The Betchdel Test (And Others)

Feminism.

Oh god, I’ve said it, I’ve said the dirty word.

You can practically see the poison ooze off the letters, threatening to destroy the rest of the words on this very page. Yes, I am a filthy, dirty feminist. Worse yet, I am a scary feminist writer. A witch! Burn me at the stake!

Sarcasm aside, I’d like to take a minute to talk about feminism in media, namely the tests that most works are put to. Without any further ado, let’s start with the most common test.

The Betchdel Test

Created by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, this test has three parts.

  1. There must be two women in the work who
  2. talk to each other
  3. about something besides a man.

That’s all there is to it. In some versions of the test, the two women who speak must have names that the audience have heard at least once. This test has received a lot of flack over the years, because A) many people believe that stories should be told without a need for female to female interaction, and B), two women talking to each other doesn’t make it a feminist-friendly story.

Let’s work backwards on this one and start with point B. The Betchdel test is not meant to be a be-all-end-all of whether a work is a work that exercises feminism. It’s a baseline, it’s a “wow, you can’t even have two girls talking to each other about something other than how much they love/hate/what to help one of the men in the story? That’s… that’s pretty sad.” It is not meant to create feminist works, it’s a sign of how unequally females are treated in literature, video games, movies, comics… you name it.

As for point A, I want you to think of your closest female friend. They probably have other female friends, right? They talk about things? That aren’t males? That’s realistic. The idea that two female characters in a story shouldn’t have to talk about anything besides a man simply isn’t realistic. You owe it to your readers (at the very least, your female readers!) to have at least a single non-male-centric conversation between your girls. (If your argument is “my story is a male-centric book set in a future where females aren’t relevant for any reason I can think of,” please, write a new story. We have enough of those.)

It’s worth noting that there is another version of this test where two POC have to talk to each other about something other than a white person. Which is still definitely not passed very often because “why do I need to pepper my work with POC? It just looks like I’m pandering to the SJW audience!” Yeah, no, please go walk through a major city and watch how many non-white people interact with each other.

The Sexy Lamp Test

The lamp I always see in my head with this test.

Created by Marvel Comic writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, this test is a pretty easy one.

  1. Replace the females in your story with sexy lamps. Does your story still work?
  2. If yes, you’re a hack.

Pretty simple, right? So simple that you’d think you wouldn’t need a test for it. But, alas, the fact that this test exists is, again, a sign of how bad women in media have it. This test is to keep women from being objects. Does your female character do anything significant, or are they simply there for eye candy? To be the damsel in distress and/or prize for another character?

And, just to be clear, just barely passing this test in any capacity is going to make your fanbase angry at you. If you’re going to have your character do something to un-sexy-lamp-ify them, do not make it a single thing, and then go back to them being a sexy lamp. Technically, Asuna passed this test in season 2 of Sword Art Online, because she managed to escape and get the key item for her heroic savior to use later. But for the rest of the season, let’s get real, she was a sexy lamp inside a giant birdcage.

That face basically describes how I felt about it too.

The Mako Mori Test

Coined for Mako Mori in Pacific Rim, this test is has been touted as the “replacement test” for the Betchdel Test.

  1. Your work must contain at least one female character
  2. who gets her own narrative
  3. that is not about supporting a man’s story.

Again, like all the other tests listed, passing this test does not automatically make your work feminist. This is a reminder that the bar is set super low. Daily Dot writes:

The application of this test might enable interesting discussions of feminism surrounding films which typically seem to be steamrollered by their failure to pass Bechdel. For instance, while Avengers barely managed to have two women on screen at the same time, much less conversant with each other, it had a female character, Black Widow, whose narrative arc was a major driving force of the plot. Using the Mako Mori Test as a measurement of whether Avengers is a feminist film or not points the focus away from the film’s small quantity of women and towards the way Black Widow is demonstrably capable of commanding her own storyline.

The Tauriel Test

A test that not many know (but I love) made by Jenn Northington, “which i made in response to The Hobbit 2, which passes and Skyfall, which fails.”

  1. There is a woman
  2. who is good at her job.

That’s it. That’s literally it. It astounds me that this test needs to exist. But think about it; how much media do you consume where there’s a woman who can’t do what she is supposed to do? And I mean, it is a task that she should be able to accomplish, given her character and characteristics. There are a lot of things that don’t pass this test in order to make the man look better; he swoops in and does what needs doing, to save the woman from herself and her inadequacy.

Women in Fridges and Tupperware

I’m fairly sure most of my readers are aware of the term “fridging” or “stuffed into the fridge” and what it means, but just in case, when you fridge a character, you kill them off solely to insult, hurt, or cause anguish in another character. This is often followed by the character who was meant to be hurt by, surprise, being hurt, and growing as a character through their pain and suffering. Long story short; you kill off a character in order to progress the growth of another character through loss. It’s gross, and it happens way too often. To pass this test, you

  1. Don’t do any of that.

Women in Tupperware is a similar, except rather than killing the female character, “they incapacitate her during a high stakes plot point and seal her away to preserve her freshness.” So, the female isn’t killed specifically so she can be just as pretty as she was before her little accident. This sort of thing often leads to damsels in distress or prizes. To pass this test, once again, you

  1. Don’t do any of that.

The Russo Test

This test is for LGBTAQ characters. To pass this test, you must

  1. Have a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, asexual, and/or some form of queer
  2. that is not predominantly defined by their sexual orientation and gender, and
  3. they must be tied to the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.

This prevents A) the erasure of LGBTAQ characters, and B) fresh-out-of-the-box sassy gay friend characters. If you don’t know how to write a non-straight or non-cis character, I have a really quick hint; you write them the same as you would your “normal” characters. LGBTAQ people are, first and foremost, people. The only difference is the gender they like, or the gender they identify as.

“But what about men?”

If you take all these tests and flip them backwards, so that men (and straight cis people and white people) are the ones under the microscope, your story is much more likely to pass. That’s because the “default” setting is straight cis white male. You see more of them well-written in media than any other character. So, yes, while gender equality means equality for men as well, we live in a world where men don’t face the kind of inequality that others do. Especially in media.

“But I don’t wanna!”

If the take-away point from this post is, for you, that you don’t have to do any of this because you know what’s best for your story, you’re right. You’re the author. But your story is going to be much less realistic that is could be, you’re going to end up driving away people who could be your fans, and there’s a good chance that you’re at least a little bit misogynistic.

It is important to note that these tests do not immediately make your work a feminist-friendly work; they are the foundation for building a feminist-friendly work. If someone accuses you of having a work that isn’t feminist, your answer shouldn’t be “but it passes Betchdel! I made sure I didn’t have any sexy lamps!” it should be “can you explain why, so I can understand and do better in the future?” While you will have people who will nitpick just to nitpick, you will also have people who just want to see better representation in their media.

Questions? Comments? Feminist witch trials? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

The “What Is Stopping You?” Mentality

An open letter to all my friends who have ever asked me “what’s stopping you?” when it came to what I want to do and where I want to go with my life.

Dear friends,

Can you not?

Okay, sorry, that was probably a little bit… harsh? I’m sure it came off that way. I’m just so incredibly frustrated by your idea that the only boundary in my life is myself. I’m sure you’re trying to help. To motivate me to follow my dreams on a cloud made of stars. But honestly? That’s all that you’re selling me. A cloud made of stars. No substance.

For example, let’s look at the “what’s stopping you?” of my “I want to travel the world.” Firstly, there’s the matter of money. Have you ever bought a plane ticket before? I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, they don’t come cheap. I am paying a hospital bill, a credit card that was used to pay off a second hospital bill, a monthly medical premium, and two student loans. On top of that, literally half of every single paycheck I bring home goes to pay my rent. That doesn’t leave me with a hell of a lot of travel money, does it? Plus, if I take time off work to travel, I’m losing income that I need to pay for the aforementioned expenses.

And to those who have told me “just hitchhike!”, please consider the fact that I have the body of a woman. It is more than likely that I will be one people who mysteriously go missing.

Okay, so what about what I actually want to do with my life? Well, the main goal right now is to open a photography studio, take portraits, sell my artistic stuff. Know what that requires? Money, and good credit, both of which I’m trying to build up. It also requires that I have a stable, consistent income, but in order to run my studio, I’d have to quit my current job, thereby waving my current income goodbye. Bit of a catch 22, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, I could start small, you say; set up an online presence, encourage people to schedule sessions and buy my photography over the internet. Except, wait, I have done that. I have not seen a single session for it, and the only sale I’ve ever made was from my best friend, who wanted a way to support me. The only people who actively buy art are people with a lot of money and a lot of wall space. And those people usually have children (like yourselves, the ones who were taught that your only boundaries were yourselves) that they’d rather have pictures of on their walls.

The “What’s Stopping You” Mentality is for people with money. It is for people who don’t have to worry about where the money to do these things is coming from, and what they’re going to do if they fail. And they’re usually saying it to people who don’t have money, who do have to worry about what they’ll do if they fail. If you look at someone who is struggling to make ends meet, who has all these dreams that they might someday achieve with the right help and planning, and you tell them “what is stopping you,” you’re a douche, and I dare you to sit in their financial situation for a month. Because money is stopping them.

I’m sure you think you’re being supportive. That you’re telling them they can achieve their dreamy clouds made of stars if they just think happy thoughts. Just believe in themselves. As I recall, Peter Pan had the same advice for flying, but in order to fly, you know what you actually needed? Pixie dust. Money is the pixie dust of this situation.

Even if it isn’t about money, it’s can still be a pretty insensitive way to motivate people. Let’s say I wanted to get better at drawing. If you told me “what’s stopping you?”, I’d have a laundry list. I don’t have a computer tablet anymore, meaning I can’t do digital artwork, which is what I was best at. If I were going to do traditional art, I would need new supplies; the pencils I have right now are old with crap erasers, I don’t have a sketch book, and really, I ought to get some kind of art lessons. That’s what’s stopping me. “What’s stopping you” is the laziest attempt to motivate someone that you could possibly pull.

There are other ways to support people and their dreams! Totally awesome, wonderful ways. Tell them you support them. If and when they make progress, be excited for them. Ask if there is anything you can feasibly do to help. If they have a social media outlet that they use, suggest it to others. And continue letting them know that you’re behind them, and you’re rooting form them.

As always, feel free to leave thoughts, feelings, questions, and angry rants in the comments!

Ebook-Tree – What You Need To Know

If you’re a writer with any kind of published work (from fanfic published online to real, physical books,) you may have heard about Ebook-Tree. And if you haven’t heard about it, you’ll want to take a seat.

Ebook-tree.net (which was .com yesterday) is a new site where you can buy e-books. Which doesn’t sound bad, and, inherently, it isn’t. The site is sending out bots to pull any PDF of books and fanfics they can find, and then putting them on their site for other people to purchase, no matter who actually owns the copyright. And no, you won’t get any kind of notification that they have your content, and you won’t see any money for it.

One of the sites that was hit hard was Archive Of Our Own (AO3), a fanfiction site run by fans for fans. They offer a few types of downloads to anyone who can see the works. It’s meant to keep the site accessible for those who have limited internet connections, can only use the mobile site of AO3, or maybe even want to put the fics on their e-readers. Because of this, Ebook-tree (which from here on out I’ll call Etree) can and did download a shit ton of fics and began selling them for profit. AO3 was not the only site hit – there are a multitude of “actual authors,” both indie and best-sellers, that have their works listed on Etree. If they were available for PDF download somewhere, there is a chance that it’s being sold. Since yesterday, it looks like a lot of content has been taken off Etree, which is absolutely fantastic.

The kicker? If they do have any of your work, you have to create an account to see it. And, to create an account, you need to give them credit card information. The credit card information goes through a site called lazygame, and lazygame sends that info to Tzar Media, which is about as trustworthy as those emails from the King of Somalia that ask for money. So, you absolutely do not want to create an account with them just to see if they really have your stuff, or if they’re just bluffing.

If only locking e-material was so easy.

So what can you do?

Their DMCA copyright page looks pretty scary to those not versed in law. It seems to imply you need a lawyer (or other “authorized person”) to submit the take down notice; you do not. Ef Yeah Copyright Law, who has been educating people on DMCA and Fair Use laws in regards to fanfic, put together this nifty little template for you:

As we’ve posted before, fanfic writers hold copyright in their stories, although not in lines/quotes from the works they’ve been inspired by, and because of that, fanfic writers can submit DMCA takedown notices, or have someone do it on their behalf. While this post isn’t legal advice (none of our posts on FYC are), you might want to consider using this template (well, the bolded bits) in telling ebooks-tree to take down your content:

Your Name and/or Pseudonym as an e-signature (or the name of the person you’ve authorized to submit this request, with a slash before it and after it):
Link(s) to the unauthorized works (link to the pdf, the mobi and the page hosting all of it):
Link(s) to an authorized version of your work (whether on AO3, tumblr, LJ or somewhere else):
An email address of the submitter (include it again even if it’s in the header):
This statement: I have good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
This statement: The information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

That’s it – that’s all they need to know – you can submit all the info via http://www.ebooks-tree.com/info.php?contacts with DMCA Complaint in the subject; you may wish to submit the same content to Google via this page, or to BING via this page.

It’s also worth noting that Etree is not within DMCA guidelines, although they say they are; they must register and be listed copyright.gov, which they are not.

If you are an AO3 user, I highly suggest making your content available to AO3 users for the time being, until we’re out of this storm. That may not stop the bots that are pulling AO3 content, but it’ll further discourage them. AO3 does know about this issue, and they are taking measures to prevent more work from being stolen.

Should you also complain to their hosting service?

Probably not.

CloudFlare has responded to a number of people that they are only a “pass through” – basically, they do host ebooks-tree’s content but only for brief times, and we believe that ebooks-tree has been using CloudFlare to mask where they are truly hosted.

However, per CloudFlare’s policy, they have passed on to us information about where ebooks-tree is actually hosted, and here it is:

Hosting Provider:
—————–
DFW Internet Services Inc. NET-DFW1
Webzilla Inc. WEBZILLA-US-204-155-148-0-24 root@dfw.net

So CouldFlare really has very little to do with Etree. And Webzilla doesn’t adhere to DMCA’s guidelines, as they require your name, address, and telephone number to submit a complaint. You can still contact Webzilla without this information to complain about Etree, but as of now, no one has heard back from them.

Does this all seem really scary?

It’s scary to me, too. It seemed even scarier when there were more works listed on Etree, and when there was a link to download the “full PDF” of any search term you typed in (whether that be an author name or a book title, and whether or not they actually had books listed with the search term in it.) But the fact that we’re making progress is a good sign, and tons of people are getting on Etree’s back about this, which will hopefully make things progress even faster. I’m crossing my fingers that this will blow over before the weekend hits.

None of this post should be taken as legal advice; it’s simply a means of understanding what the heck is going on over at Etree.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or information, please feel free to leave a comment!

Things I Wish Someone Told Me as a Young Writer

I’m gonna level with you. I was not a good writer when I was a teenager. Not even a little bit. No matter what my parents tell you, no matter how great I thought I was, I was absolutely crap. And I mean, I feel like most writers have to go through a phase of being a bad writer. It’s like we have to go through character development before we understand how to write character development. (And everything else.) So this goes out to 14-year-old Senna who was writing her heart out about faeries and magic and destined meetings. And of course, it’s for anyone else who needs a push in the right direction, too.

Sometimes the best name is not your favorite name.

I don’t think you understand how many characters I had named “Luna.” There was a freaking Luna epidemic in my stories. And that was because Luna was my favorite name at the time. I liked it so much that my online pseudonym for the longest time was Luna (since Senna was such a unique name, and my parents didn’t want me using it online.) Then there were the noun names, (Windy, Crown, Snapdragon,) the anime names (Kai, Makoto, Ami,) and of course,the made up names. There was Firia. There was Etha. There was a very briefly-used Andelia. And sure, those names have their places. Fantasy, mostly. But I used names like that in everything. I had a story about a runaway whose name was Precautia. (To be fair, if my parents had named me that, I might have run away, too.)

I am guilty of naming characters things like this.

Sometimes, the best name you can pick is Jamie. Or Craig. Or Alice. Every name has a story it could belong to. All those names do not have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) included in one story.

The thesaurus is not your best friend.

I was a huge believer in “said is dead.” I also believed that the best thing to do instead of saying “said” was so replace that word with an interchangeable one. And heck, why stop at “said”? Any word that could easily be switched out, I did it. Sometimes, you need a word like “consume.” But in the sentence “It looked like something he would have consumed,” the word “eaten” is probably a better choice.

As for the whole “said is dead” argument… dialogue tags do have their place. Sure, you probably should keep using the same ones over and over. But at the same time, if you end every single bit of dialogue with “he gasped,” “she stated,” “they groaned,” it’s going to be even more noticeable than if you just said “said” all the time. If you’re trying to avoid dialogue tags (words like “said,” “replied,” “interjected,” etc.), write the actions that accompany what is being said.

“I don’t really care what you think.” He sauntered across the room, a wicked grin on his face. “The ice cream shop belongs to me now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Doesn’t that read nicer than…

“I don’t really care what you think,” he chuckled, sauntering across the room. A wicked grin crossed his face. “The ice cream shop belongs to me now, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he challenged.

Some would argue the second version looks better, and in some novels, maybe it would fit better. Nevertheless, I urge you to connect words to actions if you’re trying to avoid “said.”

For the love of god, use a new line when someone new is speaking.

I cannot begin to tell you how lost I got when I tried to read my old writing. Especially when characters interrupted each other. It would turn into a mess of “Listen, I just want to –” “Just want to what?” “Hey, cut her a break, Riven!” “Don’t tell me what to do!” “Stop fighting, you guys!” Who is talking there? How many characters are present and talking in that scene? It was a never ending battle of “someone said something, but I’m not sure who said it, or who it was directed at.” Whenever someone different from the current speaker is talking, there needs to be a new line. For example.

“Listen, I just want to–”
“Just want to what?”
“Hey,” David cut in, “cut her a break, Riven!”
Riven whirled on David. “Don’t tell me what to do!”
“Stop fighting, guys!” I yelled.

Doesn’t that read nicer? Most readers are used to this format, because that’s how most published books are written (and it just looks a lot cleaner.)

Your characters have to have flaws.

I will admit, Mary Sues have their place in the literary world. When I look back on some of the books I read when I was in the 8-12 range, just about all the books I read had Mary Sues. And at that age, I needed them. I needed strong big sisters who could take on the world in a single blow. They were especially important to me because of how heavily I was bullied in middle school; I felt like those girls were my only friends, and if they were real, they’d beat the crap out of my bullies. But Mary Sues then became all I ever wrote about. They were unstoppable girls that everyone loved (except for the bad guys, who hated them, except when they fell in love with them at the end,) had no problems whatsoever, and were just totally misunderstood by society.

Think about your absolute best friend. What don’t you like about them? What is bad about them? Do they procrastinate? Are they a pessimist? Do they refuse to talk to anyone on the phone because they have phone anxiety? My point is, even your favorite person in the whole wide world has flaws. Your characters need some, too.

Understand that you are not at your prime.

Your writing right now is not the best writing you will ever do. You will get better. You will look back on your old work and go “oh my god, I wrote this?” You will hope you didn’t ever give a copy to anyone else. You will cringe at the memory of your teacher reading it aloud to the class. And, despite all that, you will continue to write. And the more you write, the more you’ll improve. (Protip: the more you read, the faster you’ll improve, too.)

You need to understand you will always be growing and getting better in your writing. I don’t think I know anyone who has reached their “peak” when it comes to their writing. You will always have room to improve, and because of that, you will always continue to improve. So keep at it. No matter what anyone says. Keep going, keep writing, keep creating characters and putting them in sticky situations. You’ll have setbacks, you’ll have breakthroughs, you’ll climb over walls of writers block, but you’ll only be able to do this if you keep at it. So do it. Keep going, kid.

4 Things Non-Writers Don’t Get

If you have writer friends, you’ve probably heard them talking about their works in progress, or their writers block, or how their characters don’t behave, or how the plot isn’t going where they’re expecting. And you end up asking questions because “you’re talking about your characters like they’re real people” or “you’re in charge of the story, what do you mean it’s not going where you want?” or “is this the same thing you were working on the last time we talked? You’re not done yet?”

So this post, my “muggle” friends, is for you. I’m doing to do my best to explain to you the answers to the questions I frequently hear asked to myself or other writers.

1. For a lot of us, our characters act like real people.

Remember when you were a kid, and you had imaginary friends? Now, a lot of us may have been able to control everything our imaginary friends said, thought, or did. And that’s natural; when we’re young, we hear a lot of “no,” and we want someone who will say “yes” all the time. We want someone to agree with us. And to be fair, our imaginary friends were probably very flat – no character depth whatsoever. So I want you to picture an imaginary friend, and then give them a real personality. Give them some flaws, some strengths, some strong opinions on things. And now dictate everything that has ever happened and will ever happen in their life. Do this over a long period of time. And see if they always agree with you.

The thing is, when you’re a writer, they don’t always agree with you. In fact, some characters rarely agree. You have a lot of characters, so they all have different personalities; some want to be written right here, right now, in this exact way. Some are shy, and won’t give you any content to work with. Some are rebellious, and when you write them the way you planned, everything just seems wrong.

To be fair, not all writers experience characters in this way. A good amount of writers see their characters as just words on a page – and that’s okay, too. (It irks me when these people scoff at those who see their characters as people – I’ve even seen articles where published authors smirk and say that writers that “hear” their characters “are insane, and ought to see someone about it.”)

2. Because of this, our plots often veer off track.

Every writer plots their story. “Plotters” do it all beforehand. “Pantsers” do it while they’re writing – “by the seat of their pants,” as it were. But no matter how much or how little you plot, your characters have the ability to completely throw it off track.

Let’s say Character A and Character B are meant to be love interests, and by the end of the story, they get together, live happily ever after, etc. But what happens when Character A unexpectedly has a crush on Character C? What if Character B just plain doesn’t like Character A? It’s like trying to set up your friends, and the first date goes horribly because one person doesn’t want to talk to the other, or the other person keeps making eyes at the wait staff.

“No! The wait staff is supposed to fall in love with the detective!”

In the first few attempts of my current WIP (Work In Progress), my two main characters were meant to fall in love. The first time, I scrapped the project 3 chapters in because something wasn’t working. The second time, I got a little further, but as soon as the prospective fated lovers met, they refused to actually fall in love with each other, so I scrapped that draft as well. My current (and hopefully, final) first draft has them as enemies that become friends, and absolutely nothing more. Let me tell you, I’ve gotten leagues farther in this draft than my past attempts.

Even little things can throw us off. A character decides they have a tattoo that the author didn’t know about. Well, what is the tattoo? Where is it? When did they get it? Does anyone else know about it? Does anyone notice it? Does the author have to go back and re-write a few scenes because the tattoo is exposed, and another character would normally react to it? Maybe it’s not plot altering in some stories. But in others, it might be.

3. Writers are picky about who gets to read anything before it’s done.

Also known as “no, you can’t read it.”

Think of a tailor. Would you ask them if you could try on a coat before it was done? Maybe if it was being custom made just for you. But what if it was just the pattern? Would you want to try that on?

Writing is a process. Most stories go through vigorous rounds of editing before the writer feels it is ready for the public eye. It doesn’t matter how close you are to the writer – their best friend, their parent, their child, their aunt. Please don’t ask if you can read whatever they’re working on. If they want an opinion on it, they’ll ask you if you’d like to read it. Free advice is much more useful when the person receiving it actually wants to hear it.

4. Not everyone writes at the same speed.

Some people are super speedy when they write. During National Novel Writing Month, there are people who write 50,000 words in a single day, which is absolutely amazing and astonishing and I have no idea how they do it. Other people might write that much in a year’s time. It all depends on circumstances; how much time they’re able to devote to writing, as well as how quickly they hurdle over writers block, and a slew of other things.

Despite this, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had writer friends tell me “everyone keeps asking why I’m not done yet,” “my parents asked me why I couldn’t just end it,” “I’m not even close to done and my friends keep badgering me about it,” etc. For some of us, it takes a long time. If you’re trying to motivate a writer into writing, the best thing you can say ask is “how is it coming along?” once in a while.

Still have general questions you ask most writers? Think I missed a question you get asked a lot? Let me know in the comments!

Working for “Exposure”

I’m part of a couple writing groups on Facebook, and at least once a week, someone posts an article about someone (be it a freelance writer or graphic designer, a comic, or a well-known animator or artist) who was asked to do work for free because it would be “good publicity.” One of my favorites was the open letter that Revolva wrote to Oprah after Revolva was asked to work for Oprah’s tour for free. Oprah. The woman who makes $10 a second couldn’t pay for variety acts for her national tour.

Another great one that just surfaced is when Rian Sygh turned down someone asking him to work for free (he says it was an overly-violent man-pain revenge story) and got this in response:

re: work offer

good sir,

im very sorry to hear that. this could have been a great opportunity, for you as an unknown to get your work out there. I understand the lack of upfront monies is unsatisfactory for craftsmen of higher calibers, but i had assumed – I suppose wrongfully, that your dedication and passion for your craft would supercede your base desire for monetary compensation.

Perhaps you would like to think on the subject longer? I am not heartless my good fellow. I’ll give you another chance to accept my offer, a do-over response if you would like, but should you decline again I will walk away from this encounter to someone else and you will never see a moments reflection of the magnum opus that could have been again.

Do you still decline? or will you take the red pill with me and join this epic adventure, sir?

With great regard,

(Name redacted,) author.

“This will be an unpaid gig, but think of how much theoretical money you could gain!”

These are not uncommon occurrences in the art world. It is honestly baffling. Would you ask your doctor to see you for free because “I’ll tell all my friends I go see you and you healed me and it’ll get you lots of exposure?” How about walking up to your favorite fast food chain and expecting free food because “if you put it in a bag with your logo on it I’ll carry it around town while I eat and it’ll be publicity for you”?

Of course, when you’re an artist, and you’re just breaking into your field, it either seems like a dream come true (“Wow! Someone wants to publicize a nobody like me? This could jump-start my career!” ) or really scary. (“How do I tell them that I expect to be paid when no one knows who I am? What if this is the only job offer I get?”)

So, my new and old artist friends alike (and those who ask artists to work for free, if you’ve bothered to get this far), let me run through a couple points on working for free.

1. Exposure is not payment.

“Exposure” and “good publicity” are really, really empty words. They are promises that no one actually has to deliver on. It’s the promise of “You’ll get your name out there! It’ll be a good way to get even more customers!” but the company or person you’re doing the work for doesn’t have any way to ensure that you’ll actually get more customers. Where are these customers coming from? Who cares? Not them! They don’t have to do squat after you work your magic for them.

2. Family and friends should be case-by-case.

“After that, I want one of my other cats, too. All individually. For free, of course. You can do that, right?”

Let’s say your mom wants you to draw her something pretty for her desk at work. It can be anything you want. Okay, sure, you should probably do that for free. She’s your mom. But let’s say your Great Aunt Lisa wants you to make a picture of her cat Louis, and you hardly ever see this woman or her cat, and to be honest, you’d like to keep it that way. You probably want to consider charging Great Aunt Lisa for your services. Sure, maybe you give her a discount because she’s technically family even though she married in and again, you never see her. And if she doesn’t want to pay, she doesn’t want the picture of her cat very badly. No matter how much your family pressures you into giving it to her for free.

Let’s say the conversation goes as follows.

“Your mother tells me you’re very good at art! She showed me the picture you made for her desk at work.”
“That was a lot of fun to make, I’m glad she asked me.”
“I want something like that of Louis. My cat. Something dainty, maybe black and white.”
“Oh, absolutely! A picture the size of my mom’s picture would be about $7. More if you’d want me to come to your house and paint Louis in person. If you’re looking for something larger, I’d be happy to discuss prices with you!”
“I am your family. I shouldn’t have to pay anything! You should do it as a gift to me!”
“Well, I’m sorry that you think my art has the value of “free,” but at least that tells me how much you actually value my art.”

Maybe not the most diplomatic way to put it, but you don’t owe Great Aunt Lisa diddly squat.

3. “Good practice” should also be on a case-by-case basis.

“Good practice” are also two dangerous words to fall into, but not as dangerous as, say, “exposure.” If someone comes to you asking for your services for free so you can get some “practice” out of it, the answer should almost certainly be no. Not unless you are able to keep the rights to whatever you do for them and sell it elsewhere. (As a print, as a short story in a collection, whatever.)

However, if you’re asking someone else to let you do something for them for practice, it should probably be free. Example; my sibling is coming home from college this weekend, and I asked her if we could do a photoshoot so I could practice not only portraits, but lifestyle photography. Will she get something out of it? Yes, she’ll get (hopefully) beautiful pictures to show her friends and use however she wants. But I’ll legitimately get practice out of it, too. She’s doing me a favor. Another example? The lady who introduced me to lifestyle photography has offered up her children as subjects if I ever wanted to practice. It wasn’t a “you should do it for me, let’s see, how’s this weekend for you? We could do it then! And it’ll be good practice for you!” No, it was a “if you’re ever interested, feel free to give me a call and we’ll set something up.” I totally have a clear choice in the matter, and if I don’t want to, I don’t have to.

4. You know what it costs to produce your work.

Whether it’s supplies, time, rehearsal, set up, or travel, you know how much your work costs you. Most people don’t. They assume it didn’t take you long or cost you much of anything, and so they expect your prices to be cheap (or, y’know, free.)

A few years back, I faced something similar with my photography. I’d opened up a little online store that really did nothing but handle the PayPal and storefront end of things. I still had to get the prints myself and mail them out myself, and handle any return issues myself. And on top of that, the storefront took a cut from each sale, since I couldn’t pay a monthly fee to keep it open. But it was cool. My work was finally out there, for the public to buy if they wanted it. I put the link to the store on a couple social media outlets.

Basically what it looks like when you’re barely breaking even and someone tells you your prices are too high.

A friend of mine from college messaged me about it. “I think your print prices are too high,” she told me. “My friend was thinking about buying one, but photography really shouldn’t cost that much just for a print. And what’s with the shipping cost being so high? You’ll never get customers that way. I would never charge that much for one of my little chibi drawings that I do.”

I went off at her. I had to pay for the prints, I had to pay for more expensive shipping than normal so that I knew the prints arrived undamaged. How dare she compare her art to mine, when she clearly valued her work so little? Did she spend the same amount of time on her two-minute drawings as I did taking the pictures, paring them down, running them all through editing programs to make sure the colors were as beautiful as they could be? My rates were comparable to those you’d see at craft shows, aside from shipping, because you didn’t have to worry about shipping when you bought in person. I told her I didn’t want to talk about it anymore, that it was making me angry and not really helping. But she just kept going. Maybe I should try lowering my prices. Maybe I should sell digital copies. Maybe I should consider working as a stock photographer. She was just trying to help, you know, she was just giving free advice. She said all this like she knew how things like this worked much better than myself. I don’t think I’ve spoken to her since that day.

Can your prices be too high? Yes. But that’s only if you’re making a huge margin off of your work. If you’re just barely breaking even, your work is not too expensive.

5. Being unknown doesn’t mean you should give in.

Breaking into a new art community is hard. It’s scary. It’s risky. People and companies feed on the difficulty and the fear of not making it. They target artists, new and old alike, saying “you’re a no one. We can help you. Just do this one thing for us, and our entire customer base will know your name.” It’s the carrot dangling in front of the donkey’s nose, edging him on. Let me ask you something. When was the last time you actually saw the name of the artist who did promotional work? Do you remember the name of that random-ass band that played at your high school pep rally? How about the student DJ who was in charge of a couple school dances?

Most people won’t remember your name, if they hear it or even see it.

Moral of the story? “Free” has it’s place. What gets to be “free,” however, should be up to the artist, no the one who wants the art.

Since I’ve talked about it so much, here is my photography Facebook page in case anyone got curious.

50 Shades

As someone who no doubt goes on social media, and apparently reads blogs, you’ve likely at least heard of the controversy that 50 Shades of Grey has caused. For those of you who somehow have completely missed it, congrats! You are blessed. I am about to ruin that blessing for you.

A quick rundown; 50 Shades of Grey started life out as Twilight Fan Fiction. If you’re not familiar with this word, it’s basically when fans take the characters and/or universe of a book/movie/tv series/what have you and write about these characters in a non-canon setting. So 50 Shade’s characters Christian and Anestassia began life as Edward and Bella. No, I’m not kidding. You used to be able to read the original fanfic online, but it’s recently been taken down for copyright reasons. The plot hinges around our young, naive female lead falling for a rich, powerful man. He has her sign a contract, outlining all the things he is going to do to her and her body, and all the things he expects in return. The fanfic was so popular that the author was picked up by a publisher; the names were changed, the setting was changed, and BAM, instant novel. Just add water. It got hugely popular, because it was seen as “acceptable erotica” to read in public. Who knows why? Not me. There is now a movie in theaters about this book.

Now, okay, for some people, this sounds exactly like their cup of tea. A lot of women have cited 50 Shades as the beginning of their sexual awakening. Which is great, surface level. But when you start getting into the meat of the story, there’s a lot of issues that need to be talked about. I could go on for ages about how it’s a poor representation of how BDSM should work, or how the book and movie is not about love, but abuse, or how Christian stalked and controlled Anastasia, or how the book is arguably the least sexy piece of literature on this planet or literally anything else about this shit heap, but I’m going to try to focus on one thing at a time.

Let’s talk about consent.

Consent is a necessity in any relationship, even in non-sexual context. If you take your date mate out to dinner at a place they absolutely do not want to go and make them eat food they do not want to eat, you might want to rethink your relationship. That’s a lack of consent. They did not consent to going to this place or to eating this food. Even if you think this is secretly their favorite place to eat in the world, you don’t know for sure. If they say or act like they don’t want to go to this restaurant for dinner, as far as you’re concerned, they don’t want to go. Case closed.

Consent is even more important in the context of a sexual relationship. If you want to do anything in regards to sexytimes, you want to make sure your partner is on board. This could be by saying yes, reciprocating, smiling, whatever. Important note: the absence of a no does not mean yes. If your partner is pushing you away, saying “stop,” crying, passed out, etc., they’re not consenting. If they are drunk or underage, they cannot consent while knowing the full repercussions of their actions.

But okay, let’s say this is a partner who is into fighting back. (As in, they’ve specifically told you this, not “well they’re fighting back but they actually like it.”) What do you do then? The two of you come up with a safe word. This is a word that, no matter what, you or your partner (or partners) say this word, everything stops.

In 50 Shades, Christian blatantly ignores when Anastasia says the safe word. And when she protests that he’s doing something she doesn’t want to do, he threatens to tie her up and gag her. In a very non-sexy, threatening way.

“But it’s about BDSM!” some of the masses cry out. “BDSM is all about pain and control and–” nope. Christian is not a good dominant, and he ignores what most consider to be the three basic rules of BDSM; Safe, Sane, and Consensual. And beyond that, there is no aftercare for Anastasia. Scenes for a submissive can be traumatizing and emotional, and a good dominant will make sure their submissive is okay. Aftercare usually consists of the dominant snuggling the submissive and calming them down. It can take hours. Many BDSM couples watch feel-good movies or partake in similar relaxing activities as part of aftercare.

In 50 Shades, Christian leaves Anastasa after scenes, no matter how upset she is. He leaves her to cope on her own. Which is exactly the opposite of what should be done.

“It’s just a book,” many people online have said. “Were you upset when children died in The Hunger Games?” The answer is yes, I was. Moreover, every death of a child was accompanied with a thought of “wow, this is really fucked up, something needs to change.” There was no such thought in 50 Shades. Arguably, Anastasia realizes that this relationship is toxic and leaves Christian, but there are two more books of her going back and letting Christian abuse her. And since we’re comparing The Hunger Games to 50 Shades, The Hunger Games has been seen referenced throughout protests all over the world; many people have quoted Katnis’s line “if we burn, you burn with us,” or have used the three finger salute as a symbol of protest in the streets. Stories do not exist in a vacuum. They have an effect on people. There are girls out there wondering where their Christian Grey is. There are ads around my town advertising adult shops that contain “more than 50 shades.” If it were “just a book,” this wouldn’t be true.

I’ve seen one argument online that says “Ana knew what she was getting into. She signed a contract.” That contract may have outlined her future sex life, but it did not tell her that Christian would continue after she’d revoked consent. It didn’t tell her that he would be emotionally and sexually abusive, that he’d bug her phone and stalk her, that he’d control her to the point that she wasn’t allowed to leave town to see her mother, that she’d find him in her home without her inviting him or giving him a key.

If you take away anything from the phenomenon that is 50 Shades, let it be a guide on how not to treat people. And please, if you must see for yourself how awful 50 Shades is, do not buy the book from anywhere other than a second hand store. Don’t go see the movie in theaters or buy the DVD/Blu-Ray when it comes out. Do not give any money to people who will give it back to the people who facilitated this steaming heap of shit to come to life.

Mortality

I’ve always struggled with the concept of death. I mean, when I’m sick, or feel a random pain, I’ll make myself dizzy with anxiety over “this is it, this is the end, this is how I die, I don’t want to die, I’m not ready to die, I’m too young to die.” And occasionally I’ll think about the timer my body’s running that ticks away to my natural death. But when I think of actually dying, it just seems like it won’t happen, or it will just be a thing that happens. No real loss, nothing to be upset about. I’m dead. Boom.

It’s that way with other people, too. When my poppop and great grandmom died, I don’t remember crying. I was sad that I couldn’t see them anymore, but I wasn’t sad that they were dead. I cried when my sibling shattered her spleen because I knew she was in pain and she was losing so much blood she couldn’t stay conscious. I cried because I was scared of the situation. I don’t remember crying over the death of any of our (few) pets as a kid. I am 100% more likely to cry over the death of a fictional character than I am to be upset over the death of something that was real and alive.

Maybe that’s because I have a million reincarnation theories. My most visited one is that there is only one soul that has ever existed, and every time it’s body dies, it reincarnates into another body at any point in time, human or not. It has a similar personality to its past life, but not identical. And then, when that body dies, it reincarnates into someone or something with a similar but not identical personality as that life. So, according to that theory, you (the reader) and I have the same soul, but we’re at least one death away from being each other. Following this theory, that means fictional characters die forever once they die, because they have no soul.

I didn’t cry when Robin Williams died. I wasn’t even upset that he was gone. To me, he would live on in his works. And I don’t mean that in a “this is how I’ll cope with him being gone,” I mean that in my mind, his death doesn’t matter in the mortal sense. And this is how I view all celebrity deaths.

Monty Oum himself.

The first person I ever can remember being actually upset over their death was a man that I knew hardly anything about. Monty Oum.

For those who don’t know, Monty was a part of the Rooster Teeth team. He died due to a severe allergic reaction to medication. It was very sudden; Rooster Teeth announced that Monty had been hospitalized for undisclosed reasons one day, and two days later, we got the word that he’d died.

I’d been trying to get out of the RT community for months. I don’t like the way the guys conduct themselves, the slurs and things they throw around. They’ve said in the past they’re never going to change for their fans, so rather than fight people over the whole “your fave is problematic” crap, I decided to just… quietly slip away from the community. I stopped watching them. Stopped following them on twitter. I found new Let’s Players to watch, new people to occupy my time.

I got the news of Monty’s hospitalization came to me through a friend on Facebook; they shared the link that Rooster Teeth had put out, asking for help to donate towards Monty’s hospital bills when he was inevitably released. I kind of shrugged it off; I knew Monty only through the first season of RWBY that I’d watched in the past. And I mean, being in the hospital is not the end of the world. I’ve been in and out of the hospital, as have my dad, my sister, and many of my friends.

Except he wasn’t released. He died. He died, and upon hearing the news through Markiplier, I cried. And then I got upset at myself for crying over this person I knew next to nothing about when I couldn’t even cry over my own grandfather dying. The more I read about Monty, the more blog entries I read written by the RT team about how he lived, the more I cried. I talked to my friend Ally, who is deeply rooted in the RT community. “At least you’re reacting,” she told me. “No one else really is.” She and I talked over Skype and cried. She watched the RT podcast that night, but I couldn’t; I had to go to dinner with my boyfriend and his sister, and I had to hold it together.

On the way to dinner, I texted my friend Rick about the whole thing. He was a lot more chill about the situation than I was, and at first, all I could think of were Ally’s words of “No one else is really reacting.” But nonetheless, we talked the entire way to the restaurant, and though I wasn’t any less sad about it all, I somehow felt at least a little better.

The more I read about Monty, and how he lived, what he did, how he interacted with others, the more I feel he was cheated. He deserved more time, more life, more chances to make his dreams a reality. He was only 33 when he passed, and yet he literally never wasted a single second of his life. He was always doing something, always working toward a goal, always dreaming bigger. And always encouraging others to do the same.

As sad as I am, and as baffled as I am that I’m sad, I’m pretty sure Monty would want me (and the RT community) to keep moving forward. Onward and upward. On to the next project, the next dream.

Movie Review – Annie (2014)

If you were ever under the impression that I was not a musical theatre kid, or a Broadway movie kid, or a go-watch-every-kids-movie-in-theaters-possible kid, I’m sorry. You are sorely mistaken. You have been deceived. I am all of these things.

I wanted to go see this movie ever since the first trailer came out. Annie was one of my favorite musicals as a kid, especially growing up with a sister named Annie who also had super curly hair. Before this one, I’d seen at least three movie adaptations, I worked in the light booth for a live production, and by the end of that run, I could sing every song by heart.

There was a lot of people who were actually upset over the adaptation, though. And I don’t mean “theory people,” people who only exist in theory and everyone just assumes they exist. I mean real, actual people that I have spoken with. On Facebook, one of my friends was upset that “they were changing the whole story, it shouldn’t be modernized, why isn’t his name Daddy Warbucks?!” (I’m not kidding, that last one was part of their argument.) And then, of course, there was the Internet Dweebs who yelled how it wasn’t right for Annie to be black, because Annie has ALWAYS been a white, red headed girl with freckles.

Me, I’m just happy when a movie has a female lead that’s worth getting emotionally invested in. And I love seeing how directors and writers modernize old ideas. Plop a Broadway plot in there? Two tickets for the next showing, please.

Of course, now that I’ve built up how excited for this movie I was, you’re probably not going to believe me when I tell you that I’m very critical when it comes to movies. Especially if I see them with my boyfriend, Brandon. After we’re out of the movie, we’ll discuss acting, camera work, audio mixing, character development, the whole she-bang. Even if we like it, we’ll end up picking it apart.

We walked out of Annie completely stunned.

Not even five minutes into the film, Brandon leaned over to me and said “this is the best shot sequence I have seen in a really long time.” And through the movie, it continued to be the best camera work I’ve seen in a long time. Realistically, when you’re watching a movie, you should forget you’re watching it through the eyes of a camera lens. This is hard for me to do with most modern movies; the camera shakes, the swoops under and over and through things to remind you “we shot this in 3D, too, and YOU didn’t go see it!”, the amounts of cuts, the too-close close ups… all of the above were absent from Annie.

I was really impressed with the fact that it passed the Betchdel test in probably, say, less than fifteen minutes? For those of you who don’t know, the Betchdel test can only be passed if two women in a movie have a conversation, and that conversation is about something other than a man. (It happens less often than you think.) And through the movie, it continued to pass the test. Women conversed with other women freely, and without the need for it to be strictly about men.

The soundtrack has changed from that of the Broadway production; songs have been added, remixed, and re-worded to fit the modern era. “Easy Street” was different enough to throw me off while I was singing along, to the point that I wondered I was trying to sing the same song they were singing. (The answer, of course, was no; they were singing an updated version.)

I personally thought all the acting was great. I’ve heard people say they thought Cameron Diaz played the role of Miss Hanagan poorly; I think she played to the script she’d been given, and played it well. Miss Hanagan in this version was a has-been and wanna-be pop star who almost made it. Her character reminded me of Kesha’s stage persona if her stage persona had disconnected from her real personality altogether, had demanded her own record deal, and was tossed into the streets with no one to help her. Bitter, mourning for the old days, mostly always bitter, and trying to seduce every man that knocked on the door without giving up. And forced to foster children because she couldn’t find a better job.

The true star of the show was, of course, Quvenzhané Wallis, who played Annie herself. I had seen Quvenzhané before, in Beasts of the Southern Wild as Hushpuppy. (I didn’t know this until I IMDb’ed her, to be honest; I thought she was a newcomer to the film world.) And even though she blew me away in Southern Wild, especially considering her age at the time of shooting, she was ten times better in Annie. She was spunky, sassy, sweet, and most of all, believable. I find a lot of child actors to be talented, but there are moments I can tell that they’re just actors playing a role. Quvenzhané had none of that. You could tell me she lived the life of Annie through and through, and I would probably believe you without a second thought. On top of that, she had a great singing voice, and she totally nailed all the songs she sang.

The only thing that disappointed me about the movie was Sandy. In Annies before, Sandy the dog had been a somewhat key and iconic part of the movie/musical/what have you. Sandy’s involvement in the new Annie was negligible. She was seen on-screen only a handful of times, and had very little plot significance. I’m only upset about this because A) I love dogs, and B) the dog they picked to play Sandy was absolutely adorable.

All in all, I would go see this again. And again. And again. I would pay to see it every single time. Five out of five peppers for this one.

pepperpepperpepperpepperpepper

Wisdom Nuggets

abananapepper:

I was invited to write as a guest for fellow NaNo veteran Ellie Mack! Check it out!

Originally posted on quotidiandose:

Senna  Collings shares some muddy middle advice for those of us who get bogged down. This is usually the point when I  start to go back over my  writing and edit.  Bad Idea! I always lose steam in the middle. In the past I’ve given into the Nazi editor, and cut over 25K words from my work. What was I thinking? 

This year I am trying a different approach. I have implemented Lazette Gifford’s system, and broken down my outline into 30 points.  I have an index card with notes for each day.  So far it’s working pretty well except for those days I haven’t been able to write. ( See Senna’s point #3) 

I must admit to violating #1, 3, and 4. (hangs head in shame) But we keep at it, each year  learning to do better.  I think anyone who is doing NaNoWriMo will benefit from these…

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