On semi-hiatus

Just a note to explain why I'll be absent for the next few months. I'm sitting my assessments and eventually, my HSC, and shall be trying to shove seven textbooks down my throat while also creating Major Works, etc.

Have a smashing day, ladies and gents!

A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes (Or, Wish Fulfilment: Is it OK?)

There is the infamous tar and feathering of SMeyer for her dream guy by the online community, and the condemnation of Mary Sue's and a fair amount of Crucible witch hunting for author insertion. But it begs the question: what exactly is the spectrum of wish fulfilment, and is it ever okay?

In many ways, writing itself is a form of wish fulfilment, beside the cathartic relief, in which you as a writer experience pretty urgent desires for adventure, love and triumph that you share with your readers. That is the secret to the runaway bestseller, to the eleven-year-old at heart wanting to belong in a magical school for wizards, or a misfit thirteen-year-old girl who's beginning to believe boys think she's ugly and repellent.

But it's when wish fulfilment detracts or damages the novel that I have to stand against it. It's almost inevitable in new and/or young writers, and is something that you grow out of with experience and practice. It is important to keep in mind, though, something that Marie Lu said in an interview: "June (the protagonist) has qualities I wish I had in myself. So she was created as who I wish I could be".

When wish fulfilment nosedives, it's common to find a least one mention of the term: Mary Sue. It's not a term I like to use, mostly because of the unnecessary connotations it's accumulated over time. It's usually the product of an author's deep, DEEP love for a character - they don't let anything bad happen, or let others chew them out, and they give them everything, unwilling to make them sacrifice or face challenges.

From memory, I think she:

• was super good at everything without working for it
• had every attractive character fall in love with her
• was just so fucking amazing that she never struggled or was wrong

Now, I want to get this straight because I don't really follow Mary Sue discussions and I honestly believe this: Mary Sues are not the so-called embodiment of evil a bad thing because they represent wish fulfilment and/or author insertion, but because they are poorly written instances of wish fulfilment and/or author insertion.

And, of course, "wish fulfilment" has been interpreted in two distinct streams:

1. a means by which the author can fulfil their personal fantasies
2. a story/technique to allow the reader to pretend they are the main character

These are by no means bad. If the story is well-written, they are often the same or are intertwined. But, if only one is to be present, it's most certainly better for that to be #2, since there are few reading experiences more banal than watching the author play out their personal dreams that aren't relatable to you as a reader.

I recently had an email that asked: "How do I use my personality in my characters without making them all the same?" In a Being John Malkovich way, I suppose. And here's my answer. 

There's this episode of Teen Titans Go! called Nevermore, in which two characters accidentally enter the mind of the darker/drier character of Raven. They encounter different aspects/emotions of her personality, most of which they have never encountered in the Raven they know. Happy, timid, brave, angry, etc. They all wore different cloaks, and though they had the same face and voice, their mannerisms and their behaviour was fundamentally different - they were all apart of Raven, but were individuals in their own right.

Everyone is like this. You have so many different aspects to who you are as a person, and it changes on a day-to-day basis. I have a long school day on a Tuesday, and the way I behave and tolerate others afterward is completely different to how I am on a Wednesday when I'm only at school for half the time.

You have so many different parts to who you are that you could populate a small city with the different variations of yourself over your life. Teenage you and toddler you? Completely different. Use sprinkles (you know, the kind you put on icecream) of yourself, and you'll find that if you're honest about yourself, you'll find more interesting traits.

It's unrealistic to think that we can continually write these characters who have nothing in common with us. We have to write what we know to some extent, and that has some foundation in our interests, passions and experiences. It's the theory of empiricism.

But, remember to be honest and brutal about yourself. We want real you, not job interview you. And really, the greatest pitfall for any character, any author-insertion or wish-fulfilment vessel, is the lack of risk and drama, the absence of conflict and danger - The worst thing for a protagonist is convenience.

So, what about you? Pro wish fulfilment? Do you disagree, is there no successful way to insert yourself, or is it inevitable? 

Three's a Crowd, Dozens are a Statistic (Or, Bigger Casts, Secondary Characters and How to Avoid a Backdrop of Cardboard)

Teams and larger casts are set to boom, methinks, especially if these team-based casts (a la Hourglass) and YA sci-fi, what with the starship crews and armies and expeditions to desolate planets, etc., continue to increase. But the problem with this is that YA is so used to focusing on a trio, with a couple memorable secondaries whose appearances are based purely on comic relief or plot, that some of these larger casts are having trouble growing from this trio.

A book I recently read had this problem. Fluid, fast-paced writing, enjoyable. I hadn't felt any criticism itch until we got to introducing the "team" and what it is they could do/why they were there in the first place. Admittedly, introducing people with a focus on their abilities has the potential to be clunky, and a lot of writers take the easy way out with a dollop of didacticism. 

This is Jack. Jack is sheepolopath. That means that he can read the minds of sheep, and it also means that he can control them and gather all the world's sheep into an unstoppable wool army. He also likes long walks on the beach and strawberry daiquiris. 


Another problem we have is that we have the main narrative, and our trio/couple, and then, when we come to secondaries, they are placed into their own narrative, a second world, and a third world, and so on, until we forcibly extricate them from their own - and unknown - activities and lives so that we can use them for plot advancement/comedic timing/sloppy reveal.

In simpler terms, we get two wunderkind who are apart of the team, but you see them once, and they go about their business. They essentially run the whole team, but only when your mains need someone to order to do something/something dramatic happens, do they become active. Sort of like androids. 

So, here is where I ask you:

If they're a team, why don't they behave like it? Your mains don't need to do absolutely everything. Why not send one of your mains out with a secondary, or two? Teams mean equality. Teams don't mean Cullen families or Tributes in an arena - It means that there are four+ people who are equal under a leader, and who should get more face time than your average secondaries.

Why not split your POV, (if you're not first-person) and complicate and expand your narrative? Up above, I've got a picture of the Game of Thrones cast, or a tiny, tiny portion of it. It is a flawless TV show, (Go and watch it! Now.) and handles a large and intricate cast incredibly. And I know you may turn your nose up at me, but another more-YA-geared show is Vampire Diaries. 

Here's the doozy about large casts and people. They have free will. They are not bound to your little town, or your MC, or the single direction you have on your first draft, or second draft, or third. Why not treat your secondaries (the ones who are important) like new mains? Introduce them like you'd introduce a MC - show, don't tell us about them. 

Think about Game of Thrones. We have the links between the Lannisters, Starks and Targaryens - the conflict/war/revolution that resulted in where they are now. We see their paths will cross indubitably in the future. How? Well that's what we want to know. 

Vampire Diaries' third season begins with a number of narratives - we have Stephen and Klaus galavanting around in the hybrid-adventure-climbing-Mt.-Doom suchness, and we have Elena and Damon and their search. Then we have Caroline and Tyler and the familial complexities there, as well as Jeremy and Matt and the ghost debacle. Big cast, big fat narrative because guess what? It all comes together.

In Hourglass (and I'm not saying this is how it should've gone, because it kind of wouldn't make sense, just using it as an example for what I'm trying to tell you), the MC - Emerson - has her trio problem, as well as the fact that she's been seeing this semi-solid apparition called Jack who says that he's only around for her. There's a reveal where she realises that Jack is really the antagonist they're looking for, and says something like "he's been living in my bedroom". Now, imagine if one of the secondaries took this second narrative away from Emerson. We have the MC's problems escalating, but punctuated with this other POV and the Jack-ness. Now, we have the two characters meet - sweet! We've interwoven a larger cast in a more fluid manner - and then one predominant narrative where the action occurs, etc., and then the reveal where Emerson describes the antagonist she saw - not knowing who Jack is - and our secondary goes "Whoa! Hold up. He's been living in my bedroom."  

Extra characters means extra plots, extra problems, more responsibility. Do not just sweep these secondaries under the rug because it looks sloppy. Don't introduce them all within a span of two pages with a lot of infodump. Give us time to get to know them, to determine how we feel about them and how we perceive them.

With your trios/couples, less is always more. Use that interaction time to flesh out your secondary cast, who, in turn, will reflect your MC's personality. Allow your audience to co-create, to consider what could happen, how things could connect, and then surprise them with what really happens.

Bigger casts make for bigger possibilities and bigger plots. Remember that. Everyone has flaws, they have motives and a line they will/will not cross. They have their reasons and their aggressors. Challenge every character just like you're challenging your MC. But then again, don't flesh out the postman's backstory because he makes an appearance - Trust your gut. If you have an important secondary, show us they're important.

Now, to you. Comment below - I love hearing what you guys think! What bigger casts have you come across lately? Any classics that you'd always look to for inspiration? Do you think it's harder to handle bigger casts in fiction? Have you got any advice for introducing secondaries and teams? Any other thoughts?

Independent vs. Collective Thought in Our Protagonists (Or, The Elizabeth Bennet Archetype vs. the Universally-Acknowledged)

As writers we know there is an explicit relationship between the stories we craft and the perspectives of our audience. And we can manipulate this relationship to convey a delicious subtext or to hint at (and when I say hint, I don't mean preach) a social comment to an open-minded audience who are looking to learn, to enjoy an intellectual pursuit, and have their growing perspectives challenged and further developed.

Take Austen. In Pride and Prejudice, she endorses the value of independent thought in a society which enforces collective thought, of a "truth universally acknowledged".

Think about it. Transformation stories, novels and films reminiscent of Pygmalion, or My Fair Lady, or Pretty Woman, are about the movement from independence and ostracism into collective thought, a common role. Pride and Prejudice, however, documents a fantasy in a classist society - 19th century England. Elizabeth and Darcy would never have happened. Never.

I'm not saying that Bella and Edward are indicative of independence because of their "forbidden love", and I'm not saying that Elizabeth and Darcy's is why they do represent independence. Austen promotes her values, her idea of a successful woman - who is well-read and capable of revision of her prejudices - in contrast to her society's idea - one who is well versed in singing, dancing, piano, art and languages and has memorised manuals on how to behave and what to say. To Austen's society, Elizabeth's sister Mary is successful. To us, we see that Elizabeth is the one who warrants success.

Here is a clip from the 2005 film version, a discussion between Elizabeth, Darcy, Miss Caroline Bingley and Bingley about an accomplished woman.

Didacticism is prominent in Pride and Prejudice. Lady Catherine De Bourg (You know, Judi Dench played her), acts superior, represents the upper gentry, and, in her own way, tells us that we need to think for ourselves, that doing what is the norm breeds an oppressive and stilted environment. The scene below, where Elizabeth tells her about her unconventional upbringing, her "lower" family, and offends her by "giving her opinion decidedly" - It encompasses an aspect of YA which I find absolutely thrilling.

You see, when YA presents us with a great female role model, they really hit it on the head. It is very much an Elizabeth archetype, who we grow to love, and who encourages us to take her example and embrace our own beliefs, our own thoughts and ideas, and to not let the confines of the social norm limit our ability to succeed and find satisfaction.

If you're unfamiliar with the inflexible conventions of Elizabeth and Austen's time, further research into their marriage, education and success values will breed a greater respect from this book beyond Matthew MacFayden in the lake scene, Rosamund Pike proposal acceptance, and Donald Sutherland's "You really do love him".

Sometimes, I think that the publishing industry must forget about the audience they're catering to. These young people are more than their parents' wallets, more than their obsessive enthusiasm, more than their loyalty to characters and authors - They are impressionable, and they are seeking out knowledge, they are wanting to stimulate their minds. That's why they're reading.

That's why values such as those expressed in Twilight and its reincarnations have caused such concern. Especially when your audience is as young as twelve, you need to be conscious of what you're teaching them, whether on purpose or not.

Perfection can be an ugly thing. It's an unreasonable bar to set, it's a disorder waiting to happen, it is torment and self-loathing waiting in the wings. Our media already bombards our audience with values of physical perfection, why do you need to encourage it further? Swim against the stream, please! Don't just let it take you into a deep, dark abyss where there is no light, no hope and eons of sadness and me yelling at you.

I know you're thinking hang on, isn't Darcy the perfect man? Well, not really. That's society's label for him. Darcy starts out as arrogant, elitist, a symbol of the upper class who looks down on Elizabeth and the rest of her community...

Elizabeth: From the first moment I met you, your arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others made me realise that you were the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.

He is regarded as perfect by this community because he is a young man in possession of a large fortune, and he is unmarried. Austen shows the appeal of Darcy through his ability to think independently, to let his values and attitude stray from the norm of his class, and to love Elizabeth, a girl whose family is "lesser". He is capable of discarding pride and revising his prejudices, just like Elizabeth.

I'd like to think that dystopia is the recruiting phase for freedom fighters, pulling independent thought from the ruins of the last few years of mainstream YA, that they're pulling this to the forefront, and encouraging not rebellion per se, but for the Elizabeth archetype and for self-made success and the embracing of difference and (I say this in an un-Glee and un-Gaga way) the fact that people are born how they are, and there is no "exorcism" of uniqueness.

"Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another". (Pride and Prejudice)

I'd like to see a step away from characters of physical perfection. If you've spent any time on tumblr, or any time with fans of certain TV shows, etc., you'll know that people are attracted to completely different things, and that someone whose physical appearance doesn't draw you to them can do exactly that with their mannerisms, their character. The growth of love is something that I want to see, not teenage lust that breeds someone's "forever" and is probably going to result in a lot of young marriages and early divorces. Independent thought, remember?

So, over to you. Comment below, I love hearing your thoughts! Remember, "Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion".  What's more useful to a writer, the promotion of or opposition to collective thought? Have you been drawn to the "Elizabeth archetype", or do you think it's a ploy that is overrated in fiction? What do you think of the independent thinker in YA, are they there, will they make their appearance greater soon, or are they sorely lacking? 
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