Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Perks of Being a Fictional Character

In Frankie's awesome post, about parental archetypes the lovely Pirate Penguin pointed out that there are some things that parents ALWAYS seem to do in YA books, there are also some things that being a fictional character keeps you from having to attend to or do. So, here you are, in no particular order...

The Perks of Being a Fictional Character!

1) If you're a girl, no worries about your period (or having to carry pads or tampons for that inconvenient moment!) When's the last time you read a book that went something like this:

Jane stared into Joe's deep blue eyes. They were the eyes made of sea, eyes made of sapphire. Jane knew she could lose herself in those eyes. She reached up and stroked a stray hair from Joe's face.

"Jane," Joe whispered, his voice sending a shiver up her spine. He leaned closer, closer--his lips were almost on hers--Jane could feel the warmth of his breath against her cheek--

"Uh-oh" Jane said suddenly.
"What's wrong?" Joe asked.
"Hold that thought!" Jane grabbed her purse. "I think I just got a visit from my Aunt Flo!"

Bella says: "Will you just kiss me already? I think my Aunt Flo just got into town..."

That's in every YA, right? NOT. It's kind of a mood killer, to say the least. Can you imagine what Twilight would've been like if we knew when Bella had her period and when she didn't? Jasper couldn't handle a paper cut...nevermind her monthly troubles!

Shout-out to: Kristin Cashore, who not only has her characters bleed, but actually makes it a plot point in her latest novel Fire.

2) No one ever has to go to the bathroom! Ever!

How much does it suck when you're stuck in the car and you have to pee, and the next rest stop isn't for another 50 miles? (Especially if you're a girl, and you can't just do your business on the side of the road!) Or when you've had a big bowl of chili for lunch and you're stuck in rush hour traffic and it's just not sitting right. We've all had those moments of panic--those moments you probably remember from when you were in first grade and waving your hand desperately in the air and the teacher just wouldn't call on you--where you think, "Will I make it? Or will I burst?"

Thankfully, if you're a fictional character, you have nothing to worry about! Fictional characters have bladders of infinity! They can hold it for forever! Or just never have to go in the first place.

(Note: This does not apply to vomit. If you are a fictional character and feel the urge to throw up, you must do it RIGHT AWAY. You will not have time to run for the bathroom or trash can. You will not have time to warn the person sitting next to you. You will not even have time to put your hand to your mouth. You will just vomit.)

Can you imagine Belle's epic horseback ride in Beauty and the Beast if she had to hop off Philippe and squat--or if we'd been privy to the information of whether or not the Beast lifts his leg? Or how Rose's epic cross-country trip in Blood Promise would have read if she kept having to go to the bathroom? Or what about Lord of the Rings?
Dear Diary,

Frodo here. I've time to write as we make our way through Rohan as Sam ate some bad potatoes for breakfast and has been huddled behind a small bush for the past twenty minutes. Should be able to see the peak of Mount Doom soon.

Doesn't quite have the same effect, eh?

Shout-out to: Tamora Pierce, who speaks on her website and in various interviews about how non-going-to-the-bathroom characters bothered her as a reader, and so she makes it a point to make her characters pee on page.

3) School? Ha! I laugh in the face of learning!

Now, this one needs a caveat. Fictional characters never have to worry about their grades IF and ONLY IF their grades do not provide context or weight to the plot of the novel. Sometimes it's all about the grades, and then, obviously, there's some worry. But most of the time homework and projects and, y'know, going to class, can be easily pushed aside in favor of more important things, like making out and saving the world.

Take a look at Vampire Academy. Rose and Lissa are learning to be made of awesome, but they never have to take time out of their schedule to do things like write a paper, or ice a sore muscle. When's the last time you watched an episode of Gossip Girl and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, I just had to write that SAME paper last week for English!" There's also the ever-popular "I'm going over to so-and-so's to do my homework..." which really just means there's a A) massive kicking-butt scene coming up or B) some serious making-out is about to go down.

Sure, there's the occasional real life person who never does their homework. And then they go to detention. And either do it, or go back to detention. Or flunk out of school. But not for fictional characters! Like I said, too busy making out and saving the world to fail out of school. The teachers can't fail them if they can't catch them, right?

Shout-out to: JK Rowling, because Harry at least attempts to do his homework--even if most of the time he ends up copying off of Hermione--and who spends actual time in the novel doing things like taking the OWLs and worrying about his academics.

4) Food? Food is for the weak!

Sure, we've all read a book or two (mostly fantasy) where charactesr are ravenously hungry and stuff themselves with food the moment they see it. Or--equally plausible--they eat because then they get poisoned and go through a six page agonizing inner monologue. Or they're a vampire/werewolf/zombie/creature of dark. and they eat souls/blood/your heart, and watching them eat is pretty freaking cool.

BUT. Most of the time, food is entirely unnecessary to fictional characters. For television shows, this might be due to the fact that asking an actor to eat and act at the same time is particularly difficult, but in books, eating is just a bunch of extra words that is the first thing to get cut in a revision. Let's face it--eating is boring unless you're the one doing it. Watching someone else devour a ice cream sundae? Kind of boring, not to mention torturous. Eating an ice cream sundae? Awesome.

My personal favorite food moments are when characters are in a food setting and do no actual eating. Case in point: Diners. Diner are huge for characters! Teenagers love diners! Not only do they have a built-in ambience and give your sleepy town setting that certain je ne sais quoi, they are also perfect for: storming into, running out of in tears, knocking things off tables, awkward encounters, first kisses, break-ups, hiding from bad guys in the bathroom, and having Deep Intellectual Conversations. But for eating? Not so much.

Shout-out to: Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, where Grace not only eats, she's pretty much in charge of all sustenance for everyone in the entire book.

5) It's okay, it's just a sprain.

Have you ever seen the movie Unbreakable? Personally, I think it's M. Night Shyamalan's most underappreciated movie. This is a spoiler if you haven't seen it, but what makes Bruce Willis special is that he's basically a superhero, because he can't be hurt. (Except for the rain, the rain weakens him. Obviously.) I wonder if he knew he could be a YA character?

Fictional characters get hurt ALL the time. It's one of the things they're best at. Grace in Shiver got nommed by wolves, Nora from Hush, Hush falls from the rafters, Yelena from the Poison Study series always seems to be getting a) paralyzed, b) beat up or c) poisoned, and let's not even talk about the beatings Rose from Vampire Academy gets put through (or Harry Potter, for that matter.) Oh yeah, and there was that time an evil vampire tried to break every bone in Bella's body. (And all those times Bella just klutzes out hardcore.)

The great thing is, because fictional characters get hurt all the time, they also possess an unhumanly high tolerance to pain. Have you ever noticed how often characters will come away with "a really bad sprain?" Or in movies, how quickly you can go from "omg my kneecap is shattered!" to "The building exploded? I need to sprint out of this place, stat!"? It's not a hole in the plot--it's because of the superhuman ability fictional characters have to wiggle their way out of Situations of Death or just work through the pain.

(Personally, I would really like to be a fictional character for just this reason, because I stub my toe all the time, and not having it affect me for once would be awesome.)

Shout-out to: Hmm. I couldn't think of a shout out for this one. The pain thing seems to stretch far and wide across the fiction spectrum. If you can think of one, let me know!

What are some other perks you can think of?


  1. Awesome post! It's the small details that prick that nerve huh?

    The peeing thing is something I mentioned in my review of Betrayals by Lili St. Crow. She hits it on the head with the small details. And she does the eating too! I'm pretty sure she does everything you mentioned. She's a very good writer! :)

  2. Twilight would have been hilarious if she had gotten her period. Awkward, since it's in first person, but if it were in third person. I wonder if Edward could...ugh... nevermind, let's not go there.

    Someone told me that eating scenes are unnecessary. I'm writing a college story and most of the most interesting things happen when people are eating dinner. Like you mentioned, nobody is actually eating, but there are always some stimulating conversation. Meal times and right before bed are the best times for stimulating/cracked-out conversation.

    Good post!

  3. Great post! I'm writing a YA novel that takes place over 36 hours or so, and I put in the occasional scene where they stop to eat (and are usually interrupted by some Plot Point or another). I just remember thinking as I was writing, "It's been like 10 hours. Surely they're hungry by now..."

  4. LOL, I love it! Personally I want to cry like a fictional character. Their eyes always glisten with tears (and usually some hunky guy is there and ready to wipe it away--unless it's Edward in Twilight and he tastes it, hands down the creepiest moment in the book--for me at least). But have you ever noticed that they rarely have to deal with the runny nose that comes along with the tears? Now, maybe I'm just not blessed, but when I cry not only do my eyes get swollen (which also never happens to fictional characters, who seem to look more beautiful to the guy as the cry) but my nose runs BIGTIME! Sadly I cannot think of an example where this is done better.

    Oh, and BTW, I read somewhere (it might've been on the Twilight Lexicon--and don't ask me why I was there, I honestly don't know) that Stephenie Meyer actually answered what Bella's period does to Edward. She said that of course the smell of blood would be stronger, but because it's not fresh, normal blood (cause-ew, alert-it's not) that it doesn't have the same appeal as papercut blood. The rest of the cop out answer was that Edward is much too much of a gentleman to mention it. So there you go! You're welcome!

    Great Post-as always!

  5. LMAO! This post is awesome! And youre absolutely right! I also have to agree with Shannon Messenger about the crying..its soo true haha

  6. This is great! I laughed the whole way through. I can happily say I include #1 and #2 in my first chapter! Nina worries about #3, but for how smart June is... we never see her do any work! Oops. Guess I need to change that. #4 - my characters eat -- a lot -- and at a diner! Woo! And #5... pain's not really an issue in my novel. But yeah, Shannon... my characters only cry pretty tears. June's getting snot action added in, thanks to your comment!

    Random side note on unpleasant stomach issues: I always wanted to write a scene in which the female MC has some serious stomach issue when she's on a date or talking to the Ultimate Romantic Interest. That's the worst situation EVER. And if it's done well and humorously, it won't be gross, ya know?

  7. PS - Bladder of Infinity stick figure drawing is AMAZING. He can be friends with my villian stick dude! We need to make a series of these!

  8. You just voiced all my thoughts!!!

    I always wondered how it was that Edward/Jasper/whatever couldn't handle a paper cut, but they were in high school with perfectly healthy teenagers. And obviously... Bella's period... Edward's affinity for her blood... I don't know why S.Meyer bothered to mention her period in Breaking Down, when she's pregnant, when it was so obvious that she had never bleeded before!

    And yes, that was something that I clearly saw in Fire. The books from Kristin Cashore always manage to be fantastic and especially realistic all at once.

    I also wondered about the girl tributes in The Hunger Games, but I guess it would be something especially medical in there. Just like not growing body hair when they are in the arena ;) (something told in Catching Fire)

    And about the bladders of infinity and the vomiting stomachs... xDDDD That's just so right, too!!!

    About the school thing... epic.

    And about the food... I wonder especially about the road books. Girls in road books don't eat in two days but they vomit. What do they have inside their stomachs???

    And I have a Shout-out for the Srain part: What about poor Fire, the character by Kristin Cashore? The poor girl lost fingers and had scars everywhere, and we where waiting with her for a lot of chapters to get her fingers healed and amputated. Wouldn't that work?

  9. Fun post to read and think back to other books I've enjoyed where no one ever went to the bathroom. But it's fiction and stuff like that may pull me out of the spell I'm in. Love your stick figure!

  10. Thanks for all the comments! So glad everyone enjoyed the post!

    Jessica-- I haven't read anything by Lili St. Crow. I'll definitely check her out--is there a particular book that you recommend?

    Donna--I'm glad you like it! My stick figure was, of course, inspired by yours :)

    Shannon-- Crying is a great one, I can't believe I didn't think of it! I think a big snotty, red-eyed, hiccuping crying scene could be awesome if written the right way.

    Barnesdale11--You're right, Kristin Cashore does do a good job of giving actual consequences to medical problems. Also, have you read Savvy? I thought of that one after the fact--I don't want to spoil too much, but Ingrid Law plays the medical plot line in it out very realistically as well.

  11. Sara -- Lili St. Crow has a YA series out. It begins with Strange Angels then follows up with Betrayals that was just released last month. Jealousy will be out in July of next year.

    She has an adult series under the pen name Lilith Saintcrow but I haven't read it.

  12. Hahahahaha!!!

    I always thought this things while I read, I want to be a fictional character, to never have a period again? Sign me up!

  13. The bladder of infinity! LOL! It's true though, most characters don't do things that are necessities in real life! I have to agree with Shannon: I'd much rather cry like a fictional character... that way a great-looking guy will be compelled to dry my tears and make me feel pretty *_*

    thanks for the shout-out! :D

  14. Very nice! I dropped over from a link that Sandy (Pirate Penguin) left on her blog.

    I've never really paid much attention to any of these things. They're hilarious! I'll definitely be keeping an eye out in the future.

  15. Too funny. But when I read

    "... she makes it a point to make her characters pee on page..."

    I read it as "she makes it a point to make her characters pee on the page".

    While I'm sure there are some characters who might want to scent-mark their books (werewolves being the most likely candidates), I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant.

  16. Standing ovation here! This was fabulous! I laughed out loud at Frodo. Excellent!

  17. Love this post! I was laughing all the way through it because my current WIP has both mc's peeing outside, eating and the female talks about her lack of a menstral cycle...all in the first chapter.

    I know one perk that I can think of that goes along with the lack of bathroom breaks is the lack of gas! People rarely if ever belch or fart in fiction, although, I've had a character do both.

  18. Hee hee hee - we've often discussed the lack of "monthly issues" in the Twilight series. Those had to be some fun times at the Cullen house....

  19. You could shout out to me for the "it's just a sprain thing"! My character breaks her arm in chapter two and it doesn't heal throughout the rest of the book. It's an extreme pain, because it ruins all the butt-kicking action I had planned, but it's realistic. I mean, she fell off a horse galloping at full speed! You don't just get up, brush yourself off, and walk away unscathed after something like that!

  20. OMG!!! I can’t stop laughing! I always think about this when I write! Excellent post!

  21. Um... the MC in my first novel punches someone and her hand ACTUALLY HURTS LIKE HECK afterwards. Does that help?

  22. This HAS to be one of my favorite posts this year (you illustration of the bladder of infinity almost had me on the floor laughing. There was snorting involved). Let's see:

    No one seems to get sick. Not realistically sick. No head colds, no allergies, no hay fever. Unless they are on the brink of death dying, there doesn't seem to be many viruses that go around. That would be a pleasant perk. (Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith does have the main characters sick from the cold during the final battle when they still had to fight. It made it much more realistic for me)

    A really hysterical resource (at least for fantasy) is Diana Wynne Jones The Tough Guide To Fantasyland. Absolutely HILARIOUS. She addresses all things cliche with fantasy stories. One of my favorite entries? Horses. Really, that book is worth looking up.


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