Shoes and Handbags

You know how when you’re walking across a parking lot, you’re scoping out possible escape routes, watching everyone around you for signs of instability or danger, and figuring out how—if you were attacked by the shifty-eyed guy in the inappropriately large coat over there, or the other one who’s skulking along a line of cars not meeting anyone’s eye, like he’s trying to hide something—you’d kill him with the weapon he pulled on you, or your car keys, or your thumbs, teeth, and knees?

Or how, when you’re in a nice restaurant with your beloved husband and kid, you’re figuring out what you would do if a lunatic with multiple firearms charged in intending a massacre, and you had to take him out to save their lives?

No?

Just me, then?

Well, that’s awkward. So… aaaanyway… I’m going to discuss creating characters you can respect.

And it starts with shoes and handbags.

I own three pairs of shoes. Before I bought each pair, it had to meet two criteria. I had to be able to flee in the shoes. I had to be able to fight in them. That’s it. If I had to run from an attacker in a parking lot or kill a deranged maniac in a restaurant or wherever, my shoes could not in any way hamper what I needed to do. Could I vault over table tops, or crouch-walk beneath them? Could I run across the tops of a line of parked cars, jumping from car roof to car roof? (Yes, I’m still a good runner, I still have a good long jump, and I can both vault and crouch-walk. I’m not talking Walter Mitty stuff here.)

I own no handbags. The problem with handbags is defined in the name itself. Hand bag. You have to have one hand on them at all times. Otherwise they will fall off the shoulder that they have made lower than your other shoulder because you’ve been dragging one around for so long it’s bent your body. If you have to back into a guy who has grabbed you from behind, lever him over your back and slam him to the ground, and then take out his eyes with your thumbs, you need to have both hands free.

Yes. That’s what I think about on bright sunny days walking across parking lots.

Years ago, my friend Michael, who was an officer in the Army at the time, decided once to demonstrate something about women needing to be protected (we’d had a vigorous discussion on this some days earlier). So without warning, he lunged at me in my kitchen, doing some sort of attacker yell…and landed against a wall on the opposite side of the kitchen, with a bruised shoulder and a hurt expression on his face. “You weren’t supposed to attack,” he said.

Doing what you’re not supposed to do can save your life, I explained to him. And my instinct is not to scream and wait for rescue. Bad shit had already happened to me by that point. I’d learned when I was fourteen that you can’t trust strangers, and I learned when I was fifteen that you can’t trust the people you should be able to trust with your life. I was still a couple of years away from discovering that you can’t trust the person with whom you had two children…but I’d already learned to keep my survival plan active at all times. Flee if there’s a place to flee, attack if there isn’t. That’s me.

So I do not own a handbag, a clutch purse, a briefcase, or a hefty carryall. I have a backpack, and wear it over both shoulders so it does not impede either of my hands.

I’m never going to make it as a fashionista. Hell, I may not make it out of the parking lot. But if I don’t, I still want the cops to say, “Yeah. It’s a damn shame she didn’t make it. But they’ll still be digging pieces of the assailant out of the pavement next month.”

Back to characters.

I could not with a straight face write a novel where the heroine wears Prada and owns seventy pairs of kitten heels and spike heels and talks about how ani she is and waits for the man with the big bank account to come along and fall in love with her because she’s so…so…whatever the hell it is these characters are that men will fling themselves over cliffs to get.

If I were writing her, she’d be the woman found in pieces in the dumpster as the chapter two opener. I know me.

I could not write a novel where the hero is nothing but a vibrator strapped to an unlimited credit card. I wouldn’t want to hang out with that guy. I like to talk about hockey and writing and ideas and philosophy, and my guy pushes me to think harder, to ask better questions, and to evaluate every statement I make for flaws in logic and reasoning…which is what makes him the right man for me. But I have read a number of books where “vibrator+credit card” is the perfect definition of the hero. He rescues her from her helpless little self, he puts out, and then he stays out of the way so the heroine’s throng of yappy, shallow friends can ooh and ah over how big his… ah… bank account is.

Clearly somebody has to write those novels, because there are hordes of readers waiting to buy them. I ended up reading them because I was given copies and told, “You should write something like this. You’d make a lot of money.”

Writers and their characters don’t—or at least shouldn’t—work that way. Never write a character you can’t stand because you think it’ll make you rich. You’ll hate yourself in the morning, and for the exact same reason whores are not filled with pride and self-esteem from their line of work.

You have to write the people who resonate with YOU.

My heroines—like me—understand that bad shit can happen at any time, and they are determined from the first that if survival is possible, they will survive, and if survival is not possible, then they will not die cowering in a corner waiting for the rescue that never comes. And like me, they understand this because bad shit has already happened. And because they learned WHY you don’t wait for rescue—you save yourself. And because they have learned to value their own lives, not for what their lives mean to other people, but because of what their lives mean to them.

And so, my heroines do not consider shoes and handbags based on their stylishness, their designer labels, or their fashion cachet. If I have a need to discuss shoes, running shoes or walking shoes may get a mention. If I mention bags at all, look for backpacks.

My heroines will be self-supporting. And my heroes are not wealthy as a primary attribute. They may be successful, but if they are, their ambition and goals are what I admire about them. See, I spent a bunch of miserable years in a country club life, and I have discovered that I don’t like men who lead with their wealth, especially wealth they didn’t earn. My heroes are smart and honorable, and they can be pretty funny, but they’re earning their lives, too.

Your primary characters, your heroes and heroines, the people you write that you want your readers to care about, should not be carbon copies of you. Mine aren’t. But they are people I would be friends with, whom I want to spend time with. They are people who understand the importance of having your hands free. Of making sure your feet work the way they were designed to work at any given time. They’re people who understand that you have to actually like members of the opposite sex before you go to bed with them. They’re people who can watch their own backs, but will watch yours because they care about you and value you.

Before you can ask your reader to spend replaceable money in order to then spend irreplaceable time with someone you’ve created, you have to make sure that you’d want to spend time with those characters first. That they meet YOUR criteria for people worth knowing.

That they fit you like a good pair of shoes… however you might define good shoes.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

163 comments… add one
  • Craig A. Eddy May 14, 2009 @ 12:06

    Holly

    The example I used (and the quote you gave) are an amalgam. A lot of it is Robert Heinlein, but you can toss in some Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey and a few others. Take that and filter it down through what I use for a brain for 10 or 20 years and the end result was that quote. I guess that’s the long way of saying that the words are mine but the ideas come from others. BTW, ANYTHING I put up on the web is under Creative Commons license, and or public domain (If it isn’t noted, it’s available as public domain), so feel free.

    Craig

  • Drake_esla May 14, 2009 @ 11:50

    Not actually trying to argue here, just interested in exploring the concept of ‘sacrifice’. I appreciate internally consistent philosophies, and I’d like to see where this one goes, in the grand scientific tradition of the ‘thought experiment’.

    I’d like to take a relatively neutral example, though, granted, one that does tend to carry some emotional weight. (‘Soldier’, ‘cop’ and ‘UN Peacekeeper’ trigger so many strong associations I’d like to steer clear of those for now.)

    What about firefighters? Firefighters risk, and often lose, their lives for random individuals. (They are trained. They’re equipped. It’s a calculated risk. They do their best not to die, of course, but it does happen, and they start every shift with the knowledge that it just might, today, and they’ll run into the flames anyhow.) They’ll risk their lives for trapped people when they could, in many cases, have stood outside with the big hoses and prevented the spread of the fire in relative safety.

    My logic tells me that if an action is evil, it does not become less evil because you’re getting paid to do it. (Opinions on this may vary, but this point, I’ll fight for.) If taking a bullet for an unknown individual is potentially evil, is running into a burning building to rescue random people evil?

    Is the job of firefighter morally ambiguous? If so, am I potentially doing evil when I am glad that my jurisdiction has firefighters?

    What about relief workers in a disaster area? The medical personnel who donate their time to Doctors Without Borders? They risk their lives for people they don’t know. Or worse, search and rescue volunteers, who go out, usually, after people who could have chosen not to ski out of bounds or go hiking.

    Can we evaluate their work as uncatagorically evil, neutral, potentially good, or do we wait to evaluate the actions of the people whose lives they preserve prior to making that call?

    This is an interesting discussion.

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 11:43

    Craig —

    And as for politics, its only purpose is “compromise” – the art of giving nobody what they want and everybody what they’ll be dissatisfied with.

    That’s the finest short definition of politics (and compromise) I’ve ever read. Quote? Or original with you?

    Either way, thank you. Reading it made me very, very happy. 😀

  • Craig A. Eddy May 14, 2009 @ 11:11

    Holly,

    Oh, you got me laughing, there. I quite agree with you. Anyone that can look at something that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and call it a handbag is NOT, in my opinion, a philosopher. And as for politics, its only purpose is “compromise” – the art of giving nobody what they want and everybody what they’ll be dissatisfied with. You will get no dispute from me on those additions.

    And I’m STILL laughing . . .

    Craig

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 11:03

    Craig, we’re essentially in agreement here, but I’d add both politics and mystic philosophies such as that of Emmanuel Kant into the category of Ways of Thinking That Refuse To Submit to the Test Of Empirical Evidence.

  • Craig A. Eddy May 14, 2009 @ 10:40

    Joe and Holly,

    I’m going to start this with a bit of philosophy:

    Rene Descartes (Yea, the guy for whom Cartesian coordinates is named): “I think, therefore I am.”
    George Berkeley (For whom UCLA, Berkeley is named. They mis-pronounce it): “To be is to be perceived.”
    Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (Danish philosopher and theologian): roughly, “To be is to have the ability to feel angst.”

    ME: “I am, therefore I think, I am able to be perceived, and I have the ability to feel angst.” That definition had a philosophy professor laughing with glee. He did more laughing during an ethics class when I took an impossible position and not only survived but had ethics books thrown at me by the members of the class. But that’s another story.

    My point is that the only viewpoint that any individual can have is his/her own. This immediately leads to the conclusion (erroneous) that the human viewpoint is subjective. It isn’t. Think for a moment why the highest degree offered by a University is Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Science came about because of the work of philosophers (they may not have intended it that way, but that’s what happened), and much of the methodology involved is based on the previous philosophical methodology. Why? Because it worked. The methodology developed over time and by numerous philosophers resulted in a way of testing empirical data to result in objective “truths”.

    There is one form of philosophy that does NOT do this. Religion. Religion has been called “philosophy with the presupposition of the existence of God”. The problem with it is that it does NOT lead to objective results. The “existence of God” answers all the difficult parts. One just takes the answer on faith without any thinking needed at all. (Maybe another way of defining religion is that it’s a lazy person’s philosophy.) I have been many things in my life including, at the time that I was in college as an adult student with a wife and three children, a ministerial candidate (I didn’t become a minister but that, too, is another story). I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy (I tend to term it a B.A. in BS). It was at that time that I discovered that, as one follows an historic timeline, everything at any single point is connected: society, mathematics and science, music, art and philosophy, etc. However, as philosophy has grown and changed over time, religion has remained static since the Middle Ages – frozen into a nearly immutable form by tradition and “faith”.

    So, sorry Joe, but when I hear an argument based on religion or religious principles I wince. When I hear the argument that there can be no objective reality I tend to question the ability of the protagonist’s ability to think clearly. The color blue is blue regardless of what you call it. The objective reality exhibited there is in the fact of its existence and that it is perceived by the majority of humans, and given a common name by those humans in order to have an easy way to define it. And so it goes for any other objective fact, including behavior.

    I am. I exist. Therefore my opinion concerning what I perceive is at least as good (if not better) than the opinion of those around me. And it’s the opinion that I MUST follow to be true to myself and to those I love or who rely on me. As a result it is necessary to make sure that my opinion is based on objective facts to the best of my ability.

    Does God exist? Heh heh heh . . . to be continued . . . in the NEXT life.

    Craig

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 9:42

    Vanity—

    Thanks, and corrected. I actually checked that before writing it down, because I didn’t know. My source apparently got it wrong.

  • vanity May 14, 2009 @ 9:29

    One minor nit: The wavelength is in nanometers, so if you want to list it in Ã…ngström, you’d have to multiply by 10, making it 4750 Ã… in your example.

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 8:56

    Joe—

    Thanks, Holly, for your definition of sacrifice, which certainly covers your back more on your definition of good and evil.

    I’m not trying to cover my back here. I am simply putting forward the working definitions I use in my own life—which I use precisely because these definitions DO work. That is, when I use them as my standards, and take actions based on them, I get the results in my own life that I intend to get.

    I used pregnancy as sacrifice as a point you would obviously disagree with to see whether your “objective” definition of evil stood up.

    I doubt that, actually. People debating something something of importance to them (and this is a matter of importance to both of us) lead with their best arguments.

    What if you define sacrifice differently.

    Here I have to laugh. What if I defined “blue” differently? If I define it as anything other than an electromagnetic wavelength in the range of approximately 475 nanometers, it isn’t blue, no matter what I might care to claim.

    Since you attempt to change the definition of the word from mine to yours before debating the point, I have to assume that what follows is a point you cannot defend if you use mine. Since you do not then offer your definition of the word, I’ll stick with mine in responding.

    Terrorist shoots at 12-yr-old. I,60, jump in the way and save him. My death is certainly a sacrifice, and it’s certainly good because it’s selfless and the kid probably has 30 more years to live.

    You’ve included insufficient information above. Examine your principles before deciding that what you have done is good.

    Do you think all lives younger than yours are more valuable than yours simply by virtue of having more potential room at the end?

    I don’t. I would choose to preserve my own life over the lives of random strangers, because I know my life has value to me and because I know that it has value to the people who love me and who count on me to be there. I know that by living I will do good.

    So I would not leap in to save some stranger’s child by taking a bullet for him. That would deprive my remaining at-home child of a mother, my husband of his partner and best friend, my students of a teacher and my readers of books and articles (and I’ve received a number of letters from my readers that begin with the words “Your book (article) saved my life” so this is NOT something I take lightly, or say flippantly).

    Do you think that the good you can do in the remaining time you have is of less value than whatever any random child might choose to do with his life?

    If you die to save your example twelve-year-old and he grows up to be a serial killer, have you done something good? No, you haven’t. You have done something evil, because you have replaced a man of principle who would have lived out the rest of his life helping people (no matter the philosophy that led him to do it) with someone who will destroy the lives not just of his victims, but of a viciously widening circle of people who knew, loved, and needed those victims as living and active parts of their lives. You have sacrificed something of greater value for something of lesser value, and the results have been horrific.

    So, yes, that would be a sacrifice. And yes, it would be selfless, because you would derive nothing of benefit for what you would have done. And your sacrifice would be evil. Objectively evil, by my definition.

    Is the child someone who matters to you? A grandchild, perhaps? If you die to save him, have you done something selfless? No. You hold the life of your grandchild as of greater value than your own, and so you benefit by knowing that you have acted to preserve your higher value at the cost of your lesser value. You die upholding your principles. And because you have done this, you have not sacrificed, either. Your greater value survives. And you have done something good. Objectively good, by my definition.

    This is something I would do. I would take a bullet to save any one of my kids, or Matt, and for these reasons.

    Which I think comes back to loosen the ground under your definition of evil.

    No. It doesn’t.

    If you believe in objective good and evil, you believe in absolutes.

    First, eliminate the word “believe.” “Believe” implies that I have no evidence to back up my principles. I don’t “believe in” anything. I require proof. Fortunately for me, I am very good at getting proof.

    I question life—every aspect of it, all the time.

    From my questions, I derive hypotheses—that is, ideas that I can test and put to work because I think they could help me or those I value.

    I determine courses of action that I think will get me specific results I want, working within my principles. When I was younger I had fewer principles, because I had not yet conducted as many tests—so some of my tests of my own life conducted back then resulted in very bad results…but very good principles based on never doing THAT again 🙂 .

    Sometimes, the test tube blows up. Sometimes the flying glass hurts. You learn not to dump a strong acid and a strong base into a tightly sealed container—at least, you learn if you’re paying attention. (That was metaphor. My own life tests were a lot messier.)

    In any case, I then observe what happens, I review my results, and I formulate principles that guide me in living my life to my best purpose and highest values.

    Where do these come from if you don’t believe in a God who defines good and evil? Everyone is free to make their own interpretation, why would yours be better than that of Jesus or my nextdoor neighbour?

    And here you’re back to trying to make the point that there is no objective (provable) good or objective (provable) evil. Have you considered what you’re arguing for here?

    I am at this point an outsider to your religion, and I’m stunned that you really want to try to prove this, because proving it would disprove not just rational thought, but ALSO any value your religion might offer.

    Let’s look at your God, whom your religion’s literature claims threw humanity out of Eden because they learned the difference between good and evil.

    Do you wish to make the argument that humanity once knew the difference, but has forgotten it?

    Do you wish to make the argument that God threw humanity out based on an arbitrary, fuzzy, “you can’t really know what good and evil are but I’m kicking out out anyway” version of good and evil?

    Even worse, do you wish to make the argument that God knows the definition of good and evil, but has somehow intentionally hidden the standards by which he operates (since you do state that God is absolute good) from his creations? Why would he do that? Because he wants to create conditions in which the majority of his children, his beloved creations, can fail, so that he can torture them for eternity?

    Or finally, do you wish to make the argument that there is no true good and no true evil; that these values are actually relative, and that therefore not even God can define what is good and what is evil? In which case, what good is your religion, or your God?

    If you are claiming that man cannot now know the difference between good and evil, these are the four options drawn from your religion available to debate.

    These are all questions I asked myself when I was sixteen. I did not ask them trying to justify my current position, which was that of devout Christian. I asked the questions because when I read and thought about the meaning and the consequences of what my religion actually taught, I could not accept what it seemed to be saying. I asked because I wanted and needed to know the answers. The answers I got are the REASON I am no longer a devout Christian, and the REASON that I consider every religion’s injunction to take on faith those articles of the religion that cannot be proven, but must be swallowed whole, as evil.

    My definition of evil, wherein the mindless following of unsupportable articles of faith leads inevitably to witch-burnings, jihad, Inquisitions, and other atrocities. Thoughts lead to decisions which lead to actions which lead to consequences. If the consequences of the actions are evil, then the thoughts based on the religion or philosophy that led to the actions, the actions themselves, and that portion of the religion or philosophy that spawned them, are all evil.

    That’s why my definitions are good. Because I can prove them with results.

    Finally, if you choose to deflect to the position of “Adam and Eve was just a story”, rather than answer the legitimate question of proving the point you’re trying so hard to prove, let me counter that here and in advance.

    I too think Adam and Eve was just a story. I think they ALL were just stories—bits of philosophy cobbled together by earlier civilizations put into parable form or story form to make the philosophy being forwarded easier to understand, collected severally in various locations, compiled over time into a collection of “God’s Greatest Hits,” and heavily edited by the Council of Trent, who cleared out anything that didn’t agree with their personal opinions.

    If you believe the book that remains is the word of an infallible and all-knowing God, you can either accept it for what it says in its (mangled surviving) entirety, or question the fact that in the parts that men chose to keep as being worth saving, that God thought human sacrifice was cool and the thing to do until Abraham and Isaac; he thought Noah was worth saving, even though Noah got drunk and had sex with his daughters; and he chose to save Lot, who threw his daughter to rapists rather than go down to face them himself, but arbitrarily turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt because she had the temerity to look over her shoulder at the destruction of the only life she had ever known—one that was at that moment being ripped from her. What does this say about God? And what does it say about the men who deign to speak for him?

    And even should you decide to blow off the Old Testament entirely in favor of the New Testament, your God’s STILL the guy who thinks eternal torture is a good way of dealing with the majority of the souls you claim he created and loves.

    You have any kids? I have three. Do you love them? I love mine.

    How long do you think is an appropriate time to punish a child (or adult child) for whatever he might have done, however stupid or evil?

    My answer: Until he has made reparations to the person who suffered from his actions.

    If your child lived to be seventy, and made some very bad choices with his life that resulted in awful outcomes, would you consider an appropriate punishment for every wrong decision he ever made eternal torture?

    I would not.

    Do you consider it appropriate to punish a child if he has done nothing evil, but instead is living a good life based on sound principles?

    I do not.

    Do you consider it appropriate to punish a child who is living a good life based on sound principles with the punishment of eternal torture, because he does not agree with you?

    I do not.

    Have you truly considered how long eternity is?

    I have.

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 7:48

    Nandini—

    Holly, I didn’t know you were an Objectivist!

    I’m not. I’m not a member of anyone’s philosophy or group or political organization. Or religion, but I’ve already pretty clearly covered that.

    I’m an objective thinker. I discovered Rand late last year, and from what I’ve read of her so far, (Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Virtue of Selfishness, and Philosophy—Who Needs It?) she agrees with me.

    And yes, I know how arrogant that sounds, but I started figuring out how to look at life objectively when I was about fourteen, and though it took me longer to live rationally than it took her—I think I may have had a lot more vehemently religious hang-ups to work through—I was already there when I found her work.

    She has given me some spectacular vocabulary premade that prior to reading her I was struggling with on my own, however. And I love what I’ve read of her work.

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 7:37

    Pandababy—

    I enjoyed the time I spent with Talyn and with Cady, loved it so much I read them both three times (or was it four?).

    Thank you. I loved both of those characters, and Cady has been my favorite for years. I have other books for her in mind, but am probably going to have to write them on my own.

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 7:35

    Hi, Wandering Author,

    But I’m afraid I do have to disagree with you on one thing. But first, I want to be very clear. I do not like or admire Hitler, and I don’t wish to defend him in any way. I am legally blind. I would have been rounded up and eliminated in Nazi Germany, as “life which is unworthy of life”. *pause to retch* I hate all the Nazis stood for. But, purely in the interest of understanding such destructive idiocy, I must point out that the historical record does suggest Hitler believed he was doing “good”. *pause to vomit* To the very end of the war, resources which could have been used in the fight against the Allies were diverted to be used in rounding up and exterminating Jews. Now, that was a horrible thing – I am not arguing it was not. But if Hitler and the other top Nazis didn’t believe it to be good, why would they reduce their own chances of survival just to accomplish it.

    We don’t actually disagree. I was disagreeing with the writer who claimed that because Hitler thought what he was doing was good, no objective definition of good was possible. That no one could truly know what was good and what was evil.

    That’s not the argument you’re making. You are looking at the results of Hitler’s actions, and you are very clearly seeing that a chosen course of action that results in millions of dead (and let’s not just include the six-million Jews, blacks, Gypsies, handicapped people and others slaughtered by planned genocide in the Holocaust, but the 20-million Russians killed, and the countless Brits, Belgians, Czechs, Poles, Romanians, Spaniards, Americans and so on who died fighting the spread of his genocidal philosophy.

    You see that as clear evil, and so do I, and for the same objective reason. His actions resulted in disastrous and murderous consequences. What he may or may not have thought he was doing has no bearing on the results he got.

    Which is how you get to objective definitions of good and evil. By the results of the actions taken.

    As for your comment on Hitler’s genocide budget damaging his war budget—that’s fascinating, and something I’ve never read or come across before. I’ve done a fair amount of reading about both Hitler and the Holocaust. Could you give me a title?

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 7:18

    Tyu —

    If I have a character who cannot take care of themselves, then there will certainly be a character arc that takes them to the point where they learn to do so. I have no enjoyment in characters who sit there like lumps in a life threatening situation, or hell, any situation, and expect someone to come along and save them.

    I’m with you. My non-bookish example… I loved Karen Allen as the female lead in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Her part was well-written. Her character fought back at every opportunity, and she never waited to be rescued. Sometimes she needed to be rescued, but even then, she was still doing her own fighting. Because of her (and, let’s face it, Harrison Ford, who was pretty hot when I was nineteen, and written as a terrifically cool hero), I stood in line and paid full price to see that movie thirteen times. I sat and watched it with my kids a fair number of times on video and in later life, with equal enjoyment.

    When the I-wish-I-could-forget-it sequel, Cate Capshaw replaced Karen Allen as the female lead, and her character gave us incompetence, stupidity, and screaming in place of a woman who carried her own weight. By that third “Help me, Indy!” shriek, I was hoping Capshaw’s would be one of the characters killed early in the movie. Which, sadly, she wasn’t. Horrible writing, horrible characterization. And I have only seen that movie once. Ever. It wasn’t worth a second viewing.

    Some women love stories about damsels in distress waiting for a hero, but I’m not one of them. I could never see myself in those characters; all I can ever see in opportunities they miss to save their own asses. So I can’t read books that contain those characters as leads, and I won’t write them. Because if I tried, the character would either grow a spine by chapter two, or be dead, because I couldn’t stand her company inside my head as I worked. Either way, she would not remain the perpetual victim.

    When the next movie came out, starring

  • Pandababy May 14, 2009 @ 1:59

    As I read your Shoes and Handbags article, I thought of the MC in Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood: I thought of how she was betrayed in so many ways – but she lived and struck back. I thought of Talyn and of the way she dressed, and of the women she met who wore high heels and restrictive clothing. I could see how your writing reflects exactly what you say in your May 12th post, but until you made it a clear statement, I hadn’t connected the dots between the MCs you write and how you judge people – even though it is a blatant connection now that I think on it.

    I enjoyed the time I spent with Talyn and with Cady, loved it so much I read them both three times (or was it four?). Keep on writing Holly, and keep on telling it like it is.

  • phenix hall May 13, 2009 @ 22:30

    Before I comment on your blog let me just say that I admire you and what you’ve done for the writing community. Over the past couple of years I’ve searched for quality writing sites and in the end there was no doubt in my mind which one gave me the courage to start — it was yours. I’ve downloaded several of your e-books and taken tons of your advice. So with that said — you are absolutely right – characters are really nothing more than mirrors of our very selves.

    Thank you Holly.

  • Elenya May 13, 2009 @ 18:57

    I heard something like that too: that one of the reasons that Hitler didn’t succeed in taking over the world was (ironically) that he spend too much money on genocide and not enough on trying to defeat his enemies.

  • Wandering Author May 13, 2009 @ 17:21

    I found your writing advice excellent, and I get much more enjoyment from reading books written by authors who write real characters (even ones I may not be drawn to) than those books clearly written because “this is what sells”. I will forevermore ignore any writer who respects themselves and their readers so little they are willing to churn out “what sells”.

    On the issue of judging, I believe I understand what you’re saying, and I don’t disagree with that. I would add, however, that – as with anything – the judgment is only as good as the person making it. There are idiots in the world, and they will make poor judgments, such as the assumption any woman who doesn’t look like a Barbie doll is not worth paying attention to. So judging is like everything else in life – any idiot will make a mess out of it.

    But I’m afraid I do have to disagree with you on one thing. But first, I want to be very clear. I do not like or admire Hitler, and I don’t wish to defend him in any way. I am legally blind. I would have been rounded up and eliminated in Nazi Germany, as “life which is unworthy of life”. *pause to retch* I hate all the Nazis stood for. But, purely in the interest of understanding such destructive idiocy, I must point out that the historical record does suggest Hitler believed he was doing “good”. *pause to vomit* To the very end of the war, resources which could have been used in the fight against the Allies were diverted to be used in rounding up and exterminating Jews. Now, that was a horrible thing – I am not arguing it was not. But if Hitler and the other top Nazis didn’t believe it to be good, why would they reduce their own chances of survival just to accomplish it.

    Yes, that is crazy. But if we are to combat such evil – and, yes, I define Nazism as evil, unequivocally so – it is important to understand the depths of self-deception such beliefs can lead to. And there are enough rabid neo-Nazi lunatics around even today that understanding their “thought” processes remains important.

  • Elenya May 13, 2009 @ 14:23

    I can run on high heels. However, when I want to run really fast (or in such a way that I don’t cripple my feet), I’ll take them off and run on bare feet (which I can do fine, after more than six years of karate training where you had to run and kick and so on on bare feet). I only use a handbag if my backpack would look inelegant with my clothing and I do need to keep something (keys, purse, whatever) with me. However, my handbags are always of the type you can sling at people, so that it could still be a weapon.

    Nothing bad ever happened to me, except for bullying at school, but yes, I also always look where I could run, should I need it, and think of whether I could fight someone or not. The good thing about karate is I now know that I can block someone’s kick before I consciously notice their leg has moved; my reflexes are good, even after I quit karate for 1,5 year before I returned to it. I know where to hit someone to make them think of themselves instead of me. I know I’ll continue to fight even if I’m hurt, even if I can barely stand. And if I can combine that with a summer dress and flip flops, that’s nice, although I probably won’t walk on my own at night unless I’m wearing shoes I can run on; the bicycle is another thing altogether; I would cycle at any hour of the day, on any kind of shoes, because I know I cycle faster than most people my age, and I can still hit people when I’m on a bicycle. But anyway, although I don’t wear them often, I do wear cute little dresses with the accompanying high heels from time to time; when I feel safe, and don’t believe I have anything to fear (and sometimes I combine the dress with combat boots, that’s also a possibility; and every dress should still enable me to run, even if I do combine it with high heels).

  • Nandini May 13, 2009 @ 13:53

    Holly, I didn’t know you were an Objectivist!

    Feeling like I’m back in high school when we all used to have these very same arguments…

    -Nandini

  • Joe G May 13, 2009 @ 10:49

    Thanks, Holly, for your definition of sacrifice, which certainly covers your back more on your definition of good and evil.

    I used pregnancy as sacrifice as a point you would obviously disagree with to see whether your “objective” definition of evil stood up.

    What if you define sacrifice differently. Terrorist shoots at 12-yr-old. I,60, jump in the way and save him. My death is certainly a sacrifice, and it’s certainly good because it’s selfless and the kid probably has 30 more years to live.

    Which I think comes back to loosen the ground under your definition of evil.

    If you believe in objective good and evil, you believe in absolutes. Where do these come from if you don’t believe in a God who defines good and evil? Everyone is free to make their own interpretation, why would yours be better than that of Jesus or my nextdoor neighbour?

    I, too, have work to do. I guess we all have books to write.

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 10:28

    Dammit. I just spotted this—another straw man argument, this one from Joe. And this one is so appalling and egregious I cannot let it stand unanswered for a full day.

    Take being pregnant – a sacrifice of a mother’s comfort and being forced to go through pain for someone else. By your definition, this is bad. However, I would not call new life bad and I’m sure you wouldn’t.

    Hell, no, I would NOT define any part of that scenario as sacrifice, or force, or evil. This is why I get so pissed off by people putting words in my mouth, claiming this is what I’m saying, and then arguing some bullshit point from that perspective.

    Here are the objective definitions of sacrifice and force. You already have the objective definition of evil.

    Sacrifice—the choosing of a lesser good at the expense of a greater good. You give the kidney that could have saved your kid’s life to some stranger’s kid about whom you know or care nothing, and as a result, your kid dies. You have sacrificed your child, whom you love, for some stranger.

    Force—Requiring (by your will and the application of threats or weapons) someone else to do something they do not wish to do, in order to benefit yourself, a third party, or even for no benefit at all. (If you enjoy forcing the unwilling, your enjoyment is your benefit.)

    1) The physical processes of labor and delivery are normal human biology. They are not matters of volition, or choice. They simply are what is. If you want to have a kid, you will have the pain. I’ve had three. I know this pain. I was not fucking forced to endure it, I was not sacrificing a goddamn thing to have any one of my kids. I wanted my children, therefore what I went through was volitional.

    2) The nonphysical processes of labor and delivery—choosing to have sex that results in conception, choosing to have a child versus unintended impregnation (it’s not accidental if you chose to have sex and didn’t use birth control), the moral arguments of the life of the mother versus the rights of the unborn child to have a life, forced abortion by government demand (as in China), forced continuance of non-volitional pregnancies (ie., the mother was raped), and so on are all separate ethical issues that get bundled into any mention of labor, delivery, and having kids if you don’t watch them, so I’m stating here that none of these were addressed in the words Joe put into my mouth through his seriously flawed misinterpretation of my definitions of good and evil, and none of these issuse will be addressed here today. Too many arguments on too many fronts to keep track of. Save these for later, or look at what I already wrote about them.

    Understand before you (meaning everyone) post that any attempts to veer this already veered discussion into the realms of pro-abortion versus anti-abortion debate will be met with the deletion of your post, no matter who you are or what side you’re on.

    Stay on track. Acceptable discussion in this thread will not extend beyond:

    • shoes and handbags,
    • character creation,
    • logical debate,
    • the possibility of an objective understanding of good and evil,
    • and deities who think using force to get what they want is okay.

    NOW I’m out of here.

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 9:57

    And on that note, this has been fun, but I have a lot of work to do. I’m out of here for the rest of today.

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 9:48

    The perspective I proposed is precisely not the “Love me or I kill you”, but, turning that on its head, it is God saying: “Accept my salvation (Jesus) because I love you, and if you don’t, by the way, you’re not going to have a pleasant time, because you’re separated from the source of all goodness and left with something worse than fire and brimstone!”

    You’re rationalizing and evading the argument. Actions are what they are. They are not what we’d like to pretend them to be.

    Your God has set up a scenario where the majority of the people who have ever lived or ever will are to be tortured for eternity—and your religion claims that your God is all-powerful, that he is able to do anything. So he could set up a universe in which nobody got tortured for eternity. Therefore, your God of love wants people to be tortured for all eternity.

    Phrase the setup however you like, your religion claims that your God thinks eternal torture is a good way to run things.

    I disagree.

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 9:43

    Break this down.

    First you say Hitler thought he was doing good, and that was your argument for people not knowing what was good.

    Next you say, no, Hitler knew he was doing evil, but a lot of people believed him, and believed THEY were doing good, so that means people can’t know what is good?

    And then you decline the argument altogether, saying that Hitler’s not really relevant, because there are people every day who think they’re doing good, but aren’t, so people can’t know what is good.

    That’s three strikes, and you’re out of the “knowing what is good” game.

    People can believe they can fly by flapping their arms, Joe. An objective test of the matter will prove them wrong.

    People can believe they’re doing good, but if they aren’t working from objective definitions of good and evil, you’re going to get a lot of idiots running in circles, flapping their arms and claiming they can fly.

    So. In spite of the fact that you failed to make your case for good being unknowable, I’ll still give you one more chance to play here, if you choose to take it. Prove to me by example that it is possible to commit evil while living by my definition of good, or possible to commit good while living by my definition of evil. Prove to me that you can invalidate my definitions, which are the definitions by which I live my own life.

    Remember that you cannot use just a part of either definition to make your case. You have to use and address every word of the full definition.

  • Joe G May 13, 2009 @ 9:40

    The perspective I proposed is precisely not the “Love me or I kill you”, but, turning that on its head, it is God saying: “Accept my salvation (Jesus) because I love you, and if you don’t, by the way, you’re not going to have a pleasant time, because you’re separated from the source of all goodness and left with something worse than fire and brimstone!”

    But your argument brings up all sorts of metaphysical questions that it would be arrogance to presume an answer to. I’ll leave eternity, the human soul and ultimate reality in general to the one who made it.

    Your life is a pretty big bet for this. But perhaps you know better what the human soul is, and whether it can be destroyed, which would of course be far simpler than Hell, I agree.

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 9:32

    If God is good and the absence of God is evil, then being separated from God for eternity would mean eternal torture. True.

    At which point we come back to the question, If God is good, and God claims to love his children, then how can he accept the torture for all of eternity of most of them as something right and just?

    Sorry. “Love me or burn in hell for eternity” is still forcing compliance at the point of a gun, and it’s still evil. If a man grabbed a woman, stuck a gun to her head, and said, “Love me or I’ll kill you,” you would not argue that he is acting out of love for the woman. (Though if you did, I’d be fascinated to see your rationalizations.)

    Yet you are rationalizing behavior for a religion that purports much worse. The infliction of intentional, eternal damnation, eternal suffering, hellfire and brimstone or just separation from God as defined by you is a hell of a lot nastier than a quick bullet through the head.

  • Joe G May 13, 2009 @ 9:27

    Sure, but whether or not he did believe his own lies, that changes nothing about the fact that thousands did believe they were doing the right thing.

    And even without that ample historic documented evidence, taking Hitler down does not discredit the argument in the least. Because there are people you meet every day who believe they’re doing right but are probably not. Take the terrorists. Now I don’t need to convince you that they are convinced, you say it yourself further up.

    So although I think your definition of good and evil is interesting, it doesn’t seem to stand up to reality.

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 9:23

    Okay, sure he was after power. But he used excuses of right and wrong that millions swallowed.

    Yes. He was a politician, and a very clever one. Do you wish to take the side of the argument that he believed his own excuses, or that he saw the results of what he was doing (which he had very carefully documented) and though, Yes, my work is good? I’d be very happy to argue the other side, that he knew exactly what he was doing, that he knew it was evil, but that it got him what he wanted and he was okay with that.

  • Joe G May 13, 2009 @ 9:22

    Sorry, no straw men. No interpretation necessary.

    If God is good and the absence of God is evil, then being separated from God for eternity would mean eternal torture. True.

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 9:19

    Joe, you cannot with a straight face be suggesting that Hitler thought he was doing good. Hitler was grabbing power, Hitler was forwarding his own agenda, and Hitler was knowingly destroying people who stood in the way of what he wanted—but, sorry, I don’t buy for a second ANY argument that the man thought was he was doing was good.

    As for Heaven and Hell, if you’re presenting the argument that Christ didn’t really mean it when he defined hell as a place of eternal torture, then you’re not a Christian (a follower of his words). You’re an interpreter advancing a straw man not on what Christ said but on what you’d wished he meant.

  • Joe G May 13, 2009 @ 9:17

    Have you read “Miein Kampf”? Hitler talks about using Eugenics – like American scientists of the same time! – to talk about improving humanity, serving nature, etc.

    Okay, sure he was after power. But he used excuses of right and wrong that millions swallowed.

  • Joe G May 13, 2009 @ 9:12

    actually i do think people can know good, Holly, and am certainly not saying no one can know anything. that would be a straw man argument.

    The point is that if Hitler thought he was doing good, like most people think of themselves, maybe a lot of us are indeed mistaken. To prove the point, a lot of people define Good and Evil or Bad differently from you.

    Take being pregnant – a sacrifice of a mother’s comfort and being forced to go through pain for someone else. By your definition, this is bad. However, I would not call new life bad and I’m sure you wouldn’t.

    Of course, you and I are far better people than most on this earth. I agree with you there. But we’re still far from perfect. And maybe the difference between God’s standard of “good” is a million times further removed from your and my standards vs. the child molestors and murderers.

    I think I believe in a different kind of heaven. Did you never consider that Hell is not where God “sends” us, but the only other place there is if we choose not to go to heaven? IF he offers us a lifeline through Jesus, then it’s not that he’s so angry we don’t accept him that he sends us to Hell. We have simply refused to grasp the lifeline. He can’t do anything about that – unless he forces us. Which would be against our free will. Just a thought.

    By the way I love how you don’t hesitate to think that you might insult people with what you write. I hate it when people don’t say what they mean to be polite or whatever. that’s what’s wrong with this whole “incitement to religious hatred” political correctness junk.

  • April May 13, 2009 @ 9:03

    I was raised Baptist and gave up Christianity in my teens because I will not follow a religion where good people who do not believe in Christ will end up in hell, while murderers, child molesters and other filth could end up in heaven if they “repent” on their death bed. Saved by grace my ass!

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 8:57

    Your argument that no one can know good, Joe, is one variant of the argument that no one can know anything. It’s a self-defeating argument, because if no one can know anything, then you can’t know that.

    People can in fact know things. Or did you think skyscrapers and computers and rockets build themselves? Each of those creations of humanity was born of a deep and full knowledge of such sciences as physics, electronics, mathematics, logic, and so on. These sciences are true and can be proven true because each of them returns reproducible results. Skyscrapers built with human knowledge and sound engineering principles do not fall down, you and I communicate via the internet because an enormous number of folks whose job it is to know things know them very well.

    Knowledge is real. And so is the knowledge of good and evil. If you are Christian, the understanding of good and evil is a primary part of your religion and philosophy, and if you purport these things are unknowable, then you run counter to the inception of your religion, in which God cursed humanity for discovering the difference.

    Good is furthermore quite knowable. That which allows the individual to reach his fullest potential by choice and volition without him enacting force against anyone else, and without him having force enacted against him is good. That which demands the sacrifice of anyone for the furtherance of anyone else, and that enforces this sacrifice at the point of a gun (government, religious threats of hell, and so on) is evil.

    Finally, I think there is something I could define as god—the connected energy of the universe that does not die—something supported by the existence of particles discovered by physics that communicate simultaneously across all distances without any intervention of time. I consider the possibility that my consciousness could continue to exist apart from my flesh a small, interesting, and essentially irrelevant possibility. I will make my life while I am here matter. What happens after I’m dead I’ll deal with if it becomes an issue.

    And I used to pray to what you define as God—in our final conversation, I told him that if he was such an appalling creature that he could find any justification for Heaven and Hell, and if these two things existed outside of the minds of the men I think made them up, then I wanted him to send me to Hell as a conscientious objector. And I meant it. So if there is a Heaven as you believe, I will not be there.

  • Joe G May 13, 2009 @ 8:29

    the Sikhs will forgive you, Holly, as the true Christian thing to do.

    to be human means that you can misinterpret anyone’s words, even the words of God. unless you’re Jesus, lol. i mean how many of them read Greek and Hebrew?

    who defines “good”? Hitler thought he was doing “good” for humanity. the majority of humans often seem to get it wrong. i hope there are higher standards than democratic ones. that judgement i will leave up to God.

    If God made people, I suppose he has the right to “psychotic terrorism”… but maybe leading a truly good life is following him? in which case it is his way. i think Jesus did a pretty good job of showing what was right. and dying to save people doesn’t sound like someone who holds sins against us.

    hope to see you in Heaven – I’m sure you’re a very good person!

    until then, i do the same thing with preparing to fight or flee…

  • Diane May 13, 2009 @ 8:28

    Way to go, Holly.

    No one mentioned the art of scanning all highrise windows looking for rifle ‘scopes or flashs of sunlight off metal. I also do that, as well as all exits, thickness of glass window if needed to be broken for an exit (ground or first floor only), thickness of furniture and if it will stop a bullet if you hide behind it.

    I also agree with your points on making judgement calls.

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 8:17

    Ack. Sorry. Read Sikh, thought Shi’a.

    Totally different appearance, totally different turbans. Would have gotten it right in real life…but on the screen, I missed. My error. My statements hold for Shi’ites and other Muslims who are true believers. They do not hold for Sikhs.

    As for Christ, though…His followers are the ones who live by his words, which are all they have. I posit that if Christ’s words can be misinterpreted by those who believe in him and are ardently trying to build their lives around what he said, they are not the words of a god, or even the son of a god, but the words of a man. (See ‘Saving the World Through Typing‘)

    And his followers are absolutely correct in their interpretation of his ‘my way or eternal torture’ philosophy. He was very clear on this. According to his words, people who have lived good lives will be tortured forever if they do not follow him; murderers and scum will reap eternal salvation if on their deathbeds they beg forgiveness, not from those they’ve harmed, but from the invisible man in the sky. (As in, “This day you will be with me in heaven,” to the murderer on the cross.)

    Some people choose to call that behavior God’s love. I choose to call it psychotic terrorism.

  • Joe G May 13, 2009 @ 8:04

    I really enjoyed reading this post, Holly.

    But about the Sikh: Sikhs have nothing to do with Islam – unless you count that they FOUGHT Islam in India. Sikhs are so not Muslim!

    and I think Jesus saying “judge not” did not have to do with lack of independent thought, like some Christians would lead us to believe.

    Jesus forbade us “judging people to hell”, i.e. “that person is bad he will go to hell”. he certainly did not judge people from making judgements – indeed, he talks repeatedly about discernment, and yes, judging people’s motivation and actions etc. But not decreeing whether they go to hell or not. That alone is God’s call, he said.

    maybe your missionary parents got the wrong end of that, too? so, Jesus was forbidding Christians from doing exactly what you were complaining about (saying who will go to hell). Interesting, isn’t it, how his supposed followers mangle his own meaning? happens everywhere unfortunately…

    best regards, joe

  • hollylisle May 13, 2009 @ 7:38

    Mike —

    I think we have a basic misunderstanding of what I said. I was talking about assumptions, e.g., accepting as fact without verification or proof. I believe you’re talking about a judgment call, e.g., the capacity to assess a situation and draw conclusions.

    I agree, judgment calls can save your ass. Assumptions can and will get you into trouble. I assume the man in the turban and full beard in the seat next to me on the plane is an Arab and therefore most likely a terrorist. Yet after talking to him, I find he is a Sikh. (Good thing I didn’t alert the Air Marshal!)

    No, actually, I think I understood you perfectly well, and you understand me equally. You’re using the “Straw Man” technique to reframe something I said into something I didn’t say and didn’t mean, and then to argue against that. If you don’t get caught, it makes you look smart, and lets you ‘win’ an argument that wasn’t being argued. The Straw Man technique is also designed to make one’s opponent’s arguments (not the ones the opponent was making, but the one the player at Straw Man sets up and pretends the opponent is forwarding) look foolish.

    However, I know this game.

    I was NOT talking about making judgment calls. I was talking about judging people, as in Christ’s dictum to “judge not, lest ye be judged.” I’m fine with judging people. Right on board with that. Christ was telling people to turn of their brains or they’d burn in hell forever…and I’m NOT okay with that.

    My parents were missionaries, and one of them was a huge believer. I know Christianity; I had it shoved down my throat from an early age. When I was sixteen, I sharpened my reason to the point where I could debate, and figured out the argument that any god who would force you to love him at the point of a gun was a terrorist unworthy of love or worship (and the threat of eternal torture if you don’t sign up and turn off your brain is one hell of a big gun). At that point, I quit Christianity. I quit religion entirely at a later date. But, to get back to my point, I know the Bible and what’s in it because I’ve read the whole thing. I know what Christ said. I disagree with a whole lot of it.

    I also know the difference between judging people and making judgment calls, and I said exactly what I meant the first time. I judge people, and anyone who values reason and who has a sense of self-preservation will do the same.

    So let’s have that argument, shall we?

    You claim your first assumption would be that a man on an aircraft in the heart of western civilization wearing a specific form of Arab garb is a terrorist. Whatever. It’s a fairly lame assumption, considering there are a billion Muslims and most of them aren’t terrorists, but we have proof that enough of them are, and fly in planes, to have caused significant problems, and to make people edgy. You can certainly think that. Discovering he’s a Sikh doesn’t preclude him from being a terrorist.

    Actually it does. I read Sikh, but thought Shi’a. My following discussion is relevant when related to to my judgment of true believers of Muslim sects. It’s a good argument, and absolutely correct in what it argues. I missed my example, though, which leaves me arguing a situation that wasn’t posited. My response to Not a terrorist, is as Sikh, would be, “Okay. That’s cool. Glad he’s not a terrorist. And sitting next to a Sikh on a plane is going to affect your life how? And is relevant to judging people how?” The Sikh is still a straw man. This time, however, he’s just one with no teeth.

    Your argument there is “Not all A is B, therefore B is not A,” and that’s simply wrong. B can be an individual subset of A, without negating the truth that “Not all A is B.” Not saying it is, but it can be.

    My JUDGMENT of your Sikh, however, would go much deeper than, “Oh, gee, he’s not a terrorist, he’s a Sikh.” My judgment of him would be that a man wearing the specific carefully wrapped and rounded Sikh style of turban and full religious garb while in the midst of western civilization would be that he is not one of the nominal Muslims—those who are born into the religion and who don’t quit because if you quit, the religion demands that you be hunted down and murdered.

    I would instead judge that he was a true believer, one who follows the edicts of Islam and believes them to be true and right. Since I have read the Koran and know what’s in it, I would then classify him as someone who holds beliefs that include the eradication of my culture as a primary purpose; the forced marginalization of women as a requirement; the direction that Muslims should lie to infidels in order to further the cause of Islam, because lies don’t count when you’re dealing with infidels; the requirement that ALL the infidels in the world be converted, whether by their own choice or at the point of a sword; and the submission of all its own members, in mind and body, to a central authority that forbids questioning or original thought.

    None of these edicts of Islam are like the human sacrifices required in Judaism before Abraham and Isaac, and none of them are like the (mistranslated) command that all witches (seers, fortunetellers) must be murdered (not suffered to live, in Biblical parlance). The religion responsible for those bits of horror recanted them, and moved them into the category of “historical; we don’t do that anymore.”

    The edicts of the Koran are still considered by believing Muslims to be in full force. ALL of them. And they are still enacted daily, from the taking of slaves to the murder of women who have been raped because they are held guilty for their rape, to the conversion of infidels at the point of a sword.

    So I would JUDGE your Sikh as someone I did not choose to know, someone not worth my knowing.

    Going back to your group of guys wearing black Members Only jackets. You behaved in a manner designed to designate you as cultural outliers. You adopted a form of dress that marked each of you as a member of this outlier group. And you kept yourselves apart from other folks, further encouraging judgment by them on your behavior. You did this intentionally, and it was probably a lot more fun to have people assume you were tough, edgy drug dealers than nerdy D&D players. The problem with donning a persona that makes people think you are something other than you actually are is that they will judge you—and rightfully so. People who value the good in humanity don’t like drug dealers—with good reason. Their products damage people, and their associates and the act of trafficking in their products brings crime and the potential of collateral damage to innocents with them. If you allowed people to think you were drug dealers, you don’t get to complain later that they made assumptions based on judgments you encouraged, or did not work to clear up.

    That is just another example of behavior I described with the man with the lizard face tattoos, who spent an enormous amount of time and money to turn himself into a freak, and now complains that people judge him as a freak. He’s getting the attention he wanted, and now complains that people judge him. You got the attention you wanted, and now complain that people misunderstood you. If you don’t want to be misunderstood, clear up misunderstandings as you see them occurring.

    See? This is a lot more interesting when you actually play the game without cheating.

  • uche nnaobi May 13, 2009 @ 6:54

    Phew ! What a relief it is to have company. I was afraid that I was becoming a bit too cynical and pessimistic in my thinking (how fast would take to spray insecticide into the eye’s of a mugger and kick him at the same time etc).

    Times they are a changing and everywhere UK, US, Canada Nigeria you name it . I grew up in the UK in an easy going environment of kids as young as 7 (or even younger) going to the shops or park on their own. Now you don’t even want to let them out of your sight. An accompanying adult is a must for all trips further than the front yard.

    I own both handbags and backpacks. But sometimes I ‘m so fed up with carrying that i dump them all and slip some change into my jeans and go. I love the freedom of those days.

    I fully agree, thinking outside of your safe zone can really improve character creation. I think some writers create characters out of wishful or idealistic thinking. ie the “vibrator-credit card hero” . That type of characterisation is really frustrating.

    Getting into their heads outside of the safe zone to create characters would definitely make them more realistic and rounded which would really resonate with a lot of readers in todays world. The chicks-in-Prada have a dark side too.

  • Melissa May 13, 2009 @ 6:52

    It’s a good epiphany. Writers will end up dreading their story if they write about people they don’t like, or can’t relate too.

    P.S I’ve grown up with the same philosophy – never wear shoes that I can’t fight or run in. I’ve run in lots of trouble myself, whether stalked home by strangers, some random creepy guy appear out of nowhere from the park with a GIANT duffel bag at 2am…A lot of my trouble is due to men thinking I’m 15 and therefore an easy target, when I’m actually 21.

  • Angie May 13, 2009 @ 6:20

    Halle-freaking-luiah. [applause] The only way I’d write a character who wore tottery heels was if I planned to have her learn better over the course of the story. I actually like that kind of character growth arc, but when the writer treats the heels-and-handbag (and makeup, and a hairstyle that takes half an hour every morning plus periodic maintenance throughout the day) as something which of course all women subscribe to as a matter of course, I get very eyerolly. Not because it’s not realistic, but because those aren’t people I can drum up much respect for.

    There’s an unfortunate trend in urban fantasy these days to have the female protag (and having a female protag is becoming part of the genre definition, at least among the trendy set) be a high heels and designer labels type. As someone who learned to love the genre through Charles DeLint and Mercedes Lackey, I find this alarming. :/ Hopefully it’ll run its course and fade away, allowing us to go back to enjoying characters who aren’t walking fashion magazines. [crossed fingers]

    Angie

  • A. Shelton May 13, 2009 @ 5:18

    About characters, I like those that challenge me. I’m currently writing a story that starts off with a spoiled brat. I”m challenging myself to bring about a change in her personality without doing it unbelievably. Besides, I like the character, brat that she is, because of all the trouble she gets herself into; she’s immensely entertaining. I’ve found that if the character I’m writing isn’t entertaining to me, I lose interest in him/her.

    And, while I keep a lookout for suspicious people, I do my best to not make judgment calls on complete strangers otherwise; I simply make sure I can run away if I have to. I’m *very* wary, and trust no one, but, in essence, I try to treat others how I expect to be treated, and that means approaching people with respect, and I can’t do that if I”m afraid of them.

    And, if I can’t get a seat with my back to a *wall* at a restaurant, I sit facing the entrance, so I can see the people as they come in.

  • Tyu May 13, 2009 @ 4:46

    I’m exactly the same way. I have three pairs of footwear: old running shoes, newer running shoes, and black leather steel-toe combat boots. I carried a bag around for perhaps the first few months I lived in the city, then stopped, because it always felt constricting. My clothes consist of t-shirt and jeans, or any pants which are wide-legged. I won’t wear a dress unless it’s practical either.

    In the city, I worked nights, took the bus to work but still had a little distance to walk from the bus stop in the dark. I dressed all in black, with a long leather jacket and hood, and people would cross the street to avoid me, probably thinking I would mug them. This is the reaction I liked, because if people were avoiding me, they weren’t going to bother me. Now I’m in Florida so black leather isn’t really practical except for in December 😛

    I bought a japanese sword not long ago, and my husband was all cranky because he thinks swords are dumb. I told him, look, we live in a skeezy apartment complex with people doing drug deals outside the door (seriously, he was leaving for school the other day and some dudes hanging outside asked him if he wanted some weed), we don’t have a gun or license to own one, so the least we could do is have an ornamental yet fully functional katana in case some asshole breaks in and tries to rob us or worse. He doesn’t have the same sense of danger as I do, since he lived with his mother up until this past November, and I spent three years in a city living mostly by myself. If I had the time and money, I’d be back in martial arts like I was in high school.

    I’ve been like this even as a kid, which is strange, since I grew up in a small fishing community where everyone knew everyone else. My parents would let me go trick-or-treating by myself or with a couple friends starting when I was ten. I remember asking “what if some man jumps out of the bushes and tries to stab us?” Mom’s reply? “You’re always so morbid. Nobody around here is going to do that.” Later when I was a little older, I realized just how many unsavory people lived around that area, especially when a girl I knew almost got raped in a graveyard by a 50 year old man who was the father of another friend of mine.

    As for stories, I like reading and writing about characters who can look after themselves, and yes, who dress appropriately for it. I like clothes and clothing design in a way that differs greatly from how a fashionista likes clothes. It has always been a thought in my mind when writing characters. What do they do, how do they act, what sort of situations do they find themselves in often, what sort of situations do they expect to find themselves in, what precautions are they taking, and what sort of clothing would be practical for all of that?

    If I have a character who cannot take care of themselves, then there will certainly be a character arc that takes them to the point where they learn to do so. I have no enjoyment in characters who sit there like lumps in a life threatening situation, or hell, any situation, and expect someone to come along and save them.

    Just a side note: from the pictures I’ve seen of you, for some reason I’d expect you to be able to kick some serious ass if need be. You’ve got that unassuming, almost innocent look, which is great for fooling people who think they could get one over on you.

  • pibarrington May 13, 2009 @ 2:06

    What can I say? I just love your articles Holly! I’ve been following this and pretty much all your stuff for about two years(?) now and it never disappoints!
    P.I. Barrington

  • Drake_tesla May 13, 2009 @ 1:11

    I liked that a great deal. I’m another one who always has an escape route, sensible shoes and a backpack bag (the opening is against my back when I wear it. Cool, no?) I also tend to have a plan for potential disasters, industrial first aid training, a running assessment of who I could probably recruit as an ally if the need arose, and an emergency kit in the car. I understand that my vehicle can only protect me from an assailant if it’s moving. (All it takes to smash a window is a hammer.) I can feed myself by foraging in the bush (in my home territory).

    My friends affectionately call me ‘the queen of useless trivia’. Most of it is actually useful under specific circumstances.

    I would like to point out that some people don’t actually understand how their appearance influences the impressions of others. I’m married to a sweet, goofy guy who loves puns, playing Lego with little kids, small furry animals, cake decorating, and volunteering with a boys’ club. He’s got a degree in nuclear physics. He has a full beard, wears cowboy boots (and often a hat to match), is six feet tall in his socks, and carries a knife, multitool and flashlight on his belt at all times. He’s got a completely deadpan expression. Small children cross the room to tell him stories. He honestly doesn’t get why adults find him threatening, and is always confused by the reactions he gets in public.

    On the other hand, I’m short and chubby. I dress conservatively. This makes most people (it seems) think I’m a little dim, assuming they notice me at all. (The exception? Heavy-duty mechanics, who, apparently, can spot a transmission designer from a mile away. ) I learned very early in life that having the men around one consider one ‘cute’ was dangerous. I am willing to trade being treated as invisible by strangers for the measure of safety my extra layer of clothing provides. I usually consider being underestimated a tactical advantage. I have learned to leverage my unappealing exterior.

  • hollylisle May 12, 2009 @ 23:07

    And also:

    I concur that people alter their appearance to reflect the way they expect to be treated, but I don’t think it’s beneficial in the long run to treat everyone according to that appearance. In my experience, people treat me the way I treat them. If I assume some chick in a short skirt and a head full of highlights is a bitchy airhead before I even know her name, and treat her accordingly, she has every right to act like one because I was rude to her first.

    I never suggest anyone act like an ass. I do suggest people walk to the other side of the street when they spot people who look like muggers, or rapists, or thugs.

  • hollylisle May 12, 2009 @ 23:03

    Sarah—

    So if I want my FMC to be respected, I need to make her more paranoid?

    Good God, no.

    You’ll note in the original post I made it VERY clear that the job of the writer is to write characters who resonate with her (or him). I emphasized this point at several locations in the post. I then explained why I make the choices I make with my characters. I also, however, mentioned that SOMEONE has to write those chick-in-Prada books, because there are a ton of people waiting to read them.

    And every other sort of book as well. My point is NEVER “do as I do.” My point is ALWAYS “think about and understand the reason why you do as you do.” It has been my experience, from reading a lot of flat, one-dimensional writing, that the majority of writers have no clue where to start with characters, so they start with a name, and toss on clothes chosen without thought or purpose, and hope for the best. They never question much deeper than the surface, they never even look at the clothes they’ve chosen for their characters to wear with any consideration for what those choices mean, or how they will affect their characters’ lives.

    You cannot and will not EVER be able to write a character that everyone respects. What you must do if you hope to write a character worth reading is write one that you respect. And understand why you respect her. Or him.

  • hollylisle May 12, 2009 @ 22:53

    Mike—

    And I never asked you to compromise your principles. I suggested, as a reader who buys your books, that you might want to explore characters outside your safe zone. If you try it and don’t like it, well, you’ve learned something about your writing and about yourself. That’s growth. If you feel that you’re comfortable within your zone and don’t want to try something else, then that’s your choice to place those limits upon yourself.

    I’ve written countless characters outside my safe zone. Every horrifying villain I’ve ever written comes from playing variations on a deep knowledge of who I could be if I had chosen to live my life differently. What you suggested, however—and you may not even realize that was what you were suggesting—was a compromise of principle. You want to see protagonists who are in some fashion debased, as if my writing such characters as heroes would somehow prove me a better writer than the fact that I wrote and acknowledged them as villains. Or as secondary characters.

    There are two basic schools of writing: the Realist school, which expects nothing in particular out of any character and uses the excuse “he’s only human” to condone any malefic act from even its protagonists (because writers of the realist school don’t write heroes); and, the Romanticist school, which looks at life and humanity “as it could be, and should be.” (Aristotle, probably misquoted a bit.) Romanticists demand of their heroes that they be heroic—and hold the best of humanity as a standard to define humanity, and call failures those who fall short of their personal best without excusing them. “ONLY human” is profanity to a Romanticist, who looks at the magnificence of what humans at their best can and do achieve daily, and say “THAT’s what it means to be human.”

    Romanticists want to exalt the best of what it is to be human; realists want to excuse the worst.

    I’m a romanticist. I would guess from the few brief passages you’ve written that you prefer realist fiction.

  • Sarah May 12, 2009 @ 22:52

    Forget to say–the post really did bring up some awesome issues, and I’ll be using a lot of this to revamp my floundering FMC. When your best friend and beta describes her as “pretty much a professional damsel in distress,” you know something has to be done. Thanks for your thoughts.

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