[Necessary disclaimer: This is one of those long and rambling blog posts about what goes on in my brain when I’m working on a story — in this case, when I’m struggling with writing a major character — so if you’re not comfortable with long, rambling blog posts about what goes on in a writer’s brain, you may want to skip this one. On the other hand, if you find it quirky and interesting and want to, y’know, have a discussion about something I say here, that would be awesome. Comments welcome, and all that.]
I got an idea from Grace (who got it from reading a book by a fashion consultant, of all people) that part of the trouble I’m having with writing Marleah Carlisle (Marlie, as she prefers to be called) is that I keep trying to see her according to the stereotype of what kind of person an empath is, rather than the truth of who she is. Empaths, according to both fiction and conventional
nonsense wisdom in real life, are supposed to be these soft, super-nurturing individuals who get along with literally everyone — how could they not, since they know what other people are feeling and understand their motivations and thus know that every person, no matter how evil their actions, is a good person in their own mind and therefore not bad at all? Empaths are supposed to be nice all the fucking time, and believe that everyone else is, too.
(If the sarcasm seems to be edging over into, y’know, outright anger… Remember how hostile I sound sometimes when I’m blogging about the stereotypes that
deliberately ignorant clueless uninformed individuals have about What Autistic People Are Like? Or when I’m blogging about people who insist that men don’t have feelings and are afraid to read or write fiction about characters who do more than blow shit up? So do the math, friends…)
The thing is, Marlie isn’t “nice.” She’s not deliberately cruel, but knowing what other people are thinking and feeling — being, in fact, frequently unable not to know what other people are thinking and feeling — hasn’t made her sympathetic to their bullshit. As someone once said, knowing why a person is a jackass doesn’t change the fact that they’re a jackass. Also, she tends to resent people shoving their problems at her. (That’s how it feels: as if they’re shoving their emotions and thoughts at her… but if she shoves back in self-defense, they think she’s a bitch, which just adds more that she has to deal with.) Even though they’re not doing it deliberately, and in most cases don’t know how to stop themselves from doing it, to Marlie it still feels like an attack, and she responds about the way you’d expect.
So some characters in the story think Marlie is a bitch. Some readers think she’s a bitch — enough have told me so. “Women don’t act like that,” they say. “Women know how to keep quiet and be nice in order to get along with people because that’s more important.” (It would be less disheartening, I think, were not the readers who say Marlie is a bitch all women. Dear readers of whatever gender, I know I’m not allowed to have an opinion about this, either, but I think it would be better for you in the long run if you allowed yourselves to speak your minds rather than “keep quiet in order to get along.” Getting along is over-rated. It isn’t worth letting your self, your soul, be crushed out of existence for someone else’s goddamn convenience.) Under any circumstances, Marlie lives in a different culture from ours, one in which it’s acceptable for a woman to have a forceful personality and to speak bluntly — or at least as acceptable as it is for a man. If some characters in the story don’t like how Marlie behaves, it’s because they just don’t like it, not because they think a woman, specifically, shouldn’t behave that way.
As I said, do the math. Finding Marlie’s truth is partly about finding my own. Seriously, if you ignore purely physical traits (height, eye color, gender), she’s so much like me that it isn’t funny. Okay, she’s not a precog; I saved that for a different character. But she has my nosiness, at least as much as Alandra Kade does, and my anger at injustice and unfairness and dishonesty — these being the traits that make Marlie perfect for her role in “that novel,” which starts with her being sent to dig up and expose the truth about what the JMC (Jellico Mountain Complex) is really up to. She has to pry secrets out of people who are very experienced at keeping them, but that isn’t about to stop her… Alandra is nosy because she wants to know things; Marlie is nosy because it is necessary to right a wrong.