May 12, 2013
by Susan Mesler-Evans
What am I doing with my life?
Why can’t I do anything right?
Why isn’t life following the plan they made us do back in our junior year?
God, why did I think dying my hair bright pink was a good idea?
I guess I just wanted to stand out a bit more in a sea of brunettes. Even with the hair, no one on campus really pays attention to me. I look like a freakin’ anime character, not in a good way. I look like a second-rate MatsuriCon cosplayer.
I have thick-rimmed hipster glasses, and I’m not even being ironic. Without them, I literally can’t see my hand in front of my face.
In short, I look like a hipster and an anime character had a non-ironic, untalented, hopeless washout baby and instead of ironically fighting robots from Hell (or something like that), she spends most of her time in a lecture hall or curled up in her room with her sketchbook.
Mom was right, these piercings make me look unprofessional. No one’s gonna hire a girl with pink hair, hipster glasses, and a lip ring. More specifically, no one’s gonna hire a girl with pink hair, hipster glasses, a lip ring, and a modern art degree.
Why didn’t I pay more attention in science and geometry? I actually had some potential. All my teachers said so. I could’ve gotten really good grades and been accepted to Ivy League colleges and landed high-paying jobs and been set for life.
But, no. No, I said, no, I don’t want to conform. I don’t want to be a teacher or a banker or a scientist. I want to be an artist.
On top of everything else, I’m not even a very good artist.
I used to think I was good. Not great, maybe, but better than a lot of people.
Ever since I came to college, everything’s changed, including my perception of my own work. It’s like... back in high school, everything was so much simpler. Everyone had a thing, and being an artist was my thing. My friends would pay me to draw things for gifts, I would enter my pieces into the school fair, my art teacher absolutely loved me. I was confident in my abilities. I was happy.
Then, next thing I know, I’m in a modern art course, being told my art looks like, quote, “paper mache rolled in cat vomit and meat.”
Professor Fisher loves picking on me. It’s like, what I’m there for.
“Hannah,” he tells me, “you are the worst student I’ve had since freaking Brentall Tice.”
Only he doesn’t say “freaking.” He complains about this “freaking Brentall Tice” a lot, but no one can find any record of any student by that name. We’re not really sure if he even exists.
Today, I woke up, the Ohio spring sun shining through my dorm window. I don’t know, I guess I just couldn’t take hearing Professor Fisher make fun of me today. Normally, I just keep my head down and stay quiet, hoping he’ll just get it over with quickly, but today, I just couldn’t.
I didn’t go to his class today. I actually haven’t been to any of my classes today. This is the first time I’ve cut a class since middle school.
In college, nobody really cares, or so it seems. I’ve just been here, in Goodale Park, sitting on a park bench, waiting. I don’t know what I’m waiting for, really.
Maybe I’m waiting for inspiration to strike me like a lightning bolt would strike a tree. Maybe then I can finally get out of this artist’s block that’s been plaguing me ever since I first started Fisher’s class.
Maybe I’m waiting for someone to tell me I’m better than what I think I am, that there’s more to me than being a failed artist who’ll be stuck in a crappy job and an even crappier marriage ten years from now.
Or maybe I’m just waiting for something--anything--to happen, to show me that there’s more to life than being stuck in the same city for your entire life, with no hope or future.
There has to be more than this.
There has to be.
I’ve heard them say that beautiful art begins in beautiful places. Well, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never heard anyone say that and I’m not even sure who “them” refers to, but it kind of makes sense and I really would like to get out of this block. And, as much as I hate Columbus, Goodale Park is lovely.
It’s midday, so it’s very quiet, almost empty. Mostly middle-aged mothers and their children. No one my age.
I wonder what college students who aren’t having an existential crisis are doing today.
I stare at the small children, running around the playground. And dogs. The kids are laughing and smiling as if nothing could make them happier than just being here today. I wonder if any of them will grow up to be artists. Artists that create beautiful things and bring light to the world, life to their chosen medium. Artists that make people think and wonder about the world, look at things in ways they’d never thought of before.
Artists that can change the world with just a single book, a single painting, a single song. That’s what artists are for, right? Surely there must be a reason they were put on the planet. No. I mean, we. There must be a reason we were put on the planet. A reason I was.
I wonder if any of them will grow up to be like me; drifting through life, not really sure of where I belong or what I was meant to do. I wonder if they will be sure of their choices. I wonder if they will fulfill some great purpose, or if they will even have purpose at all.
I hope they find something they’re good at. I hope I do too.
I’ve been sitting here for four hours now. I still don’t feel like getting up and going to class. I don’t feel like doing much of anything. I haven’t eaten, apart from a Pop Tart I shoved down my throat on my way off campus. I’ve just been sitting here, watching other people going on with their own lives.
I hear loud, animate talking and laughter from another path. A group of teenagers walks down the concrete road.
What’re they doing here? It’s a Wednesday. What kind of a school takes a field trip on a Wednesday? More to the point, what kind of a school takes a field trip to Goodale Park?
They dash towards the playground. All except the short blonde girl. They leave her behind, dump their bags by the swingset, completely disregard a child and his mother already here.
They’re running all over the playground. It’s like they’re trying to take it over... Wait, what’re they--oh, God, no, no, you don’t put four people on a seesaw! God! What’s the matter with you?
They’re talking about some sort of school project. About stories they plan to write once they get back to their school.
I wish I could write. All I can do is draw, and I doubt I can even do that well.
“I’m writing mine about a jewel thief who resells the things she steals,” one says. “I think I’ll write mine about an art student looking for inspiration,” replies another.
Kid, you know nothing about looking for inspiration.
I feel something wet splash against my cheek. Oh, goody. Just when I thought this day couldn’t get any better. The rain gets heavier, making my shirt stick to my skin and my jeans go from neon to dark blue in color.
The teenagers clear out, presumably go back to their school and write the stories they’ve formed in their minds.
Me? I stay right where I am. On a park bench. Alone. In the rain.
I guess I don’t have any excuse to whine. It’s not anyone else’s fault I’m sitting here alone. I could get up and go back to campus anytime I wanted.
But I don’t.
There’s no reason to. No one talks to me, and I don’t talk to anyone.. The professors all hate me. I can’t even do the one thing I thought I was meant to do: be an artist.
I thought ever since I was a little girl that I was destined to draw and paint beautiful pieces and travel the world, inspiring people everywhere.
But now look at me. Lonely. Uninspired. Pink-haired. Disappointed.
Face it, Hannah, this sucks.
I guess I might as well get up off this bench. Jeeze, now there are puddles. There’s water in my shoes. The rain soaked me to the bone and I still won’t go back to campus.
I may not be a tortured, starving artist, exactly, but I have the “tortured” bit down. Or rather, I think I’m tortured. Or am I just self-centered? If I am, do I even care?
I wonder if “freaking Brentall Tice,” ever felt the way I do.
CHARACTER CORNER: LES MISERABLES
by Susan Mesler-Evans
As a new recurring feature in Spilling Ink, I will be doing a piece called Character Corner, where I take the main characters of a work, look at them, discuss what their deal is, and talk about what makes them great or what makes them suck. For my first Character Corner, I’m looking at the work Les Miserables, originally a novel by Victor Hugo. It got turned into a well-known musical of the same name, and this Christmas got released as a movie, and a pretty damn good one at that. This is a pretty big project to tackle for my first Character Corner, as Les Mis is about three hours long, spans over two decades, and, of course, has a crapton of characters. I’ll try not to spoil anything, but I will say this: most of the cast dies. If you like a character in this thing, there is a good chance that they’re doomed. Not surprising, considering it’s about a revolution that you’ve probably never heard of and ended with a lot of people dying.
So let’s begin.
Jean Valjean: When the story begins, our protagonist, Valjean, is a slave as punishment for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving nephew, then trying to escape from his sentence. He’s released, but is on parole for the rest of his life and can’t find work anywhere because of his criminal record. A bishop takes pity on him and gives him food and a place to stay for the night, which Valjean repays by... stealing the bishop’s silver. When he’s caught, instead of having him thrown back in jail, the bishop covers for Valjean and says he gave the silver to him as a gift. Touched by the gesture, Valjean, who was already a pretty good person in the first place, decides to stop stealing, gets his life completely together, and becomes one of the best, nicest people in France. And this all happens in the first ten or fifteen minutes. Really, you could make an entire musical based off of that alone, but instead it follows Valjean through the rest of his life, where he becomes mayor, helps a prostitute named Fantine and saves her child Cosette from certain death (more on those two later), and tries to hide his true identity (an ex-convict) from those around him, especially Inspector Javert (he’s up next). Valjean makes for a great main character. He’s undoubtedly a good guy, but he’s still complex. There’s a scene where an innocent man is mistaken for him and Valjean must make a choice: confess and go back to prison, or keep his mouth shut and live a peaceful life. This is where we see what Valjean is really made of.
Inspector Javert: The antagonist... sorta. He’s a bit of an asshole at times and doesn’t seem to accept the fact that people comes in shades of gray, not just black and white. For the most part, he just seems to be doing his job. Javert spends most of the show chasing Valjean and attempting to have him thrown back in prison for breaking his parole, despite the fact that Valjean really has changed, is doing all sorts of good, and, oh yeah, saves Javert’s ass multiple times. Javert likes to think he’s a force of good, but the truth is, he’s just as morally ambiguous as anyone else, and is really a force of the law. That’s not bad, but it’s not as clear-cut as Javert would like to think. As the story goes on, he begins to question whether or not an ex-convict can actually be a good person, and if he might be a bad one. Like Valjean, he’s a very complex character, and it’s very easy to feel sympathy for him at times. He’s good but not nice, and just wants to do his duty.
Fantine: My favorite character, and the female protagonist of the first half-hour or so of the show. Then she dies. (Like I said before, pretty much everyone dies in Les Mis, especially the characters you like.) But let’s look at her life. After an affair results in Fantine having a daughter, Cosette, Fantine leaves Cosette to stay with an innkeeper and his wife, in exchange for sending them some money each month. When it’s discovered that she’s an unwed mother, she is wrongly accused of being a prostitute and fired from her job at a factory. This, ironically enough, actually forces her to become a prostitute in order to provide for Cosette. She sends Cosette all that she possibly can until she finally dies of consumption, her dying wish being for Valjean to take Cosette from the innkeepers and raise her himself. The reason I love Fantine is because she is selfless, loving, brave, and just kind of awesome. She pretty much goes to hell and back in order to provide for her daughter, as most mothers would. Even after her spirit is pretty much completely crushed, she keeps on going because she knows Cosette needs her to keep going, and, in a way, that’s even braver than fighting in a battle or killing bad guys. Right when you think she’s about to give up completely, she picks herself back up and keeps doing what she has to do. Death is literally the only thing that can stop her from taking care of her daughter, and even then, she uses her last breath to make sure she’ll be taken care of. Awesome.
The Thenardiers: Don’t ask me what Fantine was thinking when she left Cosette with these two, but my guess is that she was really desperate. In Les Mis, most of the characters are good people who occasionally (or frequently) do morally questionable things. The Thenardiers are the exception to this rule. They are the only characters in the show that one could definitely lable as being bad, bad people. One could argue that they’re not totally bad, just desperate, but the way they treat Cosette does not make a great case for them. Which is probably why they get one of the most fun villain songs ever. Since they aren’t given first names, we’re just going to call them Thenardier and Madame Thenardier. Thenardier owns an inn, where he lives with his wife and children, though the only one we see a lot of is their daughter Eponine, who’ll we’ll be discussing in a minute. Not only do they scam and steal from their patrons quite frequently, but they treat Cosette as a slave, Madame Thenardier blatantly favors her own daughter, Thenardier abuses them, regardless of whether they’re his own children or not, and later, they both steal valuable items off of fresh corpses. Charming. They aren’t really main characters, but they do play an important role in contrasting Cosette’s life with them and her life with Valjean. They’re the scavengers of the world, valuing their own survival over justice, their own children, and everything else.
Cosette: The poster child of the film, the musical, the book, and every other adaptation, ever. She spends the first seven or so years of her life working endlessly for the Thenardiers, having only her escapist fantasies for comfort. Then, Cosette’s entire life does a complete turnaround when Valjean agrees to take her in, rescuing her from her life of misery and caring for her and loving her like his own child. In turn, she loves him and views him as her own father. They live happily for several years, until the revolution begins to heat up and Cosette gets caught in a love triangle with Marius and Eponine. You’d think that with all that happens to her, Cosette would be a pretty interesting character, but, well... No. No, she’s really not. She’s more of a plot device than anything, sort of there for the plot and other characters to mess around with. Other than loving Marius and being Valjean’s adopted daughter, there’s really not much to her. She’s innocent and pretty and nice, which is all well and good, but those qualities on their own make for a pretty boring character. I can still forgive her, though, because her relationship with Valjean is really cute, and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.
Marius: On the other hand, I can’t forgive Marius. He is quite easily the most boring character in the show, disregarding his amazing song towards the end, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. He’s a student and a member of the revolutionary group Friends of the ABC. He’s also Eponine’s childhood friend. Eponine clearly has the hots for him, but Marius doesn’t seem to reciprocate. Given how obviously Eponine tries to hit on him, I can’t decide if Marius is either a huge jerk for not just directly telling Eponine he’s not into her, or really, really dense. I’m going with the second one. After he meets Cosette (“meets” is a strong word--they gaze at each other from across the way for about three seconds), he immediately declares that she is his one true love, they have a duet, and then Marius goes to fight at the barricades when he believes he’ll never see her again. Other than that, there’s really not much to him. The political stuff he’s involved in is much more interesting than the whiny lovey dovey crap.
Eponine: Okay, technically one could say that Eponine isn’t much better than Cosette, since a huge chunk of her character revolves around her love for Marius. But there is a huge difference between Eponine and Cosette: Eponine does things for the man she loves. She acts as a go-between for Marius and Cosette. She fights at the barricades so she can die with him. Yes, she does rather selfish things so she can be with him, but in the end, she does decide she wants Marius to be happy, even if that means he has to be with Cosette. Does she do stupid things? Yes, but so do all teenage girls. Naturally, Eponine is immensely popular with that demographic. She’s become the symbol of teenagers who are unlucky in love everywhere.
Those are the main characters I’m covering in this Character Corner. Les Mis has a cast of thousands, so it’s impossible to cover them all. If you’d like to know more, go see the show or movie for yourself. It’s well worth three hours of your time.
FANFICTION TERMS GLOSSARY
by Susan Mesler-Evans
If your teenager just sent you a link to this article, it means they’re tired of having to explain all these terms to you repeatedly. Don’t worry, though. There’s nothing wrong with you. The internet comes up with bizarre new terms all the time (YOLO? Really?), and they can be hard to keep track of, especially in the world of fanfiction. So, this is a glossary to help set the record straight!
Now, the first thing I should clear up is what fanfiction is. Fanfiction, often shortened to fanfic, is basically what happens when a fan of a book, movie, comic or what-have-you writes stories that take place within that story’s universe. For instance, if you really like Harry Potter and you write a story about Luna Lovegood going off on magical adventures to find Nargles, you have just written a fanfiction. Almost every teenager on the internet nowadays has written or read fanfic, whether they admit it or not. You can find fanfic on fanfiction.net, Tumblr, any message board, or through a quick Google search. Unfortunately, the standards for fanfic writing quality tend to be very, very low, but if you dig (and dig and dig and dig), you can find some really great stuff.
There are two sections to this glossary: one for fanfic in general, and one dedicated to shipping. Yes, shipping is so serious in the fanfic world, I had to give it it’s own section. What’s shipping,’ you may ask? Well... That’s why we have a glossary.
Canon: Events that actually happened within the story, like the Battle of Hogwarts happening in Harry Potter. If a fic complies with canon, it means it could’ve actually happened within the original story, like if you wrote a story about Fred and George stealing the Marauder's Map.
AU: Short for “alternate universe.” This is for crap that did not happen in the original story. If you write an AU fic, it means you’re writing a story that doesn’t comply with canon. This can range from minor changes (“What if Ron hadn’t run off?”), to major changes (“What if Hermione and Draco fell in love?”) to what-the-hell-are-you-smoking? (“What if Harry Potter took place during World War II and everyone was a Muggle?”).
Drabble: Really short fics. Usually around 100-300 words.
Oneshot: A fic that’s only one chapter long.
Lemon: Porn. Lots and lots of porn. ...Well, you wanted to know.
Smut: More porn.
Crackfic: Where the fic gets so bizarre, it goes from “what-the-hell-are-you-smoking?” to “what-the-hell-are-you-smoking-and-where-can-I-get-some?” Here’s a sample plot: Harry, Ron, and Hermione go to Dumbledore’s office, but then Dumbledore turns into a giant serpent that wants to rule the world. So Ron grabs a sword made of fire and justice and more fire to fight for truth and justice and stuff, and wins the battle. Harry dies of shame and Rita Skeeter falls in love with Ron. Then the school explodes and everyone has sex for some reason.
Trollfic: A fanfiction that’s so awful and so stupid, it’s a parody of awful and stupid fanfiction. These often include OOC-ness (explained below), Mary Sues (explained in my first column), bad spelling, and blatant wish fulfillment, common in bad fanfic, but on purpose in trollfic.
OOC: Out of character. Often used by bad fanfic writers who need a character to become nicer or meaner to justify a plot to happen. Like, for instance, making Draco really, really nice so Hermione will leave Ron for him.
Fandom: The group of people that like a certain show, movie, book, person, or whatever. Various fandoms have various nicknames, including Potterheads (Harry Potter fans), Sherlockians (Sherlock fans), Plague Rats (Emilie Autumn fans), Tributes (Hunger Games fans), and Bronies (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fans).
Hatedom: The opposite of fandom. A group of people that really, really hate a certain franchise. Some franchises have small but vocal hatedoms (like Harry Potter), while with others, the only reason anyone ever mentions it online is to talk about how much they hate it (like Barney).
Fandumb: A crazy, entitled, obsessive, or otherwise unlikable fandom. Every fandom has a few of these people, who often get berated for making a bad name for everyone else.
Hatedumb: Basically the same thing as a hatedom, except they don’t like the franchise for stupid reasons. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has a pretty big one, due to the fact that some people refuse to watch it solely on the ground that it’s aimed at elementary school aged girls. Alternatively, a hatedumb may have perfectly good reasons for not liking the franchise, such as just not liking the characters, but bashing the fandom for liking it.
Darkfic: Taking a lighthearted franchise and writing a seriously dark fanfic about it, be it depressing or scary or just plain gross. The most famous example is probably Cupcakes, a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction. If you want to read it, go ahead... if you like mass murder and cannibalism.
Fluff: Shameless cuteness, often humor or romance or some combination thereof.
Asdfghjkl: Actually more of an internet term in general. It basically means “This is so amazing/sexy/great/funny/perfect that I can’t even find a word to describe it.”
Fangirl: A female fandom member, usually a teenager. They tend to gush over cute actors and their favorite characters, write a lot of fanfiction, and frequent Tumblr. The verb “to fangirl” is to be filled with so much emotion for something you really love, you just can’t handle it outside of rambling on and on about how this thing is so amazing oh my God!
Squee: The noise fangirls make while they’re fangirling. Usually sounds like a very high-pitched “Eeeeeeeeeeeee!!!”
Ship: Okay, so the phrase “ship” comes from the word relationship. Ship can be a noun or a verb. If it’s a noun, it’s a pair of characters that you think should be in a relationship together. (“Ron and Hermione are the best ship!”) If it’s a verb, then you ship two characters, i.e., you want them to be in a relationship (“I ship Harry and Draco so hard!”).
Shipping wars: On the internet, there are several different ships. And many of these ships conflict with each other. Most people on the internet are fairly cool about this and don’t really care if you ship something that conflicts with their ship. But if you ever come across a fandumb that has a ship that’s different than yours... RUN. RUN, AND DON’T COMMENT ON IT. If you do, a shipping war will inevitably start. These can go on for years if you’re not careful. Popular tactics include: sending hate-mail online about how dumb the other party’s ship is; writing nasty reviews on fanfics supporting that ship; vandalizing blogs and forums dedicated to that ship, and just being immature douches about it in general.
Ship name: If a ship gets really popular (and even if it doesn’t), the ship will be given a unique name instantly recognizable by the fandom. This is usually achieved by combining the two characters’ names. For instance, Ron + Hermione = Romione. However, this doesn’t always work out. For instance: Katniss + Peeta = either Peeniss or Katpee. (No one ever seems to think of combining their last names and using Everlark, which is a real shame.) So, the fandom can pick a name that doesn’t combine the characters’ names, but still works anyway, such as Toast. (The Girl on Fire + The Boy With the Bread.)
OTP: One True Pairing. Your favorite ship. The ship you will always ship, no matter what. Technically, you’re only supposed to have one, hence the name, but most people have several. The general rule seems to be “one OTP per fandom,” but none of us really follow that one, either.
OT3: One True Threesome. A very handy way of avoiding shipping wars (though it doesn’t always work). Why should Hermione have to pick between Harry and Ron when they could all just have a sexy three way?
Crossover ship: When you ship two characters who aren’t even in the same franchise. Fairly simple. From what I can tell, Harry Potter/Edward Cullen from Twilight is... disturbingly popular.
NoTP: You don’t just hate this ship. You despise it. It will never work in your mind, ever, and just thinking about fanart of it makes you want to vomit.
Crackship: No, seriously, what are you smoking?
And so endeth the linguistics lesson for today. I hope you enjoyed it, and maybe even learned something. Next up: who knows?
BOOK REVIEW: HOW TO GET SUSPENDED AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE
by Susan Mesler-Evans
How to Get Suspended and Influence People is a 2007 young adult novel by Adam Selzer. It focuses on Leon Noside Harris (yes, that is his middle name) and the rest of the “gifted pool,” a group of middle schoolers with above average intelligence. Leon and his classmates are given the assignment to create an educational video to show to the younger students. Much to Leon’s surprise, one of the available topics is sex ed. Being a teenage boy, he chooses it.
With the help of his friend Anna, Leon decides to craft his film in the style of La Dolce Vita, and becomes interested in the avant-garde art style. He also decides to be straightforward about subjects his school’s sex ed videos never bring up, such as masturbation. Anna (and some of his other friends from the gifted pool) helps Leon make his film (which he chooses to call La Dolce Pubert--the t is silent, roll the r, that’s very important) as weird and as informative as possible, and everything seems to be coming together until Mrs. Smollett, a “holier than thou” teacher who runs the gifted pool (“I’m not sure who came up with the name ‘gifted pool,’” says Leon. “It’s the type of name only a teacher at the end of his or her rope could have devised.”), sees the film for herself.
This book was really fun to read. Leon, who narrates the story, is the essence of a snarkiness. He is a very relatable character and has several funny and/or clever lines, both in the dialog and the narration. I also enjoyed his friend Anna, who is just as smart and socially rejected as Leon, but still manages to be cool in her own odd way. Rounding out the cast are Brian (a pyromaniac inventor), Dustin (a perverted poet), Edie (a communist), and Jenny (an overly studious girl who actually doesn’t appear much in this book--she has a bigger role in the sequel). Overall, it’s an enjoyable cast of characters who are all very believable. If you were ever part of a gifted class in school, you knew these people. Reading the book, I was strongly reminded of the gifted class I was (thankfully briefly) part of in middle school. Everything, from the useless projects to the busywork we were given (apparently, as Leon puts it, “gifted kids should be using their gifts on crossword puzzles”) was accurately portrayed. It also brings up several good points about censorship, ones you wouldn’t expect to find in a young adult novel. The plot is entertaining and easy to follow, and has a satisfying resolution.
Final grade: 9/10
50 BOOKS IN 100 SENTENCES
by Susan Mesler-Evans
When recommending a book to someone, I have a bad habit. Even if a book could be summed up in two sentences (or less), I tend to go on for about five minutes. I am told it’s usually best to avoid rambling. In this column, I am going to practice my summarizing skills by summing up fifty books I’ve read in two sentences each.
- Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway: A girl’s ex-boyfriend writes a song about her. The song becomes a hit.
- The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker: A princess kisses a frog. She turns into a frog, too.
- Dragon’s Breath by E.D. Baker: Said princess must break a curse. She turns back into a frog at the worst possible moments.
- Once Upon a Curse by E.D. Baker: Said princess has another curse to break. She and her boyfriend time travel.
- No Place for Magic by E.D. Baker: Now the princess and her boyfriend have to rescue his kid brother. Relationship problems ensue.
- The Salamander Spell by E.D. Baker: The main character’s aunt gets a prequel to herself. The aunt comes into her magical powers.
- The Dragon Princess by E.D. Baker: A whiny princess, her wannabe-knight-cousin and her half-vampire-best-friend go on a quest. Also, they somehow end up bringing a two-headed troll along.
- How to Get Suspended and Influence People by Adam Selzer: Kid makes a sex-ed film. Scandal ensues.
- Extraordinary* by Adam Sezler: Girl’s childhood crush returns to town. Vampires are out to get them.
- The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker: Sleeping Beauty falls victim to the spinning wheel. Her little sister has to rescue her.
- Fairy Wings by E.D. Baker: Girl discovers she is half-fairy. Adventure, romance, and Shakespeare references ensue.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: Boy discovers he’s a wizard. The Dark Lord attempts to create the elixir of life.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling: A house elf tries to stop main character from going back to wizard school. Giant monster thingy terrorizes the students.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling: Criminal breaks out of wizard prison. Shenanigans ensue.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling: Three schools get together for a wizarding tournament. Main character accidentally gets involved.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling: The main villain has returned. Only a few people believe it.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: Main character develops man-crush on mysterious former student. Then all the really bad shit happens.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: Correction, THIS is where all the really bad shit happens. Death and heartbroken fans ensue.
- Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: A demon that sucks at his job teams up with an angel. They stop the apocalypse.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney: A kid reluctantly starts a journal. His first year of middle school sucks.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney: The main character and his brother are at war. Also, there’s a really crappy talent show.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney: The main character’s father wants to send him to military school. The main character attempts to become less wimpy.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney: The main character wants to spend his summer indoors. His mom disagrees.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney: The main character and his best friend part ways. Things quickly go to hell.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney: The holiday season is extremely unpleasant. The main character may or may not be arrested.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: Girl ends up in a magical land of danger. She must find her way home.
- Wicked by Gregory Maguire: The witch’s side of the story. Nothing like the musical.
- Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell: Somewhat bratty but still likable heroine starts at a new private school. She doesn’t fit in.
- Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume: A girl questions whether she needs a religion or not. Also, she hits puberty.
- The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot: Nerdy and awkward teen discovers she’s a princess. She ain’t pleased.
- How to be Popular by Meg Cabot: Girl has been a social outcast since sixth grade. She attempts to rectify this.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Basically the same plot as Wizard of Oz, but with more cards and chess. May or may not have been written by a pedophile.
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: Nasty old man is visited by ghosts to change his ways. Few have actually read it, but everyone knows the story.
- Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison: Bratty but funny teenage girl falls for an older boy. Too bad he’s dating her arch-enemy.
- On the Bright Side, I am Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God by Louise Rennison: Spoiler alert: said bratty but funny teenage girl got the boy. And then promptly loses him.
- One for the Money by Janet Evanovich: Young woman becomes a bounty hunter for lack of better options. She sucks at it.
- Stingray Shuffle by Tim Dorsey: Lovable (and completely insane) serial killer and his stoner sidekick end up on a train. Hilarity ensues.
- When Elves Attack by Tim Dorsey: Said serial killer and stoner invite their wrongly-accused-on-the-run-sort-of-girlfriends-but-not-really over for Christmas. They also accidentally terrorize a nice family across the street.
- Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden: Two teenage girls meet and fall in love. They must keep the relationship a secret.
- Dramacon: Volume 1 by Svetlana Chmakova: Girl who writes a manga meets a guy who helps his sister sell costumes at her first anime convention. Apparently, opposites attract.
- Dramacon: Volume 2 by Svetlana Chmakova: Girl goes to the con again, this time with her best friend/artist in tow. The guy has a girlfriend now.
- Dramacon: Volume 3 by Svetlana Chmakova: Best friend finally breaks away from her controlling mother. Guy and girl try to smooth their relationship out.
- Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov: Pedophile kidnaps a young girl. It doesn’t end well for anyone.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry: The world our main character lives in is perfect... or is it? Spoiler alert: nope.
- The Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History by Adam Selzer: American history with a sarcastic edge. Taught me more than most history classes.
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Takes place in a world where books are outlawed. This may be about to change (or not).
- Anthem by Ayn Rand: Takes place in another dystopian society. Everyone must speak using “we” in the place of “I.”
- Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey: Two kids jokingly hypnotize their principal to think he’s a superhero they created. Shit soon gets real.
- Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: Two idiots fall in love at first sight. Suicide ensues.
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Hamlet may or may not be crazy (his girlfriend is crazy; no doubt about that). Then everyone dies.
So, there you have it! Fifty books (well, forty five books, two plays, and three mangas, but it still counts, by Golly) summed up in two sentences. I feel extremely sorry for the poor souls who have to write summaries for the backs of books. This was hard!
THE FIVE ANTI-HEROES
by Susan Mesler-Evans
There are several different types of heroes. The most well-known (and probably the most common) is the flawed, but still morally good and nice guy who we all want to see win in the end. These are characters like Luke Skywalker or Fireheart. This hero has his problems and screws up, but he’s an overall good person. But some writers (in fact, most writers nowadays) make the morality in their stories more gray than black and white. Villains become more sympathetic and, in turn, heroes become more flawed. While they’re still on the side of good, they may not be all that nice. Thus, the hero becomes the anti-hero.
Common traits of the anti-hero include sleeping around, sarcasm, daddy issues, and a “GawD, I don’t care” attitude towards pretty much everything. According to my sources (TV Tropes and Google), there are five basic types of anti-heroes. Characters can fit into more than one category and can evolve, changing from one type to another.
This type of anti-hero is almost a “true hero.” She is on the side of good, at least tries do the right thing most of the time. For the most part, Type One heroes are moral people. However, there’s always something holding them back: a fatal flaw, a dark and troubled past, even just a plain old fashioned grudge. This type of anti-hero is the most likely to get over it (whatever her it may be) and become a full-fledged hero by the end of the story. This usually comes after learning a lesson or overcoming her past. Like most anti-heroes, Type Ones are prone to making sarcastic remarks, often out of exasperation or affection rather than outright meanness.
Examples: Percy Jackson from Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Amir from The Kite Runner, Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit
Type Two is a lot like Type One in several ways. A Type Two anti-hero is on the side of good, and often tries to do the right thing, but he doesn’t really have the heroic attitude. Type Twos tend to be dragged along for the adventure, and usually have a very sour and cynical outlook on life and the world in general. These anti-heroes can be called Mr. Vice Guy--they’re good, heroic people for the most part, but they’ve got issues; such as extreme selfishness, being overly cynical, and having a bad attitude in general. Like Type Ones, Type Twos have a pretty good chance of overcoming their problems and becoming classic heroes.
Examples: Jayfeather from Warrior Cats, Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files, James Potter from Harry Potter
This is the type of character who often utters the phrase, “I did what I had to do.” Nice is different than good, and these anti-heroes show that. A Type Three will gladly kill someone for the greater good, even if the proposed victim doesn’t really deserve it. The Type Three does what it takes to get the job done, even if the job requires her to do some morally questionable things. Getting in the way of a Type Three doing her job isn’t a good idea. It’ll only end in tears (and severe burns, fractured bones, missing limbs, mortal peril, etc.). However, if another character does something needlessly cruel that does not help get the job done, you can expect the Type Three to call them out on it. (Usually.)
Examples: Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl from Artemis Fowl (though he can be Type Two on a good day), Hamlet from Hamlet
The Type Four only looks heroic next to whoever he is fighting. He might exist in a dystopia or have an unusually crappy life that caused him to become jaded and cynical. He’ll probably be a bit bloodthirsty and thoroughly enjoy fighting bad guys and watching them suffer. However, he’ll still be on the side of good and is ultimately sympathetic, someone you want to root for in the end. Unlike the previous three anti-heroes, the Type Four will probably not become a “true hero.” If they do evolve, if they see the error of their ways and try to become better people, they might become Type Three anti-heroes. However, if their good qualities give out to their nastier ones, they’ll fall to Type Five.
Examples: Sirius Black from Harry Potter, Severus Snape from Harry Potter, Gale Hawthorne from The Hunger Games
If you read about this kind of anti-hero, you’ll probably find yourself thinking, “Wait... I’m supposed to be rooting for this guy?” Although they’re technically on the side of good, these people are not nice at all, and will probably do some things that aren’t very befitting of a hero (i.e.-- cold-blooded murder for no reason). Sometimes, the only thing that makes A Type Five a “hero” is the fact that they’re the main character, which makes them a villain protagonist. If it’s a story where two villains are going at it, the Type Five anti-hero will probably be the (slightly) less evil of the two. This type of anti-hero would shoot your puppy just to watch you cry, but if someone shot your daughter, they’d go after them for you.
Examples: Atremis Fowl from Artemis Fowl (on a really bad day), Belkar Bitterleaf from The Order of the Stick, Garfield from Garfield
So there you have it. Heroes don’t have to be pure white. Both heroes and villains come in various shades of gray. They are a lot like real people, often more like real people than the “classic hero.”
May 21, 2O12
Spilling Ink: VAMPIRE LIT, A HISTORY
by Susan Mesler-Evans
Ah, vampires. Unholy. Terrifying. Disgusting. Horrifying. Creepy. Abominations.
Or, do I mean...?
Ah, vampires. Sexy. Amazing. Intriguing. Mysterious. Sympathetic. Perfect.
Whichever version you prefer, vampires have taken the literary world by storm. Dracula, Edward, Carmilla, Lestat, Garrid... so many famous literary vamps are out there! (Well, okay, Garrid is a vampire from a tragically underrated children’s book series, but I could write a whole column just about that, so I’ll refrain from talking too much about him, at least for now.) What I find interesting is how much the portrayal of vampires can vary. Not only do I find it interesting, there’s also enough information out there for me to write an entire column about it! So let’s get started.
(And since I won’t be able to avoid talking about it, I’ll just say up front: I’ll try to keep the Twilight-bashing to a minimum, but I make no promises.)
First of all, for the three of you who don’t know what a vampire is, I’ll clear it up. A vampire is a mythological (depending on your POV) creature that feeds on the blood of others, preferably humans. Legends of vampires go all the way back to Ancient Greece, which I think is at least partially why it’s so hard to find a truly unique vampire story these days. Vampires come in many, many, many forms, but for the most part, all versions agree:
- Vampires drink blood.
- Vampires have abilities that humans do not (super speed, levitation, mind control, etc.).
- Vampires have weaknesses that humans do not (crosses, garlic, sunlight, etc.).
- Vampires feed on blood by biting their victim.
- Vampires can turn humans into vampires (methods tend to vary).
When most people hear the word “vampire,” they picture a tall, dark, and handsome man with a sweeping cape or a really hot girl with pale skin and fangs, possibly with a bit of blood dripping. This is the classic vampire. They’re rich, good-looking, elegant, and maybe even approachable, but there’s something about them...
However, earlier depictions of vampires weren’t like this. In the earlier vampire stories, vampires are portrayed as ugly, or even horrifying, and irredeemably evil. But later works, such as Dracula and The Vampyre, would show the creatures in a more elegant way. Lord Ruthven of The Vampyre is a nobleman, and Dracula is also a nobleman. And later works, such as Night World and... ugh... Twilight, would portray vampires as being extremely desirable--more so than the average human, anyway.
I’m not exactly sure why the portrayal of vampires has changed so much, but I’m willing to bet it’s at least in part because authors got bored and wanted to change things up a bit and also because we now know that horrible people can still be attractive. But way back when, it was hard for artists and authors to make any money if they portrayed evil as being attractive.
The physical appearance of vampires isn’t the only thing that has changed throughout history. The way they’re portrayed morally has changed quite a bit, too. In the earliest origins of vampire lit, vampires were portrayed almost exclusively as evil monsters trying to feed on the blood of innocent humans. Vampire hunters were shown as heroes, a force of good. Vampires were often used to symbolize darkness and evil (I’ll get to symbolism later).
However, this portrayal wasn’t here to stay. Authors began to give the vampire a sympathetic edge. After all, living forever and watching all your human friends grow old and die, having to kill to survive, and constantly having all the neighborhood vampire hunters slipping garlic into your food can’t exactly be fun. In Dracula, the titular vampire is portrayed sympathetically, even if he is the villain. Other authors would do the same thing, and sympathetic vampires would become immensely popular, especially after Anne Rice’s vampire novels started coming out.
In today’s vampire lit, such as Twilight and Extraordinary*, vampires are often shown as heroes that you feel extremely sorry for. Hell, in Extraordinary*, Fred (the vampire) all but says that becoming a vampire basically ruined his life (or post-life. Whatever). Some vampires are shown as heroes, with no qualms about what they are, such as Garrid from Tales of the Frog Princess, the aforementioned tragically underrated children’s series.
Garrid is a hero, through and through, and he never angsts over the fact that he has to drink blood (incidentally, he’s only ever seen drinking the blood of animals). If anything, he’s distressed over the fact that his daughter isn’t on board with the whole drinking blood thing (but then again, we hear about this from the daughter, so it could just be her imagination... wait. Sorry, I know I promised not to talk about this guy too much).
And now on to... (cue fanfare)... SYMBOLISM!
Like I said before, vampires were often used to symbolize evil and sin. Vampires were demons of Satan that plagued the innocent Christians and stole their virgins. Or something like that. And being symbolic of sin goes hand in hand with being symbolic of lust. Vampires are often shown as being attractive, and even hypnotizing, but still extremely dangerous. To give into them is to give into sin and evil, which never ends well. A young virgin (usually a woman) sleeping with a vampire tended to end in her death and/or transformation into a vampire. Vampire stories such as Carmilla portrayed vampires as being tempting, but not something you should get yourself mixed up in.
Then some authors took the idea of vampires being attractive and ran with it. And boom, we have a new genre. Supernatural romance. No, I am not joking. It is an actual section in Barnes and Noble in the young adult section. I checked. The most famous example of supernatural romance is, say it with me now, Twilight. This caused romances involving mythological creatures (not just vampires) to take off and become ridiculously popular, which isn’t always a bad thing, as some of these supernatural romances, such as Shiver and I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It (it makes sense in context) are pretty good.
If it gets teens reading, I guess I’m all for it. Some people say that vampires are cliche and boring now, and avoid vampire lit like the plague, but I say we should just roll with it. It’s not like we’ll be able to stop the craze, so why not just have fun and enjoy it? I myself love reading books with vampires in them.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll write one myself.
May 3, 2012
Spilling Ink: FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW
by Susan Mesler-Evans
No, this article isn’t about Star Wars.
...hey! Come back! Don’t click on the little red “x!” This is a really good article, I swe--
Okay, for my remaining audience (all four of you), this article is about perspectives used in writing. There are four points of view (POVs) used in writing: first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. In this article, I’ll explain what each one is, give examples of books that use each perspective, describe the pros and cons of each, and give a sample of writing in that perspective. It’ll be the exact same scene, told in a different point of view.
Definition: The story is being told by a character within the story.
Books that use this: Annie on my Mind, How to Get Suspended and Influence People, The Frog Princess
Pros: You can see what the character is thinking, which is nice, especially if they do some nasty things in the story. It’s always nice to know why a character does what they do. First person perspective also allows you to hear the character’s thoughts--what they want to say. This helps the reader get to know and care about the character more. It’s also good for keeping the reader in suspense--the reader only knows what the character does.
Cons: If the reader doesn’t like the character who’s telling the story, you are screwed. One can only stand an unlikable narrator for so long.
I tossed my bookbag onto my bedroom floor, feeling fed up with the world. I had gotten in trouble at school that day for reading a book, of all things. As my friend Zoe would say later, “The high school world makes no sense.” All in all, it had been a long day and I was glad it was over. I opened up my laptop and typed in the URL: teentalk.com. I entered my username (which is unfortunately CATlynGoesMeow, since I created the username when I was in fifth grade and I thought I was clever), and smiled when I logged in and saw that my friend Pam, along with Zoe (who had, apparently, found a moment without her mother breathing down her neck), was already there.
Definition: This is sort of hard to explain, since it’s so rare. Essentially, if a book is told in second person POV, it seems to talk directly to the reader and be about the reader. It has phrases like “You walk up the path” as opposed to “Mark walked up the path” or “I walked up the path.”
Books that use this: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, A Man, Company
Pros: This is an unusual POV to choose, so if a reader (or a publisher) sees you writing in second person, they’ll think, “Oh, this is unique, and that’s good! I should read this!”
Cons: This is an unusual POV to choose, so some readers could get confused or annoyed when they read it, and give up on the book early on.
You storm upstairs after grabbing an apple from the kitchen. You’re really not supposed to have food up in your room, but your parents aren’t home yet. What Mom doesn’t know can’t hurt her. Or, more to the point, what Mom doesn’t know can’t hurt you. After depositing your bag in its proper place (the floor), you open your laptop, hoping your friends are online. School wasn’t so great. You need to vent. You smile when you see your friends Zoe and Pam are logged in and chatting. They should make an adequate sounding board.
THIRD PERSON LIMITED
Definition: The story is told from someone outside the story (a narrator), but they focus on one particular character and their thoughts and what they’re up to. You can hear what’s going on inside that character’s head, but you can’t hear the thoughts of, say, their best friend.
Books that use this: Harry Potter, The Old Man and the Sea, The Dragon Princess
Pros: Focusing on one character alone helps the reader get to know that character better than the others, making them care about that character more. It’s also easier than having to keep track of the thoughts of a million other characters.
Cons: Sometimes, the reader will be asking, “What’s Bob thinking about this?” or “What’s Alice doing? Is she still trying to get those fish to drink the hot sauce?”
Caitlyn dropped her bag by the foot of her bed. It had been a long, rainy, frustrating, stupid, all-around-crappy day. She had narrowly avoided missing the bus, had a surprise quiz in French, and had gotten in trouble at lunch for no good reason. High schoolers should be reading more shocking material, anyway, she thought bitterly. Keeps us from ending up as stupid as the rest of the drones in this lousy town. Still irritated over the day’s events, she logged onto her favorite chatroom--teentalk.com--and was pleased to see that her friends Pam and Zoe were there.
THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT
Definition: Like third person limited, only it follows several characters and listens to several characters’ thoughts.
Books that use this: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Middlemarch, Unwind
Pros: You can cover a lot this way. You can show what your main character, what her mom, what her best friend, and what her boyfriend are thinking. It’s also cool to see different sides of a story--you can see why the villain does what she does.
Cons: If you follow too many characters, it can be hard to keep their thoughts straight.
Caitlyn dropped her bag by the foot of her bed. It had been a long, rainy, frustrating, stupid, all-around-crappy day. Joey and Anna, on the other hand, were both in pretty good moods as they headed home (by bike and by bus, respectively). Aside from having gym last period and having to get home later, it had been a good day. Watching a nerd beat up a bully was a great improvement to any day. Even if Bear Baird was probably going to kill Noah once Noah’s suspension was over. I wonder how he’ll do it, Joey thought to herself. I wonder if they’ll ever find Noah’s body! Somehow, her inner voice sounded a bit too gleeful when thinking about that. Zoe and Pam were already in the group’s favored chatroom, waiting for the others. They hadn’t had great days themselves, what with having a stupid substitute teacher and all. Caitlyn logged in.
So there you have it. The four most basic POVs. Use this knowledge wisely.
Oh, and by the way, all the examples were inspired by my mom’s play TeenTalk.com, which my drama club and I are performing. TeenTalk.com can be purchased from Diva Press by emailing email@example.com or visiting Diva Press Publications.
April 27, 2012
LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL WRITING UNIT
by Susan Mesler-EvansIn the online literature community, writing based offenses are considered especially heinous. Online, the dedicated flamers who point out these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Only Sane People on the Internet. These are th
There are some writing mistakes I see online that really get under my skin. In a perfect world, these mistakes would be illegal and the perpetrators would be brought to justice immediately. Painfully. But there’s this thing called a “don’t go killing anyone” law, so writing a column about what I would do if I if I were in charge of this sort of thing will have to do.
LAWS OF SUSIE
- Any person who fails to understand that a direct quote ends in a comma will be shot.
- Any person who fails to capitalize when capitalization is called for will be shot.
- Any person who fails to use the correct form of “to/too/two” will be shot.
- Any person who fails to use the correct for of “there/they’re/their” will be impaled upon a ruler and then shot.
- Any person who uses a foreign language where a foreign language should not be used will be smacked upside the head and then shot.
- If said foreign language is used incorrectly, the offender will be forced to apologize to each and every one of the language’s native speakers personally. They will then be shot.
- Any person who has a Mary Sue protagonist without a trace of irony shall be run over by a bulldozer. Their corpse shall be shot.
- Any person who starts NaNoWriMo and quits for no legitimate reason (“my mother died” is a legit reason. “I can’t do it” is not.) will be yelled at by NaNo winners everywhere until they give in and keep writing until they finally hit 50k. Once they do so, they will be shot.
- Any fanfiction writer who makes the canon characters act horribly out of character for no legitimate reason (“mind control” is a legit reason. “True love changes you” is not..) shall be beaten over the head with a Harry Potter book and then shot.
- Any person who gives their characters new powers and abilities for no legitimate reason (“training and hard work” is a legit reason. “The plot demands it” is not.) shall be shot, shot again, and shot one more time just to be sure they’re really dead.
- Any person who spends more than a couple of sentences describing what their character is wearing will be strangled with a designer sweater. The sweater’s bloodstained remains will be shot.
- Any person who has their character use an old-fashioned weapon (like, say, a sword) in a modern or futuristic setting for no legitimate reason (“the sword was the only thing on hand” is a legit reason. “Swords are soooo cool oh my God” is not.) will be run over by a stampede of medieval knights who have been transported through time. If they survive, they’ll just be shot.
- Any person who introduces an interesting subplot and doesn’t give it the conclusion it deserves will be pitied by Mr. T and then shot.
- Any person who introduces a romantic subplot when a romantic subplot is not necessary or desired will be forced to watch the Twilight movies on an infinite loop, but will also be given a gun with one bullet in it. Oh, and the movie screen and DVD player are protected by bulletproof glass.
- Any person who has their villain make a half-assed, badly written, illogical return to the good side will be locked in a room while wearing a shirt that says “STAR WARS PREQUELS ROCK” with a bunch of Star Wars fanboys who have loaded guns.
- Any person who creates their own language for their story must have a glossary for themselves so they can remain consistent in what each word means. If they fail to comply, they will be given a red shirt and transported to the Star Trek universe. Should they become a major character, like Scotty, and thus relatively safe from being killed off, they’ll be brought home and shot.
- Any person who fails to create a real, sympathetic, flawed-but-still-likable protagonist shall be forced to accept all calls from telemarketers for the rest of their lives. They will be shot once they start contemplating suicide.
- Any person who fails to create a real, believable, enjoyable villain shall be forced to wear body glitter and shout “TWILIGHT RULES!” at a Harry Potter convention. If they refuse to do this, they will be shot.
- Any person who makes typos in their stories shall be taunted by the French and then shot.
- Any person who refuses to listen to constructive criticism will be locked in a room and forced to listen to crappy pop songs on an infinite loop for all eternity. The only books are trashy romance novels. The only TV show is G3 My Little Pony. The only window is locked, with a good view of people listening to classic Beatles, reading epic fantasy novels, and watching the Big Bang Theory and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
April 17, 2012
STOCK CHARACTERS: THE SEQUEL
by Susan Mesler-Evans
A couple weeks back, I did a column on stock characters—certain character types that seem to pop up in media everywhere. Today, I’m going to talk a little more about stock characters, but instead of the kind that show up in young adult literature, I’m going to talk about the kinds that show up in mystery novels and films noir. Film noir (which doesn’t necessarily have to be a film) is a sub-type of mystery. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll give it my best shot. A film noir is a crime drama, usually written in the 40s and 50s, but there are plenty of more recent film noirs. One way to spot film noir is to see if the work includes these themes:
- Raining a lot. As in “oh my God, do the people in this city even know what a dry day looks like” a lot.
- Anti-heroes. (I’ll get to them in a bit.)
- Personal detectives and private eyes.
- Everybody smokes, because it makes them look more badass.
- A generally dark, cynical, and pessimistic outlook.
- It doesn’t need to have a sad or bittersweet ending, but that helps, too.
- Femme fatales. (Again, I’ll get to them in a bit.)
- The Mafia or something similar.
- Extremely sarcastic narration.
If the story includes four or more of the above, there’s a good chance it’s film noir.
Now that we have that cleared up, on with the article!
- The Anti-Hero
He’s on the side of good, but he’s not a good guy. Not that he’s a bad person, per se. He’s just not the nicest guy in the world. He’ll do some pretty shady things for the greater good or to solve a crime. He has a cynical and disillusioned view of the world around him.
The Anti-Hero is the mascot of the concept “nice is different than good,” to quote Mr. Sondheim. He usually takes the form of a private eye, hired by someone to investigate a crime, usually a murder or a kidnapping. A common element is to have the Anti-Hero be doing the investigation for the money, not because it’s the right thing to do. If the book is told from his POV, expect the narration to be totally sarcastic (and completely hilarious).
- The Femme Fatale
The Private Investigator is questioning a new suspect. She’s a beautiful, flirty young woman whose loyalties are in the dark. She could be innocent, but then again, she seems to have a few secrets. Did she do it? Do we care? Why is she wearing a mink coat in the rain? Where’d that jazz music come from?
There are two basic requirements for a Femme Fatale: she has to be morally ambiguous, and she has to be really hot. She usually plays one of two roles—the person who hired the Anti-Hero or one of the suspects. Either way, there’s a very real possibility that she committed the crime or is working for whoever did. She can be hired by the villain to seduce information out of the heroes and she’s often far too good at it.
One more thing: If the Femme Fatale is under 18 or so, she’s called a Fille Fatale (like Nina Callis from the Clique).
- The Mobster
The villain. He’s involved in a gang, sometimes the Mafia, but not always. Expect him to be a ruthless killer and sometimes a borderline sociopath. He’s often the most charming and charismatic character, since villains are so interesting and in order to keep people fooled he has to appear normal. If the Femme Fatale is a villain, expect her to be hired by him, though sometimes, they’re rivals. That’s always interesting. If the villain is a Mobster, the story will probably end with a shootout.
- Jaded Hero
Often overlaps with Anti-Hero, but I had to give the Jaded Hero their own section. The Jaded Hero knows that the world is a dark, cruel place. He knows that his job is likely to get him killed. He knows that he can’t trust anyone, but he continues to do his job anyway. Why? Because it’s for the best.
Expect this character to be extremely sarcastic, even in the face of death itself. What separates the Jaded Hero most from the Anti-Hero is that the Jaded Hero is almost always a good person, while the Anti-Hero sort of skirts to border of being a not-so-good guy.
- The Foil
This guy is the opposite of the protagonist, especially if the protagonist is an Anti-Hero. The Foil is probably lively, heroic guy who is hopeful in a thoroughly cynical setting, though it can work the other way around. He often takes the form of a reporter or the private eye’s sidekick. He’s usually the idealist; he believes that most people are good and that the world is actually a pretty cool place. He’s often more than happy to investigate, especially if he’s a reporter. You know the reporter who goes to the suspect’s door for the scoop only to have said door slammed in his face? There’s a good chance that reporter was the Foil.
And so ends the sequel to Stock Characters. There will probably be more in the future, so for now, over and out.
April 6, 2012
ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT MANGA (BUT WERE TOO AFRAID TO ASK)
By Susan Mesler-Evans
Many teenagers today are hooked on manga and anime. Many parents of teenagers have no idea what the devil manga and anime are, why their teens are so obsessed, and why they should care. This is where I, your friendly neighborhood teenager, come in.
Manga is the Japanese equivalent of the western graphic novel and anime is the Japanese equivalent of animation. Some fangirls and fanboys will get rabid if you call them that, but that’s what they are. Many animes started off as mangas, but many didn’t. I’m not sure why, but many people prefer manga over American comic books and graphic novels. Maybe it’s the distinctive art style, which even most non-fans can recognize from a mile away. Maybe it’s because there’s just something cool about reading things from a foreign country—probably in the same way it is assumed more intelligent people appreciate foreign films.
A lot of people these days say that manga and comic books are the reason teens don’t read good old-fashioned books these days, but I have to disagree. I think the average teen might actually read a little more than the average adult! For starters, reading a manga takes less time than it does to read a picture-less book, so we can get through more of them in a day. Second of all, if the pictures in a book are what keeps the reader interested its common sense that they’ll read a lot of them. If you factor in blogs, websites, magazines, and regular old books, teens are actually reading more than ever before.
Now allow me to get you up-to-date on basic manga and anime terminology. This is important—if you don’t know these terms, your manga-loving teen will have to keep on explaining these to you. So pay attention during this bit. Your teenager will thank you for it.
Bishie: (Pronounced “bish-ee.”) Short for “bishōnen.” A bishie character is essentially a pretty boy. They tend to be tall, slender, kinda girlie-looking, and for some reason, surrounded by sparkles. Surprisingly, they’re straight just as much as they’re gay, contrary to the stereotype.
Hentai: (Pronounced “hen-tie.”) Anime and manga porn. Well, you wanted to know. Now, let me make one thing clear: hentai makes up a small percentage of manga and anime. All hentai is manga and anime, but not all anime and manga is hentai. Repeat these words to yourself and you shall prosper.
Moe: (Pronounced “mo-eh.”) This term is pretty loosely defined, but it’s usually used as an adjective to describe an adorable character. A moe character is often clumsy, sweet, innocent, and oblivious to how beautiful she is.
Otaku: (Pronounced “oh-tock-oo.”) Basically, the same thing as a nerd, but specifically for manga and anime. Whether being an otaku is positive or negative depends on who you ask. Otakus are often stereotyped as being creepy, obsessive shut-ins, but many anime and manga fans embrace the term, a la Konata from Lucky Star.
Seme: (Pronounced “seh-mey.”) This term is usually used to describe one half of a male/male relationship. The seme is the controlling, dominate half.
Tsundere: (Pronounced “t-soon-der-ey.”) A tsundere is a character that seems to have two personalities—one hostile and cold (tsun), another sweet and friendly (dere). Originally, the term was used to describe a character that changed over time from tsun to dere, but now it’s more often used to describe a character who switches back and forth between the two.
Uke: (Pronounced “ooh-key.”) The other half of a male/male relationship; the easygoing, innocent half.
Yaoi: (Pronounced “yow-ee.”) Male/Male stories and art. Sometimes hentai, but not always. Actually, if the internet is to be believed (which it usually isn’t), yaoi is made up almost entirely of hentai. Yaoi fans tend to be teenage girls.
Yuri: (Pronounced “yer-ee.”) Female/Female stories and art. Again, sometimes hentai, but not always. Yuri fans are usually male (what with the whole “girl on girl is hot” aspect), but there are several female yuri fans out there (such as myself). Yuri is Japanese for “lily,” so lilies are a huge theme in yuri stories.
So hopefully now you feel a little less confused about what your teen is talking about when they obsess over manga and anime. And try reading some manga yourself. If you’re like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
March 29. 2O12
Five Stock Characters You’ll Find in Pretty Much Any Book For Teens
by Susan Mesler-Evans
A stock character is a character that seems to show up everywhere. Shakespeare used them; Meg Cabot uses them; J.K. Rowling uses them. Pretty much everyone uses them. Some of these stock characters show up more often than others. So here are the top five stock characters that almost every teen novel, in no particular order.
- The Mean Girl
Oh come on. You know this character. She’s the pretty popular girl with a loyal clique, a boyfriend she has wrapped around her finger, and perfect clothes and hair. Her natural habitat is a high school, or, more rarely, a middle school. The Mean Girl is catty, spoiled, nasty, and all-in-all, a bitch. She’s every girl who teased you in school. In a slice-of-life story, she will often be the main antagonist. If there’s another, even bigger problem for our protagonist to deal with, usually outside of the school world (such as a murderer or an evil wizard), the Mean Girl will often be just a minor annoyance.
I think the reason this stock character is used so much is because real mean girls are so easy to find. Everyone has had to deal with this girl. If you haven’t, there’s a good chance that you were this girl. Seeing the protagonist tormented by the Mean Girl for no good reason (often out of sheer boredom) makes her easy to relate to. The problem is it’s hard to write an interesting Mean Girl. Though many Mean Girls in real life are nasty for no reason at all, c, at least according to critics. Saying that she’s been bullied in the past will often cause former bullying victims to pull out the bullshit card. One plot device that many authors are using these days is to have the Mean Girl be booted out of her own clique. This knocks her down a few pegs.
- The Weirdo Club
The Weirdo Club is a group of two or more kids or teens who always seem to be hanging around one another, mainly because they don’t fit in anywhere else. They’re often brought together by a literal club—the protagonist and his best friends may all be part of the school play, for instance. The Weirdo Club is almost certainly the bottom of the high school food chain—the Mean Girl and her clique will make fun of them if the hero is a girl; the captain of the football team and his cronies will stuff them into lockers if the hero is a guy.
There are a few key differences between a clique and the Weirdo Club. For one, a clique is exclusive, whether it’s exclusive to jocks, popular girls, smart kids, or the like. The Weirdo Club will let just about anyone in, especially if the newcomer has nowhere else to go. A clique seems to be made up of clones. In the Weirdo Club, you’ll find just about every type of person. Last but not least, a clique almost always has a defined leader, who is often very controlling. While the Weirdo Club may have an unofficial leader of sorts, they likely won’t make decisions by themselves or kick people out.
This brings us to…
- The Clique
Behind just about any Mean Girl, there’s a group of equally catty, equally pretty, equally popular girls, ready to obey her every command. In most cases, the Clique isn’t really developed; they’re just sort of there whenever the Mean Girl is. If they are developed, their personality types will often be as follows.
The Queen Bee: Usually the Mean Girl. She’s the leader of the Clique. The Queen Bee decides who’s out and who’s in, and can boot someone out at the drop of a hat. She tends to be the prettiest, richest, and most popular of the Clique.
The Sidekick: The Queen Bee’s best friend and second-in-command. She’ll usually be seen with the Queen Bee delivering insults. Even if the rest of the Clique isn’t well-developed, she’ll often have a more distinct personality—i.e., you can tell her apart from the other members. A common characteristic of the Sidekick is for her to be constantly plotting a way to overthrow the Queen Bee and become the leader herself. As a result, the Sidekick is often more interesting.
The Ditz: So pretty. So rich. And so, so stupid. The Ditz is… Well, the name is sort of self-explanatory, isn’t it? She’ll often be the nicest member of the Clique, if only because she’s too stupid to know how to be mean or to realize how awful her “friends” are.
The Newcomer: Often, a new student will be “adopted” by the Clique, and sucked into their evil ways. The Newcomer is often confused the by rules of the Clique, and wonders why the members constantly back-stab each other. Sometimes the Newcomer will be booted out by the end of the story, but happier for it, but sometimes she’ll become the new Queen Bee.
- Smart ‘n’ Snarky
In almost any story set in middle school or high school, there is at least one exceptionally smart kid. And in almost any story set in middle school or high school, there is at least one smartass. Many authors decide to combine the two, creating a Smart ‘n’ Snarky character. There are several logical reasons for a child prodigy to be sarcastic and deadpan. It could be because they’re smart enough to understand more dry humor at a young age, because being excluded due to their intelligence made them bitter and jaded, or because they read Oscar Wilde in middle school. A Smart ‘n’ Snarky character has a tendency to subtly insult the Clique, but they (especially not the Ditz) don’t usually notice.
- The Everyteen
And now we have the standard protagonist of a YA novel. The Everyteen is, for lack of a better word, average. They’re not particularly smart or good-looking or talented (except in maybe one area). They make mistakes, but are still good kids. The Everyteen is a bit of a loser, but they usually come out on top in the end. Teens and preteens will relate to them, because the character is so much like the unremarkable, ordinary, flawed reader.
March 22, 2O12
The Mary Sues or The Reason I Leave So Many Scathing Reviews Online
by Susan Mesler-Evans
|Susan Mesler-Evans Taking Aim|
I, like most teenagers of modern-day America, grew up online. And I, like roughly 45 percent of teenagers of modern-day America, am a nerd. I’m also a nerd that likes to write. The logical conclusion of this equation is that I, of course, write fanfiction.
O + N(Wr) = FF
For those of you who don’t know what I’m rambling on about, here’s a short explanation. Fanfiction (fanfic, for short) is when fans write stories that take place within another story’s universe. For example, if you really like Harry Potter, you can write a story including Harry Potter’s characters, settings, etc.
I love fanfic. I have over 70 stories on http://www.fanfiction.net/ in over 20 different fandoms. (For clarification, a fandom is the web site for a group of fans of a book, movie, artist, or the like. For example, the Harry Potter fandom is made up of people who like Harry Potter.) Unfortunately, with fanfiction, comes the dreaded Sue, the most dreaded of them being the Mary Sue. There are different types of Sue (I’ll get to them all in a bit). You can expect to find them in most amateur writing, fanfiction and original fiction alike.
A Mary Sue is a flawless character. She’ll be smart. She’ll be resourceful. She’ll be pretty but oh-so-modest. Think Bella Swan. (My first column and I’ve already taken a cheap shot at Twilight! Whee!)
According to my sources (TV Tropes and Wikipedia), the term, Sue, first cropped up in a Star Trek fanfiction making fun of characters that are common in that fandom. They’re almost always female, but there are exceptions. (Male Sues are called Gary Stus or Marty Stus, depending on who you ask.)
Why do writers create Sues? There are as many reasons as there are authors. Sometimes it might be because they’re just starting out and don’t know any better. In these cases, I’m a bit more forgiving. After all, some of my early writing is horrible, especially the main characters. Most authors’ skills improve and their Sues disappear.
If the author is a teenage girl, the Sue character is almost certainly an agent of wish fulfillment. The author’s Sue is someone the author can never be, but desperately wants to. There is also the possibility the author is just a crappy author. Teenage girls do tend to be crappy writers and I can say that because I am a teenage girl…
Now that we have the basic definition cleared up, onto the sub-types.
Mary Sue Classic
Also called Purity Sue. This is the character most people think of when they hear the words “Mary Sue.” She’ll be pretty, but she’ll constantly deny it. After all, in order to be perfect, you can’t be stuck up. Mary Sue Classic will be sweet and innocent (to a maddening degree), and friendly to the point where everyone (except for the villains, of course) loves her. Expect her to have a lot of guys (and occasionally girls) falling over themselves to be with her. Sometimes she’ll convince the villain to give up his evil ways. If a Mary Sue dies, she almost always finds some way to worm her way back into the story. Oh, and one more thing, if she’s not a princess already, expect her to become one.
You know how a lot of characters have a dark and troubled past they like to brood about (usually in the form of an internal monologue)? Of course you do. It’s been used a million times. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A dark past can give a nice sense of back story to your hero or a compelling motivation for your villain. The Tragic Sue will often whine and complain about her horrific back story, or, if she’s not doing that, being completely sunny despite it. She (or the narrator) will bring up her past at every opportunity. Everyone will feel so sorry for her. Common elements in her past are rape, dead parents, rape, abuse, rape, kidnapping, rape, mind control, rape, and rape.
As in, “why am I supposed to like you?” Sue. As you may have guessed from the name, Bitch Sue is a complete ass to everyone, even her “friends” and the guys who chase after her. Sarcastic and even flat-out nasty characters are fun, but playing them up as a perfect person is not. If a character yells at a guy for telling her she looks nice, I will not like her. Next Sue.
Remember the teenage girls I mentioned earlier? This is the type of Sue they tend to write. These Sues are often called Author Avatars, but there is a distinct difference. AAs are not always a bad thing, so long as you flesh them out and don’t make them exactly you. As my mom once told me (my mom who happens to be an author and my editor when I am writing this column), “no author can write any story but her own.” Self-Insert Sues tend to be the author, but idealized. If the author is a short, skinny brunette with no boobs, average intelligence, and no special talents named Alexis, it’s no surprise that her Sue will be a tall, curvy, ultra-talented, super-smart D-cup named Alexandra.
There are dozens of Sues out there. I’m only covering the basics. Look hard enough and you’ll find other Sues, or combinations of the ones above.
So go. Go to fanfiction and fictionpress.net! Find the Mary Sues! And flame them! FLAME THEM, my pretties!