What is a Wordsmith, Anyway?

Rii the Wordsmith. I always thought it had a nice ring to it. But what is a wordsmith, anyway?

A smith, dictionary defined, is one who works with metals. A blacksmith would be the guy who makes stuff out of iron and steel and whatnot. And then there’s the goldsmith, who works in gold, usually artful sorts of things. There’s not really such a thing as a leathersmith, or a silksmith, or a plasticsmith. I suppose, if you play Kingdom of Loathing, there’s meatsmithing, but otherwise that’s nonsense. Smithing seems limited to metal.

So why wordsmith?

Words aren’t so different from ore and metal bars. Language can be raw, or it can be refined. One could argue that language is more useful when it’s refined, since it can better express what is desired. Certainly, language is far prettier when refined. And words are weapons, or tools, or protection, or glamor. Words cut as well as any sword. Words can defend against such attacks as plate mail defends against the sword. Words build up others, build up nations, inspire others to action, and destroy.

Language is malleable. The meanings of words are, too, as words are bent into puns and double entendres.

And language is a craft.

Picking just the right word to complete a sentence is like picking just the right jewel to affix into the gold piece, the necklace or crown or earring. Such skill takes knowledge and an eye for beauty…or maybe an ear, in the case of words.

Why wordsmith? Because when I write, I pound out words into sentences. When I polish up, I grind off unneeded words that fly away like little metal shavings. When I put in the finishing touches, I take care with my word choice.  And when I’m done, I’m exhausted.

My first draft, and even my second draft, may not be perfect in prose. But then, if a smith were to provide his own ore, the first step would be to procure said ore, unrefined and ugly. That’s the first draft. The second step would be to refine the ore – but a gold bar is not a beautiful work of art; it’s still, in effect, a raw resource. That’s the second draft. Subsequent drafts, those are the art: pulling the gold into wire, shaping the wire, melding the wire into something of beauty, setting in gems…wordsmithing is an editing skill, primarily.

So what is a Wordsmith? Perhaps not one from whom words flow perfectly on the first try…but by the finished copy, there are no words out of place.

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Follow-up on Dissociative Identity Disorder: Writing It

Last post was on the difference between Schizophrenia and DID – you might have known it as Multiple Personality Disorder, but the name was changed for reasons I explained in said post.

I’d like to talk a little more on this disorder because there are a lot of misconceptions about it and even explaining it somewhat in that last post, I feel that there could still be challenges about writing the disorder and I’d like to address those.

First of all, as I said before, it’s a bad stereotype that one of the personalities is evil. You know who says that they have an evil alter ego personality? Usually a criminal who is trying to get off on insanity who doesn’t even have DID. DID is all about coping with trauma, and so it doesn’t usually really make a whole lot of sense for a personality to be some sort of rapist-killer-whatever because the shattering of personality is about protecting oneself – inasmuch as someone with DID has a ONEself. So if you were planning on making a villain with DID, consider that idea the way you’d consider a writing about say  Shintoism or the culture of an African tribe where the author wrote something – Shintoism includes human sacrifice to wood spirits or the African tribe has cannibalistic witch doctors – THEN did research (lolno on the Shintoism; witch doctors in Africa are not called witch doctors, it’d be better to call them medicine man or shaman, and they’re healers, not cannibals), and then justified the original uneducated writing with bizarre exceptions (Well this was an extremist cult of Shintoism! This witch doctor was an immigrant who was driven mad!). Perhaps the narrative isn’t wildly inaccurate now but it is still tasteless  to represent those items that way. Pick something else.

Second, you have to understand that even though each personality is a shard of a whole, each personality has the chance to develop into something more than just the base where it split off. We’re not playing Snow White and her seven other personalities – Grumpy will probably be something more than just a grouchy personality. Think of how you would describe an unafflicted person as “angry” – there’s a lot to that person, they have their own worldview, their own likes and dislikes, thoughts and feelings…they just tend to express themselves angrily and are easily set off. Now think of that person as though their thoughts and feelings developed off of that anger. Or fear – perhaps the personality is not only afraid, but she hates herself for being a coward. The personality is not just Scaredy the Eighth Dwarf. The personality is a shard, but a person.

Third, each personality is different and a part of what used to be a whole. A reader with experience likened the disorder to a plate that’s been broken (thank you!) – there was a plate, but once it’s shattered, it’s no longer a plate. It’s a series of ceramic shards that are each their own item and the original is utterly destroyed, non-existent. So don’t think of it as “the original” personality and all of his splits. There’s a host who tries to hold everything together, but that’s not the same thing. Each personality shares equal part of being X person, but the host will likely be out more often.

Fourth, the personalities may not know about each other. The host tends to know of the other personalities better than the other personalities do*. Interaction amongst personalities is possible but usually requires heavy therapy. Other personalities are referred to as ‘alters’ – at least, that was the phraseology used in class and textbook, there may be other phraseologies as well*. But it would be correct to say, “He’s the host personality and he has five alters” to express “there are six personalities in this body”; it would be correct to say, “I want to move to Florida but I’m not sure my alters would appreciate the humidity.”

And fifth, each personality is distinct. It is entirely possible for a woman to have a male personality, and vice versa. It’s entirely possible for the disordered to have a personality with a foreign accent (understand that I’m here considering ‘Southern’ and ‘Boston’ to be foreign to each other, even though they’re from the same country; any accent counts!) or a legitimate stutter. Each personality could (should?) have different mannerisms, different speech patterns and patterns of expression. Each one will have his or her own name, tastes. It’s possible for interesting phenomena between personalities as well, like one personality could be mute and unable to speak, despite the fact that no other personalities have trouble speaking. Personalities can be of different maturity and age.

In class, they said that the average amount of personalities someone with DID would have is about 15. I’m not certain if that’s counting those who purportedly have like 300 different personalities or not, it’s been a while since I was a student. There are cases with only 4 personalities. You should probably not do just 2.

On learning about this disorder and coming to actually have at least a semblance of understanding concerning it, I wanted to make a character with DID. I would like to share her here as an example of how I’ve incorporated my understanding of the disorder into a fictitious character in hopes that she will be useful to you in constructing, if you still wish to, your own. I also recognize she probably has flaws and may not represent the disorder accurately so she’s also here for criticism.

The personality that is primarily out and about is named Rachel, so I’m going to primarily refer to her as such. The setting of Rachel’s story is urban fantasy – it’s modern-day and most mythological creatures aren’t myth all, although because humankind has dominated the earth and doesn’t believe in these creatures, and they’d like to avoid being captured and analyzed by governments or hunted down by untrusting mobs, they’ve all hidden themselves, taken on human avatars and done their best to pretend to be human. Magic likewise is hidden and even those aware of fantastic beings tend to believe magic – in humans – is extinct.

Rachel has a total of thirteen personalities and her disorder developed when as a small child, she was kidnapped by a vampiric lord as a slave. She served him, suffering horrendous abuse, for four years; her rescue occurred when her captor decided to sacrifice her to a warlock. The ceremony was interrupted by vampire slayers who afterward took her to an orphanage in England. (Because they were already in England.) She was adopted not too long after by American parents; she is 29 when the story takes place.

Rachel is a very protected and sheltered personality – as in, not wanting to lose her strength and determination, the personality hid in the others frequently and so Rachel is headstrong and confident. She has a soft spot for children. She loathes vampires. The reason she’s out more than the host is because of her job, which has to do with the main plot of the story which I don’t really want to discuss in this post.

The host personality, the one that is most functional and knows of almost every other personality and best manages them, is Emis*. Emis is highly protective of Rachel because of how valuable Rachel is, and how untouched by the trauma Rachel is. Emis was out during menial chores and had the most time to reflect on her situation; she tends to consider things at length and is the least rash. A lot of her feels like background to the other personalities, the maid that cleans up the mess, the butler who holds everything together.

Sangua was a personality developed from frequent feedings from her vampiric captor – she does not actually have a name as she was nothing more than a food item but will answer to a bastardization of ‘sanguine’ from the word being said around her a lot. She is easily startled and rather fragile, submissive. She is brought out at the sight or smell of blood.

Eloeve is the personality related to sexuality – she’s defiant and mistrusts any man. At the same time, she longs for the security of a relationship. All of Rachel’s personalities are heterosexual except for Eloeve.

Phillip is the protector, triggered primarily by adrenaline. Phillip, gender/sex wise, is female in sex but male in gender (if that makes no sense to you, gender is socially defined; what might be masculine in one culture could be gender neutral or feminine in another, so gender can be somewhat fluid.) She jumps at the opportunity to defend, sometimes over zealously, misinterpreting harmless situations occasionally. Competitive, driven, almost delighted by violence against a bully.

Sally is the lost child, the kidnapee that is desperate, lonely, mistrusting, and yet also clingy.

Fanny’s goal is to hide. She’s the other side of the fight-or-flight instinct, the opposition to Phillip. She’s highly paranoid, certain everyone is out to get her or betray her. She’s far more child-like than Phillip and one of the least developed personalities.

Ami lacks much affect and tends to quietness. She’s the bastion for the others, the one to emerge when the others couldn’t take it anymore, the outside face for taking the brunt of intolerable attack. As such, she’s emotionally numb. The only truly expressive part of her are her eyes, reflecting the unspeakable horrors she’s experienced. She has a tick of shuddering.

Wendy is the depressed. She languishes in her sorrow and is highly suicidal. She’s completely unaware of the other personalities and plays up the part of the inconsolable victim.

Little One is the diplomatic, the ally-seeker. Consoling, empathetic, optimistic. She’s triggered by the presence of other children, far more strongly if the children are upset.

Torrey emerged late, while in the orphanage. The vampire hunters knew of the fantastic world; those within the orphanage did not. She is therefore the secret keeper. She tends to harbor most of her thoughts and feelings, and she tends to petulance. She’s perpetually a pre-teen and she speaks with a Brittish accent (I haven’t decided which one yet).

Lannis admires vampires. This is the shard that Rachel broke off because she was simultaneously guilt-ridden and disgusted that a part of her could have ever become fascinated by the monster that tormented her, with his power and immortality. Lannis is the product of innocent curiosity, exposure to the alluring hypnotism of her vampiric lord, and a hefty dose of Stockholm Syndrome. She tends to be cold and spiteful as a result of the rest of her hating herself for being the tiny part of her that admired vampires, and Lannis tends to want to sabotage anything Rachel wants to do – not in an evil alter ego sense, but in the way we all sometimes sabotage ourselves. Except when we do it it’s all a part of the same person whereas in a way this isn’t.

Justice is a far more primal personality who almost never emerges. She is quick to judge and vicious in retaliation. Hatred is the base of this shard, and she will never be satisfied until all vampires are dead.

So as you can see, it’s not The Seven Dwarves here. Some of the personalities are somewhat shallow and do appear to be based heavily in one emotion, but most of them are not and while they are heavily influenced by one aspect, it’s none too different from what a non-disordered may be like. Also you have the example of personalities clashing and my own example of the closest I would come to an evil personality with Lannis. I hope that this example of mine is helpful to you building your own character – although if you desire to do so, I’d highly recommend at least digging up the DSM and giving it a read on DID.

*Check the comments. What I wrote is based on what I learned in school, and as this is still a misunderstood disorder, even by professionals, the insight of someone who has actual experience with DID is invaluable. I leave what I wrote here because it’s still true to what I was taught although with Emis, I’ll probably revise her based on what I’ve learned via the comments; you would do well to read this post and the comments.

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Deviant, Disabling, Distressing: Schizophrenia vs DID

Sorry I’m late but today we’re talking about the difference between schizophrenia and DID (previously known as multiple personality disorder). People confuse them often but the difference is really obvious, I don’t know how everyone mixes it up. Stop it.

Deviant, disabling, and distressing are the three criteria that psychologists use to define a disorder. If it’s significantly deviant from what’s “normal”, if it causes problems for every day life, and if it is distressing, either to the afflicted or the afflicted’s close associates (y’know, like family), it’s a disorder.

Every time I hear things like the above line, I want to punch someone in the face. Even if it’s one of my favorite actors in a hilarious comedy (or the script writers). Rather than punch people which doesn’t tend to solve much, I will instead explain what schizophrenia involves (I’ll bet you think it’s just halucinations. You are so ridiculously wrong) and what DID is. We’ll start with DID because that’s sort of? easier.

DID stands for Dissociative Identity Disorder. Psychologists changed the name because it is a part of a strain of mental diseases that are called dissociative disorders. The idea of dissociative disorders is that you are lost from yourself. One of the more mild dissociative disorders is like an out-of-body experience. So with DID, it’s not so much that there are multiple personalities in one body but that a person mentally hid themselves from the circumstances around them to the point that their personality shattered, putting someone else in charge of being conscious and dealing with stuff so another fragment could hide.  A person dissociates from their situation (think, “this is not my life” to an extreme) to the point their personality shatters.

What DID therefore looks like is someone who is more than one person, perhaps with each person displaying dominance in a certain emotion or aspect and lacking heavily in others. Usually each personality has a different role – one is in charge of protecting the host, one is in charge of sexual pursuits, one is a scared child, one is a host that tries to manage the other personalities and affairs, etc. You have one person who could change into a different person on a trigger. Maybe anger brings out the protective personality. Maybe adrenaline. When you are dealing with one personality, you are NOT dealing with other personalities. It’s like several different people trapped in one body, but all those people are from the same person that sprang off and developed in their own directions. And to be clear, the “original” personality is not going to be clear; what you will probably want to peg instead is the “main” personality, usually the host personality as described above.

There is, of course, a lot of controversy over whether this is even a real disorder or not. I don’t care if you think it is or isn’t, understand what it IS if you talk about it.

Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder. It’s a completely different class of disorder than dissociative. It means that you have some sort of psychosis, which I’m not defining here so look it up if you don’t know it. Most everyone knows that people with schizophrenia have hallucinations. It’s much more than that, but we’ll start there since somehow that’s where people get stuff mixed up.

A hallucination is a sensory perception of something that doesn’t actually exist. The most common is auditory hallucinations. That means that a person hears something when there were no sound waves whatsoever. There are auditory, visual, tactile, and olfactory hallucinations, listed in order of what is most common.

People are often under the impression that people with schizophrenia have elaborate hallucinations involving people who don’t exist interacting with them. This is where the confusion with DID comes in. They both seem to be interacting with pretend people.

Please note the HUGE difference!
DID: You ARE multiple people! They are a part of you! ALL of the personalities ACTUALLY exist!
Schizhophrenia: You SEE other people who do NOT exist! They are not a part of you! It’s the same as interacting with any other stranger -except they are not real-!

Now that you will never, ever, EVER confuse the two ever again, let me clear up your misconceptions about schizophrenia.

They usually do not have huge, elaborate hallucinations. Like I said, auditory are most common – and it’s not like some sort of evil commands that they are hearing, it’s…their own thoughts. Let me explain. There are two parts in your brain, Broca’s area and Wernick’s area. Broca has to do with hearing things. Wernick has to do with speech, like what you’ll say. Which do you think is active during a hallucination? If you guessed Wernick, have a cookie. Schizophrenia’s auditory hallucinations are people thinking things to themselves, but hearing it as if someone else was saying it to them. Scary for them, don’t you think? Can you imagine how terrible that is? So unless the afflicted is thinking things like “Kill them, kill them all!” all the time, they’re not thinking instructions. It’s more likely they’re thinking things like “You idiot!” but as someone ELSE saying that to them, or “Is that safe?” but as someone ELSE warning them. And hey, if they DO hear a “kill them”, be honest. Haven’t you ever in your life thought something like, “Ugh, I wish that person was dead!”?

Now, hallucinations are just one small part of schizophrenia. Not all those afflicted with this awful disease even have them! The symptoms of schizophrenia are often divided into categories, although there’s some argument as to how many categories there should be and what they should be. I’ll mostly deal with positive and negative since we all seem to agree on those.

Positive symptoms include having behaviors that aren’t normal. Hallucinations therefore are one positive symptom. Another are delusions. A delusion is a belief that isn’t real. There are several types, two of the big ones are paranoid delusions and delusions of grandeur. A paranoid delusion would be something like, “the government is trying to read my brain through my mail!” or, “Aliens are trying to implant a chip in my brain!” whereas a delusion of grandeur would be like, “I am Napoleon!” or “I’m the King of Wonderland!” or “I’m the fairest of them all!”
People confuse delusions and hallucinations so here’s a way to remember: hallucinations are where you sense something when there’s nothing to sense. Delusions are where you believe something wildly untrue. There are some ridiculous things out there that are true for some people so obviously it’s not a delusion for them: only Napoleon can say he’s Napoleon without being delusional. Only Buffy (and Kendra and Faith) can say “I’m the Vampire Slayer” without being delusional. Uh, y’know. In the show.

Negative symptoms are lack of behaviors that are normal. Catatonia is one of the main ones. Lack of movement, or staying in one (possibly very uncomfortable-looking) position for an extended period of time, that’s catatonia. Another is lack of affect – as in facial expression and emotional response. You say, “my mother died”, they just kind of stare at you. You tell a seriously hilarious joke, they just kind of stare at you. (Side note, inappropriate affect can be a positive symptom – like laughing at news of your mother’s death.)

Finally, there is a disruptive category (which is disputed) and one of the symptoms there is also common. Disrupted speech, especially word salad. I would type an example here but I can’t mimic word salad, it just…it just makes no sense. It’s words together that maybe sound like they could be a real sentence, but it’s nonsense. It isn’t like a strew of random words, it’s a series of thoughts disrupted, stitched together, turned to words. It is ridiculously bizarre to hear someone with a word salad problem speak.

There are other details to this disorder; as it’s very complex, and there’s not just one set degree to which one has schizophrenia, there’s a lot to talk about. If you’re interested in the disorder, I highly recommend getting a hold of a copy of the DSM-TR-IV (or DSM-V if it’s out) and reading up on it. You can also talk to someone who knows a thing or two about it.

So now you know: schizophrenia is not just hallucinations. That is ONE possible symptom. One! So stop associating schizophrenia with only hallucinations. There’s way more to it. And stop confusing hallucinations with multiple personalities! It makes no sense!

Also please remember – the stereotypes that a person with DID has a violent/dangerous personality is not a good stereotype. DID is rare enough as it is anyway. And in fact, DID is guessed by some psychologists to be a variation of PTSD, sort of – I mean that if a traumatic event happens, one could develop PTSD or DID, depending on how he or she handle the event. So it’s not really fair to think of someone with DID as potentially dangerous. As for schizophrenia, PEOPLE WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA ARE RARELY DANGEROUS. So ESPECIALLY stop thinking that! They suffer, greatly. The world is terrifying to them! They are far more likely to be abused than a normal person. They are likely to be homeless – and if you pass by a homeless guy and he gives you a weird, piercing look, there’s a decent chance he’s doing that because via paranoid delusion thinks you might be trying to hurt him, might be a spy of some sort. Those with schizophrenia are not crazy villain murderer people. Unless their case is severe, they’re probably “normal” at least part of the time. DO NOT make someone a villain because they have schizophrenia. Do not add to the stereotype. Do not do it. You could have a villain with schizophrenia, but you’d best be careful to separate their villain status from their disorder…and because it’s so stigmatized and misunderstood, I really wouldn’t recommend it anyway.

So hopefully we all understand two mental disorders that the media loves to run with and misportray.

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Your Female Characters Don’t Need to be Strong

There’s a cry for “Strong Female Characters” that still echoes through media. The phrase “Strong Female Character” is still used despite the fact that many people have pointed out it’s a frustratingly vague phrase that doesn’t mean what we want it to mean most of the time.

So to clarify – generally people get the idea that in order to make a “good, acceptable” female character, she must have a lot of “masculine” traits: actual physical strength, ability to fight and defend herself, mechanical know-how, dominant personality. Also she shouldn’t wear a skirt. Boo, skirts!

I really hope that in general we can understand that “strong female character” was supposed to mean “a female character who is three-dimensional, or a strong character who is female”. But even in that case, just saying “strong character who is female”, there can still be that same wrong idea that a strong character is a strong person. That’s not always the case, you know. An insecure, physically weak character who is well-developed is still a strong character in the sense of being a good character. In real life, there are certainly a lot of women with dominant personalities, fierce and driven and determined, impatient with others, women who exercise and are physically strong. There are a lot who are meek and lack physical strength, who are sweet and very concerned with others. And there’s a billion variations thereof, mixing those traits and a whole bunch of others. So making a strong female as a character, even well-developed, and sticking to that and that personality alone is just making a new crappy stereotype that funnels women into one narrow definition that maybe not all of us fit or even want to fit.

Apparently, it is offensive to make a submissive woman, even if she’s well-rounded. Damsels in distress, no matter how brilliant a personality, no matter what other skills she has, is just not okay (according to some “feminists”) because it still shows a woman who is, in one area that is apparently the end-all be-all area, weak.

Because, y’know, Zelda being wise and good is -just- not cutting it. Wisdom is just not as good as fighting know-how. I mean, pshaw, who wants their girl child to be wise? This thinking is as confused as the picture is on Zelda (and Link)’s identity.

A woman character who even wants a man is unacceptable, let alone one who “needs” him. It’s not okay for her to have a lot of “feminine” qualities, it’s not okay for her to have only “feminine” skills, it’s not okay for her to be meek.

Screw. That.

Look, if you write a woman who can’t and doesn’t fight, who is physically weak, who has zero “masculine” traits, that’s okay and I’m irritated that we feel like all of our woman have to be Buffy.

Which isn’t to say Buffy’s just “strong” all the time, Season Six where the Big Bad is basically depression and life in general attests to that. …but then, that’s why she’s a great character. She’s -not- just strong.

Buffy’s a great character, love her, but not all of our women are going to be warriors. Some women ARE meek. Some women ARE humble and submissive. And that’s totally okay, it really is. They can still be cunning, thoughtful, they can still take action even if their actions are subverted – and that can be a source of conflict. Other characters can and probably should take notice of this. We’re afraid to show women this way, however, because of the social message that women are or should be quiet, submissive [to men], or otherwise a feature rather than a person. But here’s the thing about that problem – it has a really simple solution:

If you don’t want to send the message that women should be quiet and submissive to men, don’t support the idea that women should be quiet and submissive to men. Bam, done.

I didn’t say don’t have women who are quiet or submissive to men. No. You can have a character who is or believes something to which you are opposed. I have a character who is a homophobe, big time, I have characters who murder and torture and commit unspeakable acts. I have characters who come in all sorts of flavors of racist. Actually in my current WIP one of the MCs deals with racism against him with basically almost anyone. Am I homophobic, a murderer, racist? I suppose it’s not fair for me to say I’m not, but if I am, I’m certainly not to the extent of my characters! (Actually it’s pretty fair for me to say I’m not a murderer. I am definitely not a murderer.) You know why it’s important to include these things in my story? Because these things exist whether I write about them or not, and in the context of my story, it makes sense for them to exist right there. For me to not write them is just to weaken my story because in the world there are all types so in my story there has to be all types.

What does this have to do with strong women? If THE STORY doesn’t support sexist or misogynistic behavior, then what do you have to worry about writing that behavior in? It exists, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, and to address it would be better than to ignore it. What’s important is whether or not THE STORY – not characters IN the story but the narrative itself – supports this behavior as good.

And more importantly, there are all types of women. If you write all types rather than just one type, you are not presenting a role-model that you think women have to fit – whether the busty side-kick of man-accessory or the warrior woman of independence – but you are doing a real service to women by representing not a figurehead but women. Women who are smart – because she’s good at math or science, or because she’s a wizard in the kitchen, or because she’s a history buff, or because she’s crafty (like arts and crafts crafty), or because she’s a nurse, etc ect. Women who are blonde, brunette, red-headed, white-haired, long-haired, short-haired, blue-eyed, green-eyed, brown-eyed, flat-chested, busty, somewhere between, lean, slender, curvy, chubby, tall, short, gorgeous, pretty, homely, striking…women who are fashionable, women who aren’t, who are nerds or jocks or performers or homemakers or businesswomen. Women who are of every ethnicity and race. There are so, so many out there, so someone please tell me why we are quibbling about whether or not we write a flat damsel or a flat “strong” woman?

There are other things a woman can do and they aren’t less because they aren’t the same things we generally associate with a man as doing. (If a woman is less because she isn’t doing what a man’s doing, you’re still saying women is less because she’s only worth something when she’s pretending to be a man, by the by.) In our household, I am incredibly valuable to my husband because I provide emotional security to him. When he’s about ready to say “I quit” with whatever trial, I keep him going. Why, oh, why, is that trait criticized? That’s an amazing trait. That’s critical and important and precious. Is it a supporting trait? Sure, but there’s nothing wrong with supporting characteristics. Sure, it might be nice if once in a while the fighter meat shield in the adventuring party was a woman instead of just the healer, but there is nothing wrong with being the party healer! (to put it in swords ‘n’ magic RPG terms). If you have a woman who has the man doing all the fighting and heavy lifting, that could show not that the woman is helpless without him, but that she, as a wise person, knows her weaknesses and limits, and is smart enough to find someone who is trustworthy and can perform those tasks for her. No hero is weak for choosing a bow and arrow instead of a sword – no hero is weak for choosing his allies carefully – yet we criticize heroines as weak for doing just that.

Your woman doesn’t have to be “strong”, she just has to be “real” and damn what anyone else says. Because we’re writers, and great writers write great stories with real people in them.

So you know what you should write? PEOPLE. Who are female. And also male. And possibly robots and aliens and mystic races, I really don’t care. Just write ‘em people as in not caring whether you’re writing ‘em strong or not, just worry about who they are, where they’re strong, where they’re weak, and you’ll write what you need to do.

(By the way? What is WRONG with wanting to have a guy in your life? Huh? Guys are AWESOME. They’re not better than women, but then, women aren’t better than them either. Please, media, stop criticizing women for wanting a man in her life and just let the woman do her thing, eh?)

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Why “Hope” Is the Worst Answer Ever

When The Hunger Games – the movie – was coming out, my husband and I scrambled to read the book beforehand. so it was very fresh in my head when we saw the movie with my family. In the movie, one of their addendum scenes includes President Snow speaking with Crane, and in this conversation, Snow asks him a question. I’ve now finished reading t’other two books so I know the question had no place, that it was fabricated by the movie directors. It was a terrible thing to add, especially because they made Snow give the most wrong, most stupid answer to his own question anyone ever could have given.

The question was something along the lines of, “Why do we have the Hunger Games instead of just lining up two children from every district and executing them?”

The answer?

“Hope.”

 

NO. NO, President Snow. NO, movie directors. NO NO NO. (that’s stupidly cliche anyway)

Not only is that not a correct answer, it’s a very incorrect, erroneous, bad answer.

The WHOLE POINT of the Hunger Games is the lack of hope. Hope is dangerous to a ruling power in Snow’s position. Hope is what allowed the rebellions to spark. Hope is what pushed on a full-fledged revolution. You don’t want hope in a totalitarian government because if the people have hope, they have hope for something better, and something better is always going to mean getting rid of the old regime. If there is no hope of winning, no hope of succeeding, there is no rebellion!

So what should his answer have been?

As I understand it, the hunger games are about complete and utter domination over the other districts. “We do not just execute your children, we force them to fight to the death and we force you to like it. This is how much power we have over you. You are utterly depraved without us, powerless against us, you have no choice – we will make you cheer for your own child’s murderer and hail them as a hero. We can do this, we will and we do and you will bow before us because you have. no. choice.” This is not a message of hope.

Book Snow is, at least, a much better villain since he confronts Katniss for giving the other districts hope – for understanding hope is bad – right at the start of Catching Fire. And then with the quarter quell, the very thing he seeks is to quell is the hope that started the rebellions with his choice of using previous champions! THE WHOLE POINT IS TO KILL HOPE COMPLETELY. Auuugh, hope is not a thing for true villains! Not to give to others.

People may argue that the hope for something better, to keep fighting, can be necessary for oppression, to keep the oppressed from laying down and dying. If the oppression isn’t tremendous, trust me, that’s not a problem. Consider the amount of hope in concentration camps and the variety of reactions from the various prisoners there. There was threat of death by the hand of guards, starvation, disease – the ultimate goal for the prisoners was death. Not so for the people of Panem. Could there be a time and place for hope? Perhaps, but think carefully about it before just spouting out that stupid, overused answer.

If your villain is wanting to allow hope to survive, he better have a good reason to do it – after all, truly and utterly killing hope is actually pretty hard. Even if a person says they have no hope of survival, no hope of escape, no hope of something better – if that person continues to strive to survive anyway, they do still have some sort of hope. Survival instincts are all a part of a hope to live another day. Perhaps that day will bring something good. Hope is so hard to kill, so why would you breed it? More than the basic instincts, hope means thought for what one wants and in your oppressed population, in your protagonist, in your hero, that’s going to be very dangerous for your villain.

So no, “hope” is a terrible answer. The worst possible answer. It’s the answer that actually works against your antagonist. Don’t pick hope – pick something that’s actually sinister.
Something that, say, makes sense?

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Villain Sue Test the Second [Post]

Remember how my hope was to get a skeleton of the villain sue test up before November and it’s now the middle of November and I haven’t even mentioned the test?

Yeaaah. Well, I did recognize it could be an incredibly unrealistic goal. That’s because I’m naive and didn’t realize how crazy hard parenting a brand new baby is, I just assumed that -might- be the case. Silly me.

Anyway I haven’t completely abandoned the villain sue test. I have even done more than absolutely nothing on it – not much more but…I do plan on crafting it, still. It’s necessary. Just, I can’t work on it during NaNo, I’m having a hard time doing NaNo as it is (and I NEVER have a hard time with NaNo).  And then it takes second…horse…to my WIP (which is not the same as my NaNo), especially since I’d set a goal to finish draft V before the end of the year and now because I’m great at digging myself a hole, I’ll only have December to finish that – I’m, say, half done. Go me, procrastinator extraordinaire.

The point is I won’t be able to even pretend like I might give it attention until next year. But I’m not giving up on it! I will make it a thing! Promise.

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The Best Build on Villains

Here’s a search term I’ve seen cropping up a bit. I’ve been thinking how to address that question because it bothers me someone might come across my blog with a specific question and not have that question answered.

But as much as I’ve thought about how to answer “what is the best build for a villain”, I’ve circled around the same questions.

What are you doing?
What role does this villain fill?
What type of villain?
What genre?

Etcetera, etcetera.

I worked my mind to answer the original question despite the specifics. Maybe I could do a general best build on the generic types of villains? But even then, it would be a very loose bit of advice. The best build for your villain is tailored to your book’s specific situation. Every time, that’s what I conclude, what any advice I could give boils down to.

I mean, think about other characters: What’s the best build for a hero? Über attractive prince or handmaid? Maybe if you’re writing a fairytale. Unless you’re trying to break the conventions of fairy tales which you should totally do. Unless you’re trying to be classic, in which case don’t do that. Or maybe you’re trying to do classic but with a twist. Maybe a badace who is a crack shot and has great street fighting skills, then? Oh, weren’t you writing an urban action story where that sort of Mary Sue is more acceptable due to the contrast of all the other badace dudes the MC is fighting? Okay, how about some scrawny kid? I guess that means we’re probably writing YA now. Even the scrawny kid is pretty ambiguous. Is he just a plain ole scrawny kid with no particularly special talents, or does he say, have magic powers and a scar on his forehead?

What’s the best build for a sidekick? A Robin? A Shakespearean jester? A busty yet “strong” lass? Mentor doomed to later death? Marketable animal? Turncoat of some sort? A Jane?

Here’s the deal: when you’re asking for the “best build”, it sounds to me like you’re asking for a villain mold.

Your villain is too important for you to drop some evil gloop into a generic mold and pop him out.

And when you ask for a villain mold, you forget one very important detail: YOUR VILLAIN IS A PERSON.

When building your villain, take the time to consider him! Take as much time to get to know him as you would your hero. The effort is worth it – your hero will be so much better for it. Take into consideration what role your villain will fill, but remember that your villain is a person, not a plot device. He should have aspired to fill that role rather than be crammed in to do so. As soon as you forget that your villain was (probably) not always a villain, as soon as you’re just trying to set up pins for your hero to knock down, your entire story suffers. If you ever find yourself saying, “My villain has to X”, always ask afterward how your villain got to X.

Bottom line is, the best build for a villain is a carefully tailored build.

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First Blood

Hey, Minions! (I hope you read the title in the Unreal Tournament voice because that’s how I read it.)

Remember when I suggested that perhaps the villain could, just possibly, have some concern for the sanctity of life? I want to talk about that first step to losing that respect of life. That first kill.

See the thing about it is that most of us are born with an innate respect for life. You get the sociopath or psychopath who doesn’t, someone who is detached from reality enough to cause a death, but that’s not typical. There are many reasons why one may hesitate to kill, an actual respect for life, moral beliefs, fear of death that’s aggravated with any death; most people have at least one good reason why they would, could never kill.

Villains are people too.

You should know about your villain’s first blood (or otherwise the moment he became okay with killing another human being) because, barring a sociopath or whatnot, that moment will have meant a significant change in your villain. Now I’m not talking about wanting to kill someone, or even planning it out. Words are cheap, and so is idle thought which goes nowhere. We joke about killing people all the time, consider these memes:

That’s three that I could think of off the top of my head at 6 am when I’m sleep deprived from baby. They’re readily available, jokes about ending another person’s life. Twitter is full of death wishes on others. But these things are not remotely the same as actually killing someone. Nor is apathy at death. I once, as stress relief, planned out the entire murder of an awful roommate with one of the icicles outside our door (hey, I have never claimed to be a good person) but that’s very different from actually going through with it. I would be a very different person if I’d even tried, let alone succeeded in my plot.

We believe you, Carl. Mmhmm.

Part of the problem with killing someone is the permanence of the action. It’s not something that you can change your mind about after you do it. It’s not something you can fix. And that’s why it’s such a changing experience.

Killing an animal, by the by, is not at all even remotely the same as killing a human. The twisted “I started with animals” story is great and all, but it only really works if the villain is a psychopath working his way up to getting to kill a human. Killing an animal does not really do the same thing as killing a human would – perhaps it would be different if the killing was malicious and torturous, I have no idea. I have killed, by hand, an animal however. I was on a church youth trip where we re-enacted the pioneers and I killed a chicken by hand with a knife. Well, actually, I didn’t do the actual killing because I was so weak of arm that for all my trying to decapitate the chicken, I couldn’t get through the stupid windpipe. On realizing I was causing the thing suffering, I quickly nabbed one of the men there and asked them to finish the job. I didn’t not kill the chicken because I couldn’t do it, I didn’t manage it because as hard as I tried, I was physically incapable and its eyes were rolling back into its head. I still stood by as its headless body flailed and only flinched as its neck jerked and splattered my dress hem with blood because there was no way I could wash it and I was afraid it’d smell. And then I took that chicken and I stripped off its skin to spare the monotony of plucking and I gutted it (THAT part was way gross and I nearly threw up) and I took it back to my “family” (other youths and youth leaders) and “Ma” cooked it up in a stew and I ate it and I liked it. There are other people who would have had a really hard time killing that chicken, for a variety of reasons, one being the sanctity of life. There would be those, I’m sure, that would kill the chicken and then be unable to prepare or eat it, grieved by their action of “murder”. Please consider this – I’m the kind of gal, being evil and all, who can name the chicken something other than “dinner” or “drumstick”, not get attached, and take delight in killing it because that means we’ll eat well tonight. And yet the experience has not changed me, has not made it more reasonable in my mind that I could kill a human. I couldn’t do that. First off, it’s morally abhorrent, but second, it’s, as I said, so permanent. If I want someone out of my life, I just need to find a way to not have them be around me anymore, not talk to them, but I can’t actually kill them.

I imagine that having someone killed would also change a person, if not differently than directly killing them. Same as not preventing a death, or arranging an “accident”. I have no idea, I’ve never been in that situation and can’t really imagine how I’d feel. I do imagine if I witnessed an accidental death (that I couldn’t prevent) I’d be horrified. I can’t imagine causing, indirectly, a death – I can imagine the action happening, but not the inner results.

I imagine just witnessing a non-natural death changes you a little. Haven’t ever seen anyone die, so I don’t know. I actually honestly hope I never do.

So consider this. Even if your villain doesn’t really care about other people, even if he puts himself and his own goals first, killing someone is still a big step, still a major, life-changing experience; your villain may not kill someone just because that’s kind of a big deal, not because they value life. And if they have, that will matter to them. If they’ve only killed one person, does it haunt them? Do they ever think about it? How do they dismiss it? What did that do to them? If many…what does that mean to your villain? Nothing? At what point did death mean nothing to your villain? Does he delight in it? When did that happen? You may never show the audience, but you need to know this.

Killing people changes people.

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