Writing About Writing – Show, Don’t Tell

Remember a while ago, when I said I’d be starting a new series of posts subtitled “Everything You Know Is Wrong”, to the end of streamlining some topics that I often visit, in the hopes of increasing my output and giving people a reason to visit this blog more often than once every few months?



Welcome to Writing About Writing, the first in a series of similarly themed blog posts, created to the end of streamlining some topics that I often visit, in the hopes of increasing my output and giving people a reason to visit this blog more often than once every few months! This plan will SURELY succeed.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been doing a lot more creative writing over the past few months, and with that, I’ve also started collaborating with other writers. We proofread, we critique, we revise, we publish, we do it all again within a week. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s got me way more excited about writing than I’ve been in years. And now that excitement is spilling over into this blog, where all of you lovely people out there can read me write about writing ad infinitum! Won’t this be fun?

But first…

Who Am I? Why Should You Care What I Have To Say About Writing?

I’m nobody. I’m some random person in the vast sea of the Internet, writing out my thoughts on a free-to-use weblogging service on a schedule that translates loosely to “whenever the hell I feel like it” whose various musings share few common threads outside of being written by me.

I own several books about writing, and I’ve even read some of them. I get NaNoWriMo’s newsletter sent to me regularly. I dropped out of an English degree partly because reading upwards of 40 books in a single semester proved to be a task beyond my capability and, let’s face it, desire to perform.

In short, you probably shouldn’t care what I have to say about writing.

On the other hand, if you’re reading this, chances are that you and I are personally acquainted, and as such, maybe you’ve read something of mine that you’ve liked. Maybe you want to know the kinds of things that go through my mind when I’m writing, just as you’ve read me write about the kinds of things that go through my mind when I do other things that people seem to like. Or maybe you just like me.

So here’s what you need to know about my pedigree as a writer:

  • I like writing a whole lot.
  • Some folks say I’m pretty good at it.
  • I lack discipline and struggle with deadlines.
  • A given individual is statistically more likely to have read one of my fanfics than one of my blog posts.
  • Nothing would please me more than to have some one comment with a complete refutation of everything I say about writing.

If you want to know more, you can seek out some of the work I’ve done outside of this blog. It’s hard to come by, but it’s out there. I’m not putting any links in this post, but I’m sure many of you can follow the trail of breadcrumbs that leads back to other things I’ve written.

With that out of the way…

Show, Don’t Tell

One phrase that you’ll often hear when you get into storytelling – any form of storytelling – is “show, don’t tell”. Generally, this means that it’s easier to engage with an event taking place than in hearing some one describe the event. This translates differently depending on the medium of the story being told; in film, it means that scenes in which something happens are way more exciting than scenes where a character talks about something that happened. In games, in means letting the player DO something is prefereable to having them watch it being done. In comics, it means that illustrations are preferable to descriptions. You get the idea, I’m sure.

In prose, the notion of “show don’t tell” becomes a little more abstract. After all, when your medium is nothing but text, all you can really do is tell. Unless you feel like dabbling in wordart and concrete poetry in every story you write (and hey, if that’s your hook, shine on you reckless diamond), the concept of “showing” and not “telling” can seem odd and counterintuitive. So how are you supposed to do it?

It’s very tempting, when writing prose, to dump exposition on your reader. After all, you have a clear idea in your head about how things work in your story, and you absolutely want your readers to understand that so that they’ll be able to follow along. And I tell you right now, nothing is more boring to read than an exposition dump. When I was 12, I wrote a story about a fictitious space-faring naval organization, a “fleet” of “star” ships, if you will, and spent about 3 pages of text explaining rank insigniae. To me, it was super important that my readers knew how many stripes a captain had on their uniform cuffs compared to an admiral, even though this story didn’t even HAVE an admiral appearing anywhere in the narrative. Bad enough that I spent all this time describing something that could easily have been gleaned from a few characters’ actions, but it wasn’t plot-critical or even plot-adjacent. It was just some factoid I HAD to get out there because apparently that’s how amazing my totally-not-Star Trek story’s world was.

Showing and not telling is all about delivery. I know a guy who claims he only has three good stories, and anyone who’s hung around him long enough has doubtlessly heard all three. Myself, I’ve heard them all so many times I’ve lost count. Even so, every time he starts to tell one of them, I still get excited, even if I already know how it ends. Why? Because the guy is a FANTASTIC storyteller. He tells some parts slowly, he tells some parts quickly, he leans in, he gesticulates, he brings his audience into the emotions that he felt at the time and the emotions he’s feeling now as he remembers the event. And he always, ALWAYS gets the laugh. Think about that, and think about times where some one’s told you a story, giving you just the facts, keeping a steady pace and rhythm to their speech, and at the end of it, they might be laughing away, but you…you’re just not feeling it. And they offer an apology, usually saying something like “I guess you had to be there”. Do you get what the difference is?

Now, for extra credit: do you notice what I’ve done here? I could have sat here and spoon-fed you information on what “show, don’t tell” is, but instead, I conveyed that information to you through actions woven into the narratives I was telling. In fact, I’m doing it right now.

None of this is to say that exposition doesn’t have its place, even in prose. But, like all literary devices, it has purpose, intention, and specific uses that, if executed well, enrich your story rather than make it feel as if it’s dragging on. In a future Writing About Writing post, I’ll cover Sensory Writing as an example of one of the many applications of expository writing.

Until next time, this is An Unqualified Amateur, and I love Writing About Writing!



I’m too old to be cool.

Hello, everyone. I come to you today with a deeply personal confession: my name is Joselyn, and I like things.

To many, this may seem like an odd sort of confession. After all, it is a fairly well-known fact that most people, by and large, like things. Indeed, it is the habit of liking things that fuels much of the economy, particularly in this continent. And so this may seem like a fairly mundane “confession”. Of course I like things. Who doesn’t like things? But let me tell you, the Me of 10 years ago would be absolutely mortified if she knew I was going to admit to liking things, and on the internet, of all places!

It’s not that I didn’t like things at that age. On the contrary, I lked many things, perhaps even more things than I would profess to liking nowadays. But perhaps some history is required to put all of this in context. Strap yourselves in, folks, because we’re about to take a trip down memory lane, unearthing some memories that I’ve gone to somewhat absurd lengths not to disturb for the past while. We’re going back to the point in my life I decided that “writing” was a thing I wanted to do, if not as a career than at least as a hobby for the rest of my life.

In my teens, I was WAY into the Digimon anime. I never really grew out of my fondness for cartoons and the like, and Digimon happened to hit the scene at right around the point in my life where the idea of vanishing from the corporeal world into a world of fantasy, danger, and monsters the size of skyscrapers shooting missiles at each other was of particular appeal to me. More than that, though, is that Digimon, while ostensibly a show about and for children, had a surprising amount of depth about its characters and their relationships with one another, showing me that a story can feature explosive action and meaningful character arcs side-by-side, to the exclusion of neither. I loved it.

And so it was, that I eventually began to write fanfiction. I will never forget the first piece I finished and published to Fanfiction.net. It was crap. Like, absolute trash. It was a fluff piece in which one character takes another character out on a date and is killed in a car accident, and then a year later the surviving half of the date meets the deceased half in a dream, tears are shared, emotions are felt, and people with diabetes reach for their insulin test kits. Saccharine tripe appealing to the lowest common denominator of romance stories with all the emotional depth of a shot glass filled with water. Room temperature water.

That terrible story consumed me.

While I was writing it, it was the first thing I thought about every morning when I woke up, and it was the last thing I thought about before going to sleep every night. I never put as much care and attention into anything I had ever done previously, and the finished product is something of which I was extremely proud. Sure, the content may have been adolescent in its emotional sensibilities, but I am proud to say that its mechanics, pacing, and narrative voice were quite competent for having been writing by a teenager. That fact, and the popularity among the fans of the couple depicted, entailed that it received rave reviews and earned me recognition from some of those whom I considered to be Fanfiction.net’s finest.

The problem was, of course, that I was no longer at an age where it was considered acceptable for me to like cartoons. And anime occupied a particularly nerdy subset of cartoons within the public consciousness, making my passion for Digimon even less acceptable. I couldn’t even find refuge among those among my peers who were into other anime, as Digimon wasn’t considered “serious” anime, particularly not the dubbed version with which I was most closely acquainted. For me, it was another in a long list of things I felt I wasn’t allowed to like, or should feel ashamed for liking, particularly to the degree that I do.

The issue was exacerbated further as I became a denizen of the internet, frequenting websites known for their snark when examining other parts of the internet. These places would make fun of the easy targets, of course; furries, juggalos, what have you, but they would also prey upon creators of bad fanfiction and fanart as well, and because the Internet has no tolerance for nuance, it wasn’t long before anyone who liked a thing that had bad fanfiction or fanart associated with would immediately be conflated with the bad stuff. Soon, everyone seemed to be in a race to care the least about anything, and demonstrating any kind of affinity or affection for anything – ANYTHING, even these communities – was liable for potential mockery.

In short, liking stuff wasn’t cool. And in many parts of the internet, it’s still not cool. And let me tell you, that translated VERY cleanly to real life. I couldn’t show you my Digimon fanfiction even if I wanted to, as I have since purged any trace of my Fanfiction.net account, and the original drafts disappeared 5 computers ago. Anything to prevent people from thinking I actually liked stuff.

I recently celebrated a milestone birthday. I won’t specify exactly how old I am, so suffice it to say that I feel as though I have reached an age where my liking things makes them less cool with younger folks by association, solely because of my age. And it’s taken me this long to realize: I’m too old to give a shit about what other people do that makes them happy, as long as nobody’s getting hurt.

That’s not to say that I like everything, or that I don’t dislike anything, but I resent the attitude that every person who likes a thing automatically embodies the worst qualities of that thing and the people who like that thing. Yes, the Twilight Saga reads like some one wrote out a nonsensical dream about vampires without any filter between dream-world logic and real-world logic. So fucking what? I’ve got better things to do than congratulate myself for liking literature that I have arbitrarily deemed superior by no one’s rubric but my own.

Now, that isn’t to say that we can’t think critically about the things we consume or that there isn’t room for criticism of these things. By all means, criticize and scrutinize to your heart’s content. Write scathing reviews, make analytical youtube videos, rip it to shreds via podcast, speak critically about the larger social ills to which it contributes! That’s all good stuff that should continue to happen indefinitely. Just do so with the understanding that at the end of the day, people can like/dislike whatever they want to like/dislike, and they’re not wrong for doing so.

Fan art and fan fiction are how artists and writers cut their teeth in the craft. Yes, a very large percentage of it is not very good. But so what? They get people creating, working, and developing the skills necessary to one day BE very good, all the while allowing them to explore the favourite aspects of the things they love and that resonate with them.

I’ve made allusions recently to having gotten back into writing prose. What you may not know is that I’m doing so via fanfiction. In a world where Transformers movies continue to gross hundreds of millions of dollars domestically, I refuse to be embarrassed by that.

Oh, and if any of you respond to what I’m saying with a reminder that many fanfiction writers and fan artists choose to create smut, I direct you to this fantastic bit of slam poetry (tw: rape).


The Chandler-Joey Paradox

I’m taking a break from being pissed off so I can wax about writing and characters and stuff.

Given the popularity of Friends, I am about 99.9% certain that some one, some where, has written about what I’m about to write about, but a Google search of “Chandler Joey Paradox” comes up with nothing, which means that at the very least, I’m probably the first person to have given it a cool name. First rule of writing, kids: give your shit awesome names. Second rule: awesome names should have an X or Z somewhere in there. Third rule: deliberately misspelling words to jam an X or a Z in there is basically the opposite of good writing. These tips are white-hot, I hope you’re writing these down.

So, Friends. Everybody who watched sitcoms in the late 90s probably knew all about Friends, as many consider it to have been the flagship of the Young Adult Sitcom era that persists to this day, heralding the end of the Family Sitcom era before it. It was a pretty big deal. If you never watched it, and can stomach the casual racism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny emblematic of the period (some day, SOME DAY I’ll be able to recommend a thing without making that disclaimer), you can check it out on Netflix and probably a few other legitimate streaming services. All that you need for what I’m talking about today is a basic understanding of two characters, and how they relate to the rest of the cast: Chandler and Joey.

Chandler is the resident funnyman. The jokester. The witty one. Every single episode, Chandler is guaranteed to have several one-liners or puns for an expertly-timed laugh, useful for breaking tension or if it’s been too long since the previous joke. Joey, on the other hand, is the resident dimwit. The lummox. The dopey one. Not often given one-liners or punchlines, the humor from his character typically stems from his lack of awareness and/or intelligence in the situation at hand.

And yet, if you ask fans of the show which character they thought had the funniest moments, most, if not all, would say Joey. Even though Chandler is The Funny One, Joey, The Slow One, usually gets much bigger laughs.

Ladies, Gentlemen, Everyone in Between, the Chandler-Joey Paradox.

While I’m not certain if this phenomenon has hit Trope status, it can also be seen in other works as well. In Firefly, for instance, while just about everything that Wash SAYS is funny, just about everything that Jayne DOES is funny, and fans of that show are more likely to quote lines like “I’ll be in my bunk” or “This is my very favourite gun” over lines like “Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion. Because you’re pretty” (though I will concede that “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” likely gets quoted more than anything from that show, but I digress).

The dichotomy in how the humor of these characters is delivered affects the audience’s response to it. Chandler TELLS jokes, while Joey ENACTS or sometimes even EMBODIES jokes. Typically, the setup for each of these styles of humor differs greatly as well; Chandler needs only a single setup line of dialogue or two, whereas Joey requires an entire situation to be constructed around the eventual payoff. As a result, the humor of Joey’s character resonates with audiences to a much greater degree, as it necessitates some investment into the situation as a whole rather than just a punchy one-liner. It’s the difference between slapstick and standup, in terms of comedy. In standup, the focus is almost always on the punchline, whereas slapstick depends on constructed situational humor.

In a comedy series, both styles of humor have their role in keeping the audience engaged. As stated before, one-liners and punchlines are useful for breaking emotional tension and keeping a humorous pace. Because situational humor has a significantly higher demand for investment on the part of both the writers and the audience, “telling jokes” keeps the audience laughing while building up to the much more significant payoff that comes from “embodying jokes”.

The principle of a funny situation’s inherent superiority to a funny single line is exactly why most people consider Calvin & Hobbes to be vastly, VASTLY superior to the sweeping majority of newspaper comics, both at the time and at present.

Now, go forth and write funnier jokes!


Why This Millennial Is Unhappy

A while ago, I said I would talk about people and their love of dumping on Millennials. Unfortunately, I saw a bunch of shiny things immediately afterward and forgot all about it. How fortunate, then, that Huffington Post decided to run this piece entitled Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy and remind me that yes, we are still the favorite scapegoat for the current state of the world, and yes, I still have things to say about it.

But before I get into the article proper, here’s a quick primer for people who aren’t hip to the lingo: “Millennials” refers to the generation that is generally believed to consist of young people born between the years 1980 and 2000, following Generation X (1960-1980), the Baby Boomers (1940-1960) and the Greatest Generation (1920-1940). I’m not sure if the trend of naming generations extends before that, and I don’t really think it matters for the purpose of this discussion. It took a while before popular discourse settled on Millenials as the title for us, as even the article in question today uses the more dated “Generation Y”. I’ve also heard the term iGeneration floating around, but I prefer Millennials because it’s less derivative of previous names (like, can you imagine a generation called Baby Boomers’ Babies?) and sounds less like a marketing ploy by Apple.

And according to the media, We Are The Worst.

You’ve all heard the same lines I have, no doubt. We’re entitled. We’re shiftless. We prefer Facebook to face time. We all got trophies for showing up. The dastardly Mr. Rogers told us we were special, and that ruined us. The central problem is that we have too much self-esteem, and as a result we’re a bunch of spoiled brats who expect the world to just give us what we want with nary an ounce of effort on our part.

Political cartoonist and columnist Matt Bors does a pretty thorough rebuttal to the notion of the spoiled Millennials in this strip, but that hasn’t stopped our anonymous friend “Wait But Why” from offering their take. I saw it shared by a few people on my Facebook feed, not as a piece to be mocked (like that Tattoos Lower A Woman’s Social Value guy from a while back), but in solidarity with the message. And because I just LOVE to engage, without further ado, let’s do this:

So right off the bat, Wait But Why (heretofore shortened to WBW) ditches the term ‘Generation Y’ and invents their own term for our generation: “Generation Y Protagonist and Special Yuppie”, or “GYPSY”. Well then. I suppose they could have gone with “Narcissistic Individual Grown from a Generation Expecting Riches”, but THAT might have been in poor taste! I know that not everyone considers “Gypsy” to be a racial slur, but if you’re going to center your article around putting down a group of individuals, headlining it with lines like “GYPSYs are delusional”, maybe, just maybe, you should consider not naming your group of people after a common term for an entire ethnic group. But alright, let’s take this casual racism for granted or else I’m not going to be able to get past the first screen (*exasperated sigh*). WBW seems to employ an infographic style of writing similar to much of The Oatmeal’s work, and as such breaks down ‘happiness’ to the following equation:

“Happiness = Reality – Expectations”

Taken entirely at face value, one might react to this with a resounding “…what?”. It takes a bit of parsing to figure out that they mean level of happiness as a value that can be positive or negative. It’s logically consistent with the argument being presented, but as a rule with this infographic format, the less mental work your reader has to do to comprehend what you’ve written, the better; remember, the goal is to simplify information into easily digestible bites of knowledge. You may think I’m being nitpicky by criticizing this person’s writing style, and you’d be correct; if you’re going to present yourself with an air of superiority over me and my age group, you’d better at least be a better writer than me. In any event, this “equation” ends up being integral to the entire point of the article, which I’ll get into a bit later.

So it goes that WBW presents us with some startling revelations as “The Baby Boomers had it better than the people who grew up in the Great Depression” and “Parents generally want their kids to be even better off than they were” by making up silly graphs that have no mathematical basis whatsoever. What, for example, is “success” measured in? Annual salary? Financial stability? It can’t be such silly notions as “personal satisfaction” or “emotional gratification” because we’ve already established that it’s being presented as an entirely separate variable than ‘happiness’.

The only time this article actually DOES get factual and analytical, it takes the completely nonsensical approach of analyzing how often the phrases “a secure career” and “a fulfilling career” come up in print over time, noting that the latter has gained prominence that the former has lost. How much prominence, precisely? Well according to these folks, the phrase “a fulfilling career” appears in roughly 0.000001% of printed words, or 1 in 100,000,000 or so, whereas “a secure career” comes up 1 in 500,000,000 times. Or something. The figures are so ridiculously low and proves so ridiculously little about anything that I’m almost relieved when we ditch the real math and get back to the truthiness-charts about lawns or whatever.

There’s another occasion where WBW makes an attempt at credibility, and that’s in citing the work of Paul Harvey. The claim is that Paul Harvey “found” that millennials have an increased tendency towards narcissism when entering the workforce. Here’s the issue, though: if one actually reads the cited work, one will see that at no point does Harvey actually provide any supporting data to indicate that the problem of narcissistic employees is especially prevalent among millennials, that’s just an assumption being made by the author (and, arguably, by Harvey himself). If I’m feeling generous, I could call this ‘conjecture’, but it’s really a lot closer to ‘fabrication’.

The remainder of WBW’s piece is more nonsense based entirely on the author’s gut feelings regarding them damn kids. They cap it off by having the nerve to claim that the current job market is “bubbling with opportunity” and you can just “dive right in” and your ambition will take care of the rest. To their credit, they also offer advice that I agree with, namely that one should never measure their own success relative to another’s, but that gets eclipsed by the larger message of the piece, encapsulated in that equation from earlier: “[level of] Happiness = Reality – Expectation”.

Forget the idiotic lawn metaphors and logically bankrupt graphs for a second, let’s just focus on that equation. At its heart, it’s not entirely incorrect; generally speaking, the source of our unhappiness tends to come primarily from unfulfilled expectations. Nothing new here. The problem is that the focus of this article is that expectations are too high, and THAT’S the source of the problem. All of the proposed solutions are not “let’s work to improve the reality of the world”, but “lower your expectations and settle for mediocrity, because that’s all you are and that’s all anyone is”. Criticize some one who has lofty, unrealistic expectations if you must, but I will never get behind the attitude that an unpleasant reality must be satisfactory for all.

Here are a few realities that WBW is asking us to accept:

  • An estimated 2.5 million people are homeless in the United States, over half of which are children (whom I’m sure have lofty dreams including ‘a roof under which to sleep’).
  • While half of post-secondary graduates manage to secure an unpaid internship, about 37% of those result in stable employment, meaning that about 19% of people currently pursuing higher education can expect employment in their field, and then only after working for free for a to-be-determined amount of time.
  • Meanwhile, tuition costs in Alberta have increased approximately 400% in the past 20 years, while its minimum wage has only increased by about 99% in the same time frame. Neither trend is showing any signs of adjustment.
  • As technology continues its rapid evolution, fields of study can not be guaranteed to be reliably employable upon graduation. For example, at the height of the dot-com boom in the early 2000’s, IT workers and graduates were the most sought-after employees. Less than three years later, the bubble burst.
  • Similarly, Canada and the U.S. are seeing an oversaturation of Law School graduates, with fewer and fewer able to find work after investing a minimum of 7 years into their education.

I could go on, and frankly, I’m inclined to, but the bottom line is this: it’s not that our expectations are too high, it’s that reality, as it stands, sucks. We the Millennials were born into the world after two generations’ worth of copious consumption and unbridled industrialization, and then told that the resulting mess is our fault. We came after Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (may they both rest in unending, eternal agony) convinced the developed world that the best way to stimulate growth was to give more to the rich and less to the poor, after the height of the so-called Me Decade, after the days of free love and free substance abuse, after Richard Nixon declared that medical care was a luxury and not a necessity, after true scientific innovation was abandoned for the sake of seeing how many home appliances we can put TV screens into (so that we can all be exposed to more advertisement), into a world where polliticians have sold us on various unwinnable wars waged on vaguely defined concepts, where we would rather lock up the impoverished than to help them survive, a world that has forgotten that “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was originally an ironic expression used to illustrate unhelpful advice to do something impossible…

And you have the GALL to blame us for the state of the world.

Meanwhile, the Koch Brothers and the Walton heirs will never want for anything in their entire lives, and not because of an ounce of effort on their part. While the rest of us fight for scraps by working multiple minimum wage shit jobs just so we can afford electricity this month, they can go yachting and attend $10,000/plate ‘fundraisers’. Until any of your ilk are ready to acknowledge this very simple truth, don’t you dare talk down to me about entitlement.

Don’t you dare.


Equality: A Parable

Author’s note: I fully acknowledge that the fundamental principles behind standardized testing and initiatives similar to No Child Left Behind are problematic, and that the scenario I’m about to present is idyllic and, for the purpose of the analogy, ignores many of the issues facing today’s educators. Just roll with it, people.

So there’s this Elementary School teacher.

Now, the board of education is caught up in the latest craze, and that craze is Standardized Testing. ‘All your kids have to take the same test,’ they say to the teacher. So the teacher decides that the most fair way to prepare her students for this test is to present the same material in the same fashion to all of them. Within the controlled environment of the classroom, everyone is presented with the same material. Everyone is given the same books to read. Everyone has access to the same tools, so all that’s left for the teacher to do is present the material to every student the same way. And so, she does.

Test day comes around. Now, some of the children, whose parents actively help them with their homework every night, who live near a library, who have access to computers, the internet, and various other resources outside of the classroom, or who just have an intuitive understanding of the material being taught, do extremely well on the test. Other students, however, don’t do particularly well. Some of these students have a lot of chores at home and don’t have a lot of time to study as a result, live in remote areas and can’t get to the nearest library reliably, don’t have access to the internet or other resources outside of the classroom, or just simply don’t learn the same way the other kids do. The teacher sees these results, but concludes that all she can do is continue to foster her perfectly equal classroom environment, and hope that things even out over time.

So it goes, a few weeks later, and it’s time for the next round of standardized tests. This time, the results are similar; the students who did well on the last test, still having the same advantages outside of class that allowed them to succeed, continued to do well, while the students who lacked those advantages continued to do poorly. There were some exceptions; some of the higher-achieving students allowed themselves to get complacent, and so their grades were average, and some of the lower-achieving students were able to find ways of overcoming their disadvantages, also achieving average grades. The teacher saw these marks, and concluded that her method of equality must be working, as the distribution is slightly more even now, and hopes that this trend will continue.

Come the third test, and these results are almost identical to the first test. The privileged students who allowed their grades to slip last time around decided to pull their figurative socks up, while the underprivileged students who did better last time were unable to reliably maintain their workarounds for their disadvantages. At this point, the end of the school year is approaching, and it’s looking like a lot of the disadvantaged students may have to repeat this grade. She alters her classroom routine to dedicate more time and attention to the disadvantaged students. She even assigns some TAs specifically to work with some of these kids to prevent them from falling behind. She holds meetings with some of the parents of these kids to work out arrangements where they can get more help outside of the classroom as well.

The end of the school year arrives, and with it, the last circulation of standardized tests. This time, many of the students who previously did poorly ended up doing much better, some even surpassing the kids who were always high-achievers. As a result, all of the students successfully advance to the next grade.

Two students, both of whom were consistently high-achievers throughout the school year, are talking on the bus ride home.
“I hated our teacher,” says one. “She played favorites and spent all her time with the dumb kids”.
“You said it,” agrees the other. “It’s like she didn’t even notice how good we did on ALL the tests!”


No one will ever get a female protagonist right.

On this day, I am glad I have a small readership, because today’s post is not going to make me any friends. But there’s something that I need to get off my chest.

No writer in the world will ever get a female protagonist right.

No one. Not one person ever. No, not even THAT writer that you’re thinking of. I’ll go so far as to say ESPECIALLY not that writer.

Here’s why:

  • If your female protagonist behaves in a culturally recognizable “feminine” manner, she will be criticized for reinforcing traditional gender roles and perpetuating female stereotypes.
  • If your female protagonist behaves in a culturally recognizable “masculine” manner, she will be criticized for having to essentially “become” a man in order to be strong, inviting the implication that there can be no inherent strength in femininity. This will also be the case if your female protagonist behaves in a manner that is not culturally recognizable as either feminine or masculine, with the added bonus that she will also be criticized for promoting gender erasure and assimilation.

So what do you do? To be honest, there’s nothing you can do. If you write something with a female hero, you’re going to provoke one of these reactions. Maybe even both! So my advice is to write your characters – ALL of your characters – as actual, living, breathing human beings. Do not write characters to serve merely as props for your other characters, nor as props the story. Make them real, make them complex. No one in the real world fits completely perfectly into a stereotype, and people who don’t exhibit at least one stereotypical trait of their group are extremely rare. So write your characters accordingly, and embrace them for who they are, warts and all. That’s really the best you can do.

If I were in a better mood, I’d expound on this idea more. I’d provide examples of characters that receive each kind of criticism, and quote the critics who espouse these ideals. But I am tired, I am cranky, and I don’t feel like writing more than 350 words.