“Aka” Why Alice Martin is NOT A SIDEKICK
It’s MLK Day, and it’s also Pandemic Times which means I’m in my house with plenty of time to reflect. I’ve been knocking this post around in my head for a while, especially after a conversation with some dear friends who write actual romance novels, so today, you’re gonna hear my thoughts!
Women of color don’t get a lot of leading roles in romances or even fan fiction—at least, that’s what I learned growing up. Characters who looked like me were always the friend or the sidekick. I didn’t get to be the “totally normal on the outside but secretly the most magic special person who the universe revolves around.” The vampire never came to school and swooned over my kinky curls, and if I had a dollar for every time I read about “perfect alabaster skin,” I would be rich. When I did show up in stories, it was often tied to trauma. Don’t get me wrong, it can be empowering to read characters who have your experiences, but the characters who looked like me had their experiences basically narrowed down to racism.
Even in D&D, which I absolutely ADORE, I find myself changing the skin tone of NPCs or giving the powerful wizard some dope afro puffs just to see more of myself reflected.
Now, I’m delighted by how much this is starting to change. There are amazing writers out there bringing Black Girl Magic to the page. It’s not enough; obviously, the publishing industry is still ::waves hand:: what it is, and writers of color are often held to a whole different standard. But I’m seeing it a lot more, and it makes my heart full.
But back to the BBD universe and SimLit. I wanted to write some heroines who looked like me, and they needed to be powerful, smart, special, and yes—sexy. The sexy part is essential, vain as it may seem. The “homely black girl” who only ends up with the love interest through sheer personality is a trope in romance that I just cannot with in the Year Our Lord 2022. If white women get to be hotties in fiction, black women do too.
And that’s not the only deliberate choice I made. In BBD, I wanted Alice’s family to be successful even as she struggled a bit to find her place in the world. I have also written her as unapologetically prickly, a theme you’ll see continued with Penny Pizzazz. I have to do everything at 200% just to be at baseline in real life. I wanted heroines of color who didn’t have to carry the legacy of “twice as hard” around with them in my stories.
But what about the romance of it all?
I firmly believe that writing a HEA—the hallmark of romance—is a revolutionary and feminist act. And for those reasons, writing characters like Alice or Penny or as the romantic leads who will get a HEA was vitally important to me because while they were powerful, I wanted them to have space to be vulnerable.
If you’ve ever run into the “strong black woman” trope, you know what I’m talking about. Alice is allowed to cry, feel unsure of herself, be afraid, and it’s not a failure. She has a soft place to land in the form of her romantic interest. Likewise, I’m excited to explore all the ways Penny learns to be vulnerable in this new story. I’m a huge fan of the princess saving herself, but I’m also equally enamored with the princess getting saved when she’s always had to pull herself up by the bootstraps.
I guess that’s why I’ve given myself permission to engage in tropes. Sometimes they need to be flipped on their head (do you want to talk about writing murder heroes who don’t practice toxic masculinity? Because I could talk about that for hours). But other times, it’s nice to let someone who’s never had the luxury of experiencing the trope be at the center of it.
And that’s really the whole vibe. I wanted to read characters like me doing all the things I love in the genres that make me happy. I’m the author, this is my (insanely time-consuming) hobby, so I get to do that. And maybe this sort of thing will happen enough times the next generation of nerdy black girls grow up seeing themselves (if you don’t think I have some YA adventure with Gwendolyn as the protagonist floating around in my head, you don’t know me).
And that’s all. Happy MLK!
(new chapter next week if you were wondering ::wink, wink::)
It’s interesting to see you write about this, and I hope that your story will inspire other people like yourself to either create their own worlds with people like themselves in the spotlight, or to help them realise that they too can and should be in the forefront of stories, with their own goals and dreams, and not just the sidekick or the person who sort of ‘drives the change’ in the main white character. I like your point about tropes, and that maybe the tiresome thing is that they’re applied to the same types of people. Never thought of it that way.
I’ll be completely honest, representation in my own work is something I’ve reflected on and there is a lot to work on. The way I’ve handled characters of colour has not been good. Often background characters, or there to advise the main character without much development or focus on their own thoughts, needs, goals… I’ve sought to improve things in Vitriol, but it’s definitely something I know I need to work on more in future projects.
Thanks again for writing and sharing your thoughts < 3
I’m so glad you commented and shared that. It’s such a vulnerable thing to admit, and you know, I think we all struggle with representation to some degree. We are our own experiences. But the important thing is to make space <3 and it sounds like that’s something you are working on!
I think bit by bit will make a difference. And you know, it doesn’t require completely shifting the world of your story. You write awesome characters so maybe a good place to start (if they aren’t a premade lol!) is to ask yourself if this character looks the same as everyone else or if they are bringing something different to the table. Maybe it’s not skin color but size, or gender identity, or something else (I like what you did with Morgyn, I felt that conflict and their development of their identity was done really beautifully).
I appreciate your feedback so much < 3 Thank you < 3
Oh it’s fine, I won’t need to shift the world of the story or anything! I think practically any story one can tell has space for multiple types of character of multiple identities, cultures etc.
And you’re right in thinking about what they bring to the table. The way I’ve been trying to think about characters as I add them is: how might their identity, upbringing etc. influence the way they see the world and/or the people around them? And how are they different from the other characters that I already have?
I’m glad you mentioned gender identity actually since the reason Helen, Morgyn and Leo are all trans/enby was because I noticed how SimLit has very little in the way of trans characters ( and moreso wanting to challenge the constant stereotypes and fetishism in a fair few Simblr stories…) so I did some research and went for it, and then as I was writing Morgyn figured out I’m actually nonbinary after years of what must have been subsconscious umm-ing and ahh-ing 😂 I’m glad you liked the way Morgyn is portrayed so much, it means the world ❤️
It’s amazing what writing helps us discover about ourselves ♥️ For anyone who says it’s just a “thing you do that doesn’t mean anything,” they are missing moments like this.
Haha I imagine your subconscious was like: hello! Wake up! Do you not see what’s going on here? 😂😂😂
Funny enough, I had my own journey and in this story I get very specific about Vlad’s sexuality in a way that feels way more authentic to me. I won’t spoil anything but basically I’m really glad you shared this!
(sooo I’m already missing an update and still need to comment on the previous chapter, but will keep this short!)
And thank goodness for Alice not being a sidekick! The reason I clicked on BBD in the first place was that Alice is my favorite premade. Living premade.
Oh darn, let’s actually try to keep this short:
– yesssssss to everything, yesssss
– there are not enough hours in the day for the Strong Black Woman trope
– really do appreciate the vulnerability and humanness in these ladies
– can we skip ahead to an age of media where black women can do mundane stuff like have a garter snake or backpack pins or be really into Spongebob the Musical
– “But other times, it’s nice to let someone who’s never had the luxury of experiencing the trope be at the center of it.”: Agreed!
– You’re definitely making waves. It’s easier for people to write characters from different backgrounds than theirs if they’re thinking, “man, [friend from X background] is going to love this!” Uh, I may or may not be admitting to thinking “I NEED to have Althea wear two whole-ass capes in this scene, hahahah, Ferosh is gonna freak.”
– Are you a fan of Khadija Mbowe?
– Come join the rant about racism on the Discord: it’s in Haunted/#bts-extras
– ok laundry’s done bye
– also can we talk about Encanto
I have a million things to say about Encanto before I break into sobs and then say a million more things. Hahaha this is a reminder that I need to sign onto the discord and subject you to all my thoughts. God that movie is perfect.
I’m glad Alice won you over! She is dope! I mean, homegirl rescued StrangerVille and carried that marketing on her back. You’re welcome. Lololololol
Oh man, there are so many times I write a scene and think, Dolly is going to DIE when she reads this. Oh man, I was just talking up CT on the forums and I did not mention The Queen of My Heart: Althea!!!! Hahaha I was too busy praising Bernard. And yelling about Mike lol.
You have sent me down a Khadijah Mbowe YouTube rabbit hole. How did I not know about this?!?!?!? (Okay must watch Bridgerton take immediately)
Gosh, I’m all over the place. Just glad you enjoy the story and see what I’m trying to do with it. That means a lot!!!
Oh my god, Encanto. But did they really have to make an entire character just to drag me?! Down to living in the walls. WHY?!
Carried the marketing for sure. First impression of Strangerville: who is that I love her
Wow, now I feel bad because I embarrassed myself super hard on that forum thread and don’t feel comfortable going back, so I can’t return the favor! Gotta find some other way to express my gratitude.
HAHAA SO my brain is switching back and forth between “why is Althea so popular? she’s only on one page and that’s as a picture” and “is it normal for a fictional character to glare at you so hard you write an awesome scene for them even though they weren’t supposed to show up in this chapter.” Briefly considered having her switch outfits every time the camera pans away from her but maybe that’s too gimmicky.
(Hahah! Join me in the Khadija rabbit hole!!)
I really like the SS of the 2 sims looking at each other. You write about Penny learning to be vulnerable, and that photo captures vulnerability. L-o-v-e it.
I love the descriptions you use. You breathe life with your words, “The vampire never came to school and swooned over my kinky curls: and “unapologetically prickly” are a couple that caught my attention.
I look forward to reading your stories!
I’m sorry for the underrepresentation of black female heroines that don’t fall into a certain category. Society can do better and should be doing better. There is progression, but not enough. Sadly, not enough.
I am hoping this doesn’t veer too far off topic… but one of my favorite authors is Octavia Butler. Not only was she one of the early/first female authors of science fiction, but also the first black authors of science fiction. I could fangirl about her all day… anyways, she wrote a book titled “Fledgling,” with the idea that dark-skinned vampires were able to withstand the sun. Butler took the vampire trope about “traditional” vampires and spun it on its ass. 😀
Aw, thank you! Penny is a character I LOVED from my first story and I’m so excited to do more with her in this one. Also, she is gorgeous and I’m in love with her.
Honestly, thank you for the compliment. Like you, I don’t write gameplay stories. I plan mine out and then stage all the screenshots to go along with what I want to write. It’s been a journey but also so nice to write something not for work lol.
And you know, the fact that so many people responded to this post with a positive affirmation just warms my heart for the future.
CAN WE TALK ABOUT OCTAVIA BUTLER FOR A THOUSAND YEARS?!!?!?!?! Fledgling is so incredible. My god, if I could write like that! There are some authors doing some very dope things with characters of color in sci-fi and fantasy and I AM HERE FOR IT.
Also, Lilith’s Brood is just the weird, wonderful, heartbreaking, kick-ass story of my dreams. People are violent and petty and broken and complicated and I just adore it!
Whether you start with Baking By Death or the Strauds, I hope you enjoy the wild ride 🙂
What she did with Fledgling was dope af. Like I cannot see anyone doing what she did with vampires and their adaptation to sunlight. She set the standard. The only thing that bothered me with that story was the physically older guy with the protagonist (who I believe was around 10 years old physically, but I could be mistaken, it’s been awhile since I read Fledgling). But, in the same breath, Butler has a way to make the reader’s skin crawl. Or at least mine lol.
Thank you for the suggestion!
If it ain’t wild it ain’t worth riding 😀