How Not To Write a Book: Marked Part Two–On Bigotry, Sexism, and Writing Diverse Characters

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Previously on HNTWaB, I discussed how not to make your protagonist a horrible human being and alluded to all of the sexism in this book. I went on and on about how terrible Zoey is, but wait, there’s more, because Zoey isn’t the only horrible character in this mess. Everyone, and I do mean everyone is awful. There are about three not annoying characters, and out of them, two die, and one turns out to be a villain later on. Then again, the villain does try to kill Zoey, so she’s probably the most likable. Everyone else are just terrible little balls of hate, especially her friends, Erin and Shaunee. What makes her group of friends hilarious, though, is that they are the authors’ attempts to write characters of different races and sexual orientations. How well did it go? Let’s put it this way:

epic facepalm

She was the color of cappuccino (the kind you get from real coffee shops and not the nasty, too-sweet stuff you get from the Quick Trip) and all curvy with pouty lips that made her look like an African princess.

I’m not an expert on trans-racial writing, being extremely WASPy myself, so I’ll refer to people much smarter than me.I highly suggest reading the link, it’s very informative. I know I learned a lot from it. Basically, the advice is to do a lot of research in the culture that you are writing, use primary resources, and do not exotify the person or compare their skin tone to food or beverages. You can still highlight the differences in culture, but be subtle about it. There’s also the issue that a part of her identity is how similar she is to a white girl named Erin, to a point where they awkwardly refer to each other as “twin”. Let’s hear it from their token gay character, who I’ll get to in a minute.

“First, Shaunee and Erin call each other twin because even though they are clearly not related—Erin being an extremely blond white girl from Tulsa, and Shaunee being of Jamaican descent and a lovely mocha color from Connecticut— [but] they are freakishly alike.”*

*Gasp!* You mean to tell me that black people and white people can share a lot in common? Who’da thunk it? Also, is she mocha or cappuccino? Pick one awful comparison and stick with it, or better yet, don’t use that comparison at all. And who describes people like that? That has to be the most awkward and hit-you-over-the-head description of two characters I’ve ever heard. We get it, people of different races have things in common. Do they have any characterization beyond that? No? Well, okay then.

And let’s talk about the gay character, Damien, for a second, because he’s gay. Did I mention that? Because he totally is, and the writer’s won’t let you forget it. This is even how he’s introduced to us by the “bumpkin” Stevie Rae.

“And this is the token guy in our group, Damien Maslin. But he’s gay, so I don’t really think he counts as a guy.”

WHYYYYY? (owned by nickelodeon)

WHYYYYY? (owned by nickelodeon)

But wait, it gets better…

Instead of getting pissed at Stevie Rae, Damien looked serene and unruffled. “Actually, since I’m gay, I think I should count for two guys instead of just one. I mean, in me, you get the male point of view and you don’t have to worry about me touching your boobies.”

He’s the perfect gay BFF you guys! And the lesbians you may ask?

“There’s a few girls who are lesbians and totally out, but even though a couple of them are cool and hang with the rest of us they mostly stick together. They’re way into the religious aspect of Goddess worship and spend most of their time in Nyx’s temple. And, of course, there are the moronic party girls who think it’s cool to make out with each other, but usually only if some cute guys are watching.”

Apparently all lesbians either are a super religious hive minded cult or a bunch of idiots who make out only when guys are around. No middle ground, either a an exclusive club or a bunch of promiscuous girls who do it to get guys? Batwoman, if you would please…

batwoman-det854

owned by DC

Thank you. They aren’t the only ones stereotyped though. Here’s Zoey’s opinion of why she likes Damien so much.

Actually, he was cute. Not in the overly girly way so many teenage guys are…Damien wasn’t a swishy girly guy;

He’s gay, but don’t worry, he’s not too gay. He’s just right. Ugh. And they never–

“I may be gay but there’s so only much [menstruation talk] even I can handle.”

Let you–

Everyone looked at the gay scholar of our group

Forget it!

…and Shaunee sighed and said “Give it up Damien. Wrong team, remember?”

batfacepalm

owned by DC

Literally, every scene he’s in, someone has to mention his sexuality. There are points where mentioning it makes no sense. For example, let’s replace the word “gay” with the word “pumpkin” in one of the above sentences.

Everyone looked at the [pumpkin] scholar of our group.

Sounds ridiculous right? When writing LGBT characters, write them as actual characters. You don’t have to mention their sexual orientation every ten seconds. Wouldn’t it sound strange if, in every scene you’re in, your character refers to his or her straightness. If you do what these authors did and jump up and down yelling “Look, we have a gay character? Aren’t we inclusive and progressive?” your audience will give a resounding “So what?” and resume reading their Batwoman comics. You have to give these characters more to offer than just their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is just a facet on a many sided diamond. It can add dimension, but if you make the facet the whole thing, your character would just be flat.

On the flip side, we have the poorly written bigot, John Heffer aka Zoey’s step dad. He had potential to be interesting in the hands of better writers, but all of that is flushed down the toilet with the first thing he says.

“Get thee behind me, Satan!” he quoted in what I like to think of as his sermon voice.

Hey, he sees right through Zoey! In all honesty, this was the first line in the book to make me laugh, but probably not in the way the writers intended. It’s funny because one, it’s totally true, Zoey is Satan, and two, no one talks like that. It just comes completely out of nowhere and is so over the top. This is not how it feels to be a bigot, nor is it how one writes a bigot. To write a bigot, you have to understand their mindset, which it why you should follow that link. It’s very insightful. I mentioned the relationship between Zoey and her parents had potential to be a powerful character arc . If they had given this character a lot more depth, perhaps shown him try to relate to his wayward adopted daughter, things might have been interesting. The same goes for Zoey and her mother. If they had developed their relationship and shown the family reconciling, the story could have been much better. Even Dudley Dursley and Harry managed to reconcile by the Deathly Hallows, but, from what I understand, Zoey and her parents never do. Maybe that’s for the best though, because the vampires are really prejudiced against humans. They even teach the prejudice in schools.

“…Although [Walter] Lord was not a vampire—and it’s really a shame that he wasn’t,” [the lit. class teacher] added under her breath…

So, let me get this straight, it’s wrong for the Totally Not Christians to dislike vampires for taking all their higher end jobs, being super powerful, and their need to feed off the blood of humans to survive, but perfectly alright for the vampires to be prejudiced against humans. Makes perfect sense. There is potential here, but the writer and the characters need to become aware of the hypocrisy, and have it pointed out to the audience. The characters have to notice the double standard, but Zoey doesn’t. In fact…

Yeah, okay, talk about ridiculous. More evidence of the stupidity of humans…the thought popped into my mind, shocking me by how easily I’d already started thinking of “normal” people as “humans” and therefore something different than me.

Our hero ladies and gentlemen, a speciesist, misogynistic jerk. I’ve alluded to the misogyny before, but you have no idea how far the rabbit hole in this matriarchal society goes. Pretty much every other sentence is woman on woman hate, even when it doesn’t make sense and comes completely out of nowhere.

Actually, instead of being afraid it was more like I was an observer, as if none of this could really touch me. (Kinda like those girls who have sex with everyone and think that they’re not going to get pregnant or a really nasty STD that eats your brain and stuff. Well, we’ll see in ten years, won’t we?)

Batman+facepalm.+NANANANANANANANA+BAT+FAN+you+thought+i+was+gonna+say_7616d7_3431079

Fun fact, this passage fit five out of the eight categories that I was annotating for. (owned by DC)

It comes completely out of nowhere and makes absolutely no sense in context. One second, she was talking about a near death experience, the next, we get a drive by PSA  on abstinence. There are actually quite a few moments where the plot completely stops so that we can listen to a random diatribe on whatever the author doesn’t like. Such as…

Marijuana

“Heath” I tried to sound patient. “They are not safer than cigarettes, and even if they are, that’s not saying much. Cigarettes are disgusting and they kill you. And seriously, all the biggest losers at school smoke pot. Besides the fact that you really can not afford to kill anymore brain cells.”

And Sexual Promiscuity

Yes, I was aware of the whole oral sex thing. I doubt if there’s a teenager alive in America who isn’t aware that most of the adult public think we’re giving guys gum (or maybe more appropriately suckers). Okay, that’s just bull****, and it’s always made me mad. Of course there are girls who think it’s “cool” to give guys head. Uh, they’re wrong. Those of us with functioning brains know that it is not cool to be used like that.

Charming, and great job insulting yet another group of people. It gets worse though, because the twins are evil. They can be discussing an ordinary thing, like class sigils, and when it comes to Aphrodite, as these hate filled conversations are wont to do, Erin will blurt out…

“You mean besides that cob stuck straight up her skinny little anus?” Erin muttered.

It’s, again, completely uncalled for and out of nowhere. I guess Erin hadn’t filled her hate quota of the day. Then, during a ritual, Aphrodite starts dancing and Zoey has this to say…

“Yes, I suppose you could say she was hot. I mean, she has a good body and she moved like Catherine Zeta Jones in Chicago. But somehow, it didn’t work for me. And I don’t mean because I’m not gay, (even though I’m not gay). It didn’t work because it seemed like a crude imitation of Neferet’s dance to “She Walks in Beauty.” If this music was a poem, it would be more like “Some Ho Grinds Her Bootie.”

That diatribe was misogynistic, redundant, slightly homophobic, and redundant. But then, the hate gets to a point where it’s just plain silly.

During Aphrodite’s crotch-flailing display everyone was, naturally, staring at her, so I looked around the circle…

How exactly does one flail their crotch around? If they lose control, would they run around yelling “Help! I’ve lost control of my crotch! Gangway!”

Aphrodite’s laugh was way too sexual to be appropriate, and I swear she touched herself. Right there in front of everyone. Jeesh, she was nasty.

And, for that matter, how would one have a sexual laugh? Zoey also puts herself down, but still doesn’t point out her own hypocrisy.

Was I becoming a vampire slut? What was next? Would no male of any species (which included Damien) be safe around me?

This is supposed to be a matriarchal society, but instead of women and men being in equal positions, they still  are in the same gender roles.

“Eliot, you are, of course, failing Lit. But what’s more important, you’re failing life. Vampires males are strong, honorable, and unique. They have been our warriors and protectors for countless generations.”

This is a teacher talking to a student. Did I mention that these are terrible people? When writing matriarchal societies, take a leaf out of Themyscira’s books, and don’t create a world that vilifies female sexuality, and instead have women pursuing many different outlets and careers. Don’t have them just be mages and healers, have them be warriors and chemists and fulfill as many roles as the men. Have the females show a little feminine solidarity. If there was one thing I didn’t like about the Ranger’s Apprentice series, it was that the two female leads spent most of their time together fighting over the main character. Don’t make the same mistake these authors did, and please, for the love of Hera, don’t slut shame or vilify any non-virginal female character. It’s just bad taste. I guess, considering all of the misogyny, it would make sense that Zoey’s favorite Shakespeare play is Taming of the Shrew, aka the play about a fiery and independent woman being forced into marriage and psychologically tortured into becoming the perfect housewife because comedy. Why couldn’t Zoey be like a normal YA fiction character and moon over the romance between a thirteen and  seventeen year old pair of star crossed idiots?

Tune in next post, where we talk about Zoey’s awful grandmother, parenthetical asides, mood killing similes, and other signs of terrible diction and syntax.

*Again, all of the block quotes are thankfully not my own. They belong to PC Cast, Kristen Cast, and St. Martin’s Griffin.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s