Being a Better Writer: The Bechdel Test and Real Gender Equality

Oh readers, it is so good to be back!

Seriously, in the last week, I have biked every single day, several miles at minimum. It’s been ninety degrees out most of the time, which has been absolutely glorious to feel. I have access to the internet once again, have caught up on Obi Wan Kenobi (which I’ve enjoyed, especially the most recent episode), and have been hard at work editing on Starforge.

A bit more on that last one. In this last week I’ve edited over 160,000 words worth of work. Once this pass is through, I’ll start a second, quicker pass that will tie in with a few rewrites of sections that need work, and those chapters will be put up on the Alpha 2 Master Chapter List.

In other words, expect an Alpha call for the second Alpha Read next week. That’s right. It’s here. I’ve gotten comments and e-mails from a few of you expressing how interested you are in the second Alpha Read. Well, now’s the time to sharpen your … reading glasses? Okay, that fell apart on me, but you get the idea. Prepare. Alpha 2 is about to begin, and the call will go out next week.

The aim is still to get Starforge out before Christmas. Ideally, a November release date like Colony and Jungle both had would work, but if things call for delays, well … To paraphrase Miyamoto, a delayed book is eventually a good book, but a bad book is a bad book forever.

That said, I’m still pushing hard to get it out by November. Somewhere between the Alpha 2 and the Beta 1, I also plan on cranking out the cover. I’m going to have to learn some new tricks in the software I use, but I’ve got most of it figured out. Either way, that means we’ll likely see a cover preview as early as … August? September? I’ll keep that window wide just in case.

Man, editing 500,000 word titans is a lot of work. After this it’ll be a relief to work on some shorter projects once more.

In any case, that’s the news, so with all that said, let’s get talking about this week’s topic. This is going to be a bit of a contentious one, I think, at least at first. Largely based off of the title. And I won’t pull a punch here: I’m going to be criticizing the Bechdel Test. I hope that if you’re one of those ardent defenders of the Bechdel Test, you’ll stick around and hear me out. As anyone who’s read one of my books will attest, I’m not some crazy misogynist that hates female characters. In fact, you could very easily note that my books easily pass the Bechdel Test.

But there’s a word there that’s part of the problem: Easily. This is where a lot of the criticism of the Bechdel Test comes from, and why we’re talking about it today. And my criticism and breakdown of it is not going to be, I would guess, what some of the ardent defenders of it expect.

But for all that, we’re going to need to hit the jump. So click that, and let’s get talking about the Bechdel Test.

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Being a Better Writer: Organic Fight Scenes

Welcome back readers! And, with a little hope, welcome back me!

Yeah, that’s right, this is still a post written well in advance (over a month, now) due to the uncertain nature of the length of my trip. Odds are it’s been done for some time by now, but just in case, I’m writing this post and adding it to the queue as a precaution. I’m probably back, but like I noted in last week’s post, such things are uncertain. I am indeed back! I’m certainly not a fortuneteller prognosticating the future here.

Anyway, as always, today is another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer, and today we’re going to tackle a reader requested topic from our last Topic Call. A reader wanted to know how they could make their fights and battles feel organic rather than scripted. And well … let me tell you, my brain immediately went two directions with this one. See, I’ve done posts on fights before, from the small-scale to the large, so in one respect I’ve probably touched on a lot of this topic before. But from another angle … not so much. Though I’m not certain that the request aimed toward that second angle, it was what immediately seized my focus and attention.

Naturally, we’re going to talk about both. We’ll tackle the second angle first, because it’s a more foundational element that needs to come first. And then we’ll move from there to a discussion of the more common advice for writing a fight scene.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about what makes a fight scene organic.

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Being a Better Writer: Making the Mundane Engaging

Greetings readers! Welcome to another Monday in which I am not present. I’m writing to you from the past, using perhaps the best-known means of time-travel, so that you can have this post on a day when I am very likely still busy and away in Alaska.

Maybe not. We’re reaching the part of the scheduling now where I may in fact have returned, but also may not have. I’ve become quantum!

Those of you that know how awful and interpretation that is may begin plotting my death now.

Anyway, regardless of my current limbo, let’s talk about writing. There’s no news I can talk about, since I’m in the past, so we’re just going to dive write in and talk about today’s topic: the mundane made awesome.

The idea for this post came to me on a rewatch of the new Dune movie (which is utterly fantastic). There’s a moment in the flick (minor spoilers) where the Duke and his entourage go out on a flight to actually watch a spice-harvesting operation take place (and if you don’t know what this is, definitely consider reading the book, seeing the film, or both). But here’s what struck me about this scene: it could very realistically be a documentary of some kind.

In fact, it almost is. The characters circle the spice harvester while a character explains to both them and the audience how the process works, what the job is like, what the crew is doing or watching out for, etc.

In other words, it’s very much the picture of exposition, and fairly mundane exposition at that. In our world, it would very closely be the equivalent of explaining how a dump truck works on a construction site. Which is about the most mundane thing ever, right?

Save that on this rewatch, I realized how invested everyone in the room was in this scene. I sat back, looked at the crowd, and all of them were hanging on every word coming out of the exposition character’s mouth.

There’s a reason for that. Despite this being the equivalent, at least taken flatly, of watching a documentary explain how a dump truck works, there is a reason no one in the room was bored, but instead fascinated by this explanation of, in-universe, something that was largely ordinary.

The story had made the mundane engaging. Taken something everyday and bland, and presented it in a way that was fascinating to learn about.

So let’s talk about how they did it. And then, of course, how you can do the same in your own writing.

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Being a Better Writer: Delivering a Villain and Making Them Truly Scary

Hello readers, and welcome to another installment of Being a Better Writer. Today’s installment is one that I’ve been waiting on for a while, as it’s been near the very bottom of Topic List #19. In fact, it is the second to last post from this list! There’s only one more to go after this, and then Topic List #20.

Which is why if you’ve got a writing topic you want to see a future BaBW discuss, now is your chance to get it on the list! Hit up the Topic Call post and leave your suggestion in the comments there to get your interest covered by a future Being a Better Writer!

As for other news … I don’t believe there’s anything that I didn’t already post about in last week’s news update, so we can dive right into today’s post!

So this one has been on my mind for a while. Months, actually, since it was put on the list. I usually leave a little space for last-minute additions, and this was one of them that I grabbed after seeing a writing thread where a bunch of readers were discussing how the villains of a piece had fallen flat.

Now, as a quick aside, I do want to remind us all that there is a difference between an antagonist and a villain. Just as there is a difference between a hero and a protagonist. Someone that is acting in opposition to a protagonist is not automatically a villain. They are an antagonist. Merely being opposed to a primary character is not an automatic trait of villainy. In fact, even the definitions of these two terms note the difference. An antagonist is one who opposes the protagonist of a story and acts as an obstacle, but that is the limit. A villain on the other hand, is a character who’s evil motivations are integral to the plot.

And yes, the definition does include the term “evil” there. A villain may have ambiguous reasons (for example, Thanos), but there is no doubt that what they are doing is wrong in some awful fashion, and their aims are more than just being an obstacle to the protagonist.

In other words, it’s like the old logic puzzle or play we all encountered in grade-school: Some antagonists are villains, and some villains are antagonists, but not all antagonists are villains, and not all villains are antagonists.

If that was a little confusing, just look at it this way: A villain can exist in a story and not be an antagonist (in fact, there are plenty of stories where a villain exists, but doesn’t play against a protagonist, or may even assist them temporarily), and an antagonist can exist but not be a villain. The two terms are independent of one another.

Now, if we want to talk about antagonists and how to use them, perhaps we can put that on a future list. But now that we’ve noted the difference between the two, lets get back to our core focus today with villains, and how we make them scary. Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Embracing Conflict in All its Forms

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and another Being a Better Writer article is upon us! Though first, I do have two bits of news. Don’t worry, they’re both short.

First up, Being a Better Writer has opened another topic call, and that means it’s time for you to submit your ideas for writing topics you’d like to see BeBW cover! We always open up the Topic List to suggestions when we start building another one, and inevitably we get some great suggestions from readers, so if there’s a topic you’d like to hear about, let it be known on the topic call post! Make a comment!

Our second bit of news? I may do a post on this later, but I saw Sonic the Hedgehog 2 over the weekend. Remember how I blasted the new Halo show for making all the obvious terrible choices with a video game adaptation? Well, Sonic 2 is the opposite of that. In fact, my one sentence review of the movie would have to be “Everything Halo does wrong Sonic 2 does right.” I had an absolute blast, laughed myself silly, and grinned until my face hurt. Granted, I grew up playing the Genesis Sonic titles relentlessly (to the degree that some bugs, exploits, and secrets on the web I actually discovered and authored), so I love the series. But either way, I had a blast watching this film, and if you even somewhat enjoyed the first one I’d say it’s a sure bet you’ll have a lot of fun with the second. And they’ve already green-lit the third as well as a live-action show that tells Knuckles’ story so I am 100% on board here.

Okay, I did say the news was short and sweet. Delivered on! So, what are we talking about today when it comes to writing?

Well, this is a topic we’ve discussed before in vary degrees, but it came up once again during a conversation I saw online the other day, in which someone offered their opinion about a book, but said opinion raised a few eyebrows. Not because “Hey, your opinion bad” but more because their opinion was a bit, shall we say, odd.

Effectively, they’d left their thoughts on a book but were somewhat critical of it for not having any “traditional” action scenes, so to speak, stating that they weren’t sure who would be interested in a book that didn’t have any traditional battles or fight scenes, or why there would be anyone who would prefer anything that wasn’t guns, magic, action, etc. Basically, though the book had conflict, they believed that because it wasn’t violent conflict, the book therefore had low appeal because who wouldn’t want violent, action-filled conflict. They then backed that statement by declaring that this made it a “less mature” version of something else they liked.

Again, all because it lacked action and violence with its conflict, instead focusing on social conflict and bloodless battles of voice and opinion.

The issue here is … They’re wrong. And I’ll openly say that. Just because a book doesn’t have violent conflict in a physical sense does not mean that a story doesn’t have conflict, nor that the majority of people don’t want to read it.

In fact, statistically, the most embraced conflict in books is not violence, I would argue, but emotional conflict. My support for that statement? Romance books. They’re about 33% of book industry total sales or so, depending on who you ask and whether you count non-fiction, and the largest genre overall.

And Romance books? They’re not full of guns, bullets, sword fights, and the action-adventure peril. They’re full of a very different kind of action. And not the obvious joke, either. Most romance books are about social conflict rather than “How many dudes can this dude kill?” There might be a single action scene a climax, like a sword duel (yes yes, laugh) between two rival love interests or something, but overall, the point of the book is not to deliver death-defying action and peril.

Don’t get me wrong, those books do exist, even in romance. Spy thrillers and the like do mix Romance with deadly peril. But it’s far from every romance book.

Which means this internet poster’s stance is just completely off-base. Their issue was that they were thinking of “conflict” as required by any story to be action or violence, rather than any of the other forms conflict can take.

So hit that jump, and today let’s talk about other forms of conflict that can feature in your stories, and how these are still valid forms of conflict!

Because your story doesn’t have to have a gun fight or a sword duel in it to have “conflict.” Conflict is a wide range, and your story can pick and choose from all across that spectrum for the story you want to tell. Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Runaway Characters and Script

Hello readers! Welcome back! It’s another Monday, and bigger still another month! It’s officially April! So, let’s drop some updates before we get into the meat of things. Starting with some real news about Starforge.


Alpha Reading continues, slowly but surely. The furthest reader is about halfway through now (I did mention this is a 500,000 words book, didn’t I?) and the rest of the Alphas trailing somewhere near or far behind. Right now, since I’m hot on the heels of the lead for edits, I’m thinking of starting a second edit pass back on the early chapters, specifically with regards to a phew larger rather than smaller overhauls (like on chapter three, which needs some serious “sanding” on those rough edges).

The pace, though, says this one might take a while. I’d like to get it out this November, but currently the Alpha’s have had access to Starforge since early-to-mid February and we’re now in April with the leader among them only halfway through. Big. Book. At the current pace then, the slowest of the current Alpha Readers will finish it around … August. Which is a little too late for getting a second Alpha batch in, followed by at least two Beta passes and a copy edit if it’s going to be out by November. That would leave three months for a second Alpha pass, two Beta passes, etc.

I may have to do what I’ve done before and leave a few Alpha Readers behind, especially as there are already waiting people for the second Alpha Read (plus the Beta). Schedule is a requirement, and I simply can’t wait until 2023 or 2024 to get Starforge out.

On the plus side, those who have been Alpha Reading have really been enjoying it as the story has taken off (though again, not without areas that are getting fixed, changed, tweaked, etc). I’m enjoying the feedback and seeing the reactions of readers as they journey through the finale of this trilogy!

I really would like to see this one released by November, and that means getting the first Alpha done by at least the start of May. Earlier if possible. If you’re a current Alpha Reader who hasn’t sat down at it yet, please take the time and dig in. As with Colony and Jungle, you’ll very likely find it hard to pull away (past a few problem areas you’ll already see comments about).


Now, news outside of Starforge: Topic List #19 is almost exhausted, so this week I’ll be posting a call for writing topics you’d like to see in future Being a Better Writer posts. I’ll also be planning a live Being a Better Writer for the coming weeks, where we do a live Q&A on the Discord for everyone to listen in on. And if I end up heading up to Alaska in a few weeks (more on that as it develops) for a short trip, once again I’ll be building a backlog of Being a Better Writer posts, along with other posts to keep the site delivering content while I’m “off the grid.” I’m fairly certain that’s going to happen, but the timing so far has been very loose.


In other news The Minstrel and the Marshal is ready for submission to Troubadours and Space Princesses, the next LTUE Anthology collection. As each author is allowed two submissions this year, I’m debating a smaller, goofier and more light-hearted second entry, though it needs a little more brainstorming.

Submissions do close at the end of the month, so if you’re curious about submitting, or would like to have a go at getting your name in print—for a good cause no less—then check out the submission guidelines here.


Really quick, since I did mention The Minstrel and the Marshal, I do want to talk about plans for upcoming writing projects (and other writing-related stuff). While Alpha Editing is going on I do tend to have some time to write on the side (how Minstrel and its predecessor were written) and there are a few more short story concepts for More Unusual Events that I could plot out. Past that, if I take some spare time to write, it’s definitely time for another Jacob Rocke adventure, and I have been slowly putting a new mystery together for him to solve!

After that gets written (sometime over this spring, likely while I’m letting Alpha/Beta Readers build up a headway) then the next project will be Axtara – Magic and Mayhem. Oh, and somewhere in there I should look at polishing up Fireteam Freelance.

And with all that said … let’s talk Being a Better Writer and put the news on hold, shall we? That was a bit of a news dump, so let’s swing to today’s topic and talk about what to do when your characters or your script start to run away with things. Hit that jump, and let’s talk writing!

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Being a Better Writer: How to Write a Rogue

Afternoon readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got a fun topic to discuss today, and I’m looking forward to talking about it, but as usual we’ve got the news to discuss.

First up, updates on my sickness status: The frog in my throat is clinging with the last of his webbed little fingers, but the eviction has gone through. The throat feels more normal with every passing day. Also, once again, it’s not COVID so bullet dodged.

Now more for the news most of you are interested in: Starforge editing proceeds at pace. I’m into the second quarter of the book now, and just barely behind some of the Alpha Readers. There’s definitely a few spots to sand and smooth, but the action and reveals seem pretty riveting so far. There will definitely be a second Alpha Reading to ensure that everything’s been touched up properly, however. I know a few of you were counting on it due to scheduling, and rest assured this wasn’t ever in doubt. Just reaffirming it for those of you that are waiting.

Second bit of news, tied to that, thanks to the Discord we’ve started to see some proliferation of links for places for fans to talk about Colony and the rest of the trilogy as well as recommend them to other people. Which means we’ve got posts like this showing up places! Slowly but surely, people are discovering the series thanks in part to fans talking about it! Which helps everyone involved, from readers to myself.

Oh, one last bit of unrelated news before we dive into today’s BaBW: The submission date for Troubadours and Space Princesses has been extended! Submissions now have an additional month to be worked on, with the new deadline being April 30th, 2022. So if you’ve already written your story, now you’ve got some extra time to put in the polish, and if you’ve haven’t written it, you’ve got more time to do so!

Me? I’ll be submitting The Minstrel and the Marshal once I’ve sent it through a few Alpha Readers.

All right, I think that’s everything worth discussing at the moment, so let’s go ahead and dive into today’s topic! Let’s talk about How to Write a Rogue.

This topic got put on the Topic List due to an IRL conversation I had a few weeks ago with someone who was brainstorming a very clever book idea (and honestly, if they ever write it, you’ll hear about it on this site because dang it’s a fun idea). While I won’t give you the details, I will say that involved some characters who were con artists of a sort, and while discussing their ideas and concepts, the creator said something that went a little like this:

“Of course, they have this requirement that makes them have to be committing the con, that way people know it’s okay.”

I stopped them right there, with a shake of my head and my hands, to point out that no, they didn’t want that. Why? Because they were writing a story about rogues. Loveable, goofy, rogues. And if they had a justifiable reason to be rogues, well they stop being rogues, and when we read con-artist stories, that’s who and what the audience is there for!

What followed was a quick and dirty discussion on roguish characters and their appearances in various mediums, as well as what makes them such “lovable scoundrels.” At which point I realized that this needed to be a topic discussed on Being a Better Writer, spun around, and added it to the list.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about the character traits that go into crafting our own rogue of a character.

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Being a Better Writer: Using Shorts to Explore Character or Setting

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday once again! How’d that happen? The weekend seemed to flash by, but it’s probably partially as a result of me spending a good chunk of my Saturday working on The Minstrel and the Marshall. Which has been edited, trimmed, and revised in a few places … but I think I want to make one more change before I upload it today. A small one tweak before I let others get a look at it.

Still, it’s under the word requirement for Troubadours and Space Princesses now. Which, I remind all of you, only has open submissions for another twenty-four days! If you’d like to submit a story for the collection, check out the requirements and relevant information here!

All right, let’s cover some other relevant news. Starforge editing is hitting hard this week, so I’ll be blitzing through the opening quarter of the book and making changes. I’ll also once again be looking over and possibly retooling my Amazon advertising: For reasons unknown to me, views cratered after March 1st, and I’ve as yet been unable to figure out why, but it’s impacting my bottom line, so figuring it out is a bit vital.

Other than that … there’s not much worth sharing at the moment. Well, maybe one thing. Did you know this site has a Discord channel? It’s true. A channel with various rooms and even people! Now, the link isn’t public, because usually the only time it’s been open to invite people is for live Being a Better Writer Q&A sessions. Basically, like a forum, I’ve rolled it out slowly so that things are overwhelmed with spam or bots (there’s enough of that going on already on the site, hence requirements like emails on comments).

But there is a Discord, and there you can talk about books you’re reading (mine or others), writing, games you’re playing. You know, the usual forum/chatter stuff.

And today? I’m feeling like it’s time to crack the doors open a little. The link will be past the jump, just to put a slight block in the way of spam-bots, but if you’d like to join in, the link will be live for one week! It’s a larger crack than we’ve given the door before, and we’ll see how it goes.

I think that’s about it for news. With all that said, maybe we should talk some writing? Go ahead and hit that jump to find both the aforementioned link to the friendly little Discord, and to get looking at today’s topic.

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Being a Better Writer: The Chosen One

Greetings and salutations, readers! We’re back with another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Which by now is so regular it’s almost not worth making the fanfare over, but hey, if there’s one positive thing I can bring to the world on a Monday, it’s at least being upbeat with how my posts start out. You know, aside from the inevitable beneficial knowledge all these posts provide.

So, what are we talking about today? Chosen ones, actually, a topic I felt was fitting for today’s dual status as a holiday (if you’re reading this post another day, February 14th was Valentine’s Day), if in an amusing way.

But, really quick, before I get into that, I do have some news to share. Well, more of a reminder. This week is LTUE! That’s right, Life, The Universe, and Everything, the Fantasy and Sci-Fi writing convention, is happening Thursday through Saturday, 17-19th. I really hope you can make it, because it is always a blast.

Speaking of which, if you can make it (and I really hope you can), here’s a quick list and breakdown of what panels I’ll be on this year!

Thursday:

  • 3 PM – A Space Opera Starter Kit
  • 4 PM – No Mirrors: Character Description in First Person
  • 7 PM – My Genre Wish List

Friday:

  • 7 PM – Book Signing!

Saturday:

  • 5 PM – Science Fiction Faux Pas
  • 7 PM – Fanfiction: Having Fun

Of course, I’ll be around during the rest of the con as well, attending other panels, chatting, and of course signing books. Oh, and handing out some awesome bookmarks! Take a look at this:

I know it’s not the best picture, but that on the left? That is a full stack of awesome Axtara bookmarks which I’ll be giving out at the con. They’re pretty cute, and double-sided, the front saying “Banking shouldn’t be a drag …” and the back offering “Bank with Axtara – Banking and Finance Instead!” Yup, like those bank ads you’d see.

I feel Axtara would approve.

Okay, and with that, that’s all the news we’re going to talk about today. No more LTUE or Axtara talk. Let’s talk instead about that giant title above. Let’s talk about “The Chosen One” trope.

I actually picked this topic largely because I’ve heard it discussed in multiple places recently as a very negative thing. Sort of a—and by sort of I mean this is almost a direct quote—”all chosen one stories are bad” concept.

I’m not joking. I’ve seen a lot of “unrest” over the concept lately, from people automatically attacking any story they assume has a “chosen one” in it, to even declaring it a lone conceit of “European” or even “white” stories—something that’s laughable if you know anything about mythology from, oh, any culture out there in the world.

But this negativity, often aggressive and dismissive, is why I wanted to talk about the trope. Because here’s the thing: It’s an ancient trope. You can find examples of it in the mythology of every culture across the world. It is, in writing terms, as old, if not older, than dirt. The idea of a “chosen one,” be they small or large, has been with mankind since stories were first told.

So then … what’s with the sudden animosity toward it?

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Being a Better Writer: Character Fridging

Welcome back readers! It’s another Monday and that means it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got an interesting (and surprisingly volatile) topic for you today, one that very likely may prove quite useful to you, but first, before we get that, two quick news reminders.

First: Life, The Universe, and Everything 2022 is next week! That’s right! It’s nearly here! February 17th-19th! The schedules are up, the panelists and guests are ready, and my last “to-do” item is to go pick up some new Colony and Axtara cards as well as some bookmarks to hand out! It’s almost here, and I hope to see you there! Again, the website is here, and you can look at the full panel schedule and see all the various topics before heading in yourself!

Second: This week emails will be going out to long-time Alpha Readers about the first Starforge Alpha Read. That’s right, it’s happening at last. So if you’re a prior Alpha Reader, keep an eye on your inbox for something with Starforge in the title. It’s coming!

Third: A loose apology, as I realize that this may force some of you to choose between LTUE shenanigans and Alpha Reading Starforge. Sometimes timing works out like that. But those of you who were unable to make it LTUE this year will have a fun alternative.

Okay, that’s the news, so let’s get moving onto today’s post and topic. Which is … Well, this is an interesting one.

“Character Fridging” is a trope I’ve heard of before (after all, if you’re going to write and write a lot, you’re going to hear of a lot of tropes), but it’s also one that’s taken on a fairly negative connotation in pop culture recently. In fact, the reason I put this trope on the list was because of two online locations I frequent using the term as a “dirty phrase” to describe why no one should ever read/watch particular shows. Someone would bring a new show or book up, and someone would immediately ask if it “fridged” anyone, and then go off on a small rant, everyone else digitally nodding, about how awful fridging was and how ‘no good story fridges a character.’

This of course, with a large spoonful of ‘only women can be fridged’ which should be the second bit that raises alarm bells about what was circulating here.

Now look, I’m not saying that there aren’t people that are wary of this trope without reason. Sands, it gets it’s modern name from an infamous scene in a comic series where the protagonist found his new girlfriend had been, literally, fridged.

The problem, however, and why I chose to do a post on the subject, is because the idea itself has become a monster that, like I was seeing in online circles, was less than helpful for anyone who might have been peeking in. Driven in part by the fact that a lot of these people talking so much about fridging didn’t really know what it was, and were keen to throw the term at anything that felt vaguely applicable and then condemn said work for its imagined “sin.”

So then, what is character fridging, actually? What’s it do? How did it become a thing? What’s the goal or purpose. Most importantly, how can we avoid or use it in our work … and should we?

You know the drill. Hit the jump, and let’s get talking.

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