Monday, June 20, 2016

In Which Characters Make Mistakes Pt. 3

Today is part III on my characters making mistakes rant.
Part I and Part II can be found by clicking on their links.


Some readers hate books when they find characters making mistakes.

I do not, and I oftentimes find this reaction baffling, or sometimes just flat out wrong. So I'm writing posts breaking down why I think characters who make mistakes are the right way to go about things. Or if not that, why I find the hate for these mistake-making characters misplaced.

Part I was all about how mistakes make conflict and conflict makes drama.

Part II was about how real people make mistakes, so your characters should, too.

Today, is Part III, which is where Sarah's blood pressure really sky-rockets (and there may be more swearing) because we're going to talk about the bullshit that is the double standard.

So I've been talking about how some readers really hate when characters make mistakes.

But actually, that's not quite true.

What they tend to actually hate is when female characters make mistakes, especially if those characters are teens.

shocking, I know

I'm not kidding when I say there is a ton of hate out there for female characters who make mistakes (ESPECIALLY if the reader thinks the mistake is "dumb" (the quality of the mistake seems to be based solely on the reader's own scale. What's dumb to one may be dumb to another. And rarely is there any discussion about whether or not this "dumb" mistake is actually how the character would act.)

Those same readers who HATE a female character for making mistakes will often give a pass, or flat out love a male character who makes the same sort of mistakes.

And that's some bullshit right there.

Now, I want to step in and say, I'm willing to bet that 95% of the time, those people don't realize they are doing this. It's sort of an invisible sexism thing. We're raised to think of men and women, boys and girls, in a certain light, and therefore characters associated with those genders are judged based on those ingrained beliefs.

IE: our society has a boys will be boys mentality. Boys can and often do, do whatever they want and face no repercussions (ie: rape a girl, and then get sentenced to 6 months in jail because any more jail time might be hard for him.) Our society turns the other cheek when boys make mistakes.

Girls, though. No way. Our society tends to value teen girls the least. We're taught that teen girls are dumb, and vapid, and they make mistakes and, most importantly, they deserve whatever's coming their way.

Therefore, it's no surprise that this crops up in reviews with teen main characters. No one says that Harry Potter is too dumb to live when he makes mistakes. But you have a female teen who does one thing wrong and all bets are off.

Newsflash - boys and girls make mistakes. We're all human. But it's not fair to hold female characters to some sort of alternate code of conduct just because of their gender. Yeah? Yeah.

So next time you hear or see someone talking about a character making dumb mistakes, take a note of that character's gender. I bet more often than not, it's female.

And that's it for my 3 part rant on characters who make mistakes! Hopefully I made you think about some things, or at least entertained you with those Harry Potter gifs.

If not, sorry. Here's another random gif just cuz.



Monday, June 13, 2016

In Which Characters Make Mistakes Pt. 2

Today is part II on my characters making mistakes rant.
You can see part I over here (it has Harry Potter gifs, guys!)

So, recap:

Some readers hate books when they find characters making mistakes.

I do not, and I oftentimes find this reaction baffling, or sometimes just flat out wrong. So I'm writing posts breaking down why I think characters who make mistakes are the right way to go about things. Or if not that, why I find the hate for these mistake-making characters misplaced.

Part I was all about how mistakes make conflict and conflict makes drama, so don't be afraid to check it out.

But today we're tackling part II, which is:

Characters that make mistakes are more fully developed.


Have you ever known a person who humble-brags about everything? Someone who's so amazing at everything and they want you to know?

(related: I just finished reading SIMON VS. THE HOMO-SAPIENS AGENDA and there is a character in there who is just the worst at this. She says things like "I didn't even know a thigh gap is something girls should strive for because I've always had one" baaaaarf.)

Those people are hard to be around, right? Because they're just so perfect.

Well what do you think characters who don't make mistakes are like?

(side note: the character in SIMON VS. THE HOMO-SAPIENS AGENDA has a great bit of character building that makes her fully formed, even for a minor side-character. It's a great book. You should read it.)

Here's another question for you:

Have you made mistakes in your life?
Do you know other people who have made mistakes in their lives?
Are these mistakes in spite of really knowing your shit about stuff? Yes?

Well welcome to the human race!

Real people, in real life, make mistakes all the time. All the time. Sometimes they're small mistakes, like forgetting to thaw the chicken for Tuesday night dinner (even though you always make dinner on Tuesday nights, and you always have to make dinner.)

Sometimes they're much bigger mistakes. Diving into a shallow pool. Driving drunk. Taking one too many pills. Not trusting people who you've always trusted. Trusting people you shouldn't.

That's life. No one's perfect. I mean, even Freddie Mercury tells us about mistakes.

Don't you talk shit about Freddie now

So why is it that there's so much hate for characters that aren't perfect? I don't see anyone saying Freddie Mercury was too dumb to live because of his mistakes.

Do you know what's boring? A story where a character doesn't do anything wrong. Because how do we learn if we don't make mistakes?

And if characters have nothing to learn from, then they have no way to go, which means there's no character arc.

(Unless of course the character's arc is that things happen and they don't grow. That's a different kind of arc and can totally work. Spoiler, though: those characters probably make mistakes too.)

You know who wrote about characters who didn't make mistakes?

H.P. Lovecraft.

You know why he wrote these characters like that? (well, white men, anyway. H.P. Lovecraft was not about making his own prejudiced mistakes in his lifetime.)

Because he was writing HORROR! It made it terrifying that his characters did everything right and still couldn't defeat the eldritch horror. His characters were perfect because it was a horror story!

As an author, I write characters who make mistakes. Mistakes that come about because of pride and ego, ignorance and prejudice. Mistakes because they're drunk. Or have baggage they carry with them. Sometimes these mistakes are dumb, sometimes they're not. But these mistakes that characters make is what makes them more real, more true-to-life.

If you have a character who's perfect in every way, who never makes mistakes, you don't have a fully formed character. You have a cardboard cut-out. And who wants to read about that?

Not me, anyway.

Part III is going to delve more into how these reactions are actually more BS than you'd think. Stay tuned!

Do you like reading about characters who make mistakes? Or do you prefer your characters perfect?


Monday, June 6, 2016

In Which Characters Make Mistakes Pt. 1

Morning, all!

Before we get into this post (spoiler, it's another post in my "rant" series) I'll be on vacation next week (well, staycation) and therefore won't be on the internet as much. Which means limited posts.

And after that I'll be teaching a class to some awesome teens, so it's possible the blogging may fall off a bit the week after as well. But I'm going to try to not let that happen.

Anyway, today I want to talk about a thing that pisses me off (and, honestly, I could write a whole essay on this topic and am a little sad I didn't while I was in my MFA. I feel so passionate about it that I'm actually going to make this more than one post. YOU'RE WELCOME. (which also means, hey! There will be at least 2 posts while I'm on staycation/teaching.)

Characters that make mistakes.

Why do they piss me off?

Wrong - they don't (ooooh, I'm a tricky one.) What pisses me off is the hatred that characters who make mistakes seems to get from some readers.

Let's break down why I think it's a problem when readers dislike books where characters make mistakes.

1. Mistakes make Conflict. Conflict makes drama
2. Characters that make mistakes are more fully-developed
3. The hate for mistake-making characters is usually only focused on female characters.

So, like I said, I'll be breaking this down into multiple posts so today we're just going to focus on #1.

1. Mistakes make Conflict. Conflict makes drama.

Conflict is what drives a story forward. And when characters make mistakes, that automatically creates conflict. If we have a character who does everything right, then we either have a story where nothing happens, or a character with no agency (that is, a character where only things happen to them, and they must react. Some reacting is good. But too much is just a character who gets dragged through their life.)

Let's look at Harry Potter #5 (which is tied with #3 for my favorite.)
So many characters make so many mistakes in this one. And it leads to really bad things happening. And yet, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is such a great book. (so good, guys. Soooo good. GAH! I love that movie, too. I think it may be my favorite of the movies.)

Why do these mistakes work? Two reasons.

1) they add conflict and drama.
2) There are consequences.

Let's break this ideas down with some actual examples from the book.

Big, effing mistakes made by characters in OotP:

Dumbledore doesn't tell Harry the truth about what's going on, so Harry feels in the dark, and takes things into his own hands, to play the hero because he feels abandoned.

And Harry hates Snape so much that he makes the mistake of not working on his occlumency like he should.

This leads Voldemort into tricking Harry into believing that Sirius Black has been kidnapped.

Ooh that's a lot of conflict. I mean, where would this story be if Dumbledore and Harry just didn't eff things up? It would be a vastly different story, and most likely Harry would make mistakes later in the series (because he wouldn't have these ones to grow off of) which would lead to completely different books 6 and 7.

And why else do these mistakes work?

Because there are consequences! Huge, big bad consequences!

Because of these character mistakes, Harry and gang are attacked by the death eaters, and Sirius Black is killed in the fight.

Ugh. It's so bad. But also really good, right?

That's a lot of consequence. It's also emotional, and dramatic and a great bit of story in the midst of a great bunch of novels.

Sirius's death will resonate with Harry through the rest of the books. Dumbledore will learn from his mistakes and handle things differently in the next book.

All of these things come about because Harry and Dumbledore and all the other characters of Harry Potter constantly make mistakes.

So if you find yourself angry that a character is making mistakes, maybe pause and think about them in regards to the conflict and drama of the story, and then check to see what kind of consequences those mistakes carry.

If you have a character who is making mistakes and there aren't any consequences, well then maybe you can be miffed. But if there's drama and consequences, be glad for those character mistakes! That's some good stuff, right there.

Part II of Character Mistakes will talk about why it's important that Characters make mistakes in regards to Characterization.

How about you? Do characters making mistakes put you in a rage lather?
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