Saturday, October 4, 2014

Random Musings and Rants on Character Development and Criticisms

I both love and hate tropes. I love to abuse them -- take them and twist them into something other than the way they're usually used. I like to use them appropriately. I like to piss all over them.

One complaint I expected for my first books was for the main character. He's not John Wayne. He doesn't like John Wayne. He's not Jack from Will and Grace. I'm not sure they'd even get along. No, he's not a manly man, and he's not a flaming queen. He's bisexual. He's a geek. More, he's a B character in his own world.

That was the whole point.

He was meant to be an ordinary geek. Not some hero or super-villain in training. Part of my thought process behind him was to look at the flunky -- the guy under the villain -- and follow his transition to becoming said flunky. Not even the villain's right hand man (who, in this series, is actually a woman).

pictured: a geek's kitten from Le Meow

So, I get people bitching that he's not manly enough. Someone whined about how my characters weren't fitting into gender boxes.

I. Hate. Gender. Boxes.

They aren't realistic, for one. They aren't healthy for another. I can't stand the guides that say "How to write a believable [gender] character." They're full of gag worthy stereotypes that don't reflect any of the people I've known in my life of either gender. 

News flash: this is how you should treat people and characters both

I remember one: "Guys don't giggle." 

Uh, yeah they do. I've heard many guys giggle. Some guys don't, but if you've never heard a guy giggle, then you've probably missed an entire culture (or three) of men. Gay guys giggle, but not all of them. Geek guys giggle, but not all of them. Straight, average guys giggle, but not all of them.

Any time you say not to do something for a group, you're being presumptuous and building on stereotypes that really only match your own experience. While there's nothing wrong with writing from your own experience, there is something wrong with telling other people that only the stereotype you believe in is right.

It's not. Stereotypes are looked down on for a reason. I base my characters on real people. That may be shocking, but I think it's more shocking that some people feel that makes them 'unbelievable.' Now, when I say that, I'm not saying I'm inserting people I know as characters -- but I'm using real, observed traits from real people when I get to know the characters I'm writing about instead of relying on stereotypes and tropes.

I don't expect everyone to like them. Shit, that would be like expecting everyone to like anyone. But trying to say they don't meet their expectations for a stereotype just makes me shake my head. I'm not going to take that as constructive criticism. That's just whining. John Steinbeck said to write to just one person... I think that's too simplistic, but I think that the idea that you aren't writing to everyone is a good one.

Someone recently accused me of not knowing my audience because he wanted a 'gay vampire' book instead of the psychological horror novel with vampires that I wrote. He couldn't have been further from the truth. I know who my audience is: it doesn't include biphobic, sexist bigots who are looking for erotica. My books aren't erotica. They have sex in them because sex is a part of life, and my books are 'slice of life'-heavy.

They also don't include a bunch of vulgarities or clinical anatomical terms in the sex scenes (or flowery romanticisms that make me want to vomit, like 'honey pot' or 'turgid staff' -- hey, if that floats your boat, feel free to self-insert them; just don't torture me with them or expect me to make my editor's eyes roll into the back of her head before rightfully deleting that shit). I love sex, and I am totally comfortable with it and writing sex scenes. I'm not going to adjust my style to make my books wank fodder when that has never been what they are.

I write what I know, and what I don't know, I research, from the mouths of those who do know, not just books or blogs about a subject. Which gives me this radical idea that people can't really be boxed. And maybe some people want characters to be boxed, but I don't. Maybe that means I'll never be a New York Times Bestselling author (not knocking books on the NTY list, I'm knocking whiny critics), but I'd rather be true to my characters than create two-dimensional caricatures.

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