Imagine you are a different person.
Not just a different version of yourself, maybe smarter, or stronger, or with magic powers, but a different person entirely. A different gender, race, sexuality, religion. Imagine you grew up rich, or dirt poor. Imagine you are an Armenia teenager who helps his widower father run a stall at a fish market. Imagine you are your next door neighbour. Imagine you are China’s first transgender ballerina. Imagine you grew up consuming different media, fancying different people, being called by different pronouns.
Can you imagine the entire inner and outer life of a person whose experience is completely different from yours?
This is the exercise that writers are asked to undertake. Unless we choose to write very true to our own experiences, then we have to be able to get inside the heads of people who are different to us. Sometimes these characters need little more than a basic wire framework of experience and personality. However, central characters need to be more than just a cardboard cutout. They need life, and that life generally requires some note of authenticity.
There are some very basic tenants or characterisation that any not-completely-awful writer will know; things like not reducing a character to a single trait or quirk, not making them a stereotype, and ideally, not defining them entirely through their relationship to another character. It can be a little more difficult to write ‘authentic’ emotions, but this is where the writer employs both their own experience and their ability to empathise (fairly essential to the majority of quality writing). As long as the author has experienced a reasonably wide range of emotions – happiness, anger, embarrassment, grief – they should be able to project their emotions onto their characters.
There are some emotional experiences, however, that can be extremely difficult to write accurately if the author has never experienced them. Empathy can only extend so far when it comes to accurately representing experiences such as: being an adopted Asian child growing up in a white Australian family; depression, schizophrenia, or any other mental illness; the tension of being a woman walking alone at night or the constant feeling of being watched and judged that comes with being female; the body dysmorphia that many trans people experience; being a homosexual child trying to figure out their crushes and whether or not they are ‘normal’.
Even if these experiences do not occur within the story itself, they will affect the lives of the characters, their personalities and how they behave. Can a writer who has not had these experiences convincingly write a character who has inevitably had them as a part of their life?
It is not impossible for an author to write outside of their own emotional experiences. Many writers do it well. But it is far, far easier for a queer woman to write a straight male than it is for a straight male to write a queer woman. Why?
The stories of straight, white, cisgender men are everywhere.
Big beefy male action heroes, skinny male nerds, sensitive male musicians, wise, elderly male professors, unhinged male psychopaths, compelling male assholes, evil male villains, average joes, guys-next-door, male athletes, male politicians… the narrative landscape of our society is a veritable cock forest. Just about every possible model for ‘straight, white, cis dude’ has been done a hundred thousand times. Churning out a male character becomes almost second nature given just how often audiences are expected to identify with each and every one of them. That doesn’t mean they are bad characters, or that writing them is inherently lazy – rather that it is much easier to write a good male character with so many variations to build upon.
The dearth of other narratives means that writers must build much more on experiences that may be alien to them in order to create their characters. This requires a good deal of empathy and skill, and is often where many writers can tend to fall flat on their faces.
Because of the lack of wide variation in, say, female characters, writers who learn from those who’ve come before them can often end up regurgitating sexist tropes. Female characters can end up having their personalities revolve around the fact that they are female, i.e. they exhibit only traits associated with stereotypes of femininity (irrational moodiness, superficiality, mothering, etc.). While not always bad, these sorts of characters are usually pretty terrible and can bring down a narrative with otherwise well-written (male) characters. (The best way around this, of course, is to recognise the fact that women are multi-faceted people who can possess a variety of strengths and personalities and still be interesting, well-rounded people. Game of Thrones is an excellent example of a show which contains a wide range of unique, powerful women.)
An alternative to this can be to write a character with a neutral model. This is sometimes done in films and video games, and has been responsible for some excellent female characters (Ripley from the Alien films was written this way, and she frequently ranks highly on feminists’ lists of best female characters). However, there is a limit to the sorts of narratives these ‘neutral’ characters can inhabit; sometimes plots are about a character’s gender, or race, or sexuality, and while gender may be irrelevant in a sci-fi or dystopia, it probably makes a difference in stories about the American Civil War or a romantic dramedy set in a Catholic high school (these are also stories in which gender by necessity intersects with issues of race/sexuality/etc., other issues generally irrelevant to the narrative of the straight, white, cis dude). Gender and race are also usually fairly visible in ways other traits may not be. While no character should be defined by their sexuality or their gender identity or their faith, these issues shouldn’t be invisible; the “Dumbledore was gay all along” model is a fairly lazy method of representation and is unlikely to get your writing a tick from anyone other than well-meaning straight people.
Ultimately, the best way to write a character outside of our own experiences is to do a lot of research, and never presume to be able to tell the story of someone with different experiences to us better than someone who has had those experiences. If you think it’s too much effort to research what it’s like to be trans and think you do a better job all on your own (looking at you, Jeffrey Eugenides), then think about the amount of time you’ve spent researching the Middle Ages, or how planes work, or how to dispose of a body, or how to survive a gunshot wound, all for the sake of a throwaway line in a story you stuck in a drawer. If we can do all that to provide authentic details, then we can research a character at least well enough that we aren’t going to misrepresent and offend an entire group of people.
It may be impossible to write a character that isn’t you in a way that is truly convincing. That doesn’t make you a bad writer. Writers are also not necessarily obligated to write characters who aren’t straight, white, cisgender males. We don’t have to write anything we don’t want to write. But if we really want to try to be good writers, then we probably should.
The Lin Kuei can only rely on each other right? No wonder that Sub Zero and Reptile had to eventually hook up. (These are ninjas from Mortal Kombat, for those not into the game).
Mhmm…yep. I can deal with this. So glad I got a photo of this.
I found the MCM Comic Con in London to be exceptionally crowded. There were SO many people it was near impossible to move on the Saturday. Fortunately for me, I had gone on the Friday as well – so I’d seen most of the stuff available and didn’t need to browse as much and so (thankfully) could spend most of my time away from the really thick crowds.
I did get to see some of the actresses in Lost Girl speak briefly – that was kinda cool. my boyfriend really wanted to ask Kenzie if he could get a cuddle…of course this was impossible. On the off-chance she’s reading this though, my boyfriend would totally appreciate a cuddle.
Pokémon’s 6th generation of main series games is literally only days away and I am both excited and utterly demoralised since I promised myself to hold off on acquiring it for important personal reasons. However, I have been following the news and everything is so delicious. I’m kicking myself for making promises I don’t want to keep. There’s much about the new generation of Pokémon that has gotten me hyped and a few things that I am not so thrilled about but still interested enough to see how it works.
Things that I am so hyped for in the new generation:
Pokémon X & Y are introducing salons in some of the Kalos region’s cities. In these specialised locations there will be the option to change the appearance of your player character, causing him/her to appear different in battle animations and have a unique look in wi-fi matches. It’s still a couple of steps down from the kind of character creation that long-time fans have been anticipating but it’s a positive step forward. It also means that we can get rid of the stupid sunglasses. I hate the sunglasses. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea?
Its species name is “Poodle Pokémon” and it changes form by simply getting a haircut. Unlike other types of Pokémon forms where the Pokémon may be able to access different moves, change stats or even change type with a form change, Furfrou simply changes its appearance. Yep, it’s just a Pokémon poodle. And that is why I love and want it so much. You can choose between three different types of poodle-shape* and each has a dye job to go with it. For a person like me whom is so entertained by simple things like changing colours and shapes and sparkly things, I know I’m going to find this a lot of fun.
Depowering the Steel-type (a bit)
Getting technical now, did you hate it whenever a Steel-type Pokémon appeared as an opponent in previous generations? Yeah, me too. They’re not as super-powered as the Dragon-type but they have so few weaknesses coupled with a great ton of resistances, including immunity to Poison-type attacks, and high average defence stats. It is so frustrating to take on a Steel-type Pokémon, even the ones where the massive resistance of the Steel-typing is offset by a second type. So for Generation VI, the Pokémon Team have changed the type pairings a bit. Obviously they had to change them anyway to include the Fairy-type but they have also taken away Steel-type’s resistance to Dark- and Ghost-types, which makes a lot of sense and I am totally cool with it since I quite like the Dark-type. And like I said, fighting against at literal steel wall when so few of your attacks will do more than half the regular damage is really frustrating. I’d rather see defensive play being mixed up by adding more moves to the pool rather than more resistances to certains types.
‘Since you’re able to run right from the get-go in these games, there’s a new item you’ll be able to get that allows you to go even faster. As an enthusiastic roller-blader in my childhood, I am certain to identify strongly with this new element. I don’t know if I’ll ever not use them. Screw the bicycle, skates are where it’s at in this game.
Things that I am not so hyped for in the new generation:
This seems to me a pointless addition to make to the list of types. Everyone initially got super excited because ever since the introduction of the Dark-type fans have been speculating the creation of a corresponding “Light-type” and Fairy seems to be filling that niche. However, what got a lot of appetites wet for Fairy-type was the fact that it’s super-effective against Dragon-type and additionally is not affected by Dragon-type moves. Dragon-type Pokémon have long been revered for being powerful and having few weaknesses. If I had to spend hours in tall grass trying to catch a super-rare Pokémon and even more hours raising it to level 50 to get its fully evolved form, I think I deserve a very powerful Pokémon, thank-you very much.
This seems like a much needed move to depower the Dragon-type generally but when you take a step back it’s a pretty moot move. Despite having few weaknesses Dragon-type also has few strengths. Offensively, their moves are only super-effective against themselves and aside from Fairy, Steel is the only type that they’re not neutral to. Defensively, they take double damage from Ice-type (and now Fairy-type), as well as themselves and half damage from Water, Fire, Grass and Electric, making them neutral to everything else. The biggest threat a Dragon-type Pokémon possesses is high stats so I don’t think this addition to the typing categories is really well worth the hype just yet. More so since aside from its battle properties we still don’t know about the growth rate or the average base stats of Fairy-type.
It’s a Psychic-type Pokémon that has a drastically different appearance based on whether it is male or female. It also has different move pools based on its gender with the female’s being more aggressive and the male’s being more supportive. It would have been less offensive to just make them two different Pokémon. Meowstic takes gender alienation in Pokémon to a new level of dumb, up from the different designs of various accessories depending on your character’s gender from Generation IV onwards. Here’s a clue: for each accessory there was actually only one design but they came in different colours. And of course you couldn’t just choose your colour; girls were automatically assigned pink and for boys, blue. I can deal with the theme of sexual dimorphism that Pokémon has been going for ever since they introduced breeding but segregating this Pokémon so far that each gender has different move sets based on their sex is taking that too far. Can’t people just accept that boys and girls can do everything the other can do?
So far Mega-evolution seems to be one of the coolest things this generation has to offer and I can understand that. The designs for many of the megas look really cool and it shakes up the game strategy a lot but I am just not hyped. Mainly because this whole temporary evolution schtick has been Digimon’s s domain since 1999. I was a fan of both of them as a child but Pokémon eventually stole my heart away completely with its unexplored lands of wonder, beauty and mystery over the digital world’s wondrously confusing topsy-turvy Wonderland-ish world. One of the major things that really separated the Pokémon from the Digimon was the fact that Pokémon evolved permanently and without much assistance from an external device** while Digimon did not. In my mind that is still one of the most important distinctions between them. Mega-evolution is cool but from my perspective it just seems like they’re starting to step on Digimon’s toes now. The reason why I like Pokémon is because it’s not Digimon and Digimon is great because it’s a viable alternative to Pokémon that is not another Pokémon thing (like Pokémon Conquest – totally viable alternative to the Pokémon main series but it’s still Pokémon).
That’s really just a gripe, though. It would be cool to instantly be able to boost all of your stats in a single move and even change type to get some strategic advantage. Then again, there may turn out to be more advantage in equipping some other sort of item over the mega-stone, like a berry (never underestimate those rare berries; Charti Berry lets me breathe a little easier in the face of Stealth Rock***) or even a focus band for the sake of getting in just one more hit, or maybe it’ll be more worth it to use a Mystic Water or other kind of item to raise the power of certain attacks, especially attacks that your Pokémon already gets a STAB from. See, I’m already questioning the usual plan of attack. An interesting way to shake up the battling but why did it have to wriggle into the Digimon niche?
All things considered, I love Pokémon and I can’t wait for the fateful day when I have fulfilled my promise and Pokémon X sits snugly in my 3DS and shines its glorious digital light upon my visage.
*‘Poodle-shape’ is a general term to describe the shapes that poodles are trimmed into and it’s a totally legitimate way to describe things. Totally.
**Just to be clear, I am aware of all of the Pokémon that need to be holding items or have items used on them in order to evolve but Mega-evolution takes the further step of the trainer needing to hold a special item that will consistently trigger Mega-evolution. You know, like how the DigiDestined kids needed to be holding Digivices to consistently trigger Digivolution.
*** Stealth Rock has ruined everything.
You know who’s super excited for the 12th of October? ME!!!
You know why I’m super excited for the 12th of October? Pokémon X and Y!!!
You know why I’m super sad? Because I have a Real Life responsibilities around the same time to contend with the time I would have been spending playing this brand new awesomeness.
In the meantime, there’s the newly released OVA
that I can use to procrastinate with reckless abandon, Pokémon: The Origin. It’s already been aired and subtitled and the first episode really sets the mood. You’ve probably already seen this clip of Charmander screaming continuously as Squirtle mercilessly unleashes Bite attack on it.
It’s absolutely distressing. With this clip it’s clear to see that Pokémon is going down some dark, dark roads. I haven’t seen Pokémon get this hardcore since the Pokémon Adventures manga. It’s terrifying, it’s disturbing, it’s violent, it’s horrific and I like it! Give me MOAR!!
Image: [thanks Serebii]