Part Two. As Promised.
A pleasing degree of chemically-enhanced hilarity has been successfully achieved, and what a good thing I have something to hang a blog post on.*
Speaking of physical aspects of heroines, I’ve always found it interesting that so many have very long hair–which is to say, Harry and Aerin do.
::Cringes with embarrassment:: Yes, I’m afraid so. Harry in particular has ankle-length hair, as I recall. Good frelling doodah grief. I was very young when I wrote that, and I even knew I was being a trifle self indulgent. That’s one of the things I would change, if I could—I don’t mean literally could, I don’t know if my publisher would let me or not, but You Don’t Mess With Stories, even your own, once they’ve gone out into the world and developed their own life without you. Without a really powerful reason, and authorial embarrassment isn’t powerful enough.
And I will identify EMoon as saying this:
Characters need to be the size they are, whatever that is and I’m of the “not too much description please” persuasion. But readers vary widely in what they want/like/will stand for in physical description (I’ve had people ask plaintively why there’s not more, much more.)
. . . Because I want to agree. Strongly and vociferously. Characters are the size that they are. And I too get the complaints about not enough physical description—and I also get people who want to argue with me about what this or that character looks like. That’s fine, honey, if he or she looks like that to you. But it’s not in the book.
I’ve been picturing Jake as Latino. But I did get that he wasn’t all white.
Um. Latino is white. It’s a different ethnic from Anglo-Saxon, but it’s still white. And Jake’s dad’s name is Mendoza, so yes, he’s Latino—he’s, you know, recognisably ethnic. Pause for groaning, since of course we’re all some kind of ethnic, including the Anglo-Saxon uber-nonsense. I briefly tried—speaking of characters being what they are, and not what you make them—making Jake’s dad the one who was part black, thinking I could work in some physical description when he and Jake are having one of their rows . . . but it didn’t work. Forcing stuff on your characters never does. The nearest I got was that Jake had a photo of his mum that he used to talk to, but that’s one of the bits that was left on the cutting room floor.
I personally have always had it very clear in my head that Harry was definitely tall–and as a short person myself, left to my own devices, I will make heroines shorter, if their height isn’t absolutely necessary.
Yes. This is a kind of summing-up of what I’ve been blundering around saying in too many words. What is necessary needs to be in the story—the rest is and should be up to the reader. That’s how the characters go live for that reader. And I haven’t got a problem with readers lying to themselves a little to make a character more what they want them to be. I do it myself. What—as an author—I do object to is when readers insist on their version as the One True Version.** There aren’t that many one true versions in any aspect of life . . . but that’s another rant for another day.
One of the things I loved about reading “Sunshine,” for instance, was how amazingly little description there is for Sunshine, at least in the classic terms. We have a few side-ways descriptions (like Pat telling Sunshine how he’d described her for the desk assistant), but there isn’t a lot of the usual physical list and detail. And it left so much more for me to just allow form naturally, rather than trying to “force” an image to appear with all the “right” description. It’s not to say that my image of Sunshine isn’t clear enough that I could probably describe her like a friend I see often, it’s just that most of it is made up out of my own head, and I rather enjoy that.
Sorry. Brief pause for authorial purring. Mmmmmmmmm.
Then again, another thing I like about the McKinley heroines (and heroes!) is that they’re so rarely ever stunningly beautiful creatures, or at least not beautiful because of their “raven black hair, and emerald green eyes.”
I find the habitually beautiful stock character type a total and complete snore. But speaking of necessary, Beauty in ROSE DAUGHTER has to be beautiful; it’s part of the story. So does Lissar in DEERSKIN. That nonetheless didn’t stop various readers—including one famous author/critic who I’m still mad at—from slamming the latter book because I’d sold out my audience, blah blah blah blah, by reverting to the ‘beautiful heroine’ trope. READ THE STORY I WROTE AND NOT THE ONE YOU WANTED TO READ.*** Arrrrrrrgh. Although people mostly hate me for the end of Part One of DEERSKIN. I was even braced for this and it still surprised me. What? You think awful stuff doesn’t happen? Oh, my bad, awful stuff isn’t supposed to happen in a fairy-tale fantasy . . . at least not a Robin McKinley fairy-tale fantasy. Grrrrrrrrrr. It amazes me the permission some people give themselves to blame and be abusive. And that’s not even touching my major rant about DEERSKIN, which is about the people who tell me in outrage that I’ve RUINED my heroine, that she is RUINED . . . hey, great, you guys, please get on the next rocketship to Alpha Centauri and don’t hang around on this planet making it harder for people who have awful stuff to get over to get on with their lives. . . .
DEERSKIN isn’t for everyone. No book is for everyone. And that’s fine. I just wish a few more people would remember that their personal opinion is their personal opinion and not the latest delivery from Mt Sinai.
Over-description narrows the imagination.
I’m tall enough that it’s the sort of thing that people comment on. I never forget how tall I am (since if you’re a woman I am probably looking at the top of your head), so when Sunshine didn’t have that awareness, I figured she was probably somewhere around average height. I was a little disappointed
You realise that remarks like this are what drive authors to drink, or to getting jobs as warehouse technicians.† We can’t be all things to all people. We can’t write all stories for all readers; we can’t make perfect matches between readers and stories. We can only do the best we can by the stories the Story Council sends us. I can’t write enough tall characters to suit everyone who wants tall characters, and I can’t write enough short characters for people who want short characters. †† Which is kind of where we all came in, since this conversation began with me tearing my hair over an email from a reader who claimed that most of my heroines were too short.
I wanted to grow up to be Harry or Aerin or Cecily or Rosie or Sunshine or Mirasol or Sylvi. Life, that freller, is disappointing. But at least we do have stories.
* * *
* . . . having also been awakened by the phone two hours before my alarm was due to go off. Moan. However, the need to appear sane and coherent to a superfluous in law whose chief impression of me is that I’m American and another of these peculiar writer people^ woke me up so thoroughly there was no chance of getting back to sleep. Which at least meant hellhounds had a nice hurtle before the arrival of Computer Archangel Raphael. Who says there’s at least a month’s wait for an iPad 2. There are two iPad 1s among our visiting houseful.^^ They are hideously desirable. It’s going to be a long month.
^ Couldn’t Peter have married an office manager or a mechanic or something?
^^ We were playing Scrabble on one of them at dinner around the glasses of champagne. Fortunately we were playing in teams, so I could just say, mm hmm, good idea, occasionally. I am terrible at Scrabble.
** This kind of thing leads to trashing a book for not being the book that reader wanted at that moment, or expected from that writer, and never mind what the book is. Hell has a whole special subdivision dedicated to the permanent containment of these people. The only reading material found anywhere in its smoking ravines is the backs of cereal boxes. For eternity. Old cereal boxes. This infernal area is however shared with the people who read books wrong and trash them for what these readers thought they read.
*** See previous footnote. Did I mention the sharpened stakes in the bottoms of the smoking ravines?
† Or office managers. Or mechanics.
†† Or red-haired characters, or not red-haired characters; or fat characters—I get kind of a lot of mail from women who are offended that I don’t seem to have written any heroines with weight problems; or boys, or not boys: opinions are divided on Jake, either I’m such a genderist and it’s about time or I’ve sold out my (female) audience again; and I get a lot of mail from people who feel there should be more kissing. Visible, centre-stage kissing. Which is pretty well balanced by the people who are mortally offended by the kinky almost-sex in SUNSHINE. . . .
I’m not listening, you know. I only listen to the story. I can only listen to the story. This kind of thing is just the fire-ants a malign fate is tipping down your collar while you’re trying to work.
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