Sunday, March 21, 2010

For All That They Deceive...

Looks are important. I have been contemplating Hannah's appearance.

As I mentioned before, Hannah's original intention was to be frightening and jarring-looking. We crafted her to be ghostly pale, with implausibly dark hair and neon green eyes. And I literally mean neon. We coloured it with a highlighter. I'm not sure, now, why we did it that way, put that particular brand of nonsense into it, but my cousin had a flair for the dramatic, and I suppose I wanted to be able to get a clear picture, to make her as unmistakable as possible. The point is, Hannah looks the way she looks. It's not subtle, or simple, and she's certainly memorable. But. There's a plausibility factor. I have, actually, come up with  an imperfect backstory to explain at least part of the mystery, but I'm not sure if it's good enough to work with at this point. There are a lot of things that were left in the ether on earlier drafts, to save time, to save space, to hurry up and get on with the good bits. It's not good enough, now, as I approach the project with a shrewd editor's eye I simply didn't have at eighteen, for version two, and certainly couldn't have dreamed of at fourteen, when it was an accomplishment just to have gotten to the end of the story. (Which, in actual fact, turned out not to be the end, or even close to it. More on that later.) Anyway, the point is, she doesn't look right. She doesn't look real. She doesn't look as if she fits into the world in which she inhabits. And I... can't decide how I feel about that.

At this point, certain aspects, like Hannah's appearance, seem utterly insurmountable. I don't think I could change her appearance, should I decide I needed to, which is another part of the reason I am self-publishing. Once, years ago, I was in a writing class where I wrote a family film about a girl with a crush on a boy she doesn't end up with, in the end. I liked the idea, that the point of the story is that sometimes, you don't get what you want, you get something better, and learn lessons about wanting the wrong thing. My writing teacher, however, said that people 'expected' to see the leading lady get her man, and I had to make it happen. I absolutely refused to change the ending, and ended up reworking the original story so that my ending fit better. The script wound up better, in the end, so I suppose I should thank him. And I now know that, popular or not, I have the ability to change the story to suit my vision for what it is and what it means, rather than change the vision itself to make it more 'readable'. I like that. The only thing is, Hannah's appearance isn't really an integral plot point, and I'm not always sure it sends a particular message, or at least, that's not what it was designed to do. And I don't want to have to change the original story to make up for my desire to see her in a certain way, and my affection for the character the way she is. (You see kids, Mary Sue isn't the problem. bad writing is bad writing.) So. I don't know.

On the other hand, Hannah's looks were not designed to say anything integral to the plot or fit with the themes of power and responsibility and family et al, that I have going in the story. But they are beginning to. Hannah's looks set her apart and make her memorable, because they are implausible, because she doesn't look real, because she looks like what she is, she looks different. People make wrong assumptions about her, based on how she looks, even as young as her infancy, because it is that unmistakable. It's funny, isn't it, what we base on looks? I don't just mean the obvious stuff, but it's funny to me, that although most of us are born into a certain look and do precious little to change it, it is acceptable to wander around believing everybody looks the way they do on purpose, and make our assumptions from there.

I have a friend who calorie-counts and exercises to excess. In the interest of full disclosure, I despise the whole notion of weight loss. If it's going to come off, it will come off, barring that you don't have some kind of food addictions or blood sugar issue or Pika, etc, which you genuinely need to see a doctor about. Having said that, this is not a judgment on the person in question, only an example of the kind of weird connections people can make. Once upon a time, she was 'overweight.' Now, when she sees an 'overweight' person, she looks down her nose at zir. She feels that she has earned this right, as someone who worked to make herself into something else. She feels she has the right to see fat and think lazy, if she wants to, because she has worked so hard. She also feels she has the right to obsess to the point of a frustrating amount of vapidity, over her appearance, because she is no longer one of those people who don't take pride in her appearance. Do you see where the connections are made? Fat people are lazy, because thin people are motivated. People who get positive reinforcement for looking a certain way have obviously achieved something to be proud of, because everyone is proud of them. Therefore, fat people also must have low self-esteem, because if they didn't have low self-esteem, they would want to be something other than what they are now. Head-scratcher, right? Here's another one: I am a thin person. Therefore, in the eyes of many, I am a picture of health, and also, fairly attractive (as in, not ugly. as in, a potential.) Yet I have had my gender and sexual identity questioned because quite frankly, I don't give a care how interested in me you are, I will not make myself available, and by the way I am thin because I had a heart condition and  parts of me have almost zero muscle mass, not because I am healthy or self-disciplined, you idiot. Let us recap: If a woman or a girl is pretty it's because she wants you to like her; if she's less-than, it's because she doesn't feel that you could like her. If a woman dresses "like a boy" it's because she doesn't understand, or won't accept that she is not a boy, is not allowed to be like a boy, or is still in the state of trying to prove herself. If a woman dresses "like a girl" she is probably vapid and shallow and old-fashioned and sexist. If she looks like something that it turns out she is not, it is not because your assumptions are wrong, it is because she is putting off the wrong image.

Hannah's appearance was not designed to spark political discussions, and I didn't mean for this to turn into that in order to justify my own stubbornness. It's not going to end up as part of the plot of the book. This is actually the stuff that goes on in my head. (Scary, isn't it?) But the thing is, Hannah's appearance, implausible, impossible, and unsettling as it is meant to be, does have something to say about who she is, and why she is the way she is, in my little universe. It says that people are wrong, and that Hannah has had to understand the inherent wrongness of people from an early age. In the first book, this book, she is only eight. People are frightened of her power and her strength, but they are even moreso, because they feel they know what she would use it for. People feel that she is sinister largely based on the fact that she looks sinister, and offers no explanation for that. And that is important to the plot. So, where does that leave us?

My dearest love is a transboy (he insists I refer to him in that way, as a boy, not a man). He is a marvel, and a large part of the reason I am writing, this blog, or much of anything some days. And one day, he asked me how it was possible I understood his struggles so well. And I told him, truthfully, that I don't know much. But I know what it is to look in the mirror and be sharply aware that what people see, when they look at me, is what they have to get over to get to the real me. And that, unfair as it is, it is expected and accepted that it's my job to make sure they do see the real me. When I was fourteen, I did not understand why Hannah had the appearance she did, but I was acutely aware of the reactions it would get her, even then, even as I skated casually over them to get to the story. More than that, I felt I could skate over them, largely because, I think, they were such a part of my own life, I expected that people would know, of course people think these things, assume these things, because of how she looks. So I don't want it in there, because I'm afraid I'm wrong, I'd be hitting people over the head with things, and it makes the whole thing too simple to be real. It's not symbolic of anything, she looks weird, and that's enough to treat her like an oddity. But I want to keep it in there because that is how it happens, whether we're aware of it or not. It really is that simple.

What to do, what to do? Change it entirely, or leave it the way it is? Mute it a little and make it subtle, or heighten it and really drive it home? Advice?

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