On Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Prompted by: The Secret History & The Raven Boys

I’m sure most of us are familiar with manic pixie dream girls by now, but just in case, here’s a quick overview: Coined by critic Nathan Rabin in reference to Kristen Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” She is unavoidably quirky, overtly charming (often because of her quirkiness, sometimes through her aloofness), and is, 99 times out of 100, the love interest of the male protagonist.

“A type of female character depicted as vivacious and appealingly quirky, whose main purpose within the narrative is to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist.”

-Oxford Dictionaries’ recently canonized definition of the MPDG

If you’re struggling to think of an example, you can pretty much insert Zooey Deschanel’s on-screen essence in just about anything she’s ever been in. The problem that this trope creates is twofold: it typecasts certain actors, and more importantly, it reduces female roles down to one-dimensional objects of infatuation.

“When you get sent scripts and you see you’re always playing someone’s girlfriend when you want to be the central role, it’s so depressing.”

-Zooey Deschanel in regards to being tired of being cast as a MPDG

mpdg

The holy trifecta of MPDGs in film is Claire in Elizabethtown, Summer in 500 Days of Summer, and Sam in Garden State. However, the presence of the manic pixie dream girl has thoroughly infiltrated the lit world. In fact, they’ve been around for much longer than the term has been. From Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower to Camilla in The Secret History, these manically dreamy girls pop up like daises (coincidentally, that’s a pretty popular name for the MPDG) in novels both old and new. Usually, the MPDG takes a backseat to our main (male) character. In The Secret History, this means she talks significantly less than any of the other (male) characters. In Looking for Alaska, this means she crashes her car and dies– which propels the main (male) character into his self-realization phase. Her personality is filtered through the rose-colored glasses of our male protag, and she usually ends up vanishing sometime before the third act so our brave boy can ~discover himself~. If you haven’t ever come across an MPDG in literature, you can pick up virtually any novel by Haruki Murakami or John Green to find one.

Here’s the thing about manic pixie dream girls: they really can seem quite delightful. They’re undeniably enjoyable to read, at least when they’re first introduced, because it takes a certain amount of whimsy and creativity to write them. They have unique names and quirky personality traits and most of the time they have dyed hair and green eyes. They’re vibrant and electric and people gravitate towards them. So why are they problematic? As I mentioned earlier, the big issue is that it reduces a unique female character to nothing more than a trope, which is problematic all on its own. But one of the reasons this is so frustrating is because it’s such an easy fix.

Maggie Stiefvater is the author of The Raven Cycle, a four-book series following the adventure of four prep school boys and their one female friend, Blue. Sounds like trouble already, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Except it’s not. Stiefvater is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, an incredibly talented writer. She makes paragraphs feel like listening to your favorite song on the radio while you’re cruising at night with the windows down. She weaves stories that drip in nostalgia and make your heart ache with the beauty of it all. And the vehicle that carries all of that emotion is her characterization. Every single character is resplendently unique and unavoidably important. Every single one has a part to play within their own character arc as well as in the grand scheme of things. But if it weren’t for that, all of them could easily feel like manic pixie dream girls (and boys). Blue only eats yogurt and wears crochet leggings in the summer. Gansey chews mint leaves and bought a warehouse to convert into a living space. Ronan is a high schooler with elaborate tattoos and a secret love for farming. Adam has freckles and a shy voice and can fix just about anything wrong with a car. There’s a family of psychics living under one roof, a handsome hitman with a penchant for 70’s culture, a Bulgarian who makes Molotov cocktails and loves street racing, and a 7 foot tall giant who lives in a house full of cats. Each character is quirky in one way or another, and could easily be one-dimensional without flaws or struggles or arcs. But Stiefvater makes sure that isn’t the case. She makes sure they all function both as cohesive groups and as individual characters. They work within their romantic storylines and outside of them as well. They are brave and scared and lonely and hopeful. They have secrets and share their lives with each other and throw temper tantrums from time to time. They are whole characters with whole personalities and it’s impossible not to adore them. (artist credit here)

raven cycle 3
Artist: flockeinc via tumblr

(If you haven’t read anything by Maggie Stiefvater yet, you’re missing out. She’s a master of magic and beautiful prose and slow burn relationships.)

My creative writing professor in college told us that all characters should be like the yin-yang symbol: the darkest characters should still have a spot of light, and the brightest characters should still have a spot of dark. No one wants to read about a glossed-over girl who doesn’t have anything wrong with her, just like no one wants to read about the dark villain with the mustache and black hat. To relate to a character, the reader must be able to see them as human. Not as just an object to be obtained, not as a quirky caricature, not as a disposable plot point. And so therein lies my issue with manic pixie dream girls: they are quirky objects, hard to obtain but easy to dispose of.

While the MPDG trope is a device that is in desperate need of some work, I’d be remiss to not share a secret about it. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, I think about how John Green would write me as a manic pixie dream girl. It’s reassuring to know that my collection of vintage china and my color-coded bookshelf would be whimsical, that my compulsion for neatness and my ripped cuticles would be marks of my quirkiness. That my gray-green eyes framed by glasses and my literary tattoos would be attractive. So if nothing else, the trope sometimes helps me to reframe myself and remember that there are always parts of ourselves that are delightful.

Review: Heartless

-this review contains spoilers-

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

When I started reading Heartless, I totally forgot that it was a Queen of Hearts origin story. I had this book on my reading list for ages because of my adoration for Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, but by the time I finally got to pick it up, I had forgotten what it was even about. That is probably why a lot of my annoyances while reading the book came from the shoehorned Alice in Wonderland references. Between the pepper chef, the rocking horse flies, the smoking caterpillar, the line about the Tweedles, the jabberwocky, hedgehog croquet, and Cheshire himself, I found myself gritting my teeth with the obviousness of it all and how unlike Meyer it was. Then I got to the end and realized that this was actually all backstory for one of the most iconic villains of all time, which placated me a little bit– but not very much.

Heartless-Marissa-Meyer-Book-Cover-Feature

Because with that being said… I don’t think this is a solid origin story. At all. Meyer’s characters and plot points would have worked so much better as a retelling similar to The Lunar Chronicles, which used their original fairytales as a touchstone rather than as a strict reference text. For example: while the traditional Wonderland aspect carries over well in that Hearts is full of frustratingly obtuse folks, I found myself infinitely more interested in Chess than in Hearts. It seemed counterproductive for an entire world to be created (especially one created by Melissa Meyer) only for us to spend no time there. Instead of absorbing a fresh new world with fresh new rules and characters, we had to spend this entire story trudging through a slight variation of the same world we have been force-fed for ages.

For years, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was one of my favorite pieces of literature. I loved it so much that I did an entire stylized photoshoot around it, was gifted a first edition of the book (swoon), and even considered a tattoo inspired by the story. [Emma of Emma Reads Too Much has some pretty spot-on thoughts on Carroll’s original book that you should absolutely read here.] Unfortunately, there have been so many renditions and interpretations of it that it has lost much of its magic for me. I hated Tim Burton’s two movies on the subject and have grown to loathe the excessive amount of themed gifts found in bookstores and indie shops.

The themes of time and repetition in Heartless were reminiscent of Burton’s concepts, and the endless litany of overt references to the original book felt self-gratuitous. This was the opposite of why I was excited for a Wonderland-themed book by Meyer in the first place– she has left me delighted and entranced by her inventiveness and originality, while still making the reader glow with twists on traditional references (i.e.: a cyborg foot for Cinderella’s shoe, a satellite orbiting in space for Rapunzel’s tower). Sadly, this book left me disappointed by absolutely everyone except Jest and The Sisters.

I was particularly peeved by the Marchioness and ‘Hatta’. The Marchioness was the true villain of the story. She’s controlling, verbally abusive, and is endlessly fat-shaming the main character. I couldn’t believe that no one ever stood up to her, especially in a book by the Melissa Meyer, where the leads tend to be brave and stand up for themselves. I wanted so badly to adore Hatta. Carroll’s Hatter is one of the most off-the-wall and quirky characters of all time, and as much as I disliked Burton/Depp’s rendition, he still managed to make me feel emotional and nostalgic. But Hatta is a sorry excuse for the dynamic and heart-breaking character he could have been. When we’re first introduced, my thought was “a female Hatter would have been a nice change” but that quickly turned into “wow I totally ship Hatta and Jest over Cath and Jest.” Which isn’t out of the normal for me, but then! It turns out! That Hatta loved Jest all along! But never said anything! I cry foul. That’s queerbaiting if I’ve ever seen it. I disagreed with people who claimed BBC’s Sherlock and Watson was queerbaiting. I even partially disagreed with people who felt that Albus and Scorpius’s relationship in Rowling’s Cursed Child was queerbaiting. But this was shameful. To hint at it for 300 pages only to reveal the truth and have Jest killed without ever knowing, leading Hatta to go mad with sorrow, is despicable. I expected so much better from Meyer than half-baked LGBTQ+ representation.

I’ve been so enamored with Meyer’s brand of kickass female leads– with her women and girls who solve things and save people and stick up for others and strive to be better– that Cath was an unparalleled disappointment. She was indecisive, spineless, whiny, and intolerant. As I’ve mentioned before, indecisiveness is a big pet peeve for me. Cath’s repetitive reasoning and cyclical complaining was downright exhausting, especially because she never did anything to actively change her fate. Insta-love also plays a huge role in this story, which is something that automatically sets me on edge. I’ve read The Lunar Chronicles three times, and have always been pleased by the fact that Meyer writes the romance in a way that leaves the reader very invested without feeling that it’s the centerpiece of the story. Heartless utterly fails in that regard. The warring world of Chess and the endless deaths occurring there are apparently insignificant in the face of a month-long love affair.

Long story short, Heartless left me disappointed in more ways than one. I’ve come to expect much better from Melissa Meyer than under-cooked storylines and half-hearted characters. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland always has, and always will, deserve better.

alice-wonderland-adult-colouring


When I first started this blog, I wanted to do something called Eye-Roll Reviews. The idea came to me after reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which had me rolling my eyes on every page. I haven’t read any such books (until this one) since I started writing reviews on here, so I haven’t quite worked out how to format such a review. So for now, I’m just going to list my eye-roll-inducing lines, in case any other readers were annoyed by the same things.

“It had been a hazy, beautiful dream, and in it there had been a hazy, beautiful boy.”

“But she had not realized that he was also quite handsome.”

“Impossible was his specialty. The way he had touched her hand had awoken something inside her she had never felt before. Something giddy, but also nervous. Something curious, but also afraid. And if her dreams were to be believed, he was a very, very good kisser.”

“Romance. Passion. Love. She had never experienced them before, but she imagined they would leave her feeling like that dream had. Like the Joker did, with his quick smiles and witty remarks. She felt like she could talk to him for hours, for days and months and years, and never tire of it.” (Girl, you JUST MET HIM.)

“He did, however, offer his elbow, which she accepted, folding her fingers around his arm and surprised to find more muscle there than his lithe frame would suggest.”

“Overnight her life had become a whirlpool, sucking her below the surface.”

Review: Annihilation

-this review contains spoilers-

“When you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”

I should probably preface this with a disclaimer: I read the book because I saw the trailer. The movie is coming out in February and features a pretty incredible cast (Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, and Jennifer Jason Leigh). I think there’s a possibility that the huge differences between the tone of the trailer and the tone of the book made it a little difficult for me to really get into the book at first. The trailer is colorful where the book is understated, romantic where the book is virtually emotionless, and full of horror-style tension where the book is intentionally monotone.

annhiliation

Common consensus is that it’s very well-written… to which I wholeheartedly disagree. I don’t think the clinical style of the biologist’s journal entries lends anything to the story or to the characterization. On the contrary, the writing style makes it almost impossible for the reader to empathize with any of the characters. I learned all too well through House of Leaves just how powerful it is to make stylistic choices that mimic the plot points themselves, so I think the writing style in Annihilation could have worked beautifully if done properly, considering the biologist herself struggles to connect with people and form attachment. However, I really do feel that this book could have benefited with a slightly more human tone. I think a good comparison would be to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Talk about your minimalistic writing styles! But in that novel, the bare bones approach works to build the eeriness of the setting, the grittiness of the process, and the despair of The Man. In Annihilation, the sparseness only serves to make me feel detached. The writing is beautiful in some places (e.g. all of the lines of “scripture” on the walls and some of the more tender descriptions of nature) but truly bland in others. There are lines that give me chills, but that effect is primarily due to the fact that they are moments that stand out from the otherwise monotonous narration, not because they are particularly gripping or beautifully written. I saw another review that mentioned reading between the lines to pick up on certain things, but again, I feel like even that was poorly done. Some of the strongest in-between-the-lines writing I’ve come across in recent memory is that of George R.R. Martin when he’s discussing specific things, namely relationships and torture. His characters make hyper-subtle asides regarding Renly Baratheon’s sexuality, and the only way we can even begin to know the extent of what happened to Theon is by picking up on what he doesn’t say. But when it comes to monsters and paranoia, I think it takes an extremely skilled writer to make the less-is-more approach work in their favor. All in all, I was overwhelmingly disappointed with VanderMeer’s writing style, despite the brilliance of his concept. I think the strong point of the writing is that it kept the book short, which allows for it to be read in one sitting and consequently, allows what tension there is to build.

The knowledge that this is a trilogy gives me an ounce of patience regarding the frustrating lack of resolution and reveals. I think I might have truly enjoyed this if there had been a real climax– or even a more clear-cut climax instead of one that made me re-read the scene three times. I’ve been told that the next book features different characters, which makes me more inclined to pick it up. But what I really want is answers. I want to know about the border door and the creatures that came to the lighthouse and the assimilation of Area X and what the deal is with the writing on the wall.

What worked for me: I was really pleased with how deftly VanderMeer wrote the full cast of females. His characterization of these women is the exact opposite of what bothers me in books like The Circle. Each character is unique, has her own set of strengths and weaknesses, and is perfectly capable of doing her respective job. There isn’t any jealousy or petty bickering– all the arguments revolve around the entirely plausible stress of Area X and how to proceed. I was also really pleased by the inclusion of an unreliable narrator, which I tend to adore (a la Catcher in the Rye and The Girl on the Train). Our entire touchstone to the world and the other characters is through the eyes of the biologist. This makes it increasingly difficult to know how much is accurate and how much is just her own personal bias speaking. Is the world actually changing and dangerous or is the biologist’s mind playing tricks on her?

My overall takeaway is that there is too much emphasis on presenting the mysteries without any emphasis on solving them. We are presented with the feelings of being observed by their surroundings, the anomaly of this ecological wonderland, the strange hybrid creatures everywhere (not to mention the ones climbing the lighthouse) and the frustratingly vague “brightness” within the biologist. But when it comes down to it, the best explanation we get is that Area X is a thorn thrust into the side of the earth. Literally, that’s the explanation.

“Think of it as a thorn, perhaps, a long, thick thorn so large it is buried deep in the side of the world. Injecting itself into the world. Emanating from this giant thorn is an endless, perhaps automatic, need to assimilate and to mimic.”

This may sound like I hated the book, but I didn’t. Was I disappointed by the stylistic choices? Yes, very much so. However, I do think it’s an intriguing storyline with some plot points that really caught my fancy (e.g. all those hidden journals, like holy jeebus). Based on the trailer, I think it’s safe to say that the movie is going to deviate massively from the book, and to be honest, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Annihilation

Queens of Everything

While I was reading Martin’s A Clash of Kings last month, I got to thinking about how much I adore Arya Stark and what an exceptional example of a great female character she was. It made me want to compile a list of some of my favorite females, so without further ado, here’s the heroines of my life (in no particular order, of course).

Books

Luna Lovegood: one of the rare instances where a film adaption truly did a literary character justice. Quirky and openly honest, Luna is unapologetically herself. A Ravenclaw (like me!), Luna is exceptionally open-minded and inquisitive and always brings a new perspective to things. || “Daddy, look — one of the gnomes actually bit me!” -JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Arya Stark: tough as nails, non-comforming, human through and through. What makes Arya such a dynamic character to me is the fact that she feels fear and loss, but moves forward all the same. She is one of the bravest and boldest characters I have ever come across and it’s virtually impossible not to adore and admire her. || “She tried so hard to be brave, to be fierce as a wolverine and all, but some times she felt she was a little girl after all.” -George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

Lucy Pevensie: my very first hero. When I first read the Chronicles of Narnia at the age of six, there was utterly no one I admired more than Lucy. Her spunk, tenderness, and delight with the world were all characteristics that I longed to emulate and adopt as my own. When the movies started coming out, I was over the moon for Georgie Henley– and not much has changed. She remains, to this day, the most marvelous embodiment of Lucy I could have ever asked for. || “Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed.” -C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

September: a little-known character from a little-known book series, September is the lead in Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland book series (if you haven’t read it yet, I cannot recommend it enough. I’m a sucker for prose that reads like poetry and Valente does it better than anyone.) Fuse Alice in Wonderland and Arya Stark and you’ll get an idea of the kind of heroine September is. She longs for adventure and desires to leave things better than she found them. She certainly left me better than she found me. || “It will be all hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.” -Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Comics

Gamora: the Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy and the light of my life. The MCU’s version of Gamora is nothing short of utterly disappointing, as comic book Gamora is the most badass and kickass thing alive but the movies simply paint her as a nagging and cranky gal with a weapon. Adopted child of the mad titan Thanos, Gamora is a master assassin, martial artist, and weapons master. Even Tony Stark can’t keep up with her in the sack, and she puts up with nobody’s shit. || “If you really knew me as well as you thought you did… you would not have attacked me.” -Gamora Zen Whoberi Ben Titan, Earth-7528

Diana of Themyscira: what could I say about the Woman of Wonder that hasn’t been said already? From 1941 to 2017 she has been an icon of empowerment, justice, and compassion. In 2016, the United Nations named her an Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Diana is canonically bisexual, historically supportive of people from all walks of life, and truly a wonderful role model. || “If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman.” -Gail Simone, Wonder Woman vol 3

Pamela Isley: eco warrior and the queen of my heart. Alias: Poison Ivy. Pamela can be frigid and brutal at the best of times, but she also has a true tenderness for those who need help– chiefly plants and Harley Quinn. Known for taking vengeance on those who have harmed Mother Nature, Pamela uses plant toxins and mind-controlling pheromones to exact revenge on behalf of the environment. It’s quite possible that she puts up with even less shit than Gamora does. || “This park, this is Gotham now… its future. Reclaimed by nature, pure without mankind’s assaults. It is a sanctuary now, and I am guardian. I will not let it be defiled. Not by anyone. Certainly not by you. Leave.” -Pamela Isley, New Earth

Shows & Movies

Sun Bak: a martial artist in the Sense8 cluster, Sun is a wise and selfless woman who sacrifices her entire life for the well-being of others. She is courageous and tender, and always seems to have a sage bit of advice to offer her fellow sensates. || “This is what life is. Fear, rage, desire… love. To stop feeling emotions, to stop wanting to feel them, is to feel death.” -Sun Bak, Sense8 #1.11

Leia Organa: a no-contest. I grew up with four brothers, and watching Leia in New Hope was the first time I got to see a girl do the same things my brothers’ action heroes did. She could shoot and sass with the best of them, and was willing to give up her comfortable life for the betterment of the galaxy. No girl should have to grow up without seeing a princess save herself. || “Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy.” -Leia, A New Hope

Garnet: in terms of Steven Universe characters, I’m a full-blown Lapis Lazuli. But gosh, I really wish I was a Garnet. A crystal gem of few words, Garnet is a sage fusion of two gems in love and the unofficial leader of the Crystal Gems. She rises to the occassion in every situation, displaying everything from maternal instincts to battle commander status. She experiences emotions deeply, but is careful not to let those emotions rule her. (Artist credit here) || “There are millions of possibilities for the future, but it’s up to you to choose which becomes reality. Please understand. You choose your own future.” -Garnet, #1.39

Irene Adler: morally grey all the way. Irene Adler, alias: The Woman, makes similar decisions to Pamela Isley, but for opposite reasons. A true neutral through and through, Irene bases all her decisions on what might be in her best interest. She looks out for number one, regardless of who might get in her way. However, as we see in A Scandal in Belgravia, she is not without emotion and not beyond caring. || “Do you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.” -Irene Adler, BBC’s Sherlock, #2.1

Peggy Carter: talk about your strong women… Agent Carter is where the reality of being a woman in the 1940’s meets the fantasy of a world with superheroes and alternate dimensions. Peggy is resilient in the face of relentless adversity, determined to do her best work, and still remains compassionate and tenderhearted despite it all. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and is often left holding the short end of the stick. She deserves the world, but contents herself to work on making that world for future generations of women. || “All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do is to start over.” -Peggy Carter, Captain America: The Winter Solider 

 

And that about sums it up! Runner-up characters were Blue Sargent from The Raven Cycle, Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Galadriel from Lord of the Rings, Marceline the Vampire Queen from Adventure Time, and Rey from The Force Awakens (although I’m sure she’ll be much more than a runner-up after The Last Jedi)

While I was typing up this list and outlining what exactly it is that makes me connect with these women, I realized that a lot of them have something in common: they are strong, but not at the expense of feeling emotions. That’s definitely something that I struggled to balance in my teen years, largely due to society telling us that to cry is to show weakness and other things of that nature. It’s reassuring in a very big way to see women like Peggy Carter and Sun Bak and Hermione Granger who aren’t afraid of their emotions and to bear witness to the ways in which they manage those emotions in healthy ways.

So, here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

Pet Peeves in Female Characters

Prompted by: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, and Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

If there’s one thing I really appreciate in a book, it’s a strong female lead. Give me a dynamic girl who has character flaws and hard decisions to make and realistic personality traits, and I’ll sing her praises to kingdom come. Sadly, it seems like I’ve come across more and more poorly written female leads lately. Maybe part of that is because my reading list this summer was largely composed of fantasy and romance novels so the odds simply weren’t in my favor.

Half of me is happy that writers are even making an effort to create female leads at all, but the other half of me is feels as if a poorly written female lead might be worse than no female lead at all.  So with that being said, here are my top 5 pet peeves when writing female characters.

Giving a character no redeeming qualities… but somehow everyone gravitates towards them anyway.

This is Alina from Shadow and Bone through and through. She’s surly, she’s self-depreciative, and every description of her paints her as an unappealing and unattractive person. One of her wards at the orphanage described her by saying: “She’s an ugly little thing. No child should look like that. Pale and sour, like a glass of milk that’s turned.” She’s short with her best friend, rude to people she meets for the first time, negative about her own abilities, and unwilling to meet anyone halfway. And yet, people fawn over her, follow her, fight for her, and profess their love for her. There’s a line between a believable character and an unappealing one. Everyone has shortcomings, and it’s a mark of a good writer to include those. But it’s also a mark of a good writer to make sure their characters have redeeming qualities as well. We have to understand what it is about them that inspires affection and admiration, and it has to be believable.

Overemphasis on looks.

I don’t need or want a page about the exact details of someones physical features. I don’t need to know about their bone structure and the precise shade of their skin and the way the grey flecks in their blue eyes shimmer whenever they turn their gaze upon you. Instead, provide a few grounding details and let the reader flesh out the rest. One of the most magical things about a good book is that the reader can imagine themselves as the hero. Hermione is a perfect example of this– her first introduction describes her as having “lots of bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth.” That’s it. All of her other interactions and descriptions revolve around her intelligence and personality, not her appearance. This allows readers to envision Hermione as someone they would want to emulate and someone they can relate to.

hermione
Artist: mariannewiththesteadyhands via tumblr
Girl on girl hate.

I have zero patience for automatic negativity between girls. I hate the frequency with which it shows up in media because it perpetuates a hugely unhealthy social norm. We see it in Game of Thrones (more on that in a future post) and Stranger Things and Shadow and Bone and so many other books and shows and movies. A glaring example of this can be found in The Circle by Dave Eggers– and it’s even more infuriating because it’s written by a man. Honestly, I could write an entire post about what’s wrong with The Circle. (For me, it was comparable to The Hunger Games in that it’s a brilliant idea but it was poorly executed.) The Circle is a good example of a situation where an author simply shouldn’t have written a female lead. The way Eggers writes his main character, Mae, makes it feel like she’s what he thinks women are like, rather than how they really are. She’s one-dimensional, contentious, emotional, easily distracted, extremely sexual, and consistently gets jealous of/mad at her female best friend. The relationship between the two young women is fraught with shallow behavior and poor communication. Rather than writing a healthy relationship, he crafts a vindictive and negative one. A good example of the opposite can be found between Celia and Isobel in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. Celia and Isobel are two strong and dynamic females who end up involved with the same romantic interest. Normally, this would be the perfect situation for an author to write in snarky dialogue and overt jealousy. Instead, both women handle the situation with grace and class, and even have respectful and constructive conversations with each other. It’s positive and uplifting and more books should follow suit.

Making romance seem like the most important thing that could possibly happen to a woman.

This goes hand-in-hand with insta-love in a lot of ways. Girl ventures into the great big world, girls meets boy, boy shows interest, girls falls head over heels. The trope of writing in adoration over the first man to show interest in a female is tiring and not very believable. Sure, it’s nice to feel desirable, but there’s more important things in life than infatuation.  Romance has its place in the literary world, but insta-love implies that romance is the most important thing there is. Romantic relationships are not a judge of character and the worth of a woman shouldn’t be weighed based on her relationship status. Kelsea provides a very refreshing take on this in Queen of the Tearling. She is a young woman (and queen) surrounded by strapping men of all ages, but get this– she doesn’t instantly develop romantic feelings towards any of them! Erika Johansen handles it in a very realistic way by not pretending that people aren’t attracted to each other, but rather keeping the focus on the more important things that require our main character’s attention.

Excessive indecision or an inability to make up her mind.

Let’s be real, decisions are hard, and sometimes they take up a lot of mental real estate. That is normal and natural and it can definitely be a difficult thing to convey in writing when we aren’t spending every second inside a character’s head. With that being said, ceaseless indecision is annoying to the max. Nyx in Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty is an all-too-excessive example of this. She hates her sister one minute, the next she’s crying over how she didn’t treat her better. She hates the Gentle Lord, then five minutes later she’s stroking his hair and watching him sleep. She’s plotting to save her world but then decides to just do her own thing a few pages later. It’s exhausting and ever so unnecessary.


At the end of the day, I just want to believe in these characters. I want to read about women I would be friends with and women that I can see myself in. I want more Hermione Grangers and Blue Sargents and Septembers and Arya Starks. I want girls and women who are beautiful because of their bravery and special because of their strength. They shouldn’t be perfect– they should be real.