July 16, 2018

Do it for Her, or Whatever -- ACT II

Hey, how’s it going?  Let’s talk about female characters again -- up to and including female character designs.

Let’s get to it.  Right after I whack this beehive with a hockey stick, slap a bear across the face, give that police officer over there a wedgie, and then bathe in gasoline so I can justify carrying this lit match around.

Things might get a little dicey, is what I’m trying to say here.  Leave your sensibilities at the door.

I know that I’ve gone over this topic before, and apologies in advance if you end up feeling some serious deja vu (or nausea).  But as someone who’s been deeply influenced by video games -- a heavily audiovisual medium -- I feel like I can’t rest until I have as many physical details about a character planned out/visualized/sketched before I actually get to work.  Of course, the writer half of me does its best to take those designs and make them more than simply that.  The coolest mofo in the galaxy is worthless without a personality.  At a bare minimum.

Despite the start of this post, I don’t want to dwell solely on appearances.  In this case, it’s more anecdotal.  A jumping-off point, albeit one rooted in familiar territory.  See, there was one point when I was writing about this subject, and an image I saw well before that sprang to mind.  But when it came time for the upload, I couldn’t find it.  I wish I’d thought to save it beforehand, because it was a perfect way to illustrate a point (assuming I had one).  Now I’ve found it, which if nothing else means that my Google Fu has gotten stronger over the years.

So here it is.  See if you can spot the difference.

Not to make a blanket statement, but…uh…women really do tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to fiction, eh?  They’re forced to be the love interests.  They’re forced to be the damsels in distress.  They’re forced to be the mysterious waifs.  They’re forced to be the eye candy.  And so on, and so forth; we’re all familiar with the old-hat roles, though thankfully we’re stepping away from them.  Sometimes.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, you get stuff like this -- stuff telling you, however accidentally, however subtly, that female characters have to “be this” or “do this”.

As I’ve said (as recently as last week!), it’s my resolute intent to write a story featuring a kaiju-sized single mom.  The particulars make it so that her story doesn’t start at that point, but make no mistake: out of my ten heroes, she’s firmly among them.  If I could, I would gladly put her in a fighting game roster (given plot events/instances in the story, there are ways to get her in there while maintaining the spirit of her stature, Ridley-style).  And given the proverbial progress I’ve made with both the character and the story, I’m more eager than ever to get down to business.

Here’s the thing that gets to me, though: I’m writing this post in 2018.  Precise height aside, you could more or less argue that my heroine is basically just a send-up of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, which originally came out in 1958.  There is a literal sixty-year gap between my idea and the movie which has inspired various homages and parodies.  But of those, how many of them have been substantial?  How many of them have taken the concept seriously, and/or did it justice through top-notch -- or even par for the course -- execution?

Near as I can tell?  In the movie world, just one: Monsters vs. Aliens.  A movie that’s about to turn 10 years old.

This concept should have been done by now, and done better than I ever could.  But it hasn’t, at least not on a reasonable scale.  There’s some manga/comics out there, and doujins too, and probably a wealth of Rule 34 material -- which for obvious reasons I’m trying to avoid -- yet there’s a gap not many have tried to bridge.  Why?  Why is it that an attempt to find a solid story about a giant woman (who, to be absolutely clear, is the MAIN character) only leads me to that Steven Universe song in an endless loop?  Why can’t I get something different from the norm?

Well, maybe I just answered my own question.  Maybe it’s because I’m going against the norm -- against what’s established.  Because what’s different is, simply put, something that people can’t see.  Or won’t see.

That’s conjecture, obviously -- and hyperbolic, generalizing conjecture -- but hear me out here.  That picture up there with the “female fantasy races”?  In some cases, it’s only exaggerating by a little bit.  You look at some of the shapes the monster guys can have, and how they can all run the gamut -- be anything, do anything.  Then you look at the shapes the monster girls can have, and…uh…no.  It’s not equal.  

I mean, think back to Monsters vs. Aliens.  You’ve got the blob, a cockroach-man, and the creature from the black lagoon for the guys.  What about the girls?  The monster girl is just a human scaled up by a factor of 10, and given white hair.  And yeah, I know a big reveal was that the kaiju Insectosaurus turned out to be a girl, but for like 90% of that movie the assumption was “male”, and very little was done to suggest otherwise.  Parity!

And we can take it even further.  I remember a podcast discussion involving animation and Disney princesses, and a supposed edict in the industry at one point.  Whereas male characters can be distorted by a huge margin in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it frames, female characters aren’t because they have to look pretty.  Always pretty.  Even if those distortions -- again, however brief -- would add to the character rather than detract.  It’s another artificial limit that, when you think about it, really makes you raise your eyebrow.

And to be clear, it’s not a problem that limits or affects everyone (off the top of my head, The Incredibles has some striking female character designs, and characters in general).  But even if there are bright stars in the night sky of creativity, there’s still a lot of black, blank space.  Think about all the animated movies out there.  Think of how varied the male characters can be -- in terms of silhouettes, costumes, features, and the basic shapes that comprise their bodies/faces -- and then think of females in comparison.  Think of comic books, where the one body type (you know the one) gets repeated ad infinitum.  Think of video games.  Or not.  Oh god, that’s a deep hole.

But since I’m already there?  My ultimate example -- and the segue into my key point -- is Honoka from Dead or Alive.  I’ve complained about her before because (like an idiot) I got my hopes up and figured Team Ninja would do something different for their then-unrevealed “biggest character yet”.  So many possibilities with the character, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand they just made her a schoolgirl.  That’s it.  Her moveset was just a hodgepodge of attacks from other characters.  She was basically Marie Rose with a different hair cut, and the bust slider set to MAX instead of MIN (for whatever god it’d do in a game where everyone shares the same body type).  Does she even have a personality?  I’m hard-pressed to answer.  Also, I don’t care enough to look.

I’ll say now what I said back then, even if it means giving Team Ninja more forgiveness than they deserve.  I’d like to think, or at least hope, that whenever there’s a less-than-stellar female character -- in terms of design, personality, activity, or general execution -- it’s not so much a matter of the creator making a grudge against the gender well-known.  It doesn’t necessarily imply that said creator is a hack.  It’s just that, if/when presented with alternate possibilities, the response is the same: “Oh, I didn’t think of that.”

Storytelling and creativity across any artistic medium means being able to cull something together from the sea of infinite possibilities.  In a way, that’s a talent in itself; those that can do it adeptly have an edge that can only follow well-worn pathways.  Granted you need to be able to build a solid pathway and not just jam random pieces together, but the point still stands.  You need to be able to see the possibilities.  The road.

And I guess if nothing else, that’s my greatest ability as a writer.  I can see.

I’d like to think that I’ve proven that with this blog, given that I’ve uploaded multiple posts on how to add A Goofy Movie to Kingdom Hearts III (and do both justice).  Generating ideas is a specialty of mine, even above intuiting the core of a story, and definitely above the thought-to-word execution of ideas.  While there’s no such thing as a 100% original idea these days -- chalk that up to being born in the wrong millennium -- any creator worth his daily bread should be able to venture into territory that, at the very least, feels original.  

For some people, it’s an impossible task -- too hard, too scary, too much work.  I get that.  I remember back in fifth grade when I knew kids that struggled to reach the five-page mark double-spaced.  Meanwhile, I turned in a 19-page whopper (single-spaced, albeit because I wrote it on paper…even if I worked well into the night by virtue of my procrastination streak).  I didn’t regret it back then.  I don’t regret it now.  I’m driven by childish ambitions -- by eyes bigger than my stomach -- and those whims push me to use my works to venture into territory that satisfies me on a personal level.  Yet if you want to pare it down to basics?  I do it because it’s fun.

It’s fun to come up with new characters, worlds, and concepts.  Fun to refine them until they become something truly outstanding.  And, it’s fun to reach that point -- the instant, the eureka moment when everything comes together.  The joy that comes from insight, and knowing you’ve reached a new plateau with your creation.

I doubt I’m the only creator who feels that way.  And I want to keep feeling that way -- want to keep seeing the new roads I’ve crafted -- for as long as it takes.  And then some.

I’m doing it for myself and some very selfish desires.  That much can’t be debated.  But on some level my ideas have taken on a life of their own, as have the characters -- including this one.  This special little [citation needed] lady is someone I want to develop, expound upon, and offer up to the world.  Why?  To challenge myself.  To show what I’ve seen.  And, as a tribute to the character that’s inspired me so.

I may be doing this for myself, and for anyone who’s willing to give me (and her) a chance, all for the sake of stories that can put smiles on others’ faces.  But at the same time?  I’m doing it for people who will never exist, and could never exist.  At this stage, I don’t have a choice.

I’ve got to do it for her.

And maybe I’ll figure out what “it” is the next time this post series comes around.  It’s…nebulous, to say the least.

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