Posted by S.E. Sinkhorn | Thursday, February 27, 2014
ANYWAY. While I was admiring the poster, I also noticed the tagline beneath the title. It's riiiight there if you look at a larger version of the image, and this is what it says: "One Sick Love Story."
If you've read the book and know what this film is about, it's a 100% logical tagline. The characters are sick! And they fall in love! Clever! But that part isn't really what caught my eye.
It was the use of "love story."
Now, I'm just using the TFIOS poster as an example. It's certainly not a unique example, and no one connected with the book came up with that tagline. That's the film industry. But seeing this phrasing did remind me of something else.
Not long ago (almost a year exactly, in fact), Nicolas Sparks gave an interview in which he expressed an opinion that he's expressed several times before. You can read the whole interview here, but I'll quote the part I'm referring to below.
"Q: You once said the difference between a love story and a romance is that “love stories must use universal characters and settings.” What did you mean by that?
Sparks: 'Universal' means you feel as if they are real. You feel like you can know them. I don’t write stories about astronauts or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or millionaires or movie stars. ... [People] relate to these characters, they begin to root for these characters and by the end they are moving in sync with the emotions of these characters. You need to do all of these things well to have a love story that works."
I've never been a big fan of Sparks' quotes dictating the difference between a "romance" and a so-called "love story." He's always had a thing for separating his work from the romance label, insisting that he writes "universal" stories, not fantasies. It's clear that he has a certain perception of Romance as a genre, and that perception is also shared by much of the public -- romances are fluffy, fantastical, meaningless little throwaway stories for people who want to escape reality. Those people, of course, are usually women. Big words coming from someone who heavily utilizes romantic tropes and whose primary readership is women.
There's also the wonderful not-so-subtle implication that Romance novels don't feel real, don't convey genuine characterization, and aren't relateable. It brings up the image of Fabio dangling a swooning maiden off of his arm and staring into the sunset while simultaneously dictating that fantasies are meaningless and empty, not something that "real" people want.
This isn't an uncommon stance. When people hear "romance," they think of pulp fiction. Dime-store bodice rippers. Vapid rom-coms starring some young starlet with minimal acting credit. Simpering teenage girls giggling over boy band stars. Bad dialogue, barely-there plots, and junk food fiction for uncritical minds.
It doesn't end there. It bleeds into romantic subplots, romantic scenes, romantic moments. A book can be chock full of action, but if characters take a moment to steal a kiss, people wrinkle their noses and roll their eyes, declaring the scene unnecessary.
Or at least, they do with CERTAIN books. You know the ones I mean. Those friggin' GIRL books. Gross. Women, it seems, cannot write love stories."Love stories" are LITERATURE, even for someone like Sparks, who most people don't leap to when they think "literature." We can tie back around the The Fault In Our Stars, which has been declared far and wide a literary masterwork of YA darling John Green, full of poignant metaphor and clever one-liners. Although it relies heavily on romantic tropes -- indeed, our two lead characters' romance is a major driving force of the plot -- you will rarely hear anyone refer to it as a (GASP) Romance with a capital "R."
To be fair, there is a technical reason for this. Romance as a genre generally requires a HEA (Happily Ever After) in order to qualify by genre standards, so when we have a romantic story that ends... not quite happily, it can't typically be placed in the genre. However, for this argument, it's not about genre standard, it's about public perception. The general public is lightning-quick to slap a "romance" label on anything written by a girl/woman, starring a girl/woman, in which that girl/woman maybe kisses a boy, regardless of plot or outcome.
Ultimately, when men write about love and sex and passion, it means something. We respect it, or at least give it a fair shake. It's interesting. It's human. Even when they write from the perspective of a woman, they still manage to capture that SOMETHING, somehow. When women do it, we focus too much on the fantasy. It's too twee. The writing's not strong enough. There's something missing. It's not "good."
Heaven forbid it end happily, too. Endings in which love prevails and the couple closes on a happy note apparently aren't realistic. Realism must involve pain, misery, and death. Which precludes romance, naturally. Romance is, after all, a mere fantasy.
Though somehow we never seem to muster the same derision for dark, gritty, male superhero power fantasies. You know, like Batman. Hm.
In the same breath that we keep telling lady writers to push harder and kick their romantic darlings to the curb, we also call them cruel for taking the path so many male writers take. You killed someone the heroine loved? How could you? How needless. What melodramatic manipulative nonsense. Young women don't want to read about doomed love! Not from you, anyway. Maybe you should make sure the guy lives in the end, just to be safe.
This is so layered. It comes from so many angles. "Real" literature versus books-to-sneer-at, rejecting romantic relationships as something that brings a story down, refusing to give female-written work a chance if there's even a hint of romance, lauding men's work as literary genius while women's work is swept aside to make more room on the shelf, yada yada ya. So much.
In summary... I call foul, as I typically do in these situations. There's so much more I want to explore about how we perceive romance according to gender, genre, and approach, but this post is already unwieldy, so. It's a multifaceted issue, and one I'll likely explore in more depth in future posts.
In the meantime, I recommend you go read The Sky Is Everywhere or If I Stay or Eleanor and Park or something.
Posted by S.E. Sinkhorn | Wednesday, February 5, 2014
This post has been a long time coming. I originally wrote notes on it weeks and weeks ago, back when I first saw the film Frozen. At one point, it WAS timely, I swear. I wanted to write about the sisterly relationship and feminism and criticism and all that stuff, but many people already got there before me, and have said it much better.
Like, you know, this essay by a Saami author discussing Frozen's missteps with Saami culture, or this post with a reimagined POC cast. Or this post about its progressiveness, which has some iffy points and some great points. There have been posts reading Elsa as queer, many feminist essays, squees about the incredible sisterly love, and a pro-con list from Bitch Magazine. Please ignore me as I gnash my teeth in frustration over here about the whole "omg annoying love triangle ugh" bit.
All of this to say that this is already heavily mined territory. People have come at Frozen from all sorts of angles. So, instead of adding to the pile of stuff everyone's already said, I'm taking a different tack. I'd like to go in a direction inspired by the little girl who was sitting in front of me in the theater.
If you're reading this, I'm assuming you've seen the film. So imagine sitting in the theater during "Let It Go," the much-lauded ballad during which Elsa sheds her restrictive past and truly acknowledges her emotions and desire for freedom at last. She unleashes her full power, sending snow magic over the mountain and building a glittering palace of ice. She literally lets down her hair, changes into a flowing icy dress, and somehow gets some darker eye makeup.
In the brief quiet as the song ended and the door slammed shut, the little girl in the seat in front of me turned to her mother and whispered, "Did she just turn bad?" (Mom responded, "Keep watching and find out.")
Naturally, this set the wheels in my head turning. It wasn't an absurd question -- she was probably about five years old and had likely been raised on a steady diet of Western animation. After all, Elsa was allegedly slated to be the film's villain, but the decision was thankfully reversed. It stands to reason that some of those lingering threads would remain to cast an unclear light for a little girl who's used to a certain kind of story.
Disney stories in particular tend to have a specific structure to them. There's a good guy and a bad guy, and the bad guy is the one who typically isolates themselves and gets all those obvious "bad guy" visual shortcuts loaded onto their character design. You know what I mean -- darker color palettes, heavy eye makeup, likes to hang out in shadows, very thin and emotive eyebrows, all that stuff.
That little girl got me thinking about how we perceive "badness" in women, and how young we start to learn those cues. An older viewer can watch that scene and understand the lyrics, realize the optimistic nature of that scene, and understand that Elsa is celebrating her freedom, not singing a villain's song. This young viewer, however, just saw the isolation, the clothing change, the loose hair, the cocked eyebrow and smile. To her, this indicated that Elsa might have "turned bad."
I don't think that a five-year-old child was making complex connections like "she's breaking free of preconceived norms and taking her life into her own hands, and that makes her a BAD GIRL!" No, I think it's much more general than that. It's the visual cues. Disney villains tend to stick to specific formats. The lines of their faces and bodies are sharper. They're often either rail-thin or very fat (and if fat, shown to be fat due to living in excess). Their clothing or color palettes are markedly different from the hero's, often skewing darker. Their eyes are hooded, their makeup dark. Even the men occasionally don eyeliner.
Speaking of male villains, this is a great post illustrating the ways in which they're often made effeminate, "camp," or "sissy," which are all coded stereotypes for gay men. But I digress.
Filmmakers rely on these cues often. Color theory is heavily utilized in film, comics, and many other visual mediums. It's shorthand for conveying information to the audience quickly -- this is your hero, this is your villain. The problem is that this shorthand is often conveying some pretty negative stereotypes. In the case of women, "evilness" is conveyed through choice of clothing, makeup, and attitude.
The sweet, innocent heroines typically wear very little or no makeup, allowing their natural beauty to charm their suitors. They're young and are clothed in simple outfits or bright, happy colors. They're charming, kind, accommodating, surrounded by friends. This has very sloooooowly been changing with newer additions to Disney's canon, but the history is still there.
Villainous women, on the other hand, are typically older -- once you reach a certain age, it seems innocence and charm no longer apply. Their outfits are elaborate, dark, sharp. They're often shown all alone save for a possible trusty evil sidekick or two. Introverts? Nah, they're clearly alone because no one likes them!
This sort of media message can sow a lot of not-so-great seeds in young minds. Certain kinds of femininity are good, others are bad. Heavy makeup is a bad thing. Good people are surrounded by others, bad people are alone. You can make assumptions about people based on what they look like, not who they are. Certain fashion statements and mannerisms indicate a person should be distrusted.
This is a hard-line pattern that kids learn young in the media, and it can be very hard to shake. It seems small, but it's quickly and easily compounded. Colors are powerful.
So thank goodness Frozen took the direction that it did. This was the first Disney film that really caught me off guard with regard to villain because they completely flipped the script. The isolated woman with the purple eyeshadow got to be free AND a hero, and the perfect Prince Charming type who seemed so endearing turned out to be a snake in the grass. That little girl needed to see that she can't rely on visual cues to tell her what good and bad really looks like.
We still have miles to go, but Frozen was perhaps a small step in the right direction. It wasn't perfect -- there was still a marked lack of notable female characters vs male characters (yes, the snowman and reindeer count as male characters). A subverted love story, but ultimately a heterosexual happily-ever-after anyway. The constant refrain of "omg so crazy" used for laughs when Kristoff tries to introduce the trolls. Speaking of the trolls... kind of weird.
Even so, there was a lot to love. A beautiful sister-sister relationship, fantastic music, surprisingly un-Disney-like plot twists, and some really cute lines. I hope that little girl left the theater with a lot more questions for her mother.
Posted by S.E. Sinkhorn | Friday, January 24, 2014
Twitter attracts all sorts of writers and writerly folk. Get enough together and you start to sense a pattern. Have you ever wondered what your writer's Twitter bio says about you? Then you've come to the right post.
* A note: this is intended as lighthearted humor, not mockery. There are many different stages to writing and publishing, and they're all valid. Hopefully we can all see ourselves somewhere in here and have a good chuckle.
** Also all usernames/personas are totally made up. Except for one. You'll know which one.
Translation: Pretty much as advertised. You're a newer writer who's probably just getting started on your journey, and you're really excited about where it's going to take you. That's awesome!
Translation: You're still not comfortable calling yourself an author yet, but you're working on it. Keep going. I'd tell you the confidence comes with time, but let's be real, we're writers. We're forever chasing confidence.
Translation: You're very much enjoying the absolute freedom that comes with self-publishing whatever you want, whenever you want, on the schedule you set. Livin' the dream indeed.
Translation: You're posting a whole lot of work over on Amazon and you heard that Twitter was really kickass for selling stuff and you're wondering if anyone's interested in buying a book or ten. You also use TrueTwit validation service. #mostamazingbookanyonehaseverwritten #buyitnow
Translation: You are super into literature and literary everything and you're very smart and people should probably listen to your insider insight because you know your shizz. You're also really into Popular Television Show and like to squee about it once a week with your followers.
Translation: Gonna go out on a limb here and say you're a book blogger.
Translation: You're indicating to everyone that while you're not yet published, you've still got chops and might be worth their time. OH GOD PLEASE LOVE ME PLEEEAAAASE LOOOOOVE MEEEEEEE. (Your illustrious blog host may resemble this one. A smidge. Just a little.)
Translation: You've leaped the big hurdle and made it to the almost-published stage. You have a really real book that will be a real thing at a very real time sometime in the nebulous future. People may want to pay attention to you for real now. OH GOD PLEASE LOVE ME NOW PLEEEAAAASE THE ANXIETY OH GOD.
Translation: Congratulations, you've finally settled into and are comfortable with your identity as "author." You probably have several books under your belt, you think it's pretty reasonable to admit that you'd like it if people actually read those books, and you actually enjoy hanging out on Twitter and just being you.
Translation: You're pretty big shit, but you're trying to be cool and not brag about it. You may get to go on book tours where people actually pay to see you, but you know, whatever, you're still just a person. Thank you, thank you!
Translation: You're Stephen King. Bio? Why?
Posted by S.E. Sinkhorn | Monday, December 30, 2013
Have you been wringing your hands over your YA protagonist and wondering how to avoid a Mary-Sue situation? Are you terrified that you made her too weak, bitchy, straw feminist, "strong with scare quotes," pathetic, slutty, simpering, selfish, annoying, bratty, boring, or whiny? Have you been scouring the internet for that magical list that will tell you exactly what to do in order to ensure she's that heroine everyone's been demanding? You know, the one people will point to and say YES, THIS IS SHE, THIS IS THE PERFECT YA HEROINE?
REJOICE, FOR YOU HAVE FOUND THAT LIST. Instead of telling you everything you SHOULDN'T do, this list will tell you exactly what you SHOULD do. Follow this formula and you will have 100% universally beloved girl protagonist, every time, guaranteed!*
|Photo Credit: Guillermo Insfran via Compfight cc|
- Make her completely sure of herself and fully settled into her personal philosophy and belief system. Every choice should be solid and correct on the first try. Confusion and indecision are the marks of weakness 100% of the time. If you don't have your life completely together by age 17, you're clearly the worst.
- If she's pretty, she should definitely know that about herself, but not in a stuck-up way. It's perfectly reasonable to expect every teenage girl to have total body confidence without being a bitch about it. And if she's not pretty, she should still love her body. But not in an unrealistic way, because society.
- She should only focus on important things, like the things that each individual reader finds important. Focusing on anything else at any time is annoying.
- She should always be firm, positive, and upbeat. Complaining about anything or doubting herself will make her seem whiny.
- If she has a love interest, make sure she's only interested in that one person. Feeling confused or attracted to more than one person means she's being selfish or slutty. It's also annoying. She should maybe have sex with this person, but maybe not, because sex is realistic for teenage girls but it also makes them sluts. Your call.
- She should be with that person forever, especially if they have sex, because that shows strength of conviction and commitment.
- She should break up with that person because teenage relationships are for suckers and thinking about her partner takes up too much plot space.
- Actually, maybe she should just be single and proud the whole time, because romance is boring and for losers. It's also annoying.
- She should totally be a feminist, as long as it's the right kind of feminist. You know what I mean.
- She should dislike feminism because it's not necessary anymore and boys are great. Also, it's obvious that you're just an angry lady author trying to indoctrinate young women with your old dried-up hag ways, so just skip it.
- Make sure she's smart, but not unnaturally smart. She can be physically strong as long as it's in a girl way. She should be emotionally strong, also in a girl way, unless that means crying. No crying. Her dialogue should be clever and witty, but not sarcastic or whiny. She should be active and move the plot forward, but not in a way that could be considered selfish, bitchy, or annoying.
- Make sure she's a realistic teenager without being a realistic teenager because real teenagers are super annoying and don't you know adults read YA?
- She can be superhuman as long as she's not overpowered. That's unrealistic wish-fulfillment.
- If she's regular human, she should be human to the Nth power by displaying flawless characteristics, personality, and dialogue. Except not totally flawless. Throw in some flaws, too. But only good flaws. Except not good flaws, because good flaws are too easy. Try some bad flaws. Just not too bad.
- In order to avoid accusations of creating an "author cypher" or playing out your own wish fulfillment fantasies, she should be absolutely different from you, the author, in every conceivable way. Physical appearance, hobbies, interests, strengths, weaknesses... make sure nothing reflects you! It'll be difficult not to draw on any of your personal interests or knowledge, but I have faith.
- She should be nice to everyone, even jerks, because they're probably just misunderstood and she should be sympathetic to that. She should also be outspoken and clear in all of her opinions so people don't walk all over her, especially jerks.
- Make her smile! It ain't so bad! She has it pretty good, post-apocalyptic landscape and people trying to murder her aside! No need to act ungrateful.
- She should have a conflict-free relationship with her parents, dutifully following their wishes at all times, even when they're not being very understanding or respectful of her. Backtalk or defiance will make her a selfish whiny brat, especially if the parents are okay most of the time. After all, they're the adults! It's not like there's a psychological tendency for adolescents to break from their parents or anything.
- She should always rebel against injustice, as long as she isn't overreacting and being totally annoying.
- Definitely discount any racial, cultural, or religious background that may inform her actions. There's only one way to be strong or interesting!
- Her gender presentation and interests should reach the perfect balance between feminine and masculine because all girls can be quantified into a single "correct way to girl" as determined by what someone said somewhere that one time.
- If she's disabled, she should be inspirational and always think longingly about how she wishes she was like all the other kids. She should be enthusiastic and kind to anyone who's even halfway decent to her, and her disability should be portrayed in a way that makes non-disabled readers feel comfortable.
- If she's dealing with depression, PTSD, or other mental illnesses or trauma, she should stuff those issues down inside and carry on with a smile and a righteous fist of righteousness in the face of her trials. If the reader has no idea that she's having these problems because she's displaying zero annoying outward symptoms, you've done it right!
- She should be able to shift and change to match the expectations of anyone who picks up the book.
- Have you considered making her NOT a girl? I hear boys are just easier to relate to and male anti-heroes who murder people in twisted ways are super interesting, so maybe you could try that instead.
* Not actually guaranteed at all.
** On the off chance that it wasn't clear, this post is a joke. The entire concept of being able to write a teenage girl that someone won't criticize for being too blah-blah or not blah-blah enough is a joke, honestly.
*** Which is not an argument that all YA heroines are written flawlessly or above criticism; just an illustration of the impossible standards we often hold them to.
Posted by S.E. Sinkhorn | Thursday, December 26, 2013
I'm most likely preaching to the choir with this post, since most of the people who read this blog are pretty social media savvy. However, in my line of work, I do still see a whooooole lot of people who just do not understand hashtags. This post is for anyone who needs some help with that little # symbol.
Hashtags were originally popularized on Twitter, but they're used on a TON of social media sites. This post features general advice on how to use them, but every site is different and I encourage you to learn the culture of each, as well as its best practices. You'll find hashtags on Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Facebook... even LinkedIn tried it for a while. However, not all hashtags are created equal. More below.
|Photo Credit: Stuart Chalmers via Compfight cc|
1) DON'T use super general hashtags like #sale, #book, #contest, etc.
Why? - Because they're pointless. The point of tagging something is to increase the likelihood that relevant users will discover it. First, tags like these are just too broad -- what kind of sale, book, or contest? Who is it relevant to? Second, so many people and bots are using tags like these that you'll be immediately lost in a sea of spam and irrelevant information. Third, NO ONE follows these tags because there's no point in monitoring a tag that will likely be 90% spam. Similarly, it's not very effective to use your city's name. If people want to do a local search, they'll search by location, not hashtag.
2) DON'T use a bunch of hashtags in a row.
Why? - It's irritating and spammy. It's unlikely your post applies to all the tags you're giving it, so don't. Select a few of the most relevant tags. I suggest 2-3, possibly 4 at the absolute max (for Twitter). With a site like Tumblr, five hashtags is perfectly acceptable. The exception to this rule is if you're being silly by making up your own jokey hashtags for comedic value.
3) DON'T hop onto a popular hashtag with an irrelevant post.
Why? - It's rude. Think of it like bursting into an ongoing conversation with a non-sequitur, or coming up to diners chatting on an outdoor patio and shoving a flyer in their face. A number of big brands have gotten burned doing this. An example would be Kenneth Cole, who has a habit of interjecting sales-y tweets into serious political discussion, like the Egyptian rebellion. He does it intentionally for brand attention -- so he says -- but it just makes him look like an asshole. You're not getting exposure by doing this, you're just being a jerk.
4) DON'T bother using hashtags on Facebook.
Why? - Read this article. It'll tell you exactly why. In a nutshell: Facebook is not a good medium for the hashtag. For Facebook stuff, it's best to research Facebook-specific marketing, which is very different than most other social media sites. There are other sites where hashtags are less effective -- Pinterest uses hashtags, but they don't work as well as they do on other sites.
5) DON'T talk from a pulpit.
Why? - The point of hashtags is organization and discussion. This doesn't apply to every medium -- Vine, Pinterest, and similar aren't really "discussion" sites -- but for mediums like Twitter and Tumblr, you'll want to actually participate in the discussion and respond to other people. Don't just spout off your Very Important Thoughts and then go away. Read what other people are saying, reply, favorite, discuss, participate. This is a good way to find like-minded people to follow who will often follow you back. Remember... social media is for being SOCIAL.
1) DO some research and find relevant hashtags.
Why? - People create hashtags to organize and follow specific topics and conversations. The most effective hashtags are usually unique, so browse people you know, organizations you follow, and do some Googling to find hashtags that apply to the things you post. You can often find weekly or monthly chats to get involved in this way.
2) DO pay attention to which hashtags see healthy activity.
Why? - There are a lot of specific hashtags out there, but not all of them are very active. You want to find tags that see a good amount of use, but not so much that you'll just get lost in the shuffle. Experiment.
3) DO watch for timely and trending hashtags.
Why? - Some hashtags are temporary and see a brief burst of use, typically during breaking news or planned events. Your trending hashtags are usually tailored to your location, interests, and the people you follow, so check them out and see if there are any conversations you'd like to participate in. When you go to a conference or event, check ahead of time to see if there's an official hashtag to use. This is a great way to make some new connections. Just remember to stay on topic.
4) DO create your own unique tags.
Why? - If you're becoming an "influencer" in your sphere and want to host your own discussion, create your own tag. You can visit this site to check whether your tag is already being used, and get some tips on building your own tag. You can do this for events, discussions, online seminars, community, jokes, spur-of-the-moment fun, whatever. Get creative. The best hashtags are short, specific, and easy to remember.
5) DO learn about the different mediums.
Why? - Hashtags function generally the same way on different sites, but each unique property has its own culture. Hashtags that work well on Twitter may not work as well on Tumblr or Instagram. The mediums are different -- discussion vs microblogging vs photography. Familiarize yourself with the most effective ways to use each.
A few more specific tips: Test the waters to see which tags have the biggest positive impact and response rate for you. Make friends and pull them into the discussion when possible, which livens things up and gets your name in front of more people (though that shouldn't be the end goal... just a bonus). In general, TALK to people and FOLLOW users who interest you. Use sites like TweetChat to follow conversations with more ease. Aim for creative over sales-y. Remember Tumblr only tracks the first five tags on ORIGINAL posts, not reblogs, although it still uses reblog tags to organize posts within your blog and to flag things for Tumblr Savior. Find the balance between tagging people to get them involved and annoying them with too much pestering. Find site-unique tags like #CatsOfInstagram and #LNV (Late Night Vine).
Most importantly, the best way to learn how to use hashtags is to start doing it and have fun. The biggest rule is to use common sense and do what you can to avoid being an annoying jerk, which is pretty easy to manage with minimal effort. With enough practice and trail & error, you'll figure it out.