HIMYM, Teen Wolf, and the Trouble with Patterns

| Friday, May 23, 2014

It's been a while since I wrote a television and pop culture analysis. Let's change that, eh?

I wrote notes on this months ago, but as is my present MO, I didn't get around to writing about it until now. Let's just pretend for a second that the Season 3 finale of Teen Wolf and the series finale of How I Met Your Mother just recently aired, and let's talk about patterns in our writing and why the choices we make always matter

I hope by now you've had plenty of opportunity to catch up on those shows if you were behind, but if not, you shouldn't continue reading if you would like to remain unspoiled. I'm going to be discussing major plot points at length.


First, let's do a brief Teen Wolf recap: Lydia screamed and cried a lot, Stiles' alter ego was a mega creep, Allison FREAKIN' DIED via sword to the gut, Derek brooded, there was some weird dream stuff, and Kate is back from the dead as an inexplicable new blue werewolf creature-thing.

As you may recall, I've written about Teen Wolf's antagonists before -- specifically, about the tendency for ALL the female antagonists to die bloody deaths while almost every single major male antagonist remains inexplicably alive (or is resurrected or MAGIC-HEALED). The pattern is unmistakeable. I also discussed the tendency of the fandom to lift up the male villains (oh Peter lol you're so SASSY) while throwing pretty frightening venom at the women, especially the ones who sleep with Derek. Anyway, lots more to say, read the other post for backstory if you're interested!

So, you might imagine I was glad to see that they brought Kate back. Finally! A lady villain gets to rejoin the party! Aren't you happy now?

No. No, I'm not. Why? Because the historic pattern of this show still plainly shows a habit of killing off its ladies. Bringing one back doesn't erase the overreaching pattern. You can't stab Allison (the heroine) through the gut with one hand and then pat yourself on the back with the other for bringing back a murderous arsonist who happens to be female an episode later. So no, I'm not happy. I'm not appeased.

In the case of Crystal Reed, who played Allison, one might argue that they had to kill her off because the actress was leaving the show altogether. But that's not really true, is it? They had to write her out, yes. They did not have to kill her. Killing the character was a choice, not a necessity. Jeff Davis has given his reason for choosing to kill her off, but it's still an unsatisfying answer. He argues that the show is "growing up" (which, apparently, means "death happens") and that he could think of no other reason why Allison's character would leave the others behind.

I call bullshit on that, by the way. The season had already gone to great lengths to distance Allison from Scott and crew via new love interests and drastically reducing her screentime, making her seem far less involved in general. She didn't even seem as close to Lydia, her supposed best friend. This explanation is made even LESS credible by the fact that Daniel Sharman, the actor who plays Issac, has also decided to leave the show, and was also left alive... and will supposedly end up in France. Where the Argents have family. Where Allison easily could have gone. Patterns.

In that same article, Davis also addresses the departure of actor Colton Haynes, who similarly decided to leave the show altogether (albeit without warning), and whose character Jackson remains nebulously alive somewhere in London as a result (Haynes was originally intended to return in Season 3). Although Davis admits that they may not have let him live if they'd known of his departure earlier, that doesn't matter. What matters is patterns.

This is why the patterns in your writing are important. Jackson, Issac, and Allison's characters did not live or die in a vacuum. They existed in an overreaching storyline, one peppered with noticeable patterns. Patterns like women dying, fading away, seeing less airtime, or undergoing complete shifts to their character to better serve the plotline of a (male) fan favorite.

Lydia, for example, begins the series as a confident, outspoken, literal genius who wears her sarcasm and popularity like armor. As the show progressed, she became a supernatural being in her own right. For a time, it seemed like her confidence, which was shattered by a werewolf bite, might be restored through her strength of character and desire to protect those around her.

Instead, her character was reduced to a prop. A convenient beacon for "dead body over here." She became "the girl who screams." The camera angles and shots of her in the later stages of Season 3 involved many close-ups of her screaming, crying, tortured face. She spent much of the season half-heartedly trying to solve the "mystery" of what was happening to Stiles (she didn't do much). At least, that's what she did when she wasn't being held captive by Possessed!Stiles and having lots of scared-face close-ups.

These aren't mistakes. They're not oversights. They're writing and directorial choices.

Now let's talk about HIMYM and the series finale that left about 90% of the fandom feeling underwhelmed and betrayed.

I have also discussed HIMYM and why I decided to stop watching at length. Of course, that didn't stop me from watching the Twitter fallout after the finale aired. I admit, I was curious. Not surprised, but curious.

Upon finding out that The Mother finally gets a name in the last episode before almost immediately being KILLED OFF to make room for Ted to have another go at Robin, my first thought was "shocker."

(It was not really a shocker. I was being glib.)

Again, this is where patterns and writing choices come in. If you look at only the first and last episodes of How I Met Your Mother, the narrative actually makes sense. It appears nicely bookended. Ted's just a guy who cares too much and has bad timing.

Instead, the show stretched on and the writing fell into a series of problematic, lazy, overdone patterns. Robin and Ted were together, then they weren't. He was in love with her, now he wasn't. She loved Barney, now she didn't. He gave her his blessing, but he still loved her. It was over, but it wasn't. No really, it was OVER. Except clearly not.

Ted's relationships went from making him sympathetic to making him a callous jackass. Overall, the show's treatment of women grew consistently lazier. It was never the best, but eventually the writing began to ask us to like Barney as a person, rather than a punchline, which meant devaluing his conquests by default. It began making every subsequent girlfriend less of a person and more of a zany, empty shell. A one-off passerby. A "slutty pumpkin" or "crazy-eyed" stalker.

Ultimately, THAT is what made the finale seem like such a punch in the face. Here she was, the titular character, the woman we were supposed to root for. The payoff was finally at our fingertips... only to be torn away, the character forgotten, just another woman in the background as Ted moved on to his "real" love. We were asked to invest in the Robin-Barney relationship (ha ha ha, very funny), we were asked to accept that Ted was going to move on, and then... none of it mattered.

The ending had supposedly been planned from the start, to the point where the actors playing Ted's kids filmed their parts years ahead of time. The writers knew where this was going, and they STILL made the writing choices they did. They had every opportunity to figure out a narrative that would make the ending feel earned, but they opted for slut jokes and repeating Barney's Playbook gag.

Here's the bottom line: PATTERNS MATTER. Locating troublesome, repetitive tropes MATTERS. When your writing shows a certain pattern -- say, belittling or killing off women -- then every single choice you make either reinforces that pattern or breaks it. You have to break it A LOT to match the number of times you reinforced it.

The lesson here is to LOOK FOR THE PATTERNS IN YOUR WORK. If you tend to kill off characters, who are you killing? How are your people of color being represented (savages, hoodrats, sexual conquests, oppressed people saved by a white person)? Do your LGBTQ characters tend to die or lead tortured lives? Is everyone white, straight, middle class, etc.? Recognize those patterns and BREAK. THEM.

It's a conscious effort. This shit isn't going to come to you naturally. You have to do it purposefully. Maybe it's something you don't fully realize you're doing, so you need to pay attention. It will make your writing stronger, and more importantly, it'll help you avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

To My Fellow Straight White Writers: On Diversity

| Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hi, fellow straight white writers. Gather 'round. We should have a talk.

Ever since #WeNeedDiverseBooks started, it's had incredible support, amazing feedback, and lots of attention. It's been near-impossible not to at least notice it. Many people have contributed, most positively, some neutral, some negative. I point this out because I want to be clear that the participation has been overwhelmingly positive for the most part, albeit sometimes in a way misses the point a little (or a lot), and that's what I'd like to talk about.

Photo Credit: außerirdische sind gesund via Compfight cc

In the last few weeks, I've witnessed what feels like an excessive amount of straight white people saying the same thing: "I think this movement is good, but I don't know if I can write diversely! I'm scared. Will someone please tell me it's okay for me to try?" Similarly, whenever the subject of promoting diverse AUTHORS comes up, it seems that a straight white person always comes from the sidelines to say, "You mean diverse BOOKS, right? Authorship doesn't matter if the book is good, right? We're still talking about me too, right?"

These questions are most typically posed to marginalized people by privileged people. They are also completely, utterly missing the point. Questions like these take something that is supposed to be about creating large-scale change through the inclusion of diversity not only in books themselves, but in authorship and at all levels of publishing, and flip attention back onto the "plight" of the straight white writer. It's refocusing attention on ourselves. Missing. The. Point.

(Edited to add: I originally only mentioned "straight white" writers in particular in this post, but I'd like to make it clear that this applies to other privileges and marginalizations, as well. This includes, but is not limited to: gender identity, disability, body size, religion, etc. In my head, I thought it'd be clear that this could be applied to other areas as well, but I decided it'd be best to state it outright.)

Furthermore, you are putting your responsibility at the feet of marginalized people when you ask for nebulous "permission." Please stop doing that. It's not an okay thing to do. It is NOT the responsibility of marginalized people to pat you on the back and tell you that you're a good person, you're doing okay, and not to feel bad. Don't put that on them. NO ONE can give you some kind of magic blanket "okay" on your writing, ESPECIALLY when they've never read it.

That's perhaps what bothers me most... asking people to tell you it's okay for you to write something when they have absolutely no context or idea of how you write. They don't know if you're going to research. They don't know if you're going to write stereotypes. The real answer to this question is always going to be I don't know, it depends on how it's done.

It's tiring for *me* to read comments from all my fellow white people hand-wringing about how they're just so SCARED of... something. Criticism, I guess. Being called a racist, maybe? And look, I get it. Criticism can be hard and painful. But in this particular context, we really need to suck it up, because we can't keep asking other people to take that personal burden for us. If it's uncomfortable and irritating for *me* to see this so often, I can't imagine how exhausting it must be for the people on the receiving end.

Similarly, there's another thing I've seen that's really rubbed me the wrong way: straight white people dipping into the conversation to promote their own book(s), often alongside a description that reads kind of like a "diversity checklist." I love diversity! That's why I wrote this book with a black boy astronaut and a blind girl warrior and their gay teacher! Here's the Amazon link!

You guys. No matter HOW you do this, it ALWAYS feels gross. Always. I don't know how else to say this, so I'll just say it: if you are a straight white writer who has written a "diverse" book, #WeNeedDiverseBooks is not the platform with which to promote it yourself. Cut it out. You may feel your intentions are good, but your actions read as self-serving, and just... don't. You're taking space on a floor that isn't FOR you. And yes, I am calling white writers out in particular for this, even though I've seen POC authors doing the same, because you know what? This particular platform was made for them. Not us. Sometimes you need to step aside. This is one of those times.

And look, I get it, being an indie or midlist author is fucking hard and there's a ton of pressure to promote yourself. You want to succeed. You want to survive. I know. This is still not the space for that.

"But that's not fair!" you cry. Well, it's not fair that other people are being shut out of publishing and literary success by an imbalanced system. Their level of unfair trumps yours by about a million-billion. Let them go first.

Your book may be wonderful. I'm not saying don't promote your book. I'm saying don't do it HERE, in THIS particular context. And I don't even have words for the people who are posting books about animals in the tag. You wrote a metaphorical "animals as racism" allegory? SUPER not the place for that.

Now let's talk about one of the less supportive questions that keeps popping up: "You can't FORCE people to write diversely if they don't want to! You're going to DESTROY CREATIVITY by forcing people to write and publish a certain way."

I honest-to-goodness do not understand why people think this is a "mandate" or call for "forced diversity." I don't know why anyone believes that proponents of WNDB want them to do this against their will. I sure as hell don't. What exactly would be the point of expending energy trying to rope in people who are kicking and screaming when there are literally thousands of people who are and will write this way gladly? Why on earth would we want begrudging, imagined-quota-based "diversity" when we could lift up someone writing from their heart and experience?

If you're not interested in this, FINE. Go on and do your thing. Literally no one will stop you. This has never, ever been about you. This is about EXPANDING OPTIONS, not forcing your hand.

Okay, this is long, and I am (mostly) done. For now. If any of this struck you as unduly harsh, then I'll ask you to consider those feelings and roll them over in your head for a little while. I'm not trying to be harsh. I'm trying to let you know that you may have been unintentionally putting yourself ahead of those you claim to be supporting, and now you know. Just think about it.

Diversify Your Shelves

| Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hey do you guys remember that time our hashtag trended in the top spot on Twitter a full two days ahead of schedule because there were so many people behind it? Haha what even.

There was also that time we started getting picked up by blogs and news sites and it started exploding before it even happened, but that's beside the point. Just go check our Twitter feeds, we're wigging out all over the place.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about PHASE 3: DIVERSIFY YOUR SHELVES! This is the third part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks 3-day event, and will take place on May 3. For all the details, please read the statement below, which was composed by the lovely Chelsea Pitcher!


Today we're revealing part three of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, a project that’s near and dear to my heart! Part three is called “Diversify Your Shelves,” and it’s all about taking a personal approach to promoting diversity in literature.

What, exactly, does that mean? Is this maybe something we’ll do for a week and then go back to buying books by old white guys?

Well, no. “Diversify Your Shelves” is a continual celebration of fabulous diverse literature, by fabulous diverse authors. Checking out what books we have on our shelves, and seeing how we might diversify them, is just a jumping off point.

There's also going to be a “Diversify Your Shelves” chat on Saturday, May 3rd at 2PM EST to discuss our favorite diverse books and authors! Use the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag to join in!

But wait! Why is this so important?

Well, there are lots of people blogging about this more eloquently than I, like here, here, here, and here, but some of my biggest reasons are:

Because, at every conference I or my writer friends attend, there are kids asking why they can’t find books with characters who look like them, either on the cover or in the pages.

Because the same thing happens at book signings, except there the kids are saying they’ve always wanted to get into writing, but don’t think they’ll be successful because they’re people of color.

Because queer kids are still killing themselves over being different (or being told that they’re different) and the greater representation they have in books, the less alone they’ll feel.

Because awesome genres like YA wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t moved away from the old, white dude model of literature and started reading stories written by ladies. Diversify Your Shelves is a continuation of that principle—hearing all stories from all voices.

Because it’s 2014, but we still keep seeing all-white panels at book festivals, or even all-white male panels (in genres vastly dominated by women!) and that’s kind of insane to me. Diversity shouldn’t be the exception. It should be the norm.

And because, at the end of the day, when I look at my shelves, I think:

I can be better.

I can do more.

And I’d love for you to join me.

So, without further ado...

Let’s Diversify Our Shelves!

Here’s how it works: this weekend, May 3rd and 4th, we’re all going to head out to our local bookstores* to pick up books by fabulous diverse authors. (Need recommendations? Check out the May 3rd #WeNeedDiverseBooks chat!) Then, once you’ve returned home, snap a photo of your new diverse book(s)** and post it as a comment below! And if you want to get really creative, you can take Before and After photos of your bookshelves: Before, when they weren't too diversified, and After, when you've added in books by fabulous PoC authors, queer authors, and authors with disabilities! Woot!

This Monday, May 5th, one lucky winner is going to win FIVE BOOKS OF THEIR CHOOSING out of the choices below!!! And every Monday throughout the spring, a new winner will be chosen to receive two fabulous diverse books! Woot!

But wait, it doesn’t stop there. Remember when I said “Diversify Your Shelves” was a continual celebration? That means any time you buy a book from a diverse author, or featuring a diverse character, snap a picture of that book and post it to Twitter with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag! We’ll retweet you, and help spread the word about what diverse books people are buying! And by participating in the “Diversify Your Shelves” movement, you’ll be showing publishers the kinds of books you want them to buy, showing conference organizers which authors you want to see on panels, and helping tweens and teens find representation in books! Which, really, is the awesomest prize of all!

Diversify Your Shelves


*Obviously, not everyone has the money to “Diversify Their Shelves” at this particular moment. That’s okay! Because stopping by the library and having them order a book by a diverse author, or even sending them an email about your interest in diverse books, can make a big difference in the “Diversify Your Shelves” movement! You can even snap a photo of a certain section in your local library, and then snap another one after they’ve ordered more diverse books for you! That way, you’ll not only be diversifying your own shelf, but you’ll be diversifying the shelves for your entire neighborhood! Go, you!

**Don’t worry, e-book lovers! You can totally enter the contest too. Just snap a photo of your reading device with the book’s cover showing (or a screenshot of the purchase), and you’re good to go!

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Introducing Kidlit Revolution

| Monday, April 28, 2014

First things first: if you missed it this weekend, a group of us announced our participation in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks initiative, which is scheduled to happen THIS WEEK, starting May 1st. Please go read this post about it! Also, please go follow the Tumblr! We're already picking up steam, and the project has already been shared by Malinda Lo, Laurie Halse Anderson, Rick Riordan, John Green, and so many more authors, agents, and publishers who are showing their support. We would LOVE for you to join us!

Now, here's an announcement on a related project I've been cooking up with Kaye M.!

We've been hinting at a big summer summer project for a while now and holding out on you while we figured out the grand scope and some finer details. You've been waiting patiently, so here's a post that will hopefully shed some light on exactly what we're doing.

Introducing... Kidlit Revolution!

Photo Credit: Pratham Books via Compfight cc

This is a grand-scale project that intends to take all the words and ideas we've all been throwing around about diversity and turn them into real, tangible action. Kidlit Revolution is about building community, supporting authors who are diverse and are writing diversely, and creating serious ripples in the marketplace that can't be ignored. How will we do that?

Kidlit Revolution will act as a central hub for changing the industry through getting the word out about diverse books that don't have a lot of extra marketing support, but we're not going to stop there. Instead of simply reviewing and talking about these books and then moving on to the next, we're going to present a united front to make something happen for these books.

This is how it will work:

  1. Every week, we're going to feature an innovative, diverse kidlit or YA book that isn't receiving the most effective marketing support. We'll tell you about the selection, the author, and other pertinent information.
  2. Every day for that week, we will initiate a specific call to action intended to help that book succeed. For example: buy the book, write a review, read the book, share the book, ask your library to stock the book, pre-order the book, contact the publisher to say you want to see more like that book, etc.
  3. We will also spearhead more ambitious projects intended to affect the industry, such as requests to split the YA Best Seller List into hardcover and paperback books so it becomes less skewed.

This is a very, very simplified version of what we're planning, but it gives you the overview. The primary takeaway is that we are uniting with a common goal to create real change. By creating focused, tangible goals instead of spreading ourselves thin with generalized "awareness" campaigns, we're going to make something happen.

We can't do this alone! The success of this project will rest with the community we build. If enough of us band together to take a stand, we CAN change the industry. We CAN prove that these books can succeed with the right backing. We CAN make sure every kid sees themselves in the pages of a book. We will need the support of people at ALL levels, from readers to publishers.

No matter what happens, we will keep pushing, because these books deserve to be seen.

There are a million more questions to answer and a million more details to hammer out, and we're hard at work building a supportive team of people who will hopefully be able to tackle these challenges. We know that when it comes to the business side, money is going to be what speaks loudest, and we're taking that into account. Our biggest hurdle right now is building a community that's united and powerful enough to make this ambitious idea into a reality. We're going to need a lot of people, but we have faith!

What can you do to help?

Pledge to support this project in whatever capacity you can. Spread the word. Help us make connections with the right people as we build momentum. Be willing to put aside ego and give the floor to others. Dedicate yourself to making real, lasting, positive change in the industry we all love.

This is going to be big. Welcome to the Kidlit Revolution, launching this summer!


| Saturday, April 26, 2014

This announcement was crafted by Ellen Oh and the other members of this initiative. Please share, tweet, Facebook, Tumbl, and otherwise spread the word! Let's make this HUGE!

Recently, there’s been a groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity in children’s literature. The issue is being picked up by news outlets like these two pieces in the NYT, CNN, EW, and many more. But while we individually care about diversity, there is still a disconnect. BEA’s BookCon recently announced an all-white-male panel of “luminaries of children’s literature,” and when we pointed out the lack of diversity, nothing changed.

Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored. Here’s how:

On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

For the visual part of the campaign:

  • Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you. 
  • The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs. 
  • However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to weneeddiversebooks@yahoo.com with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day. 
  • Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out. 
  •  The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. We hope that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets. 
  • The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long we need to keep this discussion going, so we welcome everyone to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st. 

On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!

We hope that you will take part in this in any way you can. We need to spread the word far and wide so that it will trend on Twitter. So that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. So that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important to everyone. We hope you will help us by being a part of this movement.

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