March 14, 2014 by

A female power fantasy

2 comments

Categories: character, development, influences, vivat regina, Tags: , , , , ,

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In the interest of artistic honesty, I feel I have to cop to the fact that in some ways, the character of Mrs. Hawking is a power fantasy. Specifically, she is a personal one for me, embodying many of the qualities that I happen to find particularly empowering.

She is a physically small person, but rather than be limited by it, it so fit and strong that she is a force to be reckoned with, and in fact uses her size to her advantage by being fast, graceful, sneaky, stealthy, and able to fit into unexpected places while avoiding notice. I am a small person often frustrated by its limitations. She has a lot of anger, but she gets to use to fuel her in her crusade. I am an angry person whose anger gets her into trouble. She’s asexual, free from influence by sexual interest or from the need to be sexually desirable to anyone. I’m not asexual, but sometimes I wish I were free from those things. She’s a loner, an introvert in the extreme, who feels no compunction about withdrawing whenever she needs to. I’m an introvert too, but I often feel like I’m not able to take the time to myself that I need. It even shows up in smaller ways. She bears a physical resemblance to my friend and frequent collaborator Frances Kimpel, who I often wish I looked more like. She has a background in ballet, something I find incredibly cool. All these things are a chance to make the kind of person I think would be powerful enough to be this kind of hero.

I’m not troubled by this. I think there should be characters that serve as power fantasies for women of the sort that men have in abundance. Batman comes to mind as an example, as he is rich, exalted, hyper-competent hero that is often considered to be above all comparisons, and incidentally happens to be a major inspiration for Mrs. Hawking. The trouble, however, is in not allowing such a character to fall into the category of Mary Sue. The problem with power fantasy characters is that if you make them TOO powerful, TOO aspirational and awesome and amazing in every way, then they stop being believable or real. So I need to make sure that when I write Mrs. Hawking, she has real flaws to her to make her a truly complex main character.

I wanted those flaws to grow organically out of her personality, so I used the flip side of the things that were powerful about her. “Your strengths are your weaknesses,” after all. Her anger issues mean she can be really nasty when she wants to be. Her loner nature makes her reluctant to accept help, to get close to people, and she has little ability when it comes to normal social interaction. Her pride makes it hard for change and grow when she’s been wrong. She is not a flawless crime-solving machine when she screws herself up this way. Despite her forward-thinking attitudes, she’s racist in the manner of her time, and sexist in a manner all her own. And she’s a damn pain in the ass to deal with a big chunk of the time.

I want those flaws to matter. Actions have consequences, and when you act like as much of a dick as she often does, it’s going to come back and bite you. I always hate in when main characters in her extremely intelligent, lone-wolf mold such as the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Gregory House are enormous assholes, but everyone around them seems to excuse their awfulness and the story lets them get away with everything because they’re so damn special. I’m specifically fighting that in my portrayal of Mrs. Hawking. She’s very special, but she’s also very awful, and I want both to have an equal impact on how people treat her.

It’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to introduce Clara Hawking. I wanted her so badly to be in Vivat Regina so she could function as someone who hasn’t “drunk the Mrs. Hawking Kool-Aid,” so to speak, to stand in contrast to the many characters who are in awe of her. Despite their occasion defiance and criticism of her, Mary and Nathaniel basically adore her. I’m always having to be careful to not write too much about people talking about how remarkable she is, because that would be unbearable and stupid. But Clara is someone who genuinely doesn’t think her virtues makes up for her flaws and holds them seriously against her. I hope to keep that element in the story from every quarter as would be realistic. Consequence-free behavior is anathema to dramatic, emotionally honest storytelling in my opinion.

I do believe it is possible to have a figure who counts as a power fantasy who is also believably human and imperfect. But it requires careful balancing. I hope I’m up to the challenge, and I plan on making every effort to succeed in that with this character.

I like her a lot, after all, and I want you to be able to as well. ;-)

2 Responses to A female power fantasy

  1. Justin du Coeur

    Interesting point about the way the other characters treat these messed-up heroes. I’m curious, since you mention the BBC Sherlock: have you watched any of Elementary? It’s not quite as brilliant a show in many ways, but the Sherlock/Watson interplay is *much* more interesting, precisely because their dynamic is more driven by how messed-up Sherlock is. She frequently calls him on his BS, and he is (very slowly and grudgingly) admitting when she is right and letting himself evolve into being just a *little* healthier…

    • Phoebe Post author

      I am actually a HUGE fan of Elementary, and in part because of that very dynamic! The fact that Holmes is a brilliant jerk who sees consequences for his actions makes me find his journey really dramatically compelling, and I think it makes the relationship between Watson and Holmes complex and fascinating. The slow but noticeable growth of Holmes’s character helps too!

 

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