Learning the Ropes of Character Tropes

So sometimes I like to watch YouTube videos that make me angry. This usually happens at ungodly hours of the morning/night in a sleepy haze, and I usually regret them the next morning. The variety of these videos changes as time goes on, but recently the genre of video I find myself drifting toward is the “criticize Original Characters/Other People’s Art”-variety.

I should say that this isn’t the first time I’ve referenced these types of videos. I actually referred to them a while back on this post, but in that one I was more standing in defense of young creators in general. This time, I want to address one particular point in one particular video. I’d feel strange linking you this video, since I feel like my anger toward them may be a bit blown out of proportion, and thus, I don’t want to draw any undo hatred onto this person, so instead, below is a transcript of the specific point of theirs I want to debunk.

“Number Five: Be Creative.

Now I know that sounds really cliche and unhelpful, but this is actually really important. Make your character different. Just different. Just put a bunch of character traits on a list and pick a few at random and work with that, I don’t care. 

How many people make a character that is completely bland and uninspired? It is really amazing how such great and talented artists can draw exceptionally well but their ideas are just so, so boring.

I think the most important thing someone can ever do when making an OC (original character) is thinking. Just think. Play around with different ideas; anything can be used. There are no boundaries. Make something new and unique.”

(Actually, fine, here’s the video. Do with it as you will.)

I see a lot of advice of this ilk thrown around in guides to making characters, and it always strikes me how completely useless it is in particular. He even says it himself at the beginning – it’s cliche and unhelpful. But you know, he’s gotta say it anyway? I guess? For brownie points? Who knows.

You ask, “How do I make an interesting character?” and this advice answers, “Make an interesting character.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who can see the issue.

So allow me to help. The answer lies in the most dreaded, most feared concept in character creation, perhaps even in all of fiction. A trope.

…I’m kidding, obviously, but it is somewhat taboo to suggest using tropes to your advantage. For many young writers, artists, and creators it may seem contrary to the goal of creating an interesting character to look to commonly used character and story conventions. That’s fair, but here’s another way to look at it.

In the world, over the course of all time, hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of characters have been created for the enjoyment of audiences and creators. Do you think it’s easy, or even possible to create a character that is completely original?

And even putting that fact aside, there’s a reason why tropes persist. The art of storytelling is essentially the art of using the space you’re given in the most efficient way possible. The best storytellers want to minimize the amount of time spent explaining things about their characters (and world as a whole, but for now we’re focusing on characters) so they can get on with the story. After all, exposition is often the most boring parts of any story.

That’s where tropes come in. Tropes are commonly used and understood storytelling conventions. The princess in a tower is a trope, as is the heroic quest. Even the concept of a hero is a trope – a brave, youthful person with unusual abilities or strengths.

Tropes are often confused for cliches, and tropes can be cliche, but not inherently. Tropes become cliche when they’re repeated over and over for no reason other than to fit a perceived trend and not to contribute anything to the story itself. The love triangle is an example of this. In the past, love triangles were put into a story for a reason beyond just to create needless drama, and the outcome of who would end up with whom was normally unclear, adding intrigue. Nowadays, though, most love triangles are unnecessary, boring, and predictable.

However most tropes aren’t cliche, and can actually make for really efficient storytelling. Think of a trope as a shorthand for a lot of other information about a story element. Since we’re specifically talking about characters here, let’s pick a character trope for example. A jock, let’s say.

Now, what is a jock? Well, a jock is a person who plays sports, and defines themselves primarily by the sport they play. A jock is athletic, and usually places physical prowess above mental and emotional skills. Most jocks also are popular with other people, and can be seen as a hero by fans of the sport they play.

That’s a pretty sizable amount of information about a character. So consider the efficiency! If you establish that your character is a jock, you don’t have to explain why any of these things are true. They simply are. So when a character who is established as a jock (explicitly or implicitly) is approached by a group of, let’s say, students of their high school, a writer doesn’t have to explain why they treat them like a hero-figure. The jock trope contains that fact, and thus, explains it.

But this is not to say making every character an exact copy of a trope is a good thing. No, of course not, but tropes are incredibly valuable jumping-off points for creating an interesting character.

So let’s take our jock again. Let’s call them… Theresa. Theresa is a jock, and she plays… let’s say, hockey. Theresa is a hockey jock. We establish that Theresa is a jock by depicting her playing hockey and wearing hockey-related memorabilia a lot. In this way, our audience will make assumptions about Theresa based on this trope – she’s athletic, she’s popular, she doesn’t care about intelligence or emotion. But we can make Theresa an interesting character by throwing in traits that aren’t necessarily a part of the jock trope.

For one, making Theresa a girl immediately makes her more interesting than your normal jock. Girls don’t usually fill the “jock” trope in fiction. And picking hockey as her sport of choice is another unconventional choice, you might more commonly see football or basketball as the jock sport. But we can add even more. Perhaps Theresa was once very close with a group of friends who more align themselves with the “nerd” trope? This establishes that she might care more about intelligence than your typical jock, and gives her history and conflict with other characters. Perhaps, while she is very skilled at hockey, she isn’t entirely sure she wants to play hockey in college, but the financial benefit of accepting a hockey scholarship is difficult to ignore?

Now Theresa is a more well-rounded character. Sure, she very much fits the mold as a jock, but it’s the ways that she differs from this trope that make her interesting. Now, you get the benefit of the trope – that readers will automatically understand a selection of facts about your character pertaining to that trope, reducing the amount you need to explain – but you also get an interesting, original character.

This effect increases when you add in the fact that these tropes can just as easily be applied to genres where they might not be traditionally expected to appear. Consider the possibility of a fantasy jock! A sci-fi jock! A historical fiction jock! The possibilities are, to quote an actual cliche, endless.

So that’s why I always find fault in people who advise others to strive 100% for originality always. It certainly sounds like good advice, but in practice, it doesn’t really help, I think. There’s too much out there that’s already been done, so if you were to try to make a character who isn’t like any of those characters, your character would probably end up a blank slate of strange, inexplicable traits.

I suppose you could make a character drawing random traits from a list, like the video maker suggests, but I have a hard time believing that that character wouldn’t end up falling into some tropes anyway. Might as well embrace it, especially if it will help make the process of character creation easier.

 

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GUEST WRITER – Throwing Rocks at the Moon

The following is a zine created by my best friend Marie Hamilton for a project! I got to contribute a short story as well as a few illustrations, and it was a great project overall! Take a look at it below the cut!

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Writing Advice (For Mortals)

When I first heard about the controversy surrounding the previously-unknown YA novel Handbook for Mortals, I was immediately engrossed in a tale that seemed to constantly outdo itself in juicy, dramatic twists and turns. It would take an entire separate blog post to parse the dense threads of intrigue involved in this story, so I instead urge you to read the link I provided to contextualize today’s blog post.

And while yes, it would be fun to provide my amusement on just how deep this story goes, or how incredibly disgusting I find its author and its publishing company, I feel as though you can probably draw your own conclusions on those topics. What I instead intend is to use some of the awful writing in this terrible book as a sort of “What Not to Do” of sorts for newcomers to writing.

Now, I do need to say that I have not read this book. And, unless I find a free version, I will not read this book. I don’t really want to support this author and this publishing company. That being said, I will try not to judge the book by anything other than what is contained in the two excerpts I will be using.

(But, honestly, if I do end up judging the book by something beyond the excerpts… I still think I’ll sleep well tonight.)

The excerpts I will be using are pasted below. Both are passages from early on in the book, used mainly as description of the book’s main character and first-person narrator, Zade.

 

So, What’s the Problem with it?

While I think it’s pretty obvious that these two passages are written in a… let’s say… juvenile manner, it may be difficult to parse what exactly makes them sound so cringe-worthy.

So, let’s start with what’s wrong with these passages.

Slow and Lengthy Loses Everythinng

I think the first problem to discuss is the incredible length of both of these passages. Combined, these two passages probably equal about a normal novel-page of text. All things considered, that’s a pretty sizable amount of story we’re talking about. Sure, it’s not a whole chapter, but you could still expect a reader to spend a few minutes with this text.

Normally, as a writer, your biggest mission is to get people to keep reading. Most authors attempt to grab a hold of their readers by constantly presenting them with story beats to keep them interested and paying attention. For that reason, it’s important that every paragraph has a purpose. For some paragraphs, that purpose is to move the story forward, while other serve to provide exposition on important characters and settings.

These paragraphs, as I mentioned above, serve to give the reader a feel for the character of Zade by telling the readers what she looks like and how she relates to her environment. But it does so with the least amount of efficiency possible.

See, pretend you’re a reader who just wants to read a paranormal romance that topped the New York Times bestseller list for… a bit. You picked up “Handbook for Mortals” with an expectation that there will be a cool, magical storyline or intriguing romance. Either way, you’ll want things to happen as soon as possible, to progress towards either of these possibilities. And yet, in this entire page’s worth of text… neither of these things happen.

So what really happens in either of these chunks of text? Zade does some hair pushing and… she looks a bit at the sky? In nearly a page’s worth of text the story does not move a single inch forward. That’s a pretty good way to get your readers to put the book down immediately.

And sure, one might argue that, even as nothing has happened, the reader has still gotten a sense of the sort of person she is, but the thing is, well…

The First Person Problem

Zade is the narrator of this story. Every part of the novel will contain her own personal opinions on the world around her. For this reason, it’s more or less pointless to take this time to make her stop and comment on the weather of all things. The fact that she’s a little offbeat and out-of-place in her hometown is a fact that can be more naturally and efficiently revealed by having her do anything other than just stand there and wax poetic on the weather.

And what’s more, having Zade come out and say these things about herself violates suspension of disbelief. For those unfamiliar with the term – suspension of disbelief refers to the sort-of pact between a creator of media and the consumers. While consumers acknowledge that the thing they are consuming is a work of fiction, and therefore will not necessarily adhere to the rules of the real world, the creator of the media must adhere to some rules of the fictional world, though these rules might not be grounded in reality.

In this case, the breaking of this suspension of disbelief comes in the simple fact that we are given access to a person’s thoughts in the form of Zade’s first-person narration. As such, the narration should, more or less, conform to what a normal person’s thought process would sound like. There’s no in-universe explanation for why Zade would constantly think about her own appearance and personality in such an explanatory way, and so the illusion is broken. The readers know that Zade is only thinking these things to provide exposition, and thus the prose becomes false-sounding and not believable.

Everything, All at Once

Another problem afflicting these two passages is the sheer density of information being thrown at the reader. I mentioned before that this passage is too lengthy, but it’s also too dense in information.

In most cases, it doesn’t matter what the protagonist’s hair color or body type is. It may be worth it to mention physical traits of each character in passing, but long, overly-detailed descriptions are boring, and ultimately don’t help the reader understand the characters any more than a quick, simple description would.

This is because, in most cases, readers are forming their own mental image of what a character looks like. Just because a reader isn’t told the exact curvature of the protagonist’s body doesn’t mean the reader is picturing a floating head in their mind when they think of a character. It’s more efficient, and often overall better to allow readers to form their own mental images of characters and settings, only providing a few select descriptions where appropriate to guide their views.

In addition, as I mentioned above, spelling out Zade’s “quirky” personality so blatantly violates the classic rule of “show don’t tell.” There’s no need to blatantly tell readers this. It only adds to the information dump and will be ultimately unnecessary since personality information is always better shown through the character’s interactions with other characters and their surroundings.

So How Do We Improve?

So I’ve torn this passage down. How do we build it back up? Let’s take it step-by-step.

Just… Like… Chill

The problems both with length and with information density can be solved by simply… cutting all of this out. Almost the entirety of both of these excerpts could very easily be cut and would probably improve the natural flow of prose a ton.

“But then,” you ask, “How will readers know this important physical and characteristic information about the protagonist?”

Well… simple. Take this information and spread it throughout the regular story beats. Instead of slowing down and taking the time to describe everything about Zade all at once, allow the physical and personality characteristics to come up as they become necessary to the plot. It’s okay to mention little things about Zade in this scene where she jumps off the front porch, but don’t dump everything on the readers at once.

Perhaps, have another character mention her brightly colored hair? Or comment on how she’s changed the color recently, perhaps with a note of incredulousness? This could very easily lead not only to the physical information on Zade’s hair color, but also might allude to the way she doesn’t quite fit into her community.

Have a little trust in your readers not to melt into a puddle of confusion if they aren’t given all the information right off the bat. Just chill! Let the story reveal information naturally.

A Note on First-Person

I also think some of the problems of this prose could be solved by looking into some of the inherent difficulties that come along with first-person prose.

First of all, exposition is already kind of a difficult thing to integrate naturally into text. It’s hard to justify explaining important key details of the setting or characters without running into problems of suspension of disbelief. But these problems are compounded when you’re dealing with a first-person narrator. Because you’re more or less in the head of a character, reading their thoughts, it’s hard to justify the character thinking of things they should already know innately about their world, their comrades and enemies, and themselves.

So you run into a problem. How do you divulge this information to a reader without making your character seem like some sort of odd amnesiac?

One way is to put your character into totally new situations, so their inner narration commenting on the obvious makes logical sense, since they have just as much experience in the situation as the readers would. However, this doesn’t always work out for every story.

Another way involves allowing some information to remain vague. This can be a toss up as far as positives and negatives. On one hand, you don’t worry about suspension of disbelief and you also allow for some intrigue as the readers want to find out more about your world. However, on the other hand, you risk confusing readers. Really, it’s up for you to decide. Personally, I think a balance between intriguing and confusing can be struck, but it’s not always simple.

Or, you could consider a third-person narration instead. I understand the reason why first-person narrations are so popular. They can often create a very emotional and personal tone for a story. But they don’t always work out, especially for those stories that involve a lot of world building. Understand that first person doesn’t work for every story, and be open to experimenting from different perspectives.

A Final Note on Characterization

While I already said that I’ve never read Handbook for Mortals and I can’t comment on Zade’s character throughout the entire story, some parts of these two excerpts make me think that her characterization is probably a bit… er… flat.

This is a pretty common issue in juvenile fiction, but it is a little troubling in a story written by a grown, published author.

First of all, her character seems hinged on a lie that having personality quirks is something that only a few select people have. She speaks as if loving thunderstorms or coloring her hair is something that no one in the world has ever done. And that’s simply not true. So these statements that seem to be trying to make her character seem out-of-place and odd kind of fall flat.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a character special and different from those around her. (I mean, dang, she’s the protagonist. It’s not exactly a crazy thing to want.) But it’s important to ensure that the traits you’re saying make your character special are actually special. It’s that suspension of disbelief thing again – you can’t just say liking thunderstorms or coloring your hair is a crazy thing unless you make it clear that in your fictional world, these traits have an actual reason to seem out-of-place.

As it is, it seems Zade is living in a world similar to our own, a place where many people enjoy adverse weather or hair dye. Now, a world where these traits are uncommon could very well be a fictional world that the author wants to create. However, if this is the case, they need to make it clear from the get-go that this is a different world with different values we’re dealing with.

And so these are the ways that Handbook for Mortals could, in theory, be improved. There’s a lot of other problematic aspects in these excerpts (and most likely in the rest of the book) that could be improved, but I hope the select few things I have discussed in this blog post could turn this honestly terrible book into a learning experience. Take my advice and take this as a huge example of what not to do.

Either way though, happy writing! And remember… Zade does not have a thigh gap. (She does not! How could you even think that???)

 

The End

We’re 26 weeks into the year. Doing my math correctly, this is the perfect mid-point of the year, weeks-wise. I’m halfway through my promise to myself at the beginning of the year that I would write one blog post per week.

So let’s take stock. Where are we? How has Absoludicrous grown since I made my pledge on January 1st of this year? What have I done? What have I accomplished?

Well, I can say that this blog has gotten a lot more views than I expected. I started this not really thinking anyone would read it besides people I know in real life. While that still remains the majority of the views, I do get a constant trickle of views from people all around the world. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know me in real life – thank you so much. You exceed my expectations just by giving this blog a glance.

Not to say my known viewers aren’t appreciated – of course you are – you’re just more or less expected. I know a lot of really kind people who, against the odds, support me in so many ways and your support is something I count on.

Don’t be alarmed by the title of this blog post. This isn’t the end, far from it if I can help it. But it is something I wanted to talk about. I want to talk about the end. Specifically, the end of creative projects.

This blog is a creative project. I am not doing it for a grade or monetary gain. I do it because it gives me a weekly creative outlet. And you know what? On my end, it’s been a smashing success. It’s kept me writing more consistently than anything I’ve ever done, and ya’ll seem to enjoy it so there’s no losses anywhere.

It’s this blog, however, that caused me to make a real connection to a video I watched recently made by one of my favorite Youtubers ever, Dan O. of Folding Ideas.

It’s kind of a long video (but really good), so I’ll summarize. In it, Dan is asked on his stream how best to find motivation for finishing creative projects. Dan speaks frankly on a number of topics regarding motivation and creativity but ultimately comes to one overarching conclusion – finish your work.

I know it sounds useless answering the question of “How do I finish my work?” with “Finish your work,” but honestly, it’s astoundingly good advise. Creative work is unique in the fact that it is never really done. There is always a way to improve. There’s always a few more tweaks to be done, a few more edits, and some chopping and skewing to make it just perfect.

And that’s noble, in a way. The idea that something is never quite done, and so the artist must work tirelessly forever and ever to perfect it, hoping for that one day that it’s flawless and beautiful and everyone who sees it or hears it is brought to their knees.

The reality, though, is that if you were to work on something until it is perfect, until it is done, you will never finish. As I said, there’s always something, some improvement. And so Dan advises self-imposed deadlines. He speaks about giving himself a week to finish a project and then letting it go at the end of that week, regardless of where it is in its production.

And watching this video, I found myself really resonating with this message. I’m a perfectionist. I hate when anything I do is less than great. I want all my writings to be showstoppers, to be hits, and in the past that’s bit me in the butt. When I was younger I was a serial project-starter, but I almost never finished anything. I would start something, bright and motivated, but by the end of the arduous process of trying to make it perfect, I would lose interest, or, alternatively, I would just keep it on a backburner, for a rainy day. Locked in creative purgatory, forever and ever.

There were only a handful of projects I actually finished and all of them were finished because of deadlines. NaNoWriMo was the big one. The self-imposed deadline of 50,000 words by the end of the month was the first thing that ever spurred me to finish anything. And beyond that… is this blog.

This blog is a series of self-imposed deadlines. If I fail to post something every single Sunday, nothing really happens. I don’t lose out on a prize or reward, I’m not physically punished. The world continues to turn. Yet, these deadlines still exist… emotionally. Mentally. Every week I post something new, or else I let myself and anyone who wanted to read that post down.

And even more helpful, the deadlines give me a reason to stop working. To declare something finished. I can’t tell you the number of weeks that I despised the post that finally came out on Sunday. 99% of the time, the post that’s in my head is a million times better than the post that eventually gets written, and yet my deadline forces me to stop tweaking in search of that perfect ideal and post it anyway.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because instead of me working and working and working to perfect one post that may or may not ever come out, I now have over 26 posts – some of which I’m really proud of – that are here for everyone to see. 26 posts in the hand are better than a million in the… bush, I guess?

And how do I find the motivation? I don’t, I guess. As sad as that sounds, the motivation is the deadline looming at the end of the week. As much as I wish I could be fueled only by pure-hearted love of writing and chutzpah, it’s the deadline that gets things done for me. It’s the deadline that has caused this blog to exist and keep running week after week. It’s how I keep the motor running.

These 26 weeks have been a blast. I’m not even close to being done yet, so stick around for 26 more and beyond.

In the News

It’s the end of senior year, so as befits my position as someone on their way out from… basically everything, really, it feels like I’ve been going through lasts at the speed of sound. Last marching season gave way to last semester of high school gave way to last jazz season gave way to last band concert and on and on and on ad nauseam. But I mean, it is my last year, so it makes sense that along with that would come a cornucopia of other lasts.

This week was yet another last for me: my last production week on the school’s newspaper, the Hilite. Like every other production week for me, it included coming in early to the newspaper room every morning to make changes to my spreads, copy-editing other spreads, and tweaking and re-tweaking every aspect of my pages until everything looked perfect for our Friday deadline. Unlike every other production week, however, I also was responsible for mentoring next year’s two new Perspectives editors as they learned the ropes and prepared for taking over my position next year.

Mentoring them reminded me of how I felt in their position next year, and it’s made me reflect on what this newspaper has been for me over the years. So because this blog has been an outlet for my nostalgia lately, I’m gonna talk about it.

Newspaper was the one thing I was sure I was going to be a part of, even before I started high school. Writing has always kind of been my thing, you know, and I thought newspaper would be the best way to put my skills into practice. Of course, like most things, I was horribly misinformed on what exactly being on staff of the Hilite would entail, but it didn’t matter at all my freshman year since I had no room in my schedule for the prerequisite class.

I was devastated by this, by the way. I was assured I would be able to take the prerequisite as a sophomore and join staff as a junior just fine, but I felt like that would paint a big fat target on my forehead that I didn’t really care about the newspaper or something. I think not joining staff my sophomore year like most people did did affect my time on the staff negatively in the beginning, but I also feel like my stress regarding this fact was increased a bit by the fact I was just overall stressed about my high school schedule.

Still, I eventually did take the prerequisite, and it was one of my favorite classes. Our advisor, Mr. Streisel, had a way of teaching that made me feel very capable of all of the aspects of media. The fact that I wasn’t great at the graphic or design portions of the class didn’t bother me at all. I knew for certain I was going to be a reporter and only a reporter once I joined staff, so there was no need for me to worry about photography or graphic design. I was a writer. It was what I was good at, and there was no need for me to diversify my talents.

And then I actually joined staff. And that idea very quickly vanished. My first few weeks on staff involved me sitting at a computer with the creeping feeling that I had no idea what I was doing and everyone else did. Everyone else seemed to have a purpose, a job, and I was just sitting there, twiddling my thumbs. My title was listed as “Feature reporter,” but I didn’t get a story assignment there for a few issues.

So, on a whim, I attended the planning meeting, known as a maestro, for Perspectives, the opinion section of the paper. I took with me two carefully researched column ideas and got to engage in several debates about the topics of all the columns going into that particular issue. In the frenzy, I received my very first Perspectives assignment, a column addressing the then-viral video “Dear Fat People,” where some JennaMarbles wannabe insulted fat people for eight minutes under the guise of “concern for their health.”

Getting my first assignment was one of the most beautiful things that had ever happened to me. Suddenly I had a purpose on staff, something to do while everyone else was working. I did exhaustive research and put a ton of time and effort into my very first column. And then, when it was published, I floated on air.

Since then, I’ve written a few regular articles but mostly my time on the Hilite has been spent dedicated to the opinion section of the newspaper. I found a lot of joy and purpose in taking part in these discussions. So, by the end of my first year on staff, I was encouraged by the current Perspectives editor to apply for her job. So… I did.

Being a Perspectives editor was great in a lot of ways, for sure. I loved being able to lead the discussions that I took such joy in taking part in as a reporter. I loved enabling others to speak out on their opinions. But, there were aspects of the job I didn’t quite love too.

See, I came on staff to write, but I quickly found out that being an editor meant not a lot of writing. More often it meant making graphics and designs, and for a while I felt like I’d made a mistake.

But then, partly spurred on by necessity (deadlines continued to loom no matter how confident I felt about them) I started to get used to the graphics and design aspect of my job. Towards the end I even started to enjoy it. (I’m not much of an artist, but tracing things in Adobe Illustrator is actually really calming).

And that’s really, in a nutshell, what Hilite was for me. Something unexpected, different than what I thought it was going to be. It always challenged me to try new things, and think of myself in ways I never could before. When I joined staff, I was intent on writing and only writing, staying quietly behind the lines and doing work every so often. When I left staff, I was an editor, mainly responsible for design, doing constant work every month.

Even more importantly, Hilite opened my eyes to the idea of journalism. I always sort of knew I wanted to write someday, and had considered journalism, but the idea had never been solid and real until I spent time on staff. It’s the reason I’m going to study journalism at IU next year. It opened the door for me to be an Ernie Pyle scholar… and sure, it was stressful and frustrating a lot of times. But I’m so thankful for it.

I’m going to miss it.

April Poetry

Somewhat on a whim, encouraged by a Twitter post I saw on April 1st, I took part in a personal challenge to write one poem per day during April. I found it to be a really great experience. A lot of the time, it was therapeutic to sit down and write about whatever was on my mind for that day. Still, I went back and forth throughout the month over whether or not I actually wanted to post them here.

My poetry has always felt like a personal thing, not something I really want to share everywhere and with everyone. The reasons for that stem mainly from the fact that a lot of my poems are directly taken from real life. Therefore, there are real people and real situations in these poems. It always makes me nervous to write publicly about these topics because, well, it toes a bit of a moral line for me. But a couple of factors convinced me to go ahead with it anyway, and they are:

  1. Not all of these poems are sensitive in this way, in fact, most of them aren’t.
  2. They don’t name any names nor use any real identifiable specifics.
  3. None of them are about bad or dangerous situations. Just little things, little conversations (And most of them are positive.)
  4. I’m really proud of most of these poems.
  5. The timing worked out perfectly for the last day of April being a Sunday, and how can I ignore that little twist of fate?
  6. It’s been kind of a crazy two weeks and I couldn’t just pass up this practically pre-made post idea.
  7. This whole year has been a year of me testing my boundaries, so why not, really?

With that all being said, I hope you enjoy my collection of poems. They range in quality, and some are kinda… out there, I guess?

(And for a last note, if you like to hear me talk about poetry, you can check out my last post on the subject)

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Let Them Have Rainbows

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube series that, I’m gonna be honest, kind of made me upset. I’m not gonna name any names or talk about any specifics because I don’t really want this to sound like I want people to go and send this guy hate, but I’m sure you could probably find him just based on what I talk about here. Just don’t be dumb, I guess is all I’m saying.

But anyway, the series involves this guy browsing Deviantart and “critiquing” the fanart and Original Character (OC) art he finds there. He presents it as a service, a “what not to do” of sorts for creating art and OCs.

The points he makes are legitimate, I guess, but the biggest problem I have with it is it all seems way too obvious. It seems like he picks the art that is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel rainbow pastel Sonic OCs done by young people. The critique he gives is repetitive and completely useless and unhelpful for anyone old enough to be watching his channel. Plus, even if the person watching was young enough to not be able to guess the obvious flaws he finds, he offers no real alternatives or suggestions to improve.

Lemme give you an example.

rainbows

Here’s a screenshot of one of the pieces this guy critiques (with all identifying names blocked out, of course). To you and to me, this character is obviously not a very well designed character. The colors are vibrant and clashing, the body parts are a mishmash of different ideas with no real purpose, and overall too much is going on to get any sort of clear image of what this character is meant to be. Tack on the obvious use of MS Paint and the subject matter of a Sonic OC and you’ve got yourself the most textbook “twelve-year-old who has just figured out how the internet works tries to create their own **super cool** character and falls flat” ever.

It’s so easy to criticize this piece of art because everything wrong with it is glaringly obvious. Even someone not familiar with internet culture, specifically Deviantart culture, would probably be able to tell that this is not a picture of a “good”, fully realized character.

But you know what? That doesn’t matter. At all.

I speak as someone who was that twelve-year-old when I say this, while kind of embarrassing and definitely not too fun to look at, this kind of terrible art is ultimately a good thing. So this kind of critique is not only so obvious that it’s completely useless, it is harmful and impedes a very natural creative process. 

I guarantee you, nobody in the history of the universe sat down to create their very first character, their very first story, their very first piece of art, and made a masterpiece. There’s this myth that pervades in a lot of creative circles that artists and writers and musicians and the like are what they are because of some natural talent or affinity for their craft. That’s… just not true.

Sure, there are people out there who are naturally gifted, but natural talent alone can’t carry anyone to success. There’s a correlation between natural talent and success (probably because having an affinity for something makes it more fun and therefore a motivator to practice that something more), but it doesn’t directly cause it.

For my own personal example, I am a writer. But that’s not really because I was born with a pen in my hand (or keyboard, preferably), it’s because I write… a lot. Every day, really. This blog, poetry, prose… I write constantly.

And the reason why I write so much is because when I was young I idolized authors and I wanted to be one, so I sat down and I wrote. I wrote garbage.

The very first novel I ever wrote was plotless hogwash, a fanfiction of a show I was really into at the time with the names changed. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the story did nothing and went nowhere. And yet, I wouldn’t change a single bit of it if I had to go back.

Why? Well, because, at the time, that awful, horrible novel was something I was really proud of. It was an accomplishment. It was written in a month for NaNoWriMo, it was 50,000 words long, and I really poured my heart and soul into it. I loved those flat characters. I desperately wanted to tell that uninteresting story. It was my first foray into writing for the fun of it, writing because I loved it, writing not because I thought I was great at it, but because it was something that spoke to me.

It was bad, but it inspired me to keep going, to keep improving. It showed me that I was capable of making myself into one of those authors I looked up to. It’s a big reason of why I’m here today, writing this blog, writing every day. It’s the reason I’m… admittedly, pretty good at this whole writing thing.

So that’s why when I see people try and put down these young creators for making less-than-perfect art, it makes me really sad. I was really lucky to be surrounded by an accepting, loving community of people both online and offline who celebrated the art I created, even when it was bad. Now that I’m older I understand what made those early writings so terrible, and I’m mature enough (mostly) to take critique and use it to improve. But when I was younger and filled with idealism and passion, hearing the kind of snide remarks this youtuber makes would have destroyed me. I was just figuring out that creativity was possible for me, so I was miles away from understanding that I could also work to improve the things I made.  I would have taken these condescending statements as unchangeable fact, and I would have given up.

So, let young creators make these mistakes. Let them create flat, pastel rainbow vomit characters and MS Paint Sonic OCs. Let them create two-dimensional worlds that exist only in the space of one month and 50,000 words. Because someday those creators will grow up, and they’ll understand just fine that they weren’t born gifted. But with the proper support and encouragement, they’ll become so.