Tag Archives: author tropes

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The ballet metaphor

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, themes, Tags: , , , ,

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I’ve always been fascinated by the art of ballet. First of all, I just find it beautiful, a pure pleasure to watch. But from an intellectual standpoint I’m enthralled by the contradictions. It is viewed as a very delicate, refined art, coded feminine in most modern people’s eyes. But those who practice it at the highest levels is run like an army with just as much discipline. The dancers look frail and delicate, but they have to be unimaginably fit and strong, not to mention able to endure an enormous amount of pain. The dance is so demanding that careers tends to be very short, as many ballet dancers end up physically destroyed by the effort. The image of the broken down ballerina— whose tragedy is that she can no longer practice what she has sacrificed everything to be able to do —is one I return to again and again in my writing.

I find this could make for a perfect parallel to Mrs. Hawking. I want the next story to include a ballerina who is facing inevitable breakdown in order to use her as a metaphor for everything Mrs. Hawking fears. Her work, which involves so much physical punishment, will eventually wear her body down, and age will at some point make it so she can no longer continue. The ballerina character will speak to this part of her, and cause her to ponder how she will eventually address this.

This could tie nicely into the protégé conflict, where she will be trying to mold Mary into a new version of herself. Her fear of her not being able to do her work anymore will motivate her to make Mary into someone she feels like she can trust to properly carry things on— literally, another her. We will see that things won’t exactly go her way on that score, but Mary will in time prove capable of taking up the mantle, if not exactly in the manner Mrs. Hawking initially hopes.

The staged reading of Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will go up on June 10th at 8PM at with the Bare Bones reading series, brought to you by Theatre@First.

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Notes on Vivat Regina: character arcs

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

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Warning: spoilers contained herein for the new script “Vivat Regina.”

I’ve talked a fair bit in this space about my intentions for the character arcs in this piece– chiefly, that I wanted Mrs. Hawking to decide that she will make Mary her protege, and that Nathaniel is going to come into his own way of being of help to our heroes.

Originally I thought I would tackle much more of the protege storyline in this second piece. I thought we’d cover how Mrs. Hawking would make Mary her protege, her trying to mold Mary into another version of herself, and finally Mary’s pushback against the idea when she realized she wanted to follow Mrs. Hawking under her own terms. This storyline is to be the meat of the first arc-cycle in the story. In the very earliest experimental drafting done back during 31 Plays in 31 Days of August ’13, the declaration of her being designated protege was to happen in the very second scene. But Bernie rightly pointed out that would be moving far too quickly through a story that would be more properly explored over a longer period. So it was scaled back to watch Mary feel like she was struggling and an inadequate assistant to Mrs. Hawking because of her mistress’s harsh standards and constant criticism, but to have the turning point be when Mrs. Hawking reveals that not only is she doing well, but that she’s decided Mary is worthy to be successor of all her work.

Nathaniel’s arc I figured out almost immediately. I knew I wanted him, after he learned of Mrs. Hawking’s activities and got over the initial shock, to be incredibly fascinated by her work and want to help her with it. She of course would be resistant, since she despises how much he’s like the Colonel and how she’s come to see him as an impediment to what she wants to do rather than a support. But as I’ve mentioned, Nathaniel’s challenge is to grow past the ways he’s too much like the Colonel, and this story is the beginning of his realizing it.

You’ll also note the nature of the role Nathaniel takes on once he discovers what talent he has to contribute. With his ability to go places only men can access, his enormous personal charm, and his real capacity for thinking on his feet, he basically takes on the job of faceman. I like how this not only because it really suits his character, but also how it places him in what is often a feminine role. Contrast this to the traditionally male-filled positions of the mastermind and the bruiser, who in this case are Mrs. Hawking and Mary respectively. I plan to have him take on “traditionally female” story roles in a number of ways, as I very much enjoy casting traditionally masculine men that way in my writing.

Mrs. Hawking’s arc is the most subtle of three of them. That is for the most part intentional, as one of the issues I want to set up for her in the long term is that because of her long-held anger and baggage, personal growth is difficult and very slow. So hers occurs mostly in relation to the growth of the other leads. She relaxes her harsh criticism of Mary, she lets Nathaniel be judged on his own merits. The most important character note for her in this piece is I wanted to be certain that I firmly established her as a kind of revolutionary. We knew she was immensely critical of the social order, but I don’t know how much hard evidence we saw of it in the first story. I think her indictment of the English imperial system casts it in the right light. It is always tempting when writing in a steampunk setting to let one’s fascination with the picturesque time period to gloss over the horrific implications of the imperial system. I want Mrs. Hawking to acknowledge and stand in opposition to those things in a real way. She will not work on behalf of “queen and country” because that means supporting oppression and devastation, but she will stand up for one real woman who is suffering under it. She is of course prejudiced and limited in her own ways, but she will always be opposed to the Establishment, and I wanted her to demonstrate an awareness of what that really meant.

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A female power fantasy

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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. ;-)

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On the theoretical “Gabriel Hawking”

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Categories: character, Tags: , , , , ,

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for reveals in “Mrs. Hawking”

One aspect of Mrs. Hawking’s character that I like thinking about is how this woman, who is completely unmotherly and has zero desire to have children, interacts with the theoretical person of “Gabriel Hawking,” her stillborn baby boy. (Here I go again, with Important Babies in everything.) She is haunted by the idea of that dead baby. I think he is weirdly personified to her. Through most of the pregnancy it wasn’t a person, a child then, just a parasitic medical inconvenience. But when Reginald named him, and when he came out fully formed but dead, he became cemented in her mind at least as the suggestion of the person he would have been.

She has no maternal feelings for him. She doesn’t really think of him as her son. Instead he is Reginald’s son, he belongs entirely to Reginald. And Reginald’s pain at his death– see the ten-minute play “Like a Loss” for an exploration of this –is the biggest source of her guilt. In her mind, she has this nagging feeling that she took something that was his away from him and killed it. I think up until that point she never saw anything really get to him, wound him, even when she unleashed her own venom. But that was the most hurt she’d ever seen him, due to something she feels responsible for because of how hard she wished that baby away. As mad as she is and will always be at her late husband, she never wanted to hurt him like that.

Pregnancy was awful for her. This active woman, honed like a weapon and in complete physical control, becoming heavy and awkward and incapacitated. Did she push to do everything she did before? Did she ever get hurt or overexert herself? I think that if so, she couldn’t help but wonder if all that was the season the baby died. That it wasn’t just her wishing him away– that she actually did something to kill him.

And I think she benefited from the loss of that baby more than she is comfortable with. I imagine that after it happened, Reginald concluded that she was at least as devastated as he was– probably more so, because in his mind, as a woman and the child’s mother, she had to be. And so forever after that, he attributed all her cold, standoffish behavior to her having had to endure that. She forever had that as an excuse for her behavior, no matter how outlandish or unpleasant. And because it was effective like nothing else was, she used it. She took advantage of his assumption in order to keep him out of her business. And she feels guilty about it. She feels like she killed his child and then benefited from a death that doesn’t hurt her like it hurts him. A baby she never wanted in the first place, but didn’t want to kill. And she resents having to feel guilty about it, but still, she does.

I think she has an image of “Gabriel Hawking” in her head– a vague, incomplete, nonspecific one, but an image nonetheless. An impression of the person– the man specifically, not the child –he could have been. I’m not exactly sure what she pictures, but I imagine it’s mostly influenced by her impression of Reginald. And I think she wonders how much he would have been like Reginald… and if he’d have been any different.

I don’t think she likes to dwell on that last part.

It would make for an interesting literary device. To have a character follow her around who isn’t actually there, who she mostly tries to ignore but sometimes can’t help but engage with, who is actually that impression of Gabriel. If it were a film, I picture a young man that resembles the Colonel but with curly golden hair occasionally appearing at odd moments, rarely addressed but never totally able to be banished. Unfortunately that’s probably too far out of tone with the rest of the story, but it’s definitely interesting to think about.

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