Monthly Archives: September 2015

Stuck in a Delusional Rut

AverageEverygirl011

Yes, I added little fangs and animal ears to my heroes. Yes, I possibly have too much time on my hands. (Lol, no I don’t. I’m just persnickety about minuscule details and end up using my precious time poorly.)

TVTropes.org lists 13 different types of Triangle relationships. The possibilities, when those relationships get used in tandem with additional characters and sub-triangles, are seemingly endless.

Why, then—seriously, why—is there such a rampant literary run on the basic “Character A must choose between Character B and Character C” scenario? Relationships are not items on a menu.

“I’ll have a steak, medium rare.”
“And what type of Love Interest would you like to go with that?”
“Ooh, I think something rich and robust, with a hint of humor. What do you recommend?”
“We have an excellent selection of Alpha Males.”
“Yes, I’ll take one of those. Surprise me.”

Characters B and C are never ordinary. They’re, like, the state-championship-winning quarterback vs. the hottest guy in school. Never someone from marching band, or that one guy who’s nice but has absolutely no ambition in life. They’re always valedictorian-team-captain-youngest-CEO-rock-star heroes. Because that’s realistic, two of the most desired and eligible men fawning over the same Average Everygirl character, as though no other available women exist in that particular universe. (Maybe it’s an ego thing…? The two studs are rivals in everything else, so why not vie for the same girl?)

The whole supernatural angle jacks this trope up all the more, if that’s even possible. Look, Average Everygirl! You’re loved by a fairy prince and a warlock! In a world where both are rare! Because of course!

I love a good fantasy. You know what’s not good fantasy? When two non-standard (“elite”) characters hone in on the same target love interest, whose sole appeal is that he or she is the protagonist of the story.

Let me repeat: whose sole appeal is that he or she is the protagonist of the story.

Houston, we have a problem. This is not storytelling. This is pre-teen girlish dreaming about what if I’m secretly beautiful and ALL THE BOYS can see my inner awesomeness that I don’t even know I have and then they’re all so into me and I have to decide which one is my soulmate for reals and forever??!?!?!?!!

*high-pitched squeeing into a faux-fur body pillow for next 3 hours*

And then, somehow, the pre-teen daydream of hidden awesomeness translates to a Character A who’s outwardly bland or off-putting, with a side of tortured inner monologue to spice things up.

Call me cynical (I do), but I have a hard enough time connecting with most protagonists already. When I encounter a churlish, emotionally unavailable harridan with a buzz cut, and she’s somehow having to fend off two Hot Guy Love Interests™ with a stick, I’m done. Reality has stopped. Verisimilitude has not engaged. My interest is aborted and if I stick around, it’s for mocking purposes only.

The focal point of the triangle has to have some genuine romantic appeal. Moodiness is not romantic (unless you’re Lord Byron). Bitterness is not romantic. Sarcastic wit is not romantic. Most people have egos that are soft and spongy and easily wounded, and trying to have a relationship with someone who is perpetually sour leads to hurt feelings and estrangement, not, “Oh, but I know your true inner goodness and love you for it.”

And yes, fiction is fantasy, but this romantic pattern of “Underwhelming Character somehow attracts not one, but two extraordinary lovers” is beyond fantasy. It’s delusion.

Delusion.

Wake up. Craft a better plot. The end.

(Not really. There’s still one more comic in this set.)

Choices, Choices, Choices

AverageEverygirl010

I’m not going to say that the Love Triangle is a hallmark of sloppy storytelling, per se, but lately it’s been the Hamburger Helper of plot devices. Don’t have time for full plot development? Try the Love Triangle! Just add one more love interest, and voila! Instant romantic tension!

It’s the fallback used to get a romantic subplot moving, an unsubtle impetus to drive the hero and heroine closer together. The reader can typically tell which side of the triangle should prevail, which eliminates any true tension, and if the author dares go another direction, every non-hipster reader feels cheated. So, it’s either predictable or “artsy.”

But rather than harp on how underwhelming this trope has become, I’m going to focus on my favorite examples of the Love Triangle instead. Surprise!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Plot: Fairies and humans converge in the forest on a midsummer’s night, with much mayhem as a result.

Love Triangle: Demetrius loves Hermia who loves Lysander, with Helena out in the cold; then Lysander and Demetrius both love Helena, who thinks they’re making fun of her, while Hermia is left abandoned and alone. I love that under the fairy-influence each heroine gets a sample of how the other feels, Helena annoyed by unwanted suitors while Hermia is left to solitude.  With four players, this is probably more like a Love Rhombus than a Love Triangle, but there’s only ever love between three of them at the most, so I’m counting it.

Shakespeare is particularly good at the Love Triangle, and he does it without having a fickle character angsting over which dreamboat to choose. When his love triangle motif makes an appearance, it seems more a mechanism of comic relief rather than romantic tension. See, for example, the Viola/Orsino/Olivia entanglement from Twelfth Night. (Also a delightful love triangle, but I like Midsummer Night just a shade more. At least when it’s staged well.)

Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale by Rumiko Takahashi

Plot: A modern girl goes 500 years back in time to medieval Japan, where she instantly ruins a lot of things and has to go around putting the pieces back together (hahaha, literally).

Love Triangle: Inuyasha, Kagome, and Kagome’s dead-but-resurrected past incarnation, Kikyo. Yeah. The heroine’s love-rival is a zombified version of her former self. The hero’s struggle between the two shows just how committed he was to that earlier incarnation, which is really sweet, considering what a rough character he is. This was the first manga series I read, mostly through transcripts because the English translation was so far behind the Japanese releases. I give it points for ingenuity in the love-triangle department, as I’d never encountered this sort of variation before.

Love triangles are a manga-plot staple. For a well-done standard “A must choose B or C” scenario, where both B and C are viable choices, see Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket.

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

Plot: A farm boy escorts his noble crush back to her homeland, where she is promptly kidnapped by a witch.

Love Triangle: Taran loves Eilonwy, who is engaged to Rhun. Rhun is far too innocent and lovable for anyone to hate (though Taran resents him, and then resents himself for resenting someone so harmless). Eilonwy, meanwhile, remains oblivious that she’s the focal point of this triangle, as there’s no question in her mind how things are going to turn out.

I always loved that Eilonwy knew her own mind. I wanted to be her. That is all.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Plot: Cursed by a witch, a young-turned-old woman takes up housekeeping in a moving castle owned by a philandering wizard and powered by a fire demon.

Love Triangle: Sophie fights her growing feelings for Howl, who shamelessly flirts with every woman he encounters. There’s also the whole Michael loves Lettie-Martha issue, as well as Lettie + patchwork Suleman/Justin. It’s not so much a Love Triangle as a Love Scribble-all-over-the-page, and the whole book is entirely delightful.

Skip Beat! by Yoshiki Nakamura

Plot: Spurned by her childhood crush after sacrificing her future to enable his, a young woman joins the entertainment industry to exact her revenge.

Love Hate Triangle: Kyoko loathes Sho and despises Ren. Sho holds Kyoko in contempt, while Ren dismisses her for her vengeful ambitions. Sho hates Ren for being successful. Ren is indifferent to Sho, because he’s beneath notice. As far as I’m concerned, this is the Anti-Love Triangle. All three characters are at odds with one another, and then they grow and the plot twists and turns, and my insides are tied up in knots every time a new chapter is released.

I have laughed and cried over this series. I adore it. But then, it’s the tale of a self-hating Average Everygirl whose only path to success and happiness lies in learning to love herself first of all. It’s beautiful and brilliant and hilarious.

(And Kyoko’s finally getting somewhere, thank the stars.)

So, not all love triangles are bad. Have a favorite? Leave it in the comments!

To Blush or Not To Blush

AverageEverygirl009

This comic closes the Hot Guy series, though we certainly haven’t seen the last of him. As I’ve already ranted said my piece regarding this particular trope, I’m taking my commentary here in a different direction instead.

Contrary to popular perception, it’s okay to blush.

I am pale-skinned, of the pasty, burns-but-doesn’t-tan variety. This means that, in addition to having to avoid the sun like a vampire, I get to exhibit any emotional discomfort in full, vibrant display. At the slightest embarrassment, or confusion, or self-consciousness, my whole face turns pinky-red.

It clashes with my hair. I hate it.

But it’s a natural physical reaction, and being embarrassed about it only compounds the problem. I fought it for decades. Sometime in the last couple of years, I finally decided, “Meh. There’s nothing I can do, so I might as well just breathe and let it take its course.”

And that philosophy has served me well ever since.

As it turns out, blushing is connected to our fight-or-flight reaction and is 100% uncontrollable… unless you want to have a few little nerves in your spine snipped to end the problem, that is. It’s called an endothoracic sympathectomy. (You can read more about it and the science of blushing HERE.) Surgery’s not so much my thing, but I can understand why others might lean that direction. Modern culture reveres a calm and stoic demeanor. Showing emotion indicates weakness, and blushing is the ultimate emotional cue. You can fake a smile. A blush, not so much.

And that, perhaps, is the very reason we should cherish this particular bodily quirk. Our instincts warn and preserve us. They indicate when a situation is off-kilter. If I’m blushing, it means something in my immediate environment is out of alignment with my sense of normal. If someone else is blushing, it means the same for them.

It’s a brilliant social cue, in other words.

Characters who blush reveal something not just about themselves, but about the world around them: its rules, its restrictions, its social structure. Tempted as I am to make my characters cool and always in control, I’d be forfeiting a valuable communication tool in the process.

So let ’em blush, I say. I mean, I certainly don’t create whole worlds so my characters can be comfortable.

A Girl Thrown Off Her Game

AverageEverygirl008

This is one of those scenarios I can smell from a mile away: the smart, put-together heroine taken off-guard by her potential love interest. Awkward hijinks ensue. It often occurs at a crucial moment of her education or career, and it often involves some form of personal humiliation.

“Love is more important than your career!” this scenario screams.

And while yes, it is (I’m not so far gone in my cynicism to contend otherwise), “love” usually isn’t in question at this point of the story. There’s only the jittery potential for love, but the heroine’s over-the-top reaction makes it seem like she’s already chosen baby names and squirreled away a down payment for a minivan. And, depending on the heroine, maybe she has. But is the reader supposed to admire that? Because as her wits fall to pieces, I’m usually left screaming at the book, “Have some dignity, woman!”

(This particular scenario is also one of the reasons I’m banned from watching chick-flicks. I find no joy in it, and it crops up far too often.)

The Hot Guy plays a metaphorical glass ceiling to the heroine’s progress, but that’s okay because he’s more important than anything else she could be doing. He is there to reveal the true meaning of her life (Romance!), and to achieve this elusive love narrative, the heroine must walk a path that requires her to beclown herself.

After that killjoy diatribe, I’m a little reluctant to make the following confession: I am a closet romantic. I like stories that require two people to sacrifice for one another, and personal ambitions make the perfect offering for that sacrificial altar. Why does it always seem so one-sided, though? The Hot Guy, perched up on his pedestal, sits pristine while the Average Everygirl reassesses her life and reorders her priorities to make that relationship her center. It’s almost like he’s already at the destination, and she has to scramble through a dozen hoops to get there. Or, he’s the god she’s sacrificing to. Yikes.

And I know I’m over-generalizing. (These are tropes, after all. Over-generalization is part of the game.) It’s not the metaphorical glass ceiling that I’m so against, or even the re-prioritization of her life.

Frankly, it’s that this particular trope is stale. Stale, stale, stale, like old dry bread left out on a clothesline in a desert world without any birds. Stale like potato chip crumbs found at the bottom of a thrift store couch. Stale like the close-kept air in a 4,000-year-old sealed Egyptian sarcophagus.

And, given that this type of scenario is typically introduced to get a laugh, stale is the last thing you want. So don’t do it. Fight the urge. Resist the siren call of the “Hot Guy throws off the heroine’s game at a crucial moment” cliché.

The world will be a better place for it. And so will your story.

A Trope to Set a Girl’s Teeth on Edge

AverageEverygirl007

Why?

Why, why, WHY?

Why is this trope so pervasive, especially in chick-lit? Do we delight in watching fictional women get reduced to babbling incoherence in the presence of attractive men? Is this a reflection of real life? Do women really lose their self-control in similar situations? Do other women enjoy observing it? Is it schadenfreude?

SO MANY QUESTIONS!

I just about lose it every time I run into this Hot Guy scenario. The heroine starts out as smart, witty, cool, together, and then in walks Mr. Perfect and she’s a mess. Take a deep breath, girlfriend. Momentary self-consciousness I can handle, but the endless gambit of physical missteps and brain-to-mouth misfires is just embarrassing.

I know, I know. “But the drama, Kate! Where would the drama be?”

Speaking of drama, my favorite Shakespearean play was the one where that hot guy showed up and the girl started rambling and falling all over herself. What was it called again? Oh, yeah. Much Ado About This Doesn’t Happen in Shakespeare. You want drama? Match your characters’ wit to a solid plot.

Ahem.

Probably my biggest issue with this trope is that it perpetuates the narrative that pretty people are better than everyone else. This is especially true when the Hot Guy gets paired with the Girl with Low Self-Esteem. Why does such a heroine become all tongue-tied and clumsy? Because she’s usually not pretty (at least in the predictable pre-makeover stage she’s not), and because his interest in her gives her value.

Except that it doesn’t because the whole narrative is rubbish and we need to chuck it into the trash bin.

On the one hand, we have female protagonists wallowing in self-pity (lamenting plain appearances, or how all they want is for someone to love them, or so forth) and on the other, we have aesthetically ideal male love interests quizzically intrigued by said wallowing females. I will not claim to understand the mind of the common Hot Guy. Maybe he’s like a bird, colorful himself but attracted to a drab little mate. Maybe my skepticism for this plot line draws too much from my own experiences. (Seriously, it bears no resemblance to any form of Real Life that I’ve ever encountered.) Maybe I’m just being fussy.

Okay, we all know I’m being fussy. That’s what I do.

For me, it all boils down to sloppy story-telling. The bumbling heroine is much easier to produce than a Beatrice or a Rosalind. It’s far more compelling to put the guy up on a pedestal like a trophy to be won, so that the reader feels that thrill of triumph when the conquest occurs. Even though it’s the guy doing the conquesting. Because the Girl with Low Self-Esteem is an object to be acted upon, so of course the guy doing the acting should be hot. The object is worth more that way.

(Cue violent retching here.)

And please don’t get me wrong. I do love a handsome hero. But handsome is as handsome does, and no description of his chiseled jawline is going to remedy a character who simply strolls smirking into every scene and ultimately gets exactly what he wants. (And oh, the smirking! When has smirking ever been attractive?) The Hot Guy is typically the total package: looks, brains, wit. If he sweats, he has a “manly musk” instead of body reek. If he’s disheveled or scarred, it’s somehow dashing. He’s not foul-tempered; he’s “brooding” or “aloof” (Translation: “better than you, so allowed to act as he pleases, even when such behavior would be socially unacceptable in others”).

There’s a psychology behind all of it—there must be—but I’ll be darned if I understand it.

Or, well, I do. Our society values pretty people. We all want to be one, and we all want to be loved by one.

At least, that’s what the Hot Guy would like us to believe.

And he’s hot, so he would know, right?

Obsession Ad Absurdum

AverageEverygirl006

I’ll admit it. I went through obsessive periods of reading when I was a teenager. I had my Montgomery phase, my Christie phase, my Austen phase, my Heyer phase, etc. But they all overlapped one another, and any period where I focused primarily on one author only lasted a couple months at most.

I also never decorated my room with literary paraphernalia. But then, I wasn’t much for decorating anyway.

(Aside: I did have an obsession with Jessica Rabbit when I was nine or ten. She was a redhead but not crazy, and she was beautiful and sultry and always in control, and she had a good heart. So I plastered my bedroom door with pictures of her that I either traced or drew, and my mom bit a knuckle and said under her breath, “My daughter’s gonna be a stripper when she grows up!” and my dad reassured her, “It’s just a phase. Leave her be and let it run its course.” And he was right. Six months later, the pictures came down and life returned to normal. /aside)

I enjoy characters with mild obsessions or fixations. I think there’s something very human about them. When the fixation is taken ad absurdum, though, my connection to the character frays and splits. There’s a difference between a character who likes to read and a character obsessed with reading, for example, Proust, or a character so obsessed with reading that they never appear in a scene without their nose in a book. Each of these character types can serve a narrative purpose, but the author should strike a balance between the strength or type of obsession and how or how much the reader is meant to connect to that character.

And, of course, the “obsession” shouldn’t be mentioned once as a character trait and then never come up again. In that case, it becomes a superfluous detail that might indicate shoddy character development, and nothing more.

This strip concludes the “Best Friend” set of comics. Special should make an appearance later, if I can manage it. Totally will show up again in a couple of weeks. Hooray!

(PS — Does my writing a comic strip make me a comic-stripper? My mother will be so proud!)

The Quirks of Writing Side Characters

AverageEverygirl005

The quirky, boy-crazy best friend makes an appearance! Only to be immediately squelched by reality!

I’ll admit, I had a boy-crazy friend once. She had a crush on N’Sync. Or the Backstreet Boys. Or… Menudo…? There may have been a specific boy-band member that she preferred, but I was never able to tell any of them apart, and she obviously wasn’t fanatical enough to make me learn. (I am, to this day, terrible at keeping up with trends in pop music, and I never understood the salivating hordes that followed those trends back in the day. I understand them now even less, but that’s because I’m wallowing in crotchety spinsterhood, or something.)

The boy-crazy best friend trope is realistic, to some extent, because giddy, giggly teen-aged girls have existed since the dawn of time. My issue with this trope in literature is that it gets magnified x 1000 of anything you find in nature. The delusional, boy-crazy character is often so deep into her delusions that the border has blurred and she can’t help but wander back and forth across it. And thus, she becomes a walking punchline.

Not necessarily a bad thing, but easily overdone and dangerously trite.

The last panel of this comic is, of course, a reference to the Bechdel test. I’ve never honestly performed this assessment for my own work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of my novels failed. And I’m okay with that. My goal is to create female characters who are smart, emotionally strong, and maybe a little ambiguous in their intentions. (Hahaha, I loves me some ambiguity.) If their conversations with one another happen to include mentions of male characters, it’s not because I framed their existence upon men. It’s because the male characters also figure into the plot. (Surprise!)

Excuses, excuses, I know.

As I thought on my requirements for window characters, though, I realized that I do put them through a sort of test: basically, if they couldn’t stand as the protagonist of their own novel, of roughly the same genre or feel, they’re not worth their salt and probably need rethinking or better development. I apply this to other novels beyond my own as well.

I’d love to read the events of Pride & Prejudice from Jane’s point of view, for example. She has her own story line happening in the background, as real as any of Lizzie’s trials. Contrast her with Harriet from Emma: boy-crazy, focused on getting married, and possibly wouldn’t hold up as the protagonist of anything longer than a short story. I don’t hate Harriet, but I never really felt bad for her when Emma broke the news about Mr. Knightly. It was more like, “Pull it together, you dumb girl. He’s, what? The third guy you’ve fawned over in the span of a few months?” (Harriet is too easily persuadable, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on her. I still wouldn’t want to read a book with her as the protagonist, though.)

And, of course, there are different levels of importance among the side characters. I think, above all, my primary inclinations for these relationships is this: birds of a feather flock together. If the main character is down-to-earth, chances are, she’s going to have a down-to-earth best friend. Quirks and gimmicks drive people apart, not because their friendship isn’t true but because the two friends end up walking different paths in life.

Or such is my observation.

On Window Screens and Other Things

AverageEverygirl004

 

When I was somewhere in the range of 7-9 years old, I opened my bedroom window and pulled the tab on the screen, curious about how easy it might be to remove. The frame popped right off its track. In the event of a fire, I could escape. Hooray!

Problem was, there was no fire, and I couldn’t get the frame re-aligned. After several minutes of struggling with it, I finally gave up and reported my misdeed to my father.

He trekked outside, struggled with the frame some more, and set it back in place, probably grumbling under his breath all the while about daughters who caused him unnecessary extra work. (Lovingly, of course.)

That was the day the “best friend comes in through the window” mythos died in my heart. All of our windows had screens. Everyone else I knew had screens. Getting those screens on and off was too much of a hassle for some quirky entrance-other-than-a-door shenanigan, and that was that.

There are boundaries between real and fictional worlds, boundaries that we might not even recognize as boundaries because they’re so obvious. Screen-less windows through which people entered a room was one of those boundaries for me. This runs contrary to your reality, it said every time I encountered it.

So, too, did the “girl’s best friend is a boy” scenario. I know it happens, but I didn’t ever witness it firsthand. Perhaps I was raised alongside an odd set of peers, or perhaps I was simply oblivious to the friendships around me. According to my memories growing up, the girls were friends with girls and the boys were friends with boys, and when high school came along and they all started co-mingling, it was in groups except for those who were dating.

But then, I often had my nose buried in a book, so I likely missed a lot.

Whenever I see a fictional scenario where a main character girl has a boy as a best friend, I immediately assume it’s there for one of two reasons: if the boy is cute, he’s going to factor into the story’s romance angle. If he’s not, he’s probably there as an extension of the girl’s character. (See what a tomboy she is? She has a boy for a best friend!) Either way, I instinctively feel like the scenario has an agenda instead of being a natural part of that character’s life. It sets a boundary between me and that fictional world.

(Oddly enough, I don’t think I feel the same way if the main character is a boy who has a girl for a best friend. But then, if the main character is a boy, he’s also probably either an outcast or a loner, which creates a different set of dynamics with his peers, and with the reader. But I digress.)

I think one of the reasons I gravitate toward the fantasy genre is because of these boundaries: for me, all fiction is fantasy. Some is merely more upfront about it. I prefer to have the boundaries marked from the beginning over having them pop up in details and bounce me out of the book. In that respect, to me, fantasy is more honest than other “more realistic” genres. This runs contrary to your reality becomes a strength rather than a weakness, and the boundaries become something to explore rather than something that excludes.

And that’s really as it should be. My bedroom window might have a screen, but my invisible fourth wall doesn’t need one.

The Lesser-Known Fifth Horseman

AverageEverygirl003

As I said at the beginning, this comic series mainly serves as a light-hearted mechanism for me to vent my literary frustrations. I expected maybe a courtesy chuckle here or there. Instead I’ve had many good conversations this week, both online and off, regarding self-esteem in literature and in life. I’m grateful to everyone who has contributed to the experience. It has been wonderful and uplifting (for me, at least).

So, commentary for this installment: the narrator’s line, “Careful there. People might brand you as a feminist.” Feminist, as with many -ist terms, is one of those labels that a person must assume for his or herself. When someone else comes along and slaps it on you, it’s as though they are dictating your beliefs instead of allowing you to determine those beliefs yourself. It’s objectifying, in other words, yet another reinforcement of Girl-as-Object—or more broadly, Person-as-Object—and Average, as a girl with healthy self-esteem, can dismiss it offhand.

We don’t get to choose one another’s labels any more than we get to choose one another’s clothes. Maybe you don’t like the shirt I’m wearing. Maybe I wouldn’t be caught dead in that pair of jeans.

(Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t fit into that pair of jeans, so getting caught dead in it isn’t an option. And my shirt is fabulous, by the way.)

Person A slapping Person B with a label doesn’t mean Person B has to accept it or even react negatively. Part of a healthy self-esteem is understanding that one’s worth is not affected by the opinions or actions of others. Would that I could live this philosophy as easily as I can describe it. It’s much harder to put into practice, as rare in real life as it is in the literary world. Reactionary characters are so much more tempting, because OH, THE DRAMA!!!

And yet, there is something wholly satisfying about a woman who can slough off an attempted barb with nothing more than a dismissive shrug of her shoulder. When I read a character like that, I instinctively want to be like her. And I certainly want to create others like her.

Final thoughts:

I haven’t decided exactly how to proceed with this series (this is only the first set of comics—my apologies to anyone who was hoping I had finished), so for now, I’ll continue posting them here to my blog. Most are in sets of three, but I’m kind of overwhelmed at the thought of posting three times a week. (I feel like I’m spamming my own blog. How terrible is that?) We’ll see how it goes.

Again, thank you for the thoughtful responses, the provocative conversations, and the cheerful encouragements. All combined, it gives me great hope for days and books to come. You are all wonderful.

Now let’s bring on the Apocalypse, shall we?

 

The Girl with Low Self-Esteem, Part 2

AverageEverygirl002

“Girls who love themselves don’t seek validation from everyone around them.”

I’ve pondered this statement long before I ever wrote it into this little strip. It’s nice to receive validation. Any author can expound upon the delight she derives from a well-worded review or a note of encouragement. Any marketing strategy is, essentially, a search for validation, too. “See? My product is worth something. People are buying it.”

I’m not skewering the practice itself, but external validation, while delightful, can never remedy low self-esteem. A heroine does not suddenly have worth because she saves the world, or because a man falls slobbering in love with her, or because she is raised from poverty to nobility. So why is this motif so enduring?

“I’m worth something because I scored the game-winning shot.”

“I’m worth something because my crush confessed his love for me.”

“I’m worth something because I was crowned prom queen.”

Dear world,

You can stop after the first three words. There is no “because.”

Sincerely,
Kate

“The Girl with Low Self-Esteem” fits into the broader Girl-as-Object spectrum. When a character is acted upon rather than acting for herself, when she laments her inferiority and pines for someone else to improve her world, someone to love her, someone to praise her, she’s reinforcing this stereotype. When an author writes a character into this submissive state of mind as though it’s a positive with positive consequences, that author is reinforcing the stereotype.

I’m not calling for an outright ban on characters with low self-esteem, but if the endgame for that character doesn’t involve the acquisition of some dignity and confidence independent of external approval, maybe rethink the low-self-esteem angle. It’s not romantic for a girl to go catatonic when her boyfriend dumps her. It’s mental, and she needs therapy. Let’s not portray it otherwise, mm’kay?

We’re worth something. All of us, each as individuals. That knowledge doesn’t come from others. It comes from God. It is Eternal Truth. It is non-negotiable, and wallowing in self-pity or self-hatred will atrophy a soul, not open a door to new love or adventure.

The End.

(For now.)