Maybe I’m not the right person to write this kind of post given some of my creative choices.
I have always believed in the right ending as opposed to a happy one–sometimes the right one is happy, but my characters often have so much shit to work through it realistically would take a long time to get there (one of the reasons why Livi’s series needs so many books). Demons of Oblivion ended the way it did in part because I stopped after the first arc instead of what I had planned, but even then those books would never be a typical HEA kind of thing for all the characters. That’s a symptom of who I was when I was writing them and the things I work through with those books.
So, again, perhaps I am hypocritical for saying this, but: I am fucking sick of the cynical choice in fiction.
The latest annoyance is this: New Nancy Drew comic celebrates beloved sleuth’s 90th birthday by killing her. (And having the Hardy Boys investigate.)
The all-male creative team has quickly backtracked to say “Oh no, you’re misunderstanding, it’s not what it seems” (after at least one of them got his panties in a bunch and started blocking everyone on Twitter who said WTF, and complaining folks should have to “read before judging”*).
That’s not good enough.
If no one working on this had the awareness that marketing an anniversary edition of a beloved, inspiring female icon’s story as KILLING HER AND HAVING MEN INVESTIGATE was a bad idea, they should not have been involved.
We do not create in a vacuum, and when you’re taking on a character like Nancy Drew, you need to feel the weight of that. You need to understand her place in the world, and I’m sorry but I do not believe men can fully grasp that (any more than I could fully grasp an icon to people of color as a white woman).
I, like many, was really excited last year when Veronica Mars came back for a new season.
You’d think after Twin Peaks, I would’ve learned my lesson (essentially, you can’t go home again–nothing good comes from these revivals), but no, I sat down to binge-watch it…and right from the start things were niggling me. Not that I could put my finger on it, but my storyteller sense was tingling. I stop midway through to google, and I was right–they were going to kill Logan at the end. Right after Veronica married him and was happy.
The defense, of course, was it was necessary to re-trauamtize the heroine–who at this point has been raped, nearly killed repeatedly, lied to, dealt with the murder of her best friend, etc–to continue telling the story. That a woman being in a happy relationship “kills” the story.
It’s the cynical choice. It is also the lazy one.
This choice with Nancy Drew brought to mind HydraCap–making an explicitly anti-Nazi character into a Nazi because *mumble mumble*story reasons*mumble mumble*. Or the choices to make Superman gritty and dark in Man of Steel.
It is not lost on me that these choices to re-traumatize or fridge (or threaten to fridge) heroines and make heroes more ambiguous is done by (seemingly all white?) cis men. Because the ones who typically hold the most power rarely think about the myriad of ways it can be used to harm, and because for them a story is only interesting if it ends in pain.
But the rest of us do not live in a good world. We do not live in a just world.
We live in a world where there is suffering and oppression at every street corner. Where everyone is struggling. Where people spouting Nazi ideals are in all forms of government. Where the divide between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, is bigger than ever. Where the world is literally on fire and melting and the Doomsday clock is rapidly ticking toward midnight.
We live in a world that needs heroes.
We do not need another “gritty” story. Killing off Nancy Drew (or marketing your story that way), a heroine beloved for generations and who has inspired countless girls and women, is not a brave choice. Giving Veronica Mars a taste of happiness and then blowing up her husband was not a brave choice. Taking your power as a storyteller and wielding it to uphold the status quo is not the brave choice.
Pain and suffering and trauma is already the default. It’s what we live with every day.
Hope is brave.
Happiness is brave.
Justice is brave.
You have choices as a storyteller. You can tread the same ground over and over…or you can change things. You can push yourself to gain the skills to tell the kind of story that inspires rather than hurts. You can transmute reality into something better than reflecting all the bad. You can shine a beacon of light into the darkness of this world.
And if you choose laziness and cynicism–if you choose the status quo–do not be surprised when your audience leaves you for storytellers making a braver choice.
*No one ever has to read something before judging. Part of marketing is telling people why they want to read your thing; if they then decide, based on that marketing, “No I don’t want to read that thing”, they are well within their rights. I don’t need to do heroin to know it’s bad for me, thanks.