Growing Up With Your Characters

I have been writing since I was 10 years old. Back then it was mostly poetry or at least, what a 10 year old could call poetry. It took me a long time to sort out fiction of my own but as soon as I found that world, I fell in faster than Kagome fell into that damn magical well. Fiction was a beautiful escape from my comic book protagonist reality: I had recently lost a parent, I was living with my strict aunts, I was teased in school but in fiction, oh in fiction, I could be anyone. And so I was.

I, like many early fiction writers, had a flock of Mary Sue original characters. Now, a Mary Sue, for those who do not know is a female character who is just too darn perfect. They’re usually self-insert characters made to allow mostly female writers to simply place themselves into the narrative. This means usually doing not so great writing things to pair off with the fictional character you want and to do whatever you fictionally want. Many grow out of the Mary Sue-stage but some stay there. And boy, did I stay there during those early years. I also don’t think I can impress upon you just how many fandoms I touched back then and still do. It was a lot of anime and manga sure but comic books, video games, books: basically if I was into it, I likely had a project relating to it (and possibly still do.).

The characters I wrote back then were almost all female and almost all were very strong: all the things I wanted to be. But they also reflected the concerns I had at the time, many were cursed or held under the thumb of the villain. And if you knew me during that time, you’d be able to see that in my own life. I was held under the thumb of strict aunts and wanted to badly to break free but never felt like I could so despite displaying outward strength, I was never and thus my characters were almost never, strong enough to leave their binds, their curses, their fates. Luckily, there were plenty of angsty male characters to “rescue” them and thus me back then.

High school, oh high school. I was for sure starting to develop more as a writer back then and that often meant that my writing reflected the things I was interested in: boys, intimacy and gender. By high school, I had this funny feeling inside of me that “female” only felt so right. I started writing more and more male characters in high school. I found immense power and comfort in writing as a male.  That also meant writing things of a more… carnal nature. I won’t go into detail here but let’s just say high school me’s writing very much was a look into my concerns and psyche: I wanted attention, I wanted intimacy, I wanted control and I wanted things just as I wanted them. These characters back then, especially the male ones, were melodramatic, self-absorbed, somewhat useless but well-intended and always, always rescued by a handsome prince/host-type. And these were long projects: some of them I just finished recently, recently, dear reader. But let’s not lose that train of thought, remember that duality of spirit I mentioned? That duality: the two types of male characters I wrote, would continue to be a duality even in my character. Part of me is a useless blob of self-indulgence and another wants so desperately for those around me to feel special because I know what it was like to even for a moment not feel important. It would be a duality that I struggle with even as I continued to write when I was in college.

I didn’t have much time for fiction in college. I was an English major. I had plenty of other things to write but my somewhat rigid schedule gave me all the time in the world to dive into a world I had dipped my toe into while in high school: roleplaying. I found a partner that I loved more than anything else and got to play characters I loved more than anything else. I was back to playing mostly host/prince types and living my best truth. In college, I found myself even using more and more male nouns in common speech. Writing fiction kept me going through school, stress, work, the loss of my mother and more stress. Fiction did for me then exactly what it did for me as a stressed out pre-teen: it gave me a place to escape but only so much so to keep me grounded by with a pleasant little distraction to power me through the rough times.

I stopped writing when I graduated. The years between college and career were less than kind and while I kept up some fiction writing, I had mostly abandoned my other projects. I had to build a portfolio and keep writing things that mattered to employers.

In 2014, I moved and that changed many things. I chose a partner who loved my fiction writing and encouraged me to do so more. I did so for them. They were my reason to keep writing. Which was all fine and good until that person left me. I didn’t write for months after that breakup, I couldn’t go back to the worlds we built together without them.

However, I’m a stubborn thing, it took me a while to get back to it but I did. Trust me, I did. I even finished a project I began when I was in high school and then immediately built upon that foundation: I’ve managed to add to it ever since then.

I manage to find time and inspiration in bursts. Maintaining my blog is a bit more of a priority to me than fiction mostly because I don’t see myself publishing that anytime soon. Not that I don’t think it’s any good, just that I think that phase of my life is over. Who knows, I may change my mind one day.

It’s amazing and sometimes a little painful to go back and read those old pieces and even more interesting to read the long-term projects. It’s amazing to see how my writing has changed, how my characters changed, how I changed. How I accepted myself and accepted the parts of my past that I was desperate to work through in writing. It’s fascinating to see how I’ve matured and how my characters matured.

It’s simply amazing to see a record of who I was, who I am, and who I can be.

Growing Up with Naruto Uzumaki

 

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” ― C.S. Lewis.pngI’ve been a fangirl for 20 years now. Yes, let that sink in. Most of my life I have known comic books, anime and manga. Yes, I’m very old. And one question I love and hate getting is:

What’s your favorite anime?

And while I covered that in a list, I wanted to go over a big part of why some series stick and others fall flat.

Some series just don’t age well. Not all animes or comic book series are like a fine wine. Some just spoil. Even wine sometimes curdles into vinegar.

Let’s take two series that I started actually around the same time: InuYasha and Fullmetal Alchemist. InuYasha did not age well. I now can barely stomach the main cast and any episode I watch is just a nostalgic-filled jaunt hoping to relive some of the memories I had of sneaking into the living room as a teen and plugging my headphones into the TV and watching the show very late at night and with subtitles because I wasn’t allowed to be up at the hour it ran on Adult Swim and my aunts weren’t (still aren’t) very keen on the whole Japanese murder cartoon-thing. The characters are cliche now. Kagome’s issues that range from not knowing what to wear to not knowing how to bring proper supplies from the future seem so small in comparison to other characters even within the show because they are. InuYasha is not compelling as a lead and he’s a pain in the butt the entire series with the “will-they-won’t-they” romance . His surface-level worries about the girlfriend he lost and the girlfriend he’s trying to keep only make for a shallow character with fantastic hair.

Fullmetal Alchemist however only gets better the more I watch it and the older I get. I really fell for the series considering that when I started the series, I was about the same age as the main character. Faced a similar loss. And I was similarly angry with God, science and the world for leaving me without a father, a clear direction and without great height (though I did achieve my childhood goal of being taller than or at least the same height as Edward Elric). But upon more recent watches, my eye has shifted from the complexities of Edward Elric’s flawed humanity and pragmatic logic to the handsome tactician that is Roy Mustang. I am closer to Mustang’s age now (weeps) and his ability to put on a face that hides just how broken and miserable he is with his greatness and military “heroism” is now a fascinating and relatable portrait of adulthood, the spectacle of power and what it means to really be strong.

Let’s go over another example, shall we? Naruto and Cowboy Bebop.

Naruto is actually a strange case. I picked up this series in high school and I actually ended up essentially growing up with Naruto. We were around the same age when I started the series and I was an adult and a working-class professional by the time he achieved his goal and his lady. And the series had a wonderful way of admitting that Naruto as a character grew up. “Wow, I was really annoying back then, wasn’t I?” Yes, Uzumaki-kun, you were annoying back then. But what matters is that we all grew up together. I faced trials when Naruto faced trials. I empathized with Sasuke’s cynicism and anger towards the family he buried. I understood Kakashi-sensei as he did his best to keep it together for these kids that he was responsible for. But my deep connection to it made the ending (I won’t spoil) rather unsatisfying for me. I grew up with these characters. I felt their struggle and to see their story end with such a cop out almost made me question my ending. Will I be a cliche, too? Will my ending be that quiet and disappointing? Am I just filled with ennui? Probably.

Cowboy Bebop however aged much better. I can still be satisfied with that ending. I can still watch the adventures of the Bebop crew and be enthralled. I am still curious about Spike’s laid-back attitude despite immense and valid anger towards Vicious. I am curious about Faye’s past and what it has to do with Betamax tapes. I am fascinated by whatever in the world Radical Edward is. And like with Fullmetal Alchemist, now that I’m older, the stories are even more important to me. The idea that life is just a dream and it’s what you make of it. That memories aren’t always true and can hold you back. The concept that nostalgia is a dangerous drug and that genius and skill can never replace soul. Bebop also teaches you that no matter what there is nothing that you can do that makes you look like less of a villain if you have a strange dragon-bird as a pet.

Heart is what makes a series something you can take with you. I mention this fact a lot in my panels: if your story feels small, it is small. If your characters issues are small in comparison to the size of the series, then those are likely to be stories and characters that don’t stand up as well to the test of time than others. The series that aged like fine wine had stories that are complex, multi-faceted and characters that from any angle look and feel entirely different. Those differences and new viewings easily breathe new life into a work. I had the immense fortune of accepting the fact that I was going to be a lifelong fangirl. I was able to take these characters with me as I grew from an angsty teenager to slightly less-angsty career person. I grew up with these shows. Their struggles helped me cope with my own. The music helped color my world. And I like to think I’m a somewhat stronger and better person for the fictional classmates and friends that I had while on the journey from petulant youth to cynical but loving adult.