Alanna, Tamora and Me

When I made the transition from picture books to middle grade I devoured everything in my path. Amelia Bedelia. Mrs. Piggly-Wiggly. The Egypt Game. All of the American Girl series. Most of the Babysitters Club–we’re talking twenty books at a time. I was voracious, because I was still searching for something.

When I was twelve, I found it. Tamora Pierce’s In The Hand of the Goddess, a book set in a medieval world, with royalty, magic, adventure, gender politics, and a BAMF for a heroine. I thought to myself, This is it! I knew then that there were books in the world that could be what I wanted, and I think that played a big role in my pursuing writing.

It’s sort of analogous to seeing yourself mirrored in media. When you see yourself depicted, you’re reassured that you exist, that you matter. Hand affirmed that my wants and desires existed in the world beyond my head.

For those who don’t know, Tamora Pierce is known for writing books about strong heroines. The Song of the  Lionness Quartet is about Alanna, a girl who decides at the age of ten that she wants to be a knight, not a lady, and disguises herself as a boy to do so. (Yeah, Hogwarts looks like a cakewalk now, doesn’t it?) She befriends a Prince and the King of Thieves. She battles boys bigger than her and forgotten gods. She learns to appreciate her body despite what she hates about it. The books follow her through her early twenties, experiencing love, hatred, magic, romance, danger, fear, heartbreak, and friendship. Basically it had everything I wanted omfg.

Alanna remains a member of my core head cannon, alongside Buffy the Vampire Slayer (who deserves her own post). She will forever be who I picture when people say strong female character. A lot of her strength comes from sheer stubbornness, a refusal to accept that she is somehow less capable than anyone else. Even in her darkest moments, she pushes through.

That was all in line with the Girl Power messaging of the 90s, which I absorbed a lot of, and so I had no qualms about picking up a pen and writing my own stories. I was a girl, I had heroines like Alanna, and I could do what I wanted. If I wanted to write stories, that’s what I would do. I would make more books as wonderful and amazing as Tamora’s. I was convinced I had a career as a fantasy novelist ahead of me.

Within a few years of discovering Alanna, I found Sailor Moon and the online fan community with its mountains of fanfiction. That’s where I really got started writing in earnest. Sailor Moon was BIG at that time, whereas Tamora Pierce’s books didn’t have a massive online fandom. Nowadays there’s fics and amazing fanart and fan theories like QueeringTortall, which is my new favorite thing. If I were fourteen right now I’d be in-freaking-heaven. Also less prone to drawing anime eyes. But I digress.

My point is, Tamora Pierce opened a door for me. For years I emulated aspects of her fiction, or held it as the standard to which I aspired. I still want to capture that sense of rightness I felt reading In the Hand of the Goddess for the very first time. I hope someday I’m able to do so. And that what I write will positively impact the next generation of readers, as I was impacted.

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But, Therefore, Then – Plot Connectors

This is one of my favorite tidbits, made ever-cooler by its origin. It’s a trick that comes from the writers of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I first learned of it from the documentary about how an episode gets made, 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park.

The WriteOnSisters blogged about it recently, and they have a really nice explanation:

If you can put “but” or “therefore” between scenes, then congratulations! You’re advancing the story!

If you can’t use the above words and put “then” between the scenes, you’re not advancing the story.

For example (each sentence represents a scene):

I ate a tuna salad sandwich for lunch today. Then I went and bought a coffee at Starbucks. Then I worked on that spreadsheet. Then I checked Facebook for an hour. Then I went home.

That’s a string of random stuff happening, not a story. “Then” isn’t a connection, it’s a segue into something unrelated.

“But” and “therefore” are connections. “But” denotes conflict. “Therefore” implies a reaction. Both mean that the following scene isn’t random; it’s connected to the previous scene in a meaningful way. For example:

I ate a tuna salad sandwich for lunch, but the tuna was poisoned. Therefore I had to go to the hospital, but the hospital was overrun by zombies who bit me! And therefore I became a zombie.

You can see how this is capable of getting out of hand rather quickly, South Park-style.

I think Matt and Trey’s original may have been “but” and “so”, but “therefore” is more polished. 😉

It’s an excellent tool, one I don’t use enough. Plot is about cause and effect, not just a string of events (“thens”).

On Jon Stewart’s Leaving

Last night, on my way to watch the GOP debate (I’m a political junkie), I caught a snippet of Rachel Maddow. She was doing a segment on Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, talking about how culturally significant they’ve been. She said she believes they made the country better, and the news media better.

http://player.theplatform.com/p/7wvmTC/MSNBCEmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_maddow_bstewart_150806

I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the significance. And that significance is being honored by the Newseum–they’re moving the set down to DC.

In an episode from earlier this summer, interviewing Seth McFarlane, Jon joked–but only half-joked–that it’s not love for people to demand he make more shows.

 

Audience Member: We love you!

Jon: Nah. That’s not love. Love, you bring a little soup. You okay? You sit down. Love is not, Do more shows. Entertain me.

That really stood out for me, because it’s so true.

For all that I adore Jon and have loved the show, I’ve never made a practice of watching it every night. I realized years ago, back during the Bush administration, that to watch is to expose myself to the most depressing news available. It’s a collection of the ridiculous, the insane, the infuriating. Laugh your ass off because if you don’t you’ll cry.

How can I blame Jon for wanting to walk away when I won’t expose myself to all of that, day in and day out? Worse, we only saw about 20 minutes worth of it. Jon and crew spent the entire day sifting through the garbage of our politics and media. “We are turd miners,” he said once. He was right.

So that’s why I say goodbye to him with love. He’s put his soul against the grindstone for us for 16 years. It can’t have been easy. He has done a marvelous service, helping viewers through some of the worst tragedies in our nation, and finding the few bright spots in otherwise devastating events. He deserves a break. More than a break, he deserves not to be chained to it anymore.

If you love something, set it free.

Central Casting

On Writer Unboxed there’s a post called Central Casting by . I find the premise a little alarming.

Quoting Gore Vidal: [E]very writer has a given theater in his head, a repertory company. Shakespeare has fifty characters, I have ten, Tennessee has five, Hemingway has one, Beckett is busy trying to have none. You are stuck with your repertory company and you can only put on plays with them.

Alright, I actually find it rather horrifying. I’ve never liked writers leaning on the same archetypes again and again. The idea that I could fall into the same trap is very distressing.

The world is not made of these archetypes, and even if it were there are so very many of them that using only a handful is staggeringly short-sighted. I try very hard to make my primary and secondary characters into their own personages, as unique and layered as real people. I don’t want to just ring up central casting.

How limiting. *shudder*

So here’s a question, gentle reader. Do you find this sort of thing bothersome? Does it pain you to pick up a book and realize it’s the same characters from the last, completely unrelated book? Or am I tying myself in knots for no reason?

Battling Egos in Romance

I read a lot of blog posts on writing, thanks to Twitter. A lot of the information is on repeat, but not The Ego Struggle: The Core of the Romance Storyline posted by .

I think this post has some solid insight. When it comes to romance, it’s about battling egos. It’s about changing in order to make the relationship work. That’s character arc right there.

Each of them has to decide what they’re willing to give up for the sake of the relationship, versus what they need to keep because it’s essential to their happiness. … The decisions are made incrementally and often unconsciously, as the romantic couple grows closer—until the end of the novel, when they finally shed their illusions and choose each other over things they thought mattered more.

Through this struggle, their sense of identity changes. Their ego is dismantled and rebuilt. 

What the characters value changes. Importantly, they put side something of their own, a sacrifice.

Thanks, Andrea, for making me think!