So almost four years ago I was trying to write a novel about abortion.  I had this awesome story line about a pastor’s daughter that ends up pregnant and has to struggle with what she’s going to do.  If she keeps the baby she honors her convictions, but it would be a black mark on her dad’s ministry and she’s seen other girls be ostracized by the church.  If she aborts, she loses her convictions but spares herself and the people she loves a lot of pain.  I really loved the concept (still do!) but couldn’t write it.  At the time, my marriage was so strained and the grief and anger I was feeling kept getting sublimated into the characters.  I had this moment when I was trying to write a difficult scene laying out why the girl and her boyfriend ended up estranged, and instead of the characters doing and saying what they should have, they kept becoming weird and abusive towards each other.

The longer I wrote the story, the more painful and freakish it got.  I kept feeling like someone was going to pull a knife.

So I stopped writing it, and that was the last time I tried to write fiction.  It’s odd, because fiction was and is my first love.

So the other day I was in the midst of many fervent discussions about women in media, and the way strong women are constantly punished for their strength in the media- especially in movies and TV.  I passingly joked that I could write a better female superhero, and then it happened.  A sparkler went off in my brain, and the writer in me said, “seriously, you.  You could write one.  You SHOULD write one.  You’ve got free time like RIGHT NOW stupid, where’s your laptop?”  So I spent some time working on a character concept, which was made easier by the multitude of discarded story lines I have laying around.  I created this theme about grief and loss and growing up and having to encounter who we and the people we love really are.  It also involves supervillains and a superhero, and of course in true comic book format one of the vilest villains used to be the protagonist’s mentor.  And as I started figuring out where the story starts and writing it, all of this ick that’s been going on in my head started coming out in the writing again.  This time it didn’t corrupt the story, it made me understand one of the reasons why stories like this are so important.

There’s this thing about symbols:  they matter.  Heroes like Batman and Superman matter not just because they are awesome, but because the struggles they have to endure mirror the struggles in our own lives.  By seeing them face and conquer their demons, people gain the tiniest bit of hope that they can deal with the pain in their own lives.  If Batman can beat the Joker how hard can it be to put up with your jerk boss, right?

So I was crying at my keyboard and thinking, “if I can make this all into words, and the words matter, maybe I can just move on.”

And then a little voice in the back of my brain said, “you aren’t the only person who has questioned your grief, your love, and your ability to make something good out of all the badness.”

I realized that I’d forgotten why I was a writer in the first place.  (But I’m starting to remember.)


9 thoughts on “Writing/Grief/Fiction/Growing

  1. There’s a host of issues I have with the idea of trying to do a female super hero “right”, mostly because I think there is a fundamental disconnect between the situations that make an exciting super hero story and how a strong woman would handle them. Women are defensive creatures, they build infrastructure, raise and feed the next generation and guide their children to survive and prosper in the world they exist in. Momma Stark in Game of Thrones is a wonderful example of this. When comic and movie writers try to bring female characters into the stereotypical stories of heroes battling villains that disconnect manifests in overly sexualized trollops that will never be mothers because to connect them to a child in that way would showcase the irresponsibility of going out to fight.

    That’s not to say they don’t make decent stories, and I enjoy watching Scarlett Johansen in spandex as much as the next guy. What I am saying is that this trope exists for a reason and to say “a woman hero wouldn’t be like that” is missing the point entirely.

    However, there IS one example of females with super powers that “does women right”. It’s a british TV show called Misfits, and the writing is brilliant. There are two female characters, one has the power to allure men so strongly when she touches them that they lose all self-control and try to rape her. The other girl reads minds.

    Now, I’m sure that if the show was more popular (or aired in America) feminists would scream bloody murder over the depiction of the first girl I mentioned, but doing so would showcase their own ignorance. The thing about this power is that it makes the character resolve her problems in a way a woman would. She becomes someone influencing things behind the scenes and the writers use the events where her power doesn’t work as it should to show depth in the character and lead the story. The key thing here is that they show the whole character and present realistic scenarios. If Misfits was a stereotypical hero story her power would be just a disadvantage but instead they present a balanced character who uses, love, attachment, nurturing and forethought along with her sexuality to be a valuable addition to the team.

    Good luck presenting a character like that to an American audience though.

    • I agree with most of your comment, but I don’t think that a female superhero would necessarily have to fall between overly sexualized or mother figure. In my story she’s never going to bring a child into her world because of how painful it was for her to grow up in it. She’s working to make the world safer for other children. Her mothering instinct is sublimated and comes out in the ways that she chooses to fight and what she chooses to fight for. One of the problems with so many of the strong women out there is that they are written from a male perspective of what makes strength work. The Lady Stark is one of few instances in which I think that a man really nailed it on the head, she’s a real mama bear who doesn’t shy from her feelings and they never really weaken her or her resolve.

      I don’t look at the male superheroes and think “a woman would be different”, for the most part. I look at the FEMALE superheros and think that.

      I think that there is a compelling way to write the kind of supergirl I want my daughters to aspire to be- someone in touch with their sexuality but not controlled by it. A woman who knows that her biggest weapon to stun and disorient isn’t her body but her wit and understanding of the situations she’s going in to. A woman who isn’t motivated by anger or vengeance or because her calling was chosen for her. A woman who feels compelled to protect and makes the hard decisions necessary to put herself in a position to do so.

      • Male superheroes are, very often, kind of stereotypical themselves.

        and fwiw, there’s a great young female superhero on “The Legend of Korra,” which just finished its first season on Nickolodeon. There are other strong, heroic women as secondary characters… I would really love for more people to see this show (and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” – its predecessor). Avatar is available via Netflix’s streaming service, and Korra can be purchased at Amazon.com and iTunes. I also love the East Asian setting for both shows. (And they’re made by men, no less. ;))

        Also, N.K. Jemisin had a terrific blog post and discussion on “strong women” tropes/stereotypes not long ago – see here post Women, Warriors and Gender Policing. (I know I’ve been sounding like a Jemisin fangirl – and y’know, that’s an accurate conclusion. ;))

        and finally… I think the whole “women are nurturers and can’t succeed at anything else” is a whole lotta bunk! (No offense to anyone posting here…)

      • Can I be honest, L?

        I’m not much of a fan of superheroes anymore. Maybe I’m literally too old for the whole thing, I don’t know… but some of the things that have happened in my life over the past decade make me want to read about ordinary people who are dealing with difficult situations and who are able to muddle through somehow.

        I guess I’m in a different stage of “live and learn” than I was when I was in my 30s and 40s… because the truth is (as you already know) that life is tough and that heroism and sacrifice are woven into the fabric of the mundane.

        But hey, I like your idea and would love to see some drafts whenever, if you feel up to that!

      • Superheroes in general have become very stereotypical. My own is going to be much more an ordinary girl thrown into an absolutely extraordinary position, but a lot of the things she faces will be very ordinary. (Grief, confusion, lack of direction). I want to bring the *humanity* back to the genre.

        I don’t have any drafts to show right now, but it will be serialized on a blog starting Saturday if all goes well, so everyone will be able to follow along with the journey.

        Thanks for the Jemisin link! Looks like she has been up against a lot of the same stuff I found while researching my Buffy project. It’s sad, that people keep going around in the same circles when it comes to women and strength. Very sad.

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