Tag Archive | writing advice

Fandom Friday: When Villains aren’t Victims

I love villains. I love villains so much I often call myself a “villain whore”. Maybe it’s because I always felt vilified for being different. I think it’s because the villains are often more complicated (because no one ever is evil just because, but people are good just because). Maybe it’s because the villains are the hidden id. Maybe it’s because the villain always gets the funniest lines. Who knows.

However… I often hate other villain fans with the same level of passion my dark idols reserve for their respective nemesis.

 My expertise (if I can call it that: I’m basically a dork with a laptop) is in the realm of comic books and comic book movies. I’ve noticed superhero movies build and build in popularity before crescendoing with the Nolan Batman films and Marvel’s The Avengers. This had led to a “mainstreamification” of some of my favourite characters—notably, the villains. The examples I’m going to use in this post, mostly because of their popularity, are Magneto (X-men) and Loki (Thor, The Avengers). If you look at social media *coughtumblrcough* these two are the among the most popular.

These are villains that do things that everyone who isn’t an evil human being has a problem with, namely, genocide. They have complicated motivations and lives. Magneto is a holocaust survivor who was experimented on in the camps, and Loki was raised in a world he doesn’t belong to and was made to feel inferior to his older brother, Thor. Both turn to evil out of a desire to do the right thing, to the point where it blinds them to the people around them who care about them.

However, fans tend to reduce them to “woobies”.

Woobies, according to TV Tropes, are “…any type of character who makes you feel extremely sorry for them. Basically, the first thing you think to say when you see the woobie is: “Aw, poor baby!” Woobification of a character is a curious, audience-driven phenomenon, sometimes divorced from the character’s canonical morality…An important aspect of the Woobie is that their suffering must be caused by external sources. A character who suffers as the result of their own actions is a Tragic Hero and does not qualify.” The page goes on to list subtypes of woobies, but that isn’t important right now.

I don’t know if it’s because the characters are portrayed by attractive actors, or because the struggles with family (Loki) or inequality (Magneto) are things that resonate with the audience. But it happens, and these complicated villains are reduced to one-note woobies.

How can you tell that a character has been “woobified”, you may ask? If you hear fans defending the characters genocidal actions because they “believe they’re doing the right thing” or if you hear fans saying the character is “misunderstood”. For example, I recently saw a picture set of villains on Tumblr with the words “A villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told” featuring Magneto, Loki, Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), Gollum, and Khan, among others (http://ericscissorhands.tumblr.com/post/88703071937/a-villain-is-just-a-victim-whose-story-hasnt

You guys do know that Magneto was purposely written to have similar ideals to Hitler, right? And he admits to this in X-men: First Class.

As a writer, this annoys me. Real work went into writing these characters, creating them to be complicated and interesting. And these “fans” just ignore all of that! It would be like, for the non-writers among you, if you spent all day making a delicious cake and all anyone could talk about was how sad it was that the little icing flowers you added to the corner were wilting.

Why is this frustrating? Referring back to the post I mentioned, subsequent rebloggers have said it’s putting the abusers feelings above the abused, and implying that any victim is going to turn into an abuser. As an abused person, this pisses me right off. This is a problematic message: if you have a tragic backstory, you can do whatever you want. My abuser has a pretty tragic backstory. That does not make what he did to me okay.

You know who else has a tragic backstory? Hitler, and Stalin.

There are examples of woobies in the same universe as Loki and Magneto who have had similar and often worse (not the holocaust, though, I don’t imagine it can get much worse) things happen to them.

 In the same universe, What about Spiderman, or Batman, or Wolverine? They have tragic backstories, but they realised that they have a choice: let the sadness consume them and let the rage and hatred become them, or make a difference

And that’s the choice that all of us have.

So stop doing a disservice to the writers. Or I will become a supervillain. See how many people think I’m misunderstood then.

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Writing and Psychology: Making Language Comprehension work for you!

First of Psychology Writing Hacks! 

There’s no hard set theory on how language comprehension works (AN: this is pretty typical in most psychology, actually) but there are a couple of models on how the process works. I’m going to focus on the structure-building framework in this post, because I find it to be the most interesting.

Gernsbacher’s (1990) structure-building framework describes the process as such: the foundation for comprehension is laid at the first mention of a new topic (in our case, a character or setting). As more information comes about the object, additional concepts are added to the little mental structure. This includes inferences, and previous knowledge in the reader, by the by. If unrelated material is encountered, a new structure is begun. Concepts that are related are easier to follow. Interestingly enough, if a word with two or more meanings is encountered, the reader’s mind will choose the one with relevance to the story.

Hacking into the structure-building framework is all about making structures easy to build. The information should be laid out in a way where related concepts are introduced together. Make the information about things easy to digest, so the reader can automatically add it to their structure without much effort. Also important: cut back on unrelated information. For a piece to have cognitive flow, it is important to have the structures be linked to each other, like a little cognitive city. If information is unrelated, the cognitive energy spent building that structure takes away from energy that could be spent on the main information. On the flip side, if you want to write something that screws with your readers, just do the opposite of what I said.

I know cognitive psychology is pretty dry, so I hope I managed to make it kind of fun! Let me know how I did in the comments!

God bless,

Kelsey J.

PS: Don’t forget to check out episode two of Zombvenger! at http://www.zombiepop.net/zombvenger-episode-two-dog-days/

On Purple: Yin, Yang and Magneto

Professor Charles Xavier: You know, I believe that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity.”

***

Within the greater discipline of psychology, there is a branch known as humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology is special, as it deals with more than the physical world. Humanistic psychology is a discipline that borrows ideas from all over the world and incorporates them into a greater understanding of the human experience.

One of the ideas borrowed is an idea that is familiar, though barely understood, to Western culture: the yin yang symbol. Most people associate the yin yang symbol with the new age movement (hippy stuff, as my dad would call it). In humanistic psychology, the symbol is used as a tool to understand dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking is about blending and change, but change that takes place through conflict and opposition. So how does this relate to the yin-yang symbol, which is often used as a symbol of peace?

There are three main ideas behind the yin yang symbol as it relates to humanistic psychology:

1)      The interdependence of opposites: There is no light without darkness

2)      The interpenetration of opposites: There are bits of light within darkness, and vice versa

3)      The unity of opposites: we cannot understand darkness without light, and vice versa

The writers among you will recognise that these principles also relate to storytelling. I believe that every story should be utilizing these principles, for both plot and character.  A story without darkness is boring, but a story without light is just as devoid of life. No light should be pure, and no darkness should be absolute.  You should always be able to see the darkness of the hero reflected in the villain, and vice versa.

***

Magneto might be my favourite character of all time.

Magneto

 

 

He is one of the single most complex characters of any medium, a holocaust survivor devoting his life to the protection of his people by any means necessary.

I used a quote from the film X-men: First Class to begin my post. This is because Magneto represents the culmination between the two opposites, rage and serenity, illustrating the nature of dialectical thinking.

How can you tell? He wears purple.

Bear with me.

Just like white and black, red and blue, the colours that make up purple, are opposites. I won’t bore you with the grade school explanations of the colour wheel. In the human consciousness, red and blue represent two opposites as well. Red is associated with rage and fire, whereas blue is associated with calm and water.  When mixed together, purple is created.

A place between rage and serenity.

Magneto himself is a mix between these two things. On one hand, he’s a classy villain, who has definite air of the Shakespearean about him: he soliloquizes, uses proper nouns, doesn’t curse and has full control over his power. On the other hand, he’s prone to fits of rage against the human race, and occasionally his foes. In his determination to keep mutantkind safe, he ruthlessly kills regular humans.

A lot of fans, myself included, have to wonder if he’s right on some level. The members of the X-men frequently wonder this too, and often find themselves working with Magneto towards a common goal.

How does this relate to the above?

Magneto and the X-men are opposites of each other at first glance, but they need each other. There are shared philosophies between the groups. Their motivations are understood by their status as opposites.

This is a prime example of using the yin-yang idea in writing.

And it makes stories better.

 

 

Agree or disagree? Comment below! Like this post? Click the like button!

On another note, for more of Magneto check out the trailer for X-men: Days of Future Past:

 

God bless,

Kelsey J.

Writer’s block: Let it come.

Ladies and gentlemen, I had been working on a spectacular post about Magneto for this Friday. I had been working on this post for about two weeks. I had a burst of creativity early this morning, and I thought I’d have it up today.

Then, it just stopped.

I was angry. I was upset. I couldn’t believe that my creative energy had just left as quickly as it came.

Then, I let it go.

Like a Disney song.

***

As a writer, you see many posts about how to beat writer’s block or how to deal with it. I never thought I’d be writing one of these things. I thought, in my vast pretentiousness, that I was better than that.

The problem is that there is no one way to deal with writer’s block, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. This post is about how I deal with it. Take that at your discretion.

I dealt with it by letting it go. If the creative juices stop, that means that I’m not really ready to write at that point. Maybe I have something else going on it my mind that needs my attention. Maybe I’m hungry. Maybe I can’t say what I need to say.

There’s no magic secret, no super technique. I just trust in my mind and my heart.

Though, in retrospect, I probably picked that attitude up from years and years of Disney.

 

God bless,

Kelsey J.

 

Zombvenger!, the zombie superhero extravaganza, is live at Zombiepop: http://www.zombiepop.net/zombvenger-1/

Of course, if you want the backstage pass, check out the official site (http://dawnoftheundead.wordpress.com/) and the official tumblr (http://undeadinblue.tumblr.com/)

If you want to gaze upon my beauty, check out my beauty blog: (http://artdecoprincess.wordpress.com/)

Writing and Psychology: Female Therapists on the Couch

Has anyone else noticed a disturbing trend in the portrayal of female psychotherapists?

 

Female psychologists in movies and books usually fall into 3 categories:

1) Mother figure (ie: Dr. Wilber, Sybil)

2) Seduced/Seductress (ie: Dr. Harleen Quinzel, Batman universe)

3) Cold, callous and cruel (ie: Dr. Lillian Thurman, Donnie Darko)

You can probably guess which trope is the most popular (hint, it’s the one that might end in boobies).

 

There are several reasons for the endurance of these tropes. Women are still seen by most cultures to be primarily nurturers. Research shows that a psychological tendency to show nurturing behaviour is built into most females. It should come as a surprise to no one ever that evolutionary psychologists believe this is because of women’s ability to bear children. Women are also heavily socialized to be nurturing. I think that number 3 may also be a direct result of number 1: writers going against expectations of women as nurturers by casting their females as the exact opposite. The problem is that (spoiler alert) NOT EVERY WOMAN IS NURTURING.  And the women who aren’t nurturing aren’t psychopaths (usually).

The best statistics I could find in regards to client-therapist sexual relationships are from the 1990’s, and they indicate that only about 3% of female therapists actually had a relationship with their client. The APA condemns these relationships and engaging in such a relationship can cost you your ability to practise. So why is it such a common trope when it barely happens? Likely, drama. It creates high drama in a story, and can create the necessary conflict to propel the story forward. Also, sex sells. If one wants to take a darker turn (and I do, so we will), it could be looked at as tearing down a female in a position of authority. Overall, this trope furthers the stereotype that women are controlled by their emotions and will put their relationships with others before their own well-being.

Newsflash: human beings are controlled by their emotions. Not just women. In fact, compared to 3% of women, 12% of male therapists have engaged in a sexual relationship with a client.

So why is this a problem for you and your writing? The same reason reliance on tropes and a lack of research is a problem for any writing. Writing a character as a trope and not as a character will make your work flat, and quite honestly, dull.  Write your female therapists as people first. They are allowed to fall in love, to do unethical things, to be nurturing. Expand the trope. Play with the trope. Make it yours.

 

Researching it so you don’t have to,

Kelsey J.