Playing Tag With Your Shadows

It’s Recess Time and We Need More Players!

Earlier this week, For Meaningful Mondays, I wrote “a little bit” about how I’ve been learning to integrate my shadow.

Today, I will share how Playing Tag With Your Shadows can inform your writing.

More particularly, how you craft your characters so that they can become multi-dimentional beings that pop out of the page.

Whether you’re writing a protagonist or antagonist, it is important to give them a dark side that isn’t dark for the sake of being dark. You want to make their malevolence understandable and rooted in believable reasoning–no matter how horribly they will behave in your story.

Audiences these days are starting to catch on to how lazy and boring stock villains are. You know the kind, the ones that wake up in the morning and wonder if there’s a cute little puppy somewhere out there that they can kick for sake of being evil. There’s a time and place for such a generic villain, but the villain (or even protagonist) that I will help you create today could massacre that generic villain into oblivion.

So be prepared for a very unconventional type of writing exercise that isn’t your run of the mill plot graph or haiku practice. We’re going to dig deep into your discomfort, and use all those disgusting and disturbing feelings inside you for your benefit. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be grateful that you even have them in the first place!


Tag, You’re It!

The most common writing advice is “write what you know,” and so in regards to crafting a malevolent and sympathizable villain, or even a flawed hero, you need to guage how well you know yourself. Here’s how you do it:

Keep a journal, if you don’t already. It’s a useful tool in taming the chaotic mind.

In order to create genuine darkness in your characters, you need to first understand the darkness that dwells within you. What kinds of disgusting and disturbing thoughts enter your mind on a daily basis? What causes them? Are they of your own making or are they reactions to circumstance?  These are the kinds of thoughts that you usually keep to yourself and have, for better or for worse, not told anybody if not for a handful people (possibly even a professional clinician).

Whether you feel guilt, shame, or embarassment, write them down and explore them. Take the time to understand why you may think and feel this way at times. Most importantly, don’t hold back on saying what you really want to say. If you feel yourself thinking “that’s too harsh, I shouldn’t say that,” then actually say it. Give your shadow the space to express itself.

Maybe you’re grieving the loss of somebody you loved, or even hated, and have yet to process what your relationship to them has meant to you.

Maybe there’s somebody in your life that you love, but for some reason often get frustrated with because you either haven’t told them why or you don’t even know why yet.

Or maybe somebody wronged you in the past. A family member, a friend, or a lover has hurt you and you hold a grudge against them.

Writing Prompt #1: In your journal, write about a person or situation that often stirs up negative feelings in you. What kinds of irrational and dangerous things do you fantasize yourself doing in order to have your emotions be known? Don’t actually do them, but write them down no matter how horrible they may seem. The worse, the better.

“Tag. Now You Are the One Who is It”
“Understood…”

If you thought understanding your own dark and disturbing thoughts was hard enough, try this even more difficult exercise:

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has hurt you, or someone who you simply cannot stand for hurting others. Or maybe they haven’t hurt anybody at all, and it’s just their entire mode of being itself that disturbs you (like US President Donald Trump).

These are real everyday people just like us. They have their own troubles and concerns, and in their minds, they too are the heroes of their own stories. Whether we agree with them or not is not important, but what is important is understanding where they’re coming from.

Everybody has their own reasons, no matter how rational or irrational, for doing what they do. Everybody is driven by their own goals and motivations, and often times those goals and motivations just so happen to be misaligned with the opinions and values of others. Everybody hurts; everybody gets hurt.

You know the saying, “bad guys are just sad days.”

Or better yet, to quote one of my favourite lines from Netflix’s Daredevil series, “you’re just one bad day away from becoming me.” It’s what The Punisher says to Daredevil when Daredevil argues for why he has never and never will murder criminals.

So maybe these people you can’t stand have been hurt themselves and are acting out their hurt in a way that’s inconvenient, if not downright disturbing to you. Maybe they get on your nerves because they lack basic self-awareness of how undesirable their behaviour is. Or better yet…they remind you of yourself.

Sometimes the criticism we have for others is criticism we need to apply to ourselves so can ultimately improve. After all, it’s so much easier to see fault in others and wish they would change rather than admitting to our own faults and actually doing the work.

Writing Prompt #2: Put yourself in the shoes of someone you dislike despise. Try and see if you can understand why they might have done what they did to you or others, or simply why they might be the way they are. Again, the worse they are, the better. And if you can ascribe understandable reasons on their part, whether they are close to the possible truth or not is not what’s important. The important thing is to see if ou you can empathize even with the worst of people so that you can create villains who people will understand.*

*Understanding where someone’s coming from is not condoning their actions. It’s simply the difficult, yet very important practice of admitting to our own human follies. That we are all flawed, make mistakes, and misunderstand things at times.


Game Over, Man!

I originally intended on a third writing prompt, but I think keeping it at a more local and personal level was the best way to go about this Workshop Wednesday. The third method of integrating your shadow in your writing is a lot more abstract and impersonal, and you can feel free to request it of me for a future article, but for now this is what I impart to you:

Dig deep into the darkest parts of yourself and understand it, and on the flipside, take the time to understand the people you usally perceive as disgusting and disturbing. Maybe you’re more alike than you think, and that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe they reflect parts of yourself that you repress and being aware of these parts can help you keep them under better control.

If you found this lesson helpful, please feel free to share it with others who you think can benefit from it and leave a comment below if you have any feedback or criticisms!

 

 

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Trifecta of Tribulations 1: My Shadow Side

Introduction to My Trifecta of Tribulations

I’ve been having a difficult time recently, and admittedly, most of it has been self induced.

It all started with a dream I had a couple weeks ago where I was watching a Simpsons movie centered around the loveable goofball Ralph Wiggum.

At one point in the movie he said, “I hate being happy because I’m emotionally sad.”

My dream self proceeded to ugly cry at this confession of Ralph’s, so much I can remember feeling my dream (or real?) heart begin to hurt a little. I don’t recall if there was anything else before or after this one scene, but when I woke up I was perfectly fine. No tears, no sadness in my heart; just confusion and curiousity.

As you know, I love interpreting my dreams to see what meaning I can extract from them. I even suggest to people that they should keep a Dream Journal so they can retain their dreams in the best memory they can possibly manage. In turn, they can pick their dreams apart and see how any of those nonsensical events and elements relate to their lives in the waking world.

Exploring the dream alone and with a friend, I managed to formulate a few theories as to what this dream meant to me. For the next little while I will be sharing the Top 3 Things I’ve Learned during my Trifecta of Tribulations. So buckle up and be prepared as it might be a very emotional experience as I bleed this out for you in the vain hope that you, too, can walk away from this blog series with some value.

My Mind Over Matter and the Matter Under My Mind

As a teen, and basically for most of my life, I have been a very pessimistic person. I had 0 hope or joy for a long time until I started this journey of self knowledge throughout my 20’s and continues to this day at this ripe old age of 30.

Ralph’s words, “I hate being happy because I’m emotionally sad,” hit me really hard. It made me realize just how much of an effort I need to expend in order to remain happy and sane. And this is no joke, as I am prone to depression and often feeling exhausted in life. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and ADHD very young, and still, to this day, I am skeptical about their existence in reality, let alone within myself, but that’s a whole other story for another day.

The point is that despite these diagnoses on me, I refused to take any medication for them. In turn, I have developed a ton of pride for being able to function the best I can in spite of these diagnoses. I basically try to operate as if I don’t have depression or ADD, and I can usually get away with succeeding.

Until I can’t.

And that’s where my self assurance morphs into tremendous self doubt.

There ends up being so much self doubt that it edges on turning into self hatred.

Usually it only edges there until I snap myself back to reality, but this time around, it turned into complete self hatred.


Self Deception and External Reception

When discussing this dream with my friend, she suggested that maybe I should dial back on my optimism if I feel like I may be trying hard. The issue I think I had was the possibility that my optimism is as overbearing as Joy’s forceful optimism in one of my all time favourite movies Inside Out.

While it was a reasonable suggestion from my friend, in accepting it, I ended up overshooting it by completely engaging my shadow side.

To make a very long story short, a friend of mine was going through some internal conflict and I had helped out, but had been left feeling drained because of how much worse his usual pessimism has gotten over a specific topic.

Now, while I do try to listen to people and not give advice, knowing that they just want to be heard and understood, there comes a point where I feel that their pessimism gets a bit much and that’s where I tend to come in with my excess optimism to try and make up for it.

Coupled with the energy it took to help this friend out and even take a break from their presence, I was also dealing with some self doubt over the completion of It Starts: at Home’s fourth draft, and my progress in learning the Korean language. I was having a difficult time even after I made a post about Taking Stock When You Feel Stuck.

When I realized I could barely take my own advice, I began to wonder if my all of my optimism was a complete ruse.

Have I been lying to everyone?

Have I been lying to myself?

Am I actually clinically depressed, and have I been deluding myself about how happy and capable I am this whole time?

Plunging Into the Underworld

That same friend I helped out reached out to me a few days after my Ralph Wiggum dream, and for a while it seemed like our friendship was back to normal. And since we helped each other out tremendously two years ago by keeping each other accountable for 75 days straight (to make sure the other works on their respective craft), I thought that maybe it would be a good time to request that he kept me accountable again with completing my fourth draft.

When the day and time came he was supposed to keep me accountable, I felt disappointed with the lack of engagement and encouragement he offered. I had expressed this disappointment very harshly and even though I knew how bad I was being, I chose not to care and went full force. I really let him have it, and while it felt good in the moment, I feel horrible in retrospect.

At the same time all of this happened, I was also conflicted about how I felt toward a certain study buddy that I have. Her and I share a passion for learning each other’s languages, and sometimes in praising each other’s efforts, we get a little playful and flirty.

This had lead to some confusion for me in regards to what our relationship is supposed to mean and how difficult it would be to evolve toward anything romantic since we only know each other online.

It’s silly, I know.

But it’s 2018 and the stigma toward online dating has lessened since the catfishing days of yesteryear.

Yes, I know it still happens, but moving along!

Feeling disappointed in my friend and feeling confused about my #1 study buddy, I felt all twisted inside. I felt lost about what I was doing with my life and how to proceed if I have been completely full of crap all these years. I took it as a shot at my pride to be so fickle as to depend on someone else to motivate me to write, and to feel stung by having some of my affections ignored from someone I admire.

Engaging My Shadow Side

“This is it.

The end of the road.

Everything I worked for was all a lie.

I hate being happy because I’m emotionally sad. I am so full of shit. How dare I try to help anyone else if I can’t even help myself?

My book sucks and it will never be published because I’m a shitty writer. I’ve wasted thousands of dollars taking courses and studying writing guides the past 10 years. Even worse, I’ve wasted thousands of hours writing a bunch of crap that no one has read, and no one ever will read because it’s too crappy to share to anyone anyway.

I don’t deserve to be published.

I don’t deserve readership.

I don’t even deserve to write.

Who do I think I am trying to write a book about family issues and child abuse when I haven’t even solved my own familial issues? Or worse, when I barely have any patience these days for my God-daughter who I peacefully parented through her formative years? Did I really care about her or did I go this peaceful route to spite her parents and mine for their more abusive mindsets toward child rearing? Because let’s be honest, there are sometimes where even you wanna smack her, right?

Oh, but you don’t because you’re too much of a pussy to betray your values, is that it?

Pathetic.

As for learning Korean…what the hell am I doing? I still can’t understand K-Pop lyrics, K-Dramas, let alone my foreign friends without heavily relying on translations. After one year, you would think I’d get some amount of fluency, right? Well where the hell is it?

Furthermore, am I out of my mind to narrow my romantic choices down to a single ethnicity of people? What am I, a racist asshole? Clearly I’ve been watching too many K-Pop groups and going gaga over these girls like a stupid horny 14 year old.

What a waste of time and money all this study material has been. For both writing and learning Korean. Childhood development and peaceful parenting? You’re never gonna get married and have kids, so you’d better get your head out of your ass, you stupid piece of shit.”

All these harsh words and phrases?

This the abridged and slightly censored version of what I was telling myself.

After all these years of learning how to reassure myself that things will be okay, and everything I go through is all just growing pain.

“No,” I still hear my pessimism say. “It’s not growing pain. It’s the pain you feel for realizing how full of shit you really are!”


Conclusion: Share to Shed Your Shadow Side

Even as I read back these semi censored and semi editted words, I begin to cry. My self talk was much much worse and much much longer when I recorded a lengthy audio journal to verbally beat myself up with. When I was finished, I couldn’t believe how horribly I was denouncing all the things in my life that I held dear: my writing career, my Korean studies, and worst of all my relationships with with friends and family.

After 10 long years of readjusting my mindset and mode of operation, I felt like I lost it all in a single night with how naturally and powerfully I denounced all of my progress in life.

The friend that helped me interpret my Ralph Wiggum dream pointed out that I may be putting too many expectations on myself and it’s no wonder I get devastatingly disappointed with the results when I don’t follow through with my own plans, or whenever things don’t turn out the way I prefer.

In true perfectionist fashion I over compensated for the optimism I’ve developed by plunging right back into the pessimism that felt like a natural way of behaving in my teen years.

In retrospect, no matter how painful it was to denounce everything I loved, I think I have come out stronger and smarter because of it. I’ve been suppressing my shadow side for so long, trying my best to remain the most positive version of myself possible, and sometimes more for public appearance than my for my own actual benefit.

Engaging my shadow side, as nasty as it was, taught me to have a healthier detachment from the things I value in my life.

It’s good to hold certain things as ultimate value structures that keep your life in order, but you can not depend on them to fulfill you or keep you happy. Things are always in a constant flux of repair and disrepair, there is no end to it. Sometimes they take you to greater heights while sometimes taking you to the Underworld as it has for me.

I’ve put so much pressure on myself to complete my fourth draft faster than I completed the third draft.

I’ve put so much pressure on myself to become fluent in Korean so I can understand K-Pop lyrics, K-Dramas, and my foreign friends.

I’ve put so much pressure on myself to be a good friend and member of the family by selflessly staking my own well being to be there for others.

All of this had lead toward resentment and self disgust, and knowing that I was going to fail at all three things in my life fed the negativity even more.

But now I think I get it.

Love the things you love, but don’t expect too much out of them.

So listen to your shadow side with a grain of salt. It may be a horrifying and grating voice that makes you want to do you own head in from time to time, but give it a chance to speak before it develops the desperate desire to scream at you. It has valuable lessons to teach you in regards to having healthy detachments to your desires and intended outcomes, which ironically make you feel much freerer to fail and eventually succeed in what you want to accomplish.

To Be Continued…

This might be the longest blog post I’ve ever written and I’m sorry to those who didn’t have the patience to go through all of it for whatever reasons they had. Maybe my writing sucks that bad as my shadow side says. Maybe it’s too good for those who can’t introspect. Or maybe there’s nothing personal and that’s okay.

For those of you who have read it this all, I want to extend my tremendous thanks for hearing me out. This is the kind of thinking I often wrestle with and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this as I’ve met several other people who I once thought as immortal and powerful that so happen to go through such phases of their own.

I can’t wait to continue writing about my little trip to the Underworld as I have learned two more valuable things I will share in part 2 and 3 of this blog series.

Stayed tuned for Trifecta of Tribulations Part 2: The 60/40 Principle…

 

 

Taking Stock When You Get Stuck

Have you ever pursued a goal for so long that it felt like you were going nowhere fast?

How about having no goals at all and going nowhere even faster?

Whichever one you’ve experienced, I hope this Meaningful Monday post can help you!

I think I’ve recently started to crack the code on how to handle Goal Setting Anxiety. The key words here, of course, are “started to,” since I don’t think it’ll ever be a fully solveable problem, just a problem in which you can equip yourself with the most tools as possible.

Whenever I feel stuck in an aspect of my life I try to take stock of where I’ve been. It helps put things into perspective when you appreciate all that you’ve accomplished thus far, and the whole journey that has lead you up to that very moment of doubt in which you wonder if any of your hard work and toil will ever amount to anything.


For example, when it comes to writing my novels, I often feel like I may have wasted 10 years of my life not having published anything yet. It makes me regret the time I’ve spent writing several novels and drafts, and not to mention all of the pre-work that goes into writing even a single page word on the actual manuscripts. This includes chapter charts, character graphs, and most especially; all of the time I’ve spent trying to psych myself back up after burning out.

This usually involves a long and intense Progress Journal in which I take stock of what I’ve accomplished so far as to not get too intimidated by all of the work that lies ahead. And the tricky thing is using the exact same thoughts that give me anxiety and transform them into reminders of the time I invested in my work, as opposed to wasted.

It’s not a waste that I did all this work and am still not published. Many writers write for decades before they get published, let alone feel like they can have something worth publishing.

Nowadays I often remind myself to take stock of the fact that while I could have been blowing all my money on mindless hedonism and lied around my house doing nothing, I actually paid for my own education for the past decade. My bookshelfs are chock full with writing guides that cover the basics such as plot structure, to more sophisticated aspects of writing such as style and prose, as well as how to write more emotionally meaningful and impactful stories.

It’s thanks to all those days and nights I’ve spent studying at cafes, libraries, or at the comfort of my own home that I can no longer experience stories the same way as a passive participant. Any movie or TV show show I watch, any book I read, hell even any video game I play that has a story–my experience of stories have been greatly transformed thanks to my studies and make me want to dissect every other story to their core.

In turn, I get to critically view my own work and know what can work better based on what I’ve come to love in other stories.

And furthermore, it’s no joke that I’m writing a novel.

It’s hard work!

I’m on my fourth draft and my fourth year of writing the same novel from scratch.

I could easily waste time worrying about how I haven’t “gotten there yet,” and maybe a bit of anxiety towards that is healthy to make me want to plunge myself forward. But without taking stock of where I already am thanks to my past self putting in those countless hours, I may very well stay stuck where I am, paralyzed by my fear.

 


I think a healthy dose of fear and pride can help you moving forward.

You want to be proud of everything you’ve accomplished thus far and be honest about how hard a lot of it has been. Take pride in the fact that you’ve survived it all and have grown from the experience. But you don’t want to be so proud that you think you’re perfectly fine where you are. Instead, you take where you are as a marker of your capabilities.

Then you also want to be a little afraid of not being where you could be. Know that you have long ways to go to achieving your goals and the zig zagging path’s been laid before you the moment you’ve accepted the challenge. Be fearful of how much regret you might feel in the future if you never give yourself the opportunity to thrive. But you don’t want to be so fearful that you feel like you can’t do anything at all and you’ll never get anywhere. Use your fears as helpful antagonists that push you further and further away from your dangerous comfort zone.

Whenever you feel stuck in life, take stock of where you’re at.

Recognize your greatness that has taken you this far.

Recognize how much more work there is to be done and trust that you can do it.

 

 

How to Make Small Talk (In Fiction) Interesting

Most writers could attest to associating small talk with pulling teeth (or any other painful experience). This is because we as writers are attuned to the sole fact that good stories are jam packed with meaningful and life changing conversations between characters. The kinds of conversations people rarely have in real life, but if were to summon the courage and honesty they require, their lives could also be drastically changed.

In turn, this is one of the biggest reasons why I think people gravitate toward fiction. The Very Heart and Soul of Fiction is the relationships between characters and readers love to live vicariously through them to experience what it’s like to speak from the bottom their hearts.

So it’s no wonder that small talk and in real life are painfully boring to sit through. Imagine the following passage to be from a novel and then tell me if you would keep on reading.

“Hey, how have you been?” Martin asked.

“I’ve been okay,” Sonya replied. “How about you?”

“I’ve been good.”

“That’s good. What did you do today?”

“I just worked and studied, how about you?”

“Me too.”

*snore*

Next!


Now normally I think such a conversation in real life and in fiction would be incredibly boring, but I’ve come to step down from my high horse of the Meaningful Conversations Only or Go Away mentality and have come to understand the importance of small talk. And yes it is actally important.

Why you ask?

It’s because small talk is how we gauge each other’s level of engagement with life and with others. When people talk to each other, what’s more important than what they talk about is how they talk to each other. Or put more succinctly, how they can make each other feel as they talk.

So my proposal is that if you have a work in progress that has a scene you fear might suffer from too much small talk, here are some ways you can beef it up to make it interesting:

1. Add Meaningful Action

“Hey, how have you been?” Martin asked offering his hand to shake.

2. Add Meaningful Re-Action

“I’ve been okay,” Sonya replied, resting her hand in Martin’s. “How about you?”

“I’ve been good, too.” Martin stroked the back of Sonya’s soft hand with his thumb.

3. Add Context and Tension

It has been a few days since they last spoke. Even though Martin and Sonya had only met a couple weeks ago, speaking every night and day for two weeks straight–only to suddenly and have weekend of non-existant correspondance felt like an eternity for them.

Martin and Sonya, at this moment, both felt the urge to note the individual voids they respectively felt over the weekend without each other. But Martin did not want to come across as too desperate for her affections, while Sonya held her tongue back because she had been taught by her parents to not be too inviting toward men.

And so an awkward, yet comforting silence passed as they held hands and stared into each other’s eyes.

4. Express Emotions Through Action

“That’s good.” Sonya wiggled her hand free from Martin’s grip and giggled. She pursed her lips and looked away. “What did you do today?”

Martin scratched the back of his head and looked around, pretending to be curious as to what caught Sonya’s eye. “I just worked and studied,” he said. He clenched his fists and bit his lip a bit, shoulders rising to his neck.

5. Add Suspsense

Sonya watched as Martin’s eyes darted around the room. His normally calm demeanour had transformed into a jittering mess of ticks and stutters today. A part of her worried what could possibly be wrong with him. Did she say something wrong the last time they spoke? Did something happen to him? Or is he actually a strange and unstable man and that she should find a way to get away from him immediately.

As she continued to stare at him as if he was having a stroke, Martin fought the urge to mention that he’s been thinking about her all day. No matter how much he had invested his time and energy on his job and on his studies, Sonya came to mind, and he wishes he could just tell her that mere fact.

Martin cleared his throat. “How about you?” He finally asked, trying to ignore how bland and boring it was to say that all he did was work and study.

“Me too,” Sonya said, grabbing his trembling hand.


Well I hope you enjoyed my cheesy attempt at writing a romantic scene between star crossed lovers (never have I ever claimed that romance was my forte)!

Let’s recap why this scene was so much better by adding these five ingredients.

Meaningful action adds to small talk to show that what is not being said is more important than what is being said. A meaningful reaction from the other character(s) will show the level of their awareness toward the current vibe and situation. Adding context and tension will make some of the discomfort more bearable to the reader because then their curiousity will be piqued about why small talk between these characters is so much more uncomfortable than everyday small talk.

Once all these things have been established, you have the opportunity to express each character’s emotions through the non-verbal cues they provide to each other and to your readers. This makes them more susceptible to holding their breath and wanting to know how it will all turn out if you also add suspense to see if the discomfort will dissipate or detonate.

So that is how you make small talk in fiction more interesting.

As for real life?

I have no damn clue.

Write What You Like

It’s so bloody obvious and simple, yet it’s hardly ever uttered: Write What You Like.

A lot of writers, especially myself, often contend with the creative process like it’s a wild dragon to tame. We get so obsessed with deliberating our ideas that we forget to experience our own creations in the shoes of our potential audience.

Write what you know is common advice, even better advice is write what you don’t know as it would give you a reason to explore an idea you’ve yet to educate yourself on. After all, what is a story but an educational experience disguised as entertainment?

To complete the trifecta you should also write what you like.

That means writing in such a way that if you were not the creator of your story, but a customer in a bookstore looking for the next best read, you need to consider what it would take for this other you to bring that book to check out counter.

Sounds easy, but how do you actually do this?

You start by becoming acutely aware as to why you love the other stories you love; from books, video games, and movies/TV shows. It’s easy to know that you simply like it, but it’s actually quite difficult for people to define their reasons as to why a story resonates with them.

Then on the flip side you also need to understand why you have certain dislikes in other stories, if not things you outright hate (like Mary Sue characters or forced love triangles for me). Whatever your dislikes are just don’t put them in your work unless you’re putting a unique twist on a dislike to transform it into something likeable.

The last thing I would suggest is being as objective as possible about your work as if it’s somebody else’s. Be hyper critical about what you know is not working and kill it off, and in the same vain milk all you can from things that are working in your story during the editing process.

So write what you like, and only then can you tame the dragon and ride it to leave a blazing trail in your wake.

The Glass Ceiling in Fiction

Can we please have some actual gender equality in fiction?

I am really sick and tired of how so many stories elevate one gender at the expense of the other and call that empowerment.

I don’t want to spend too much time tackling the well known and obvious issue with male centric stories featuring one dimensional female characters. But real quick I want to introduce you to a famous idea called the Bechdel test.

Acing the Bechdel Test

It’s basically a test to see if female characters have any more importance in a story other htan being a man’s love interest or the friend of said love interest. If you’ve got two women talking about anything but a man, then you’ve got yourself some potentially multi-dimensional female characters.

And that’s great! All the power to them!

A lot of the stories I choose to experience often feature strong female leads and I love them. Being Erica and Age of Youth just to name a couple serve as perfect examples of women that ACE the Bechdel test. Being a man who will never truly understand the plight of women, I love seeing their experiences depicted as realistically and empathically as possible.

Faux Femme Fatales

Now with that said, here’s the true crux of this post: I am sick and tired of Faux Femme Fatales.

Now first the obvious case; over powered female characters like Scarlett Johannson’s Lucy and the even more popular Rey from the new Star Wars films. They both have unearned skills that make them overpowered in dessimating the hordes of men they fight in their respective films. They face little to no challenge leading up to their mastery, yet Rey is meant to serve as a positive role model for girls to get into Star Wars. Simply put, it’s a bad message to send to young girls.

Yes, girls can do anything. Anything boys can do, too!

But it requires hard work and dedication. Especially in the realm of martial arts. Take a look at the women’s division of the UFC. They are not muscular and skilled in mixed martial arts just because they are women, or take some drug (Lucy), or touch some weapon (Rey). They dedicate themselves to eating right, working out, and training in the various styles they need to know to survive in the octagon.

The way Lucy and Rey are written insults these real life women who not only train to develop skill and competance, but also face actual challenges. And worst of all, the men who surround Lucy and Rey from their respective films all happen to be incredibly incompetant and no match to their strength and intellect.

Now let’s plunge deeper into a more subtle way in which men are kicked to the curb all for the sake of “girl power.”

How to Discourage Women From Getting into STEM

A little while ago I watched Project MC² on Netflix and thought the idea was pretty cool. It’s about a team of teenage spies who share their scientific skills to “covertly” protect the world. Cool! Love the idea! It reminds me of Totally Spies, which I loved watching as a kid.

Furthermore, there’s this huge issue these days about the shortage of women getting into the STEM field in college and university, and apparently this show aims to inspire girls to garner an interest in science. More power to that as well! Science is awesome. Girls are awesome, too. Why not have more of them?

Well I hate to say that this show, in the end, does not at all seem like it can accomplish that goal. I mean if you are a young girl, or a parent of a young girl who has gained interest in science thanks to Project MC², then please let me know it actually has had the intended effect. Otherwise I personally would not let my God daughter anywhere near this god awful show.

First of all, the girls are portrayed as walking talking Tumblr memes. They talk in the most stereotypically annoying teen style that no actual teen talks like. Then second of all, there always tends to be some typical douche guy character who undermines the girls because they’re girls, and then gets showed up by her within the same scene.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it so forgive me if I get the details wrong, though even if I am inaccurate in my remembering of the following scenes, the core principle of how anti-man they are still holds.

In the first season there’s a scene where these four pre-teen girls have little to no problem infiltrating a government facility. The security is a joke. You’re supposed to believe that pre-teen girls–half the size of fully grown middle aged men, who have been trained to serve as security officers to a classified facility–easily beat these guys up by way of a foot stomping, purse bashing, and for some stupid reason, kicking a fire alarm that easily opens a sealed door they need to get to.

All the while, adrenaline pumping rock music plays as the girl kicks the fire alarm in slow motion as if it’s so cool and bad ass. It’s so bad ass that she somehow ran past a pudgy security officer who made the laziest attempt to stop her, right?

Wrong!

What could have been better is if these girls actually acted like spies who use their smarts to outsmart government security. And I’m talking security of not only the middle aged type, but technological kind as well that they could have hacked into their systems to bypass them. That would have been way more believable and logical given the premise of the show.

Then I believe the first episode the second season features the girls hanging out at the front of their high school, when a soccer ball happens to stumble in their presence. It’s from the boys playing in the distance and they’re asking for the ball back. One of the girls asks “hey can I play, too?” And one of the boys in full childish douche mode says something along the lines of “but you’re a giiiirl.

His equally half brained friends start laughing like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure you know where this is going, but in case you didn’t, what happens next is that girl kicks the ball so hard and it bashes the boy’s head in, and all the girls jump and cheer.

Boys 0 – Schoolyard Violence 1

Girls rule! Boys drool!

Fuck off.

How to Shatter the Glass Ceiling For Real, For Once

I can probably write a whole series taking the infinite examples where men need to be “put in their place” in Faux Femme Fatale stories, but I’m going to stop right there before my piss is brought to a boil.

The point is this: I am all for gender equality in fiction. Many of my favourite stories feature equally equipped characters of both genders. Again, Being Erica and Age of Youth come to mind. What made them powerful characters were their individuality, not how much they can prove the other sex wrong.

So for the love of god, established writers and new writers alike, please avoid this trope. It’s old, dead, and tired, and it sets our progress back by several centuries.

If you want strong female leads, then have them actually face hardship and get them to earn their mastery, whether that mastery is in super powers and/or the strength to navigate their existential crises.

Show young girls some Being Erica to learn from Erica’s adventures in time traveling therapy. She gets to relive her regrets in attempt to change them, only to complicate her past in other ways, and then ultimately learn a lesson that helps her with a relevant issue in her present life.

Hooray for self-knowledge!

Show young girls some Age of Youth to learn the value of sisterhood from the Belle Epoque crew. It’s one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a long time featuring young Korean women who go to college and share a house together–often also sharing their personal problems with each other. And despite their drastically different personalities, they all happen to learn how to live with and understand each other.

Hooray for healthy female relationships!

If more stories followed in their example, we would have many more sought after female leads that are strong positive role models for young girls. Show women overcoming realistic and relatable struggles. Show them getting knocked down and then getting back up. Now that’s true empowerment.

If more stories incorporated these writing techniques, maybe then female audiences both young and seasoned can feel empowered to take on all of life’s challenges.

All of this can be achieved without having to castrate men in the process.

Especially men who are written to represent the most unrealistic and stereotypical mysogonists.

Because much like their over powered and flawless female counterparts, they simply do not exist, and do nothing but create a false sense of gender inequality.

 

Sprouting Symbols in Stories

Planting the Symbolic Seeds

We’re all pattern recognition machines. Whenever we experience repetition through objects, places, and actions, they implant an impression in our minds to create future expectations. And within getting those expectations met, the reward system in our brains releases dopamine, making us feel not only a sense of joy, but also a sense of comfort and familiarity.

This is why babies love when you play Peek-A-Boo with them. When you cover your face with your hands or hide behind the couch, they expect you to “pop up out of nowhere” and make a silly face that gets them giggling their cute little baby laughs.

In fiction, you want to do the same thing. You want to play a literary form of Peek-A-Boo through Symbolic Action. A reoccuring object, place, or action engages your audience’s sense of familiarity and by letting them feel safe from an expected routine, you are given the opportunity to also trigger the part of the human brain that thrives on novelty.

Or simply put; you want to mix the new with the old.

What this does is symbolize how an aspect of your story is progresses over time. This can range from how an important plot item is used throughout the story, the state of a physical location your characters frequent, or how characters relate to each other through repetitive actions.


Papa Can You Hear Me?

Today we’ll focus on reoccuring actions and how they symbolize ever changing relationships between characters. In particular, I will be using the father and daughter combo from my work in progress It Starts at Home; Antonio and Johanna Pascual.

The story starts off with Antonio blasting his heavy metal music as he drives Johanna to her first day of high school. He just wants to drop her off and go to work, unaware of how nervous she is, and thanks to the rockin’ tunes he’s so used to pumping on every car ride, he’s even more oblivious to how reluctant she is to start this new chapter in her life.

She wishes she could say something. That she’s not ready yet and wants to stay home for the day. Or worse, that she actually feels sick to her stomach and is unsure if she can physically manage herself in this new environment.

Johanna tries to speak up, but her tiny voice is buried beneath pounding drums and distorted guitars, and all that Antonio can offer her is yelling “you’ll be fine,” before returning to his mini headbanging session. She keeps trying to complain and his solution is to remind her to not be afraid and be sure to make new friends.

Needless to say, Johanna ends up feeling ignored and down right invisible.

What this symbolizes is the distance between father and daughter, even though Antonio drives Johanna around quite often. The fact that Antonio chooses to listen to the noisy music of his own teen days over the soft tiny voice of his teenage daughter comes to show their giant lack of communication between each other.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Throughout the book, similar car rides occur where Johanna has a desire to communicate with her father, but the metal music continues to serve as a point of contention between them. He uses it to drown out the nagging voice of his wife and the whiny voice of his daughter, both of which have valid things to say to him, but tension rises the more he attempts to ignore them.

Furthermore, his wife Miranda is actually offended by his choice in music. Because she immigrated to Canada from a traditional Filipino family, and that she met Antonio at a youth church group, she feels that Antonio is listening to “the devil’s music” which clashes with their Christian values.

Over time though, Antonio gradually learns to put the volume down when the ladies in his family are speaking to him. Most of the time it’s much to his detriment, but it’s a hard pill of pride to swallow to actually start listening to his family. And even on the flip side, for his family to respect his preferences because Johanna and Miranda spend a huge chunk of the novel judging him for everything he likes.


Reaping What You Sow With Symbols

Along with my favourite aspect of fiction being character, I have recently fallen in love with recognizing symbols and how they can serve as tools to further describe the progress of a story. It greatly reflects how our lives change over time despite some of the routines we engage in from childhood up into our adult lives.

Think about how you celebrate your birthday compared to how you used to when you were a child. Sure, cake and candles are the staple of every birthday celebration, but as you depart from your childhood you outgrow the need for face painting, clowns, and bouncy castles. (Unless you still do face painting, clowns, and bouncy castles well into your 20’s, I won’t judge!)

To celebrate and symbolize your ongoing maturity you begin to add different elements to your birthday parties like alcohol, expensive vacations, or whatever else floats your boat.

Likewise in fiction, you want to use symbols to implant familiarity in your audience and take them on a ride toward growth by letting your symbols sprout.

Are there any symbols that you appreciate in your favourite stories?

Have you used symbols before? Upon reflection, were consciously or unconsciously planted?

With expanded knowledge on symbols, do you plan to employ them in your work? If so, how so? Let me know in the comments below!

(Stay tuned for more on symbols in the future…)