Exploring the Wish Fulfillment Romance: Writing One

Last time I discussed how the intrinsic elements of a wish fulfillment romance—the sexist gender hierarchy, the clichés and overused tropes—are pretty much guaranteed to be problematic.

And I suppose that’s the core of my issue. If I’m honest about what I really like, it’s generally this problematic fantasy—and as a writer, I should write what I like (if I can, which is a whole other issue). But I’m conscious of how media contributes to our society, and I want our society to be better, so I don’t want to perpetuate harmful fantasies—as a writer, then, I shouldn’t indulge them.

Or I should try to make them better. And that is, I think, my ultimate goal. Can you write a wish fulfillment romance without falling into problematic tropes and patterns—but also without removing its satisfying elements? Is that even possible?

Assuming for a moment that it is possible, let’s think about how we might go about that.

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Exploring the Wish Fulfillment Romance: Power Fantasies

In non-romance-centered stories, such as female-driven fantasy epics, the heroines gain their power through transformations and tragic backstories much like their male counterparts. But they very rarely begin as super-powered, famous, wealthy badasses like some male heroes (again, Iron Man, Batman, James Bond) do. Could we fall in love with a heroine with the same bad but humorous attitude and extreme wealth and genius like Tony Stark? Or with an undiminished intellect and dismissive personality like Sherlock Holmes? Or would we struggle to believe her, to like her—so instead, we want to see an ordinary woman gain those things so that we can understand her in the beginning and go on that journey to awesomeness with her?

But I think what that’s subtly and inherently saying, if we need to see an ordinary heroine gain power and wealth rather than begin with it, is that we can’t identify with a powerful heroine. At least not with the enthusiasm that we see for male power fantasies. As women ourselves, but also as a mainstream male audience, we either don’t believe or don’t like powerful women—but we do like ordinary women who become powerful, especially through a man.

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Exploring the Wish Fulfillment Romance: The Ordinary Heroine

I’ve written at length about my relationship with the romance genre, as well as my perceptions of the relationship between feminism and the romance genre. The core of my fascination is the dichotomy I see within myself—on the one hand, educated and independent and deeply feminist, and on the other hand, attracted to problematic and sexist fantasies.

In a previous post, I discussed why I think that attraction exists despite the acknowledgement of its problematic elements—internalized sexism. But the next step is dismantling that internalized sexism, and it’s proving incredibly difficult. When it’s what I like, and deeply ingrained at that, how do I fight it? Subversions and turning over these problematic tropes results in far more progressive (and original) stories, but far less satisfying. How can I reconcile that dissonance?

First, I want to think a little more about the essence of that problematic fantasy—the wish fulfillment romance.

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Thoughts on Online Harassment: the Culture War

[This is a continuation of the previous post about online harassment and Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic harassed and threatened for talking about video games. This was just an exploration of my thoughts, so it's probably a little rough--warning for liberal and perhaps unfair use of "they" and "we" to lump amorphous groups of opinion-holders together, who I know in reality are very nuanced and multifaceted and not all violent or in agreement.]

But when we get to the core of the fact that people want these elements in their games, now we can have a real discussion. Do they want them because they find them funny? Realistic? Pleasing? These are the motivations we have to examine, and once people can accept that in themselves, they can start to explore their own feelings. If you find killing a prostitute funny, is that okay or something you should think about? If you find a game unrealistic unless women are being raped, what is the reason that realism trumps other people’s feelings that it’s traumatizing to see?

You can probably tell by my questions, by this whole thing, what side of the issue I agree with. In fact, I strongly hesitate to post this publicly (even though I don’t exactly have an audience) because of the fear of harassment. But that’s exactly why this issue needs to be addressed.

I just don’t get why people react so strongly, so violently, to opinions. I mean, this is the way I feel, I have absolutely no power to do anything about it, I’m not even sure what I would do if I did. I think the fairest thing is not fewer games that are, in my personal opinion, skeevy—but just more games that aren’t. More games, not less. I mean, there’s a part of me that would like to see no more games with sexualized dead women or rape, mostly because I’d like to see no more of that in the real world, but I realize that not everyone shares my opinion so I wouldn’t want a ban or anything like that.

Just discussion. Awareness. Options.

Why is that so threatening?

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Thoughts on Online Harassment: Anita Sarkeesian

[This post and the next begins a bit of thoughts/exploration of an issue specific to the gaming world--the harassment of feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who recently had to cancel a speaking event because of a mass murder threat. But I like to think it could be applied to most passionate controversial debates that bring out harassment.]

To a certain extent, I sort of understand how people who get upset over something turn to harassment. When I see the horrible things people have done to harass others online, threatening sexual violence against women, there is a small part of me that wants to turn around and do the same to them. How would they feel if we published their address online with vicious threats? But I would never do that, because it’s wrong and it’s sinking to their level and it’s only perpetuating violence as an answer to disagreements. I say all this only to indicate that when you feel angry about something, at someone, I can acknowledge that part of your brain wants to hurt that person.

But a decent human being doesn’t actually do it, doesn’t even send a threat. They realize that people have different opinions, that people do different things, and as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, they should be allowed to continue having these opinions and doing these things.

Where it gets complicated is when we reach the point of “hurting anyone.” For example, I view trolling as hurting people; I’m sure trolls would not. So I might be the type who would advocate taking action to stop trolling by an authoritative third party, such as the website or the law—and now the act of stopping the trolls from saying what they want is seen by them as “hurting someone.” So who is right?

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Thoughts on Online Harassment: Trolling

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about online harassment, given this whole GamerGate brouhaha… It seems systemic, unstoppable, and frequently dangerous, and it’s become a larger and larger part of the world as our social interactions (and public presences) migrate into online spaces.

The way I see it, online harassment generally comes from two places—trolling and actual hate/anger/fear.

The first type, trolling, is the act of saying/doing provocative things in order to get a reaction, which is considered humorous or at least entertaining. I really don’t get trolling, and find it pretty despicable, even as I’m surrounded by trolls in real life. How is making someone else feel hurt or angry or scared funny? Like, “Ha ha, I said this horrible thing and you got upset, so hilarious.”

I’ve only been trolled in real life by people “trying to get a rise out of me,” but I know being on the other end of trolling feels really frustrating. You react to something, try to argue your side and not get too emotional, and then the other person just laughs and diminishes your feelings by making a joke out of them. Ultimately, I think it’s a tactic to dismiss your argument—you’re “overreacting” to a “joke,” so of course what you’re upset about isn’t real. Your feelings aren’t real or worthwhile. It cuts any actual debate off at the knees, and leaves the troll feeling superior and satisfied.

It’s not a new form of humor, though—pranks are a classic form of trolling, meant to get a reaction which is somehow humorous because it’s to something not real. But in that moment, for that person, that reaction and those feelings are real. Trolling in the form of, “Oh, look a spider,”—fear—“Ha ha, it was fake,” is, for the most part, harmless—even though I still don’t get it; maybe I’m just a killjoy. But trolling in the form of, “[Horrible sexist statement]”—anger/hurt—“Ha ha, I didn’t mean it, just trolling,” is a lot more troubling. Because the sexist statement has sometimes been said with sincerity, it speaks to remaining issues and power dynamics in the real world, and it’s far more personal and emotional than a fake spider. It’s kind of like the difference between the spider prank and pranking someone to believe they have cancer—that’s far more emotional, more damaging, more real, than the threat of a spider.

I don’t know how to “fight” trolling—someone who gets entertainment out of your anger or upset can only get further amusement out of your attempts to stop them. But I think that if someone is truly trolling, and not just using trolling as an excuse once on the defensive, then they probably are overall harmless. They think it’s a joke, and they’d probably tell you they wouldn’t actually want to hurt anyone. They’re the types who’ll say something awful, but as soon as they’re called on it, say, “But I would never actually think or do that.” If we believe them, then online harassment by trolls is just obnoxious noise. [Noise which perpetuates harmful real world effects and can desensitize people to actual abuse, but still… noise.]

The second type of harassment, coming from genuine feelings, is far more dangerous. More on that next time…

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Threat-Protection Storylines

In my copious notes on finding ideas, I stumbled across a type of story or plot that I have to admit I particularly enjoy. I’m not sure why… But beyond that, I think it’s a fine tool for possibly coming up with a plot structure, and the logistics behind a plot.

The type of story is a “Threat-Protection” plot, which basically means the main character is threatened in some way, and protected by an individual or group around them. This isn’t always the main point of the story–sometimes the threat is incidental, as is the protection. For example, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo is threatened because he carries the ring, and the fellowship protects him–but the primary mission of all involved is to get the ring to Mordor to destroy it.

Here are some of the reasons and methodologies from my notes on Threat-Protection stories.

Threat-Protection Storylines

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