reliant after some kind of adversity.
  5. Greg Heffley, Timmy Failure, Nikki Maxwell and many other stars of middle grade, humorous, illustrated novels starring characters who are mean, dim-witted, accident-prone, or who otherwise feel put-upon due to being the middle child, wearing braces or whatever. We see these characters in cartoons, too e.g. We Bare Bears. Comedy is full of them because these characters are easy to poke fun at. We also have serious YA characters such as Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or James Sveck of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, who are basically overwhelmed by all the changes happening in their teenage years.

As shown above, children’s literature is as diverse as adult literature when it comes to this particular theory of character. ‘Children’ cannot be lumped into the bottom category. The opinion from Anis Shivani above may in fact mean it’s easier to find heroic characters in children’s stories than in stories for adults.

As a side note, animals can’t be lumped into the ironic category, either. That’s because animals in literature are very often stand-ins for humans.

Character Study: Walter White

Following a television trend started by The Sopranos, Walter White of Breaking Bad is an engaging example of a modern antihero.

walter white portrait

“I want to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface over the life of the series.” — Vince Gilligan

I have already taken a close look at how the pilot of Breaking Bad engenders empathy in the audience.

In my mind, the best television series to date is Breaking Bad. When I analysed Tony Soprano, I found him to be a 12-dimensional character. Walter White has almost 16 or 18 dimensions. He is maybe the most complex character ever written by anyone, for any medium. He generated five or six seasons.

A dimension is a consistent contradiction in the nature of the character. Walter was capable of being very gentle, and he was for five seasons with certain characters—and violent and brutal with others! The dimensionality fascinates the audience.

By the time that last episode was executed, we absolutely knew everything about Walter White and his Heisenberg doppelgänger. He was ready to die because he was completely expressed, up to the last scene.

Walter changed every week. We never knew where the hell Walter was. Every time he did things one way, and we would feel that that was who he was, he would just reverse himself and do things in an opposite way.

Robert McKee

Here’s another reason why Walter White is so engaging: Continue reading

Films With Genius Main Characters

In stories it isn’t always the smartest or the strongest who become heroes — it is often the character who perseveres or works hardest. The villain is often smarter and stronger than the hero. What about really smart characters? Ironically in storytelling, the genius character is often the underdog. Their genius is also their weakness, or they have another big weakness which undermines their intelligence. Oftentimes their genius ostracizes them as loners.  It’s common for a genius character to also be supremely lonely or depressed or pessimistic.

The character arc for a genius character is often to show the world how smart they really are. (The “I’ll show them!” wish fulfillment of many stories for adults), or to win friends and lovers.

In life, there may be many different choices one can make to accomplish a goal. In films, there is often only one, and the hero gets to show how smart s/he is by figuring out what it is.

— Suber

1. Proof

This is one of the few with a girl math nerd. That makes me like it.

2. 21

This is one of these stories about a really nice guy who turns bad for a while but is ultimately redeemed. I think the end goes on for about five minutes too long. You also sort of know how it’s going to end, but the journey is great. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat.

Oh and the story weaves together so well I don’t believe for a moment that this movie has much to do with the true story upon which it is based.

3. The Social Network

Another kind of protagonist is incredibly smart, irritatingly aware of it, and these people are driven to go beyond themselves, which often leads to spectacular failures. Or, in this case, win out in the end with lots of money if not one hundred per cent pure happiness in what he has achieved.

The Social Network was voted the number two film of 2010 according to Margaret and David’s viewers’ poll  (after Inception).

When I saw it, I doubted the authenticity of the strippers and the Asian fangirls. Mark Zuckerberg has said himself that in reality it was just a bunch of guys cutting code. It’s interesting, though, that toilet cubicle sex and nightclub stripper scenes are now ‘obligatory’ in any coming of age/success story, even when those things don’t really fit the story.

Even Mark Zuckerberg isn’t Mark Zuckerberg.

Are viewers so hungry for those done-before scenes that we’ll refuse to sit through any film which refuses to include them for the sake of authenticity?

4. Good Will Hunting

I didn’t really buy Matt Damon as a nerd. I watched it recently and that bowl haircut looks suitably nerdy, but only because it’s dated. Robin Williams played another inspirational teacher figure.

The phrase, “I’m going to see about a girl” felt cheesy. Mainly because it reminded me of the well-known phrase (at least around these parts “I’m going to see a man about a dog.” And last impressions last.

ps ‘Has a critic ever commented on the fact that Matt Damon clearly ripped off the interview scene in Trainspotting for Good Will Hunting?- courtesy of @sarahlapolla

5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Lisbeth Sander is appealing because she is first and foremost a trickster:

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” series have given us female tricksters, women who are quick-witted, fleet-footed, and resolutely brave. Like their male counterparts—Coyote, Anansi, Raven, Rabbit, Hermes, Loki, and all those other mercurial survivors—these women are often famished (bulimic binges are their update on the mythical figure’s ravenous appetite), but also driven by mysterious cravings that make them appealingly enigmatic. Surrounded by predators, they quickly develop survival skills; they cross boundaries, challenge property rights, and outwit all who see them as easy prey. But, unlike their male analogues, they are not just cleverly resourceful and determined to survive. They’re also committed to social causes and political change.

– Maria Tatar

Part of what makes this book a page turner or a movie suspenseful is that extreme wrong is dished out to this young woman, and many of us have to keep reading because we know she’s going to exact revenge. There is something very sweet about being underestimated. It’s so much more satisfying than being overestimated.

Suspense in the crime story comes from wondering whether the plan will work. We’re rooting for the bad guys because they are smart, organized, and daring. The ride will be a bumpy one.

6. 17 Again

Ned Gold is the classic fantasy and SF loving nerd into cosplay and learning Elvish who is tortured through high school then makes it big after high school by inventing software that prevented people from pirating music. He also invented the thing that allowed people to pirate music, but ‘that was a happy coincidence’.

As the main star of this movie goes through torture in his life life, it’s apparent to me that nerds are the happiest sort of person in life, and in fiction, because their interests and obsessions never let them down.

7. Vitus

This was described in the TV Guide as ‘uplifting’, so I knew I could watch it with the three year old hanging about. Sure enough, she took an interest, then went over to the piano and banged out a few tunes. Well, I should really put ‘tunes’ in the quote marks they deserve. This was a good family film for a rainy day, as long as your family doesn’t mind reading subtitles.

 

 

8. Arrival

The screenwriter of Arrival talks about the difficulties in writing smart characters here:

The script itself was a challenge like no other. I was writing for characters much smarter than myself, facing their own greatest challenges. Ted’s story offered me some groundwork, but I had to find drama and conflict within the linguistic theory to sustain something for a feature film. And a linguist and theoretical physicist couldn’t talk like I do, or else it felt like they were talking down to me. I had to let the smartest people in the room act like it, even if it meant I couldn’t always keep up.

— Eric Heisserer, LA Times

The other thing is, the job of the writer is to make the audience feel smart.

 

Related Links

Gendering Intelligence and Sexuality on The Big Bang Theory from Flow TV

The Learning Secrets of Polyglots and Savants from 99 Percent

Are Smart People Getting Smarter?, from Wired

The genius who lives downstairs – extract, from The Guardian.

For an example of a smart protagonist in TV see Freaks and Geeks.

Opening With Action or, In Medias Res

Have you ever been told by a teacher, or by someone in your writing group, that your story must open with action, not description? If they’re being fancy about it, they might advise you to begin in medias res.

lights-before-action

 

But as John Truby says, certain genres demand the establishment of a norm, e.g. The fish out of water story. (A fish has to be ‘in water’ before s/he can be out of it.)

It’s tempting for a short story writer to open the story right in the heart of the action. Crash, bang, guns blazing, lovers screaming. It’s an easy way to hook readers, right? Place them right in the action, and they’ll be forced to keep turning the pages to see what happens next.

So page one has fire. Page one has promise. But what happens when you get to page two?

This is the short story writer’s dilemma, says two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee David Lavender in the August 1942 issue of The Writer. So your main character is in peril. So what? asks the reader.

The finest fight, the dearest love in all the world means little to the reader” until he or she knows the characters and the motives behind their antics.

David Lavender: The Short Story Writer’s Dilemma

Don’t start with action. Start by making establishing what your character wants. If this happens to occur in the middle of a big action scene, so be it.

What’s really meant by starting ‘in medias res’

Definition Of In Medias Res

In medias res is a Latin phrase used by the poet Horace; it means “in the middle of things.”

(Poet Horace was describing the ideal epic poet.)

In Medias Res In Film

There is … a problem in beginning a movie with such major dramatic scenes. It is axiomatic that drama is structured around rising action, that as we move through the real time of the film the tension increases, emotions rise, and the pace often quickens until we reach the climax. If the first scene is intensely dramatic, it sets up the expectation that the film will reach even higher levels, which can be a problem when it doesn’t.

— Howard Suber

In Medias Res And The (Modernist) Short Story

The modernist short story, which emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, begins in medias res, replacing “once upon a time” beginnings. Ends were foreshortened to meet middles and also separated from they by silences that frame epiphanies.

— MARY ROHRBERGER

An example of a modernist short story is The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield.

Further Examples

Hamlet begins after the death of Hamlet’s father. Characters make reference to King Hamlet’s death without the plot’s first establishment of said fact. Since the play focuses on Hamlet and the revenge itself more so than the motivation, Shakespeare utilizes in medias res to bypass superfluous exposition.

Modern novelists known to extensively employ in medias res in conjunction with flashbacks include William Faulkner and Toni Morrison.

Well-known films that employ it include Raging Bull and City of God.  Star Wars IV: A New Hope starts in medias res: it opens in the middle of a chase and battle scene.

The guidelines are different when it comes to novels vs short stories. Ansen Dibell writes in Elements of Fiction Writing: Plot,

My strong advice is that if establishing a pre-existing norm isn’t absolutely vital, skip it. Leave it out altogether, if you possibly can. Instead, start in médias res. In general practice, that means starting your actual narrative just before, or even during, the first major conflict or confrontation: the point at which things start to get serious, when they start moving toward final crisis.

Specifically, that means starting a short story just before the main crisis which will provide the story’s resolution. Start a novel during the first crisis, because you’ll have time to draw back and explain how things got that way later in the first chapter, or even in chapter two.

Don’t tell how the protagonist decided to go out and buy fireworks, how much they cost, how he brought them home, how he stored them, what his wife said. Begin when the fuse is lit and the reader sees a bang coming any minute.

Boring Mrs Bun by Juliet Martin and David Johnstone (1986)

What sort of story is Boring Mrs Bun?

boring mrs bun cover

Almost every story in the world is structured like this.

But #NotAllStories

Rather, not all books we’d call stories. Not all picture books are stories. Some are abecederies. Others function simply to introduce the young reader to new concepts.

Every now and then you get a mood piece.

Boring Mrs Bun is a character sketch.

There is an inevitable problem that comes with character sketches, at least of the thumbnail kind. Spending an entire novel delving into the psychology of a character is a completely different matter, but the best authors avoid thumbnail character sketches.

You may notice that picture book authors avoid them completely. This isn’t because of the common prejudice that children do not like descriptions, preferring scenes and dialogue (because it has been shown empirically that actually children enjoy the pauses in picture books as much as adults do) but comes down to something else:

  1. The wish for reader to see themselves in the character (the Everyboy and the Everygirl)
  2. The wish to avoid stereotyping.

It’s impossible to describe a character without that description meaning something, possibly something you don’t intend at all.

Let’s take a look at Boring Mrs Bun as a case study.

The book opens with this image:

boring-mrs-bun

Mrs Bun works behind the counter of a cake shop. She always looks the same.

She wears a long grey overall that buttons to the neck.

She scrapes her hair back from her face and knots it in a bun.

People look at Mrs Bun and think that she is BORING.

But we know better…

Overleaf:

fun-mrs-bun

We know that when Mrs Bun gets home from work, she rips off her uniform and rummages through her wardrobe for clothes she wants to wear.

She finds jaunty denim dungarees, a sunny yellow tee-shirt and purple running shoes. She shakes her hair loose from its bun and styles it into spikes.

“Ah!” says Mrs Bun. “That feels better.”

And we think she looks COOL.

Already you can guess at the author’s message: Don’t look at an old lady and assume that’s all there is to her. In fact, don’t look at anyone and assume that what you see is what you get — there is always much more to people than the part you see.

Using the same structure, the book goes on to contrast the boring image of Mrs Bun at work with the woman who:

  1. lifts weights in leotards behind the garage
  2. does splits on the kitchen floor
  3. goes snorkelling at the beach
  4. drives a sports car
  5. has a colourful and wild garden
  6. paints abstract art
  7. is in a band and plays drums
  8. wears orange footless tights and goes out dancing
  9. rides a motorbike through the city at night

Finally we are told:

So next time you see Mrs Bun behind the cake shop counter, be brave enough to look into her sparkling blue eyes.

Catch the twinkle… watch her smile… listen for the bubbles in her laughter as they fizz up like lemonade.

BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT MRS BUN IS NOT BORING, DON’T WE?

The unintended consequence of this message is that the grandmother trope is not actually subverted, because having tea parties with your friends, watching TV and then turning in early and ‘scraping’ your hair back off your face and wearing grey clothes done up to your neck is — for women — the undesirable version of ageing.

This is a celebration of youth over age, because the behind-the-scenes Mrs Bun does youthful things and is full of unlikely energy.

The youthful Mrs Bun has her lips and eyelashes emphasised, because she is dressing in an acceptably feminine way.

The youthful Mrs Bun smiles, whereas the old lady Mrs Bun feels no need to smile for your benefit.

Whichever version of ageing you aspire to, it’s clear that the book comes down heavily on one side over the other. A different author/illustrator team might well come up with a story with the exact opposite message — that old lady Mrs Bun feels no need to subscribe to your narrow ideas of acceptable ageing and is past the emotional labour of smiling in a bakery, thank you very much.

And that is the problem with writing character sketches. Sometimes you want your ideology to shine through but other times you don’t. Even if you do, the reader might not get what you want out of it. Also, it’s almost impossible to describe a character without the stereotypes and prejudices of the era shining through.

CHARACTERS AND DETAILS

There are lots of ‘character details templates’ floating around on the web. Writers can download these and fill these out. They can be a very useful part of the writing process, but that doesn’t mean all those details should end up in the final product.

Pretty much every writing teacher warns against giving too many character details.

In reading for character, readers conventionally use their knowledge of the way people in the world around them usually behave to assign traits to characters, to guess about their motivations, to reconstruct their past, or even to predict what they might do after the end of the story.

Reading in this way implies that fiction is a kind of gossip. It assumes that authors say a little bit about the characters they describe so that readers can have the fun of guessing about all the aspects of character and experience they are not told about. […] But, like gossip, guessing about literary characters can misrepresent them by fitting them into categories readers already possess. Readers who want the pleasure of perceiving something more than or something different from what they already know or believe about human nature have to work with a different assumption: that authors carefully select what they choose to say, and that their choices–both what they say and what they don’t say–define what they wish readers to understand.

The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer

 

I’ll go into detail about how a character looks if I think it’s really important to the storytelling. For instance, Butch the T-Rex, I wrote him to have scars and be very large.

— From interview with Pixar writer

 

Only spend time describing what it’s important to describe, what’s going to matter in the rest of the story. That may be what your characters look like; then again, it may not. You decide.

And even if your characters’ appearance is important to you and your story, the story’s very beginning may not be the best place to go into any great detail about it. You want your readers to be able to imagine your characters, not describe them for a robbery report. Have your people talking and doing: that will make the stronger impression.

— Anson Dibell

Attributes are those elements of character that people have little or no control over because they have been received as part of genetic inheritance or socialisation…Aptitudes, similarly, are largely beyond conscious intention or control, and thus part of our ‘fate’…Memorable characters are those that go beyond their attributes and aptitudes — they are defined, not by what they are, but by what they do. … Aptitudes, similarly, are largely beyond conscious intention or control, and thus part of our “fate”. … Memorable characters are those that go beyond their attributes and aptitudes — they are defined, not by what they are, but by what they do.

— Howard Suber

Be mindful of the difference between ‘characterization’ (age, looks, IQ, job etc.) and ‘true character’ (that behind the mask).

— Robert McKee

 

Tomboys vs Girly-girls In Middle Grade Novels

  • Laura and Mary Ingalls
  • Georg(ina) and Anne
  • Ramona and Beezus/Susan Kushner
  • Bean and Ivy
  • Clementine and Margaret
  • Junie B. and Tattletale May/Richie Lucille

Each of these pairs represents a perceived dichotomy of girlhood: the girly girl versus the “tomboy”.

While I use the word “tomboy”, the speech marks indicate my disdain for the very concept. A girl who likes rough-and-tumble and dressing for practicality is no less of a girl. The word itself upholds a narrow notion of what it means to be a real girl.

This is the very political position taken by many popular modern writers of chapter books and middle grade novels. Publishers and readers love it, right now. This upturns the now offensive political position of earlier children’s stories; until very recently, if girls were depicted in children’s books at all, they were the minor characters — the inevitable sisters and mothers and giggly schoolyard opponents. Even books for girls and about girls actively encouraged domesticity in their young readers, preparing them for their futures as mothers and housewives by returning them safely to the home, if they ever left home at all.

Modern literature for girls is mostly the inverse of that. Modern girls read about girls doing brave, adventurous and amazing things. It’s a truism that the most interesting kidlit characters are proactive, sometimes naughty, often cheeky. Imperfect and relatable, in other words. Sometimes they are average kids in every way (oftentimes ‘underdogs’); other times they have a special super power.

I don’t just mean ‘super power’ in the fantasy sense. Modern heroines of kidlit might be a Hermione trope — good at school work and often annoying in girly kinds of ways, but useful to the boys in their quest for self-knowledge due to her extensive knowledge on a subject, which must take place (rather boringly) off the page, since swotting requires many hours of solitude.

What It Means To Be A ‘Girly-Girl’

  • Upholder of social rules (a la ‘Tattletale May’ from the Junie B. Jones series)
  • Feels the need to look pretty and also judges others on their appearance
  • Bookish
  • Good at memorisation
  • Well-behaved in school, sometimes a teacher’s pet.
  • Helps the mother at home and is often the ‘mother’s pet’
  • Aligns self with adults who have conservative, old-fashioned attitudes about a child’s place: Children should be seen and not heard.
  • Fearful, anxious temperament
  • No sense of humour, though she may develop a sense of humour/how to have fun if she ‘learns’ it from tomboy types

 

What It Means To Be A ‘(Tom)Boy’

  • Breaks the social rules. Is sometimes punished, other times rewarded
  • Dresses for practicality rather than to look pretty, and is interested in other people for what they can do rather than what they look like. Non-judgemental.
  • Outdoorsy/sporty
  • Tasks such as rote memorisation are rejected due to their boringness.
  • Misbehaves in school. Has trouble sitting still. Drawn to movement.
  • Is mischievous at home and is often in conflict with the mother, aligning self with the father (who may often be absent)
  • Aligns self with adults who are open-minded, kid-friendly and even tempered and fair
  • Open to adventure; unafraid of consequences; brave
  • Keen sense of humour

Continue reading

What’s behind the wide appeal of horrible, brooding, YA boyfriends?

young adult boyfriend

THE RECIPE FOR A YOUNG ADULT DARK PARANORMAL ROMANCE BOYFRIEND

  1. Handsome
  2. In a white kind of way
  3. Muscled but not too muscled — not like he works at it
  4. Well groomed and fairly nubile — not much body hair
  5. Remarkable eyes and gaze
  6. A bit older than the female protagonist
  7. A bit taller
  8. Maybe a bit richer (though sometimes he’s an underdog, financially speaking). All of this ‘a bit more’ refers to ‘hypergamy’ — the longheld view that husbands should be a little more more of everything (except beautiful) than their wives.
  9. Not like other typical guys — interested in literature rather than sport
  10. Though he’s not the uncoordinated, klutzy type either
  11. Loves reading, though he may be embarrassed to be seen doing something so sensitive and girly
  12. Perhaps writes poetry in his spare time
  13. May be on the periphery of a group of guy friends but is basically a loner
  14. Inexplicably falls instantly in love with the beautiful (though sometimes just girl-next-door looking) female protagonist
  15. There will be some reason why he cannot be with her right away (he’s a teacher/vampire/she’s already taken…)
  16. But he must be with her nonetheless, though their love is based on very little really
  17. This might lead to some stalking
  18. Or otherwise taboo/unethical boundary crossing
  19. And will definitely lead to much brooding
  20. Because he is not fully in control of his own sexual impulses
  21. Cannot stand seeing her with another boy
  22. Even if they’re just friends
  23. There will probably be a lot of mansplaining, in which he explains things about love and life to the female, and even if she balks occasionally, the reader/viewer will actually see he has a point
  24. He is experienced in love. It helps his attractiveness that he’s had previous girlfriends; as long as this girl is his last, that’s fine.

See more at: BroodingYAHero twitter account.

Ezra French Food

Pretty Little Liars, impressed by money and autonomy, because at this age it’s a pretty low bar

THE APPEAL OF THE YOUNG ADULT BOYFRIEND

Unless you are — or have been — a heterosexual adolescent girl, the appeal is a little hard to understand. Even if you ask an adolescent girl, she might not be able to tell you. If she is woke she’ll be keen to point out that he is only a fantasy, and fantasies are just that. She knows he is not real.

Still, it’s an interesting exercise to consider where sexual fantasies come from. Especially when they’re commonly held throughout a culture. Even fantasies do not exist in a cultural bubble:

  1. The Fantasy Of Love At First Sight — this article makes a distinction between romantic intensity and romantic profundity
  2. The Erotics Of Abstinence — lengthy months of yearning, which is at least half of the fun. Stephenie Meyer’s books are well-known for this aspect, and are thought to stem from her Mormon background, which preaches abstinence before marriage.
  3. The Expectation Of Hypergamy — in which the man is always a little bit more of something — a bit taller/richer/older/streetwise.
  4. The Fantasy Of Being Looked After Unconditionally And Forever — a return to the safety of the early years and I’m sure we could get all psychoanalytic right here. The girl only has to exist — he doesn’t ask anything of her.
  5. The Fantasy of Being Delivered From Obscurity by a Dazzling, Powerful Man — like one of those classic novels in which the ordinary but pretty common girl is chosen by the lord of the castle or something. Because until very recently, that has been a woman’s only hope at social mobility. (In Titanic you see the same thing but the economics are in reverse.)
  6. The Florence Nightingale effect — in which a caregiver develops romantic and/or sexual feelings for his/her patient, even if very little communication or contact takes place outside of basic care. A depressed/melancholic/damaged man seems appealing because in order to be attracted to someone as a partner you have to feel you can improve their life in some way. Our ghosts make us vulnerable. Vulnerability is attractive. Of Edward Cullen it has been said that “His anguish makes him volatile enough to keep things interesting but dependent enough that he will never be tempted to leave.”
  7. Stockholm Syndrome — feelings of trust or affection felt in many cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim towards a captor
  8. The Wish To Have A ‘Real Man’ — in a culture in which men and women are increasingly similar in life expectations
  9. The Wish To Have A Fantastic Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Pressure You To Have Sex — related to the erotics of abstinence above.  A boyfriend who can’t/won’t have sex with you is a safe person to have when you’re both terrified and curious.
  10. The Desire To Be Dominated — not always in real life, but quite often in fantasy, as was discovered by E.L. James. There are various opinions on this. Some argue that the desire to be dominated comes from emancipation. When women take on more responsibility in their real lives, they like to fantasise about having no power in their sex lives. Which leads me to the question: What are the fantasy lives of women living in strongly patriarchal societies? Do those women also have domination fantasies, when they are not allowed to drive, or leave the house, or decide who they’re married off to? That would be an interesting comparison.

 

Ezra Aria holding hands

First year tortured English teacher inappropriately holds hands with senior in Pretty Little Liars

Jessie taking the piss out of Luke

Jess from Gilmore Girls

Jess possessive

Of Rory’s boyfriends, Jess is perhaps the most possessive and creepy.

Jessie outbidding Dean

Jess has just made a concerted attempt to ‘out-do’ Dean and supplant him as boyfriend, catching the prize of smalltown pretty girl. Though Rory’s onto him, that doesn’t stop her from falling for it.

Sleep my bella

Edward plays piano

Even better if he can play a musical instrument. Or dance. It’s a better indicator than big feet.

The Reflection Character In Storytelling

You may have heard of the ‘shadow in the hero’ when creating a character web for a story. Shadow in the hero describes a relationship between opponents. But what if two very different characters bring out the best in each other? What do you call that?

reflection characters

What Is A Reflection Character?

This is my term for the character who is most closely aligned with your hero – the best friend, partner, mentor or spouse whose primary function is to help the hero achieve the outer motivation and to urge the hero toward transformation.
— David Hauge

The reflection character is an ally.

(The reflection itself is often called the ‘Shadow In The Hero’ when a hero’s weaknesses and strengths are mirrored in a nemesis rather than in an ally.)

Mentors As Reflection Characters

A typical role for a reflection character is that of mentor to the hero – a teacher, trainer, coach or therapist whose job is to give the hero the skills necessary to achieve his goal.

On the subject of mentors, mentors often die in films. It’s only when we get rid of the mentor that the hero is given the opportunity to show what they have learnt. A common trick is to put a young innocent person between two mentors and making them pick between them. This is a test of character.

In film, reflections who are teachers are usually introduced after the beginning of the story – often around the first key turning point. This allows the reader and audience to become acquainted with the reflection as the hero does, rather than having to fill in the blanks of an existing relationship, as with a “best friend” reflection who has been aligned with the hero for some time.

Raison d’etre

To make it credible that your hero can achieve both what they want and what they need, you want to give them some help in the form of a reflection character.

The reflection character’s primary goal is to help the hero achieve the outer motivation.

Tips For Creating A Good Reflection Character

These initial exchanges illustrate a critical element of creating an effective reflection character: There must be lots of conflict between hero and reflection. Even though the reflection is the hero’s ally, teacher and friend, it is the reflection’s role to push the hero beyond his limits, challenge the hero’s poor decisions or weak actions, and repeatedly criticize and cajole the hero toward doing what is necessary to achieve his or her goal.

At some point in the story, the hero MUST reject the reflection character completely; and ultimately the reflection must remain loyal to the hero in spite of this hurtful rejection until the hero returns and aligns with the reflection once again. (This corresponds to Truby’s step: ATTACK BY ALLY.)

Examples

The King’s Speech — Speech therapist Lionel Logue embodies all the characteristics of an effective reflection to the film’s hero Bertie (later King George VI).

The Matrix — Morpheus

Good Will Hunting — Sean (mentor)

My Best Friend’s Wedding — George

True Grit — Rooster Cogburn is a reluctant mentor

 

Dirty Dancing — Baby Houseman and Johnny Castle (dance teacher mentor)

Silence Of The Lambs — Clarice and Hannibal (mentor)

An Officer And A Gentleman — Zack Mayo and Sgt. Foley (mentor)

Scarlett and Rayner

Nashville — Rayna James is mentor to Scarlett due to her greater experience in the country music scene. Rayna is much taller than Scarlett, which is interesting because in film mother figures are often taller than daughter figures even though in real life daughters tend to be the same height or even a little taller than their mothers. Their common nemesis is Juliette Barnes, and the character web is interesting physiologically because from behind at least, Scarlett and Juliette go by the same description — they are both small with long, blonde hair. Juliette is the fierce, conniving and much more successful version of Scarlett in the first few seasons.

Jennifer Melfi

The Sopranos — Tony has a therapist, who eventually works out that he’s playing with her, and that you can’t fix a sociopath with therapy but you can enable one.

Reflection Characters In Children’s Stories

Matilda — Miss Honey. If Matilda keeps reading and studying, she’s likely to become a Miss Honey herself one day.

Miss Stacey — to Anne of Green Gables. Actual teachers as reflection characters are common in children’s literature, probably because this is the period of people’s lives where teachers are important.

The Witches — Grandmama to the first person narrator. Grandmama is the original witch hunter, but the job of exterminating them all is left to the grandson.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is a mirror character to a morose boy who needs to be drawn out of himself, into some kind of adventure, romantic or otherwise. We see this pairing in adult stories as well as in stories for younger readers, e.g. In The Middle Of The Night by Robert Cormier.

Shrek — Donkey is always looking at the bright side of everything, trying to work it out. Donkey is well known for acting annoyingly and irritatingly towards other characters, especially Shrek. One night, during camp, Donkey asks Shrek why he hates everyone so much, and Shrek angrily reveals that everyone judges him a scary monster before getting to actually know him, and Donkey acknowledges that he already knew that there was more to Shrek’s character when they met. Donkey begins to notice a romance between Fiona and Shrek, despite their denials. So Donkey is that upbeat friend who brings Shrek out of a fug and counsels him romantically.

Up — Russell to the old man is similar to the relationship between Donkey and Shrek. (Not so different from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, except for genre and gender.)

Mary Ingalls — to sister Laura. Mary’s level-headedness and later, her blindness, goes some way towards ‘taming’ Laura, turning her into a caring, kind person as well as someone who loves an outdoors adventure.

Gilbert Blythe — to Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables.

Karate Kid — Mr Miyagi (and later Mr Han). Mr Miyagi is also a trickster (mentor + trickster) because he gets Daniel-san to basically do all his most annoying and time-consuming tasks so he can sit back and tend to his bonsai.

Not Really Related

Your Dog Is Your Mirror cover

This is a non-fiction book cover that scares the hell out of me.

Still Images In Picturebook Illustration

The ability to depict movement is perhaps the most important skill of a picture book illustrator. The same goes for comic book illustrators. But not everything is all about movement.Although a professional illustrator has to be good at depicting movement, there is a time and a place for ‘stills’, even inside ‘high-movement’ stories.

Below I take a look at examples of still images in picture book illustration.

AN EXAMPLE FROM COMICS

I was writing NYX, which was a Marvel book about these teenage mutants who are living on the streets of New York. And [the character] Kiden, one of her powers is that she can stop time. I remember the editor writing, “This is not a film. So how do you guide an artist when it comes to describing stopped time? Because literally everything is already stopped on the page.” That was a real eye-opener to how this was a very deep medium I was working in.

from an interview with Marjorie Liu, creator of Monstress

CHARACTERS POSING FOR ‘PHOTOS’ IN PICTURE BOOKS

This is how my eight year old tends to begin her homemade picture books:

Once there was a dog_600x412

Professional picture book illustrators, on the other hand, know all about movement, and are able to convey in a static image a wide variety of verbs that are happening within a scene.

Rudie Nudie by Emma Quay is an example of a picture book in which movement is very important and expertly depicted. A loose, sketchy, generic style of illustration is very good for ‘high-movement’ illustrations, with realism best saved for sombre, more serious stories. Continue reading

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