Tagged: Mary Sue

John Ostrander: You/Not You

You : Not You

One of the interesting facets of talking about writing is the contradictions you find in the craft. For example: All your characters are you. All your characters are not you.

All of your characters are you.

Every character you write must have some of you in it. All of them. Not just the ones you like to identify with. All of them. The large and the small, the good and the bad, male and female, no matter what age, race, or nationality. If you’re going to write honestly about the character, you must be in the mix.

This can get uncomfortable. Once, when I was writing a white supremacist  in an early issue of Suicide Squad, I had to look into myself and ask, “What in me is like this man?” Look, I’m an aging white guy; there’s going to be something there. No matter how much I’ve worked at freeing myself from that, and I have, there’s going to be something there.

I found it. It’s not enough to understand such a character’s point of view; it’s necessary to find what is in you that is like that. However much I dislike that aspect of myself, it is there to some degree and it can be used. It was.

We all have multitudes within us. We are slightly different people depending on who we are with; with our parents we’re slightly different than we are with our siblings than we are with our friends than we are with our lovers and partners. Each of them know a slightly different aspect of us. That’s one of the purposes of supporting characters; they bring out different aspects of the protagonist.

We play so many different parts in our own lives on a daily basis, we should be able to find some aspect of ourselves – good or bad, laudable or disreputable – that will allow us to identify, to be, the character that we are writing.

I’ve often said that writing dialogue between several characters is the writer having conversations with his/herself. We are all our characters.

All of your characters are not you.

You have to have some perspective on the characters that you write and that requires some distance. The differences are important.

There is, mostly in fandom, a form of criticism pertaining to a “Mary Sue” (among female characters) or a “Larry Stu” (among male). Generally, it means a character is an idealized and unrealistic version of the author. For the most part I dislike the term; it’s too easy, too lazy, and too pat a critique. The person using it generally only has to accuse the author of either having a Mary Sue or Larry Stu and that’s it; no further discussion is needed or, often, allowed. The accusation is made. End of story.

However, as with most stereotypes and clichés, there is a germ of truth. A good character can be very seductive. Few people believe themselves to be evil; even Shakespeare’s Richard III, who describes himself as a villain, believes he has a right to do what he is doing. I met someone once who believed that if he could take something that you thought was yours, he was within his rights to do so. “You only have a right to what you can hold onto,” he would claim. Not someone I wanted to spend any time with, but an interesting idea for a character.

I saw a TV interview with a guy who was doing time because he was a hired killer for the Mob. Coldest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen. Literally would just as soon kill you as look at you. “My life doesn’t matter to me, so why should yours?” was what he said. Again, not a person I would ever want to meet, but it became part of my core concept for my version of Deadshot in the Squad. Lawton doesn’t have a death wish; he just doesn’t care if he dies – or if you do.

The whole “You are your character/you are not your character” thing is a dichotomy and that’s fine by me. I think that most often you find the truth in contradictions. It’s what Del Close taught in his Second City and iO improv classes. Del held this contradiction as a rule: it’s not either/or; it’s and/both.

Finally, don’t try to reconcile or explain the contradictions. State them and trust to your reader to dope it out. Do your job right and the reader will think that the character is them… and not them.

Mindy Newell: Message In A Bottle – Or On A DC T-Shirt

Over the past three decades, there has been a steady rise in the share of women, especially mothers, in the workforce. [Collected data shows that] the majority of women and mothers work, and many work full time and full year. This dramatic increase in women’s working hours has had a substantial impact both on household earnings and the economy more generally. Our analysis finds that middle-class households would have substantially lower earnings today if women’s employment patterns had remained unchanged. Had that been the case, gross domestic product, or GDP, would have been roughly 11 percent lower in 2012 if women had not increased their working hours as they did. In today’s dollars, this translates to more than $1.7 trillion less in output – roughly equivalent to combined U.S. spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in 2012.The Economic Importance of Women’s Rising Hours of Work, A paper presented at the 75 Years of the Fair Labor Standards Act Conference at the Department of Labor, November 15, 2013.

The number of working-age women with a full-time job has surged from 28.6% in 1979 to 40.7% today, and the increase in working mothers in that time is even more remarkable – from 27.3% to 44.1 percent. So why the fuck do corporations go out of their way to alienate women, when all economic indicators point to the power of the dollar in women’s hands? Yep, those crazy people – “Corporations are people, too!” said Mitt Romney during the 2012 Presidential campaign – seem to do it all the time.

Last month it was that cover from Marvel. This month it’s DC Entertainment’s turn, with those t-shirts.

If you don’t know what t-shirts I’m talking about, take a moment to click here and read Martha’s column from Friday. Be sure to clink on the “stupid” link, which will bring you to The Mary Sue website, and the column which inspired Martha’s piece (and inspired this one) and includes handy-dandy pictures of said t-shirts.

Yeah. They piss me off, too.

You might think it’s weird that the woman who didn’t get upset about Spider-Woman’s butt is all pissy about t-shirts that proclaim maxims that belong in the 1950s and not in the second decade of the 21st century. But I grew up in the era of Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem and bra-burnings. Okay, so I never actually burned my bra, but I sure as hell got the message, and I was all of 15.

And the message was: I belong to myself.

That was 45 years ago. Almost 46, since my birthday is in 19 days. And 45 years later, there is definitely a concerted effort happening. An effort to put women back in their place, back in the kitchen, just back.

On Thursday the United States Court of Appeals (Fifth Circuit, New Orleans) gave Texas “permission to require all abortion clinics in the state to meet the same building, equipment and staffing standards as hospital-style surgical centers,” which forced thirteen Texas abortion clinics to immediately close and leaving the state – “with 5.4 million women of reproductive age, ranking second in the country” – with only eight open clinics.

Listen up, people. Texas is full of crap. This is a total bullshit ruling. The way it reads makes it sound as if these clinics are nothing more than the dirty, dark, “back room” holes-in-the-walls of crumbling tenements in the worst part of the worst neighborhoods and ghettos in Texas, like the one that Natalie Wood goes to in Love with a Proper Stranger. I am here to tell you, truth to power, that abortion clinics must meet the same standards as any “hospital-style surgical center.” They are not staffed by fairy-tale witches holding out poisoned apples to Snow Whites or by cackling crones who haven’t washed their hands or seen a dentist in a hundred years. These clinics are non-profit centers run by caring health professionals whose only aim is to insure the well being of the women who are their patients

Yeah, I know, I went off the rails a bit, but not really. It’s all the same thing, really. Closing abortion clinics, DC Comics t-shirts, it’s all about fear of loss.

The loss of control.

Control of the message.

And the message is:

You belong to me.

Don’t you dare believe them.