A Good Negative Critique of my Work
First off, a few more things from yesterday…
The Libriomancer sequel has a title! Book two of the Magic ex Libris series will be Codex Born.
My Parents’ Cat is on SF Signal! – I wrote a guest post for SF Signal, talking about some of the behind-the-scenes stuff from Libriomancer. Including the true identity of the bookstore cat from the book.
Interview at The Editing Essentials – An interview I did with my friend Brittiany Koren, who edited several anthologies that included short fiction from me.
On to the critique. Alex Cranz wrote a piece in FEMPOP about the treatment of women characters. Warning: While Cranz avoids specifics, this will probably spoil the ending of Snow Queen’s Shadow for you.
I know why I made the choices I did in that book. That doesn’t in any way change the fact that Cranz raises very good, valid points. Whether or not I had valid reasons for those choices doesn’t change the fact that those choices do fall into a larger pattern.
While I’m sad that my book bummed Cranz out right before a wedding, I’m glad she cared about the books enough for them to have that impact, and I’m even more pleased that she chose to write this essay and start up a conversation about these tropes.
I recommend checking out her piece. Not to defend my book. (Please don’t.) But because it’s thoughtful and important and a conversation we should be having.
Also, according to her bio, Cranz trained her dog to do fistbumps, which is just awesome.
August 2, 2012 @ 10:14 am
As a reviewer, I have to seriously commend you on being able to recognize and appreciate when a good negative critique of your work comes along. And for thinking to ask your fans not to go defend you—not that it’s automatically bad of them to do so, but some can get a tad overzealous, and a rush of them believing they’re defending their favorite author’s honor can get bad fast.
Me, I loved Snow Queen’s Shadow. But I’ll be the first to say that everyone likes different things and has a different take on each book they read, and that’s a good thing.
Handling Criticism (the right way) | M.H. Lee
August 2, 2012 @ 10:58 am
[…] C. Hines: A Good Negative Critique of my Work
August 2, 2012 @ 11:33 am
I was unable to post on her site so here is what I wanted to say there:
Perhaps I am insensitive or just don’t get it. Stories – especially fantasy stories – are there to give us a specific tale. A story of the hero and how he/she/they triumph over whatever their obstacles are be they family issues, world ending issues or just surviving the night issues. The are a single portion of the whole. The story of the redemption of the morally questionable would be a different portion of that whole. The fact that most of the morally questionable either end up sacrificing themselves for the greater good, taking themselves out of the picture or being killed by the hero is how the story is brought to a clean end. This doesn’t always have to happen but it makes for a cleaner and easier to package story.
Additionally, I find that MOST of the morally questionable – male AND female – end badly in fantasy fiction.
But I feel that for those who fight daily to make the right choices and suffer for them often and see others who make the wrong choices thrive, enjoy seeing those that know where they have gone wrong and know that they have done bad things come to the bad end we fear for ourselves and that helps us make those daily choices.
When I choose not to do bad things that might be easier than the good things or might bring me good things and gain me wealth and friends, it nearly makes me sick to see people who do the easiest or the wrong thing and gain wealth on the backs of others or kick others when they are down so that they can stay on top. I want my fantasy to reflect that. People who do wrong need to be punished for it. I don’t get that, even a smidge, in real life and my life SUCKS at the moment so I want my fantasy escape to punish those that deserve it. Do they all have to die? Probably not but I don’t know what else could happen that would be a satisfactory end to that portion of the whole, that single story.
Stephen A. Watkins
August 2, 2012 @ 12:14 pm
I don’t mean to defend the senseless killing of female characters in fiction (I wrote a very long series of blog posts about Lev Grossman’s The Magicians that was basically a critique of the poorly-executed death of a powerful female character at the end of that book; obviously I didn’t feel it was handled well). But I have to say I honestly find the suggestion that the killing female characters, in some general sense, is wrong to be troubling.
Because male characters die, too, and for many of the same reasons: dramatic reasons, having too much power, having flirted with the dark side and dying as atonement, etc. I could rattle off a number of examples of powerful and/or morally conflicted males who have died in fiction: Boromir, Neo, Winston of 1984, King Arthur, Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight… and I’m sure I could go on and name more male characters, though my knowledge is clearly not exhaustive.
Likewise, contrary to the contention of the article you linked, there are examples of female characters who fit those criteria who survive their stories.
Perhaps the issue is one of gender balance. Are high-powered and/or morally-conflicted female characters, on balance, more likely to die than high-powered/morally-conflicted male characters? That is not a question I feel qualified to answer. (See the above point about my knowledge of the subject not being exhaustive.) So I concede that this may be a problem with how frequently female characters die with respect to equivalent male characters. But that’s not what Ms. Cranz seems to be arguing: she doesn’t make any mention at all of male characters living or dying.
And some further counter-examples might be found here: Men Are the Expendable Gender, and High Heel Face Turn
I definitely believe that when authors use certain tropes in their fiction they should be careful and understand what their chosen tropes will say about their story, their world, and the world at large. But an apparently blanket assertion (or the suggestion thereof) that the deaths of female characters is wrong, full-stop – without any additional context – just doesn’t seem like a useful rule in fiction. Inasmuch as there are differnces in the way fiction typically portrays characters of different genders that’s certainly a discussion worth having.
Jim C. Hines
August 2, 2012 @ 12:18 pm
“But an apparently blanket assertion (or the suggestion thereof) that the deaths of female characters is wrong, full-stop…”
Stephen, can you show me where the author is making that assertion? That’s not something I took away from her article.
Stephen A. Watkins
August 2, 2012 @ 12:25 pm
Also should’ve linked this one, if I was going to hit TV Tropes at all: Redemption Equals Death, which lists a lot of morally conflicted characters of both male and female genders who die.
Stephen A. Watkins
August 2, 2012 @ 12:42 pm
Her focus in the article is on “morally-conflicted” women and women with a great deal of power. Though her title references only the morally-conflicted, the body of the text paints somewhat more broadly:
“I’m more expressing…a sense of melancholia over the trends I see in fiction–especially genre fiction. Women can’t seem to live. And if they’re morally a little gray? If they make choices that might be a little wrong? Then their fate is sealed.” In this paragraph, her singling out of morally-conflicted female characters seems to demonstrate that such characters are more likely to die than female characters in general, but she still appears to have a problem with female characters who die regardless of their moral alignment.
Later she references the character of Buffy. While I’m admittedly not as familiar with the Buffyverse, Buffy’s apparent foible was not in being morally-conflicted, but simply being a powerful protagonist.
So, it appeared to me, while she was primarily concerned with the death of morally-conflicted female characters, her ire wasn’t limited by the question of moral conflict. It was circumscribed primarily by the question of gender.
As I pointed out, she never once makes reference to male characters of similar condition (morally-conflicted, inconveniently powerful, or just being male) in her piece – neither as to whether they generally live nor whether they generally die or what. I found that troubling, because her assertion that female characters die too much, without some broader context in which to analyze that trend, seemed pretty empty.
In a general sense… the death of characters – whether male or female – can be a powerful storytelling tool. Personally I’d wield that power very carefully. But I don’t see any evidence that gender is the primary determinant in the broader popular culture on whether characters should live or die, nor on why. I could be stood to be corrected (given my oft-stated non-exhaustive knowledge), and if gender is a significant marker of which characters should die, that’s an important discussion to have. But without a broader context for the discussion, I’m not sure what’s being accomplished.
Jim C. Hines
August 2, 2012 @ 6:39 pm
There’s no such thing as a book that works for everyone, and if you never get a negative review, I think that just means you’re not reaching a big enough audience.
Jim C. Hines
August 2, 2012 @ 8:21 pm
While I tend to agree with you that when I’m reading for enjoyment, I want that sense of moral satisfaction, I think what the post was pointing out is the difference in how male and female characters are treated. It’s not that having a morally dark character meet a bad end is a bad thing, necessarily; it’s more that we see so many examples of specifically female characters who go down that dark route and end up dying for it. Does that make sense?
Jim C. Hines
August 2, 2012 @ 8:24 pm
Thanks, that makes sense. I think what she’s getting at is that she sees female characters being disproportionately killed off, particularly when they’ve been “morally compromised.” I don’t have numbers on that one way or another — either the raw numbers or the proportional. But reading through her article, I did find myself thinking about women who fit that pattern in fiction.
I’m not saying she’s absolutely correct or that everyone has to agree with her, but I do think it’s a good discussion to have.
August 2, 2012 @ 11:42 pm
Jim, you are not supposed to point out NEGATIVE REVIEWS!!!
Nothing you ever write would cause someone to disagree with you 🙂
Oh, wait…. I forgot some of your recent blog posts. BESIDES THOSE.
All seriousness, most of your stuff is good and I have even read some of it the last few weeks. Though I am not through far enough to read the critique. I get enough Olympic spoilers.
Keep up the good work, and remember, sometimes the negative criticism is better than the “Yes Man” type. And much better than my comment.
August 4, 2012 @ 4:51 pm
There are so many male characters who E.G. go down the dark route and back themselves out again, who go down the dark route and are redeemed, and emerge triumphant with a babe on each arm…
Not so many female characters.
The he/she/it equation isn’t really so equitable yet.
August 4, 2012 @ 5:10 pm
Interestingly, the list in redemption equals life lists not one single female character in western entertainment.
lots of women in manga, though. All of the power rangers examples are paired with a male.
August 4, 2012 @ 6:41 pm
Well, she writes well, but these sorts of articles never work for me because they set up an inaccurate mass assertion — the conflicted females always die in genre stories, especially done by guys — and then cherry-pick examples, ignoring the hundreds of examples where this does not actually occur (such as, say, huge reams of contemporary fantasy novels.) What she really means is in some stuff I read, I see female characters I like get killed (and thus you spoiled her wedding,) and so I will link stories from different mediums done years apart from one another to turn this into a point. In comics, for instance, the Dark Phoenix story was unusual way back when it was written precisely because it killed off a major female character. After that, though, it’s tradition in comics to kill off conflicted female and male characters (and then usually bring them back later like with Jean Grey.) The person who is mostly good and then becomes for some reason or another bad or partly bad and then perhaps towards the end recants and dies in noble sacrifice, like Phoenix, is a favorite with superheroes. (See film Spiderman 2 with Dr. Octopus.)
In television, male and female characters also get killed off — because of contract and budget issues usually. Whedon made Angel, a male, bad and then redeemed at the last second, then die on Buffy. Then he got the chance to do a spin-off so Angel got resurrected. Whedon resurrects as much as he kills and he kills both men and women. Cordelia Chase on Angel was not conflicted — she was possessed. And she was killed off because the actress got pregnant, destroyed their plans for Season 4 and was fighting with Whedon. They made up later and she came back for a cameo. She doesn’t really work well as an example, as the point was that her character was sacrificed because she was good and a hero, not because she was grey and conflicted.
So the connections between the stories she’s talking about, the genre mediums, and the different times in which they were written/made as well, they are weak tea at best. There is not a crisis of conflicted, grey female characters being killed off in genre stories, or even in your fiction, really. I would have been more interested if she’d simply ranted about how you killed off her favorite character and how could you. But I do think since you made her cry at her wedding that you might send her a promo of Libromancer. Unless there’s a conflicted female character in it who dies, of course.
August 4, 2012 @ 11:54 pm
First of all I loved the Snow Queen’s Shadow. It was an excellent ending to an excellent series. When she died (also my favorite character in the books and of all fairy tales) I was greatly saddened and my eyes might have misted over. Still, I recognized that in a way it was for the best. Even if It would have been possible to fix what had happened to her, she (returned to her own self) would have been unable to live with what she had done. Or at least that is what I gleaned from her characterization. Even if I did not like it that she died, the fourth book could not have worked without her death. I likely would have been disgusted with the whole quartet had it been left to slide. Only death could provide redemption and peace in this case. But the critique does raise a very good point, morally ambiguous female characters do not have to die right and left in the fantasy genre.
August 5, 2012 @ 2:11 pm
in a way it was for the best. Even if It would have been possible to fix what had happened to her, she (returned to her own self) would have been unable to live with what she had done.
There’s always a good reason. And the writer has control over those reasons.
I likely would have been disgusted with the whole quartet had it been left to slide.
Again, it would depend on the writer’s choices, eh?
August 5, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
She’s not really comparing the numbers to male characters who get killed. She’s comparing the numbers to female characters who don’t get killed.