Who Is Mistral Dawn?
Mistral Dawn is a thirty-something gal who has lived on both coasts of the US but somehow never in the middle. She currently resides in the Southeast US with her kitty cats (please spay or neuter! :-)) where she works as a hospital drudge and attends graduate school. Taken By The Huntsman is her first effort at writing fiction and if it is well received she has ideas for several more novels and short-stories in this series. Please feel free to visit her on FaceBook or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tuesday, March 1, 2016
The #Comfortable #Familiar
Hey Everyone!! :-)
Another random musing for you today. Recently, someone asked me why different kinds of supernatural/speculative characters seem to follow themes. For instance, why are vampires often moody and brooding while werewolves are often impulsive and wild. It's a good question, and it got me thinking. Dangerous, I know.
So, I decided to write about my thoughts on the matter. Now, these are just my opinions, there's no research that I'm aware of to back them up. And I'll be speaking in generalities, I'm sure there are exceptions to every "rule" I come up with. So feel free to let me know what your opinions are.
First, I'll start by describing what I perceive the themes to be for some of the more common types of characters people write about. For the above example, vampires and werewolves, these two types of mythological creatures seem to me to represent anger, but two very different kinds of anger. I would say that werewolves, and by extension other human/animal shapeshifters, symbolize hot, explosive, aggressive anger. The kind of adrenaline-fueled rage that hits you right in the moment and drives you to do things you later regret, but runs its course quickly and leaves you drained. This is the kind of anger that causes "in the heat of passion" crimes. It can be extremely destructive, but the scope and duration of the damage are usually limited to the immediate time and place.
I think werewolf characters often display this trait and that's part of why we love them. They represent the kind of free, honest, unrestrained reactions we'd all love to be able to indulge in far more often than we can as responsible members of society. And when it comes to romance, who doesn't want a "beast" in their bed? ;-) Werewolves are uninhibited and free, and we love them for it.
Now, vampires are on the completely opposite end of the spectrum. They are cold, almost dispassionate, and deliberate. Have you ever heard Aristotle's quote about anger? If not, here it is: “Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.” That is totally within a vampire's power, and it's one of their greatest strengths. This is the kind of anger that leads to intricate plots and schemes, elaborate revenge, and wars and feuds that last for centuries. It's bitter, unyielding, and cruel, but never impulsive. Cold anger doesn't have any steam, so it doesn't have any to lose. It doesn't stop, never ends, and gives anyone who comes in contact with it frostbite.
So, why would we like characters like that? Because they are wounded! That kind of anger doesn't spring from an easy, happy life. Vampires are the tortured, stoic heroes and heroines with dark, traumatic pasts and deep, complicated thoughts and personalities. We want to get to know them, we want to heal them, and we admire them for their ability to survive even the greatest adversities. And it doesn't hurt that by the time we get to "meet" them, they're often wealthy, powerful, beautiful, experienced, suave, charming, and knowledgeable. And for romance, vampires may not bring unbridled passion, initially anyway, but you know you're going to be in for a long, unhurried night of sustained ecstasy. These characters are almost aways INTENSE, and they bring that intensity to the bedroom. Besides, there's always the thrill of seeing how the love interest in the story will break through that armor to find the person inside who just wants to be loved. A little vicarious wish fulfillment anyone?
How about one of my favorite types of supernatural creatures, fairies? Well, fairies, to me, represent the "otherness", implacability, and indifference of the natural world. They are decidedly not human if you look at the mythology. All the original "fairy tales" were dark, disturbing, macabre, and frightening. And while I don't have any specific research or analysis on the matter, I'd have to guess that's because the "fairies" were dark, disturbing, macabre, and frightening. Probably because the myths originated as attempts to explain the, at the time, unexplainable. True, fairies and fey things are often described as beautiful, wondrous, and enticing, but those who give in to such temptations rarely fare well in the stories.
But in spite of the darkness, fairies, at their core, are not "bad." They're not "good," either. Like nature, they can be beautiful, dangerous, miraculous, haunting, enchanting, disturbing, awe-inspiring, and terrifying, But morally, they are neutral. Just like the sun giving life and helping things grow is not morally good, or the hurricane that levels and floods a city is not morally bad; they just are what they are. The fey are often the same, and I think that's why we like them.
Fairies are wild, mysterious, and difficult to understand. Their actions can have obvious, far-reaching consequences, either for good or ill, but their motivations remain enigmatic. They don't have the same hang-ups, or subscribe to the same social mores, that humans do, so you never know what they might do. In romance, they are imaginative and creative, but they have an "edge" to them. It's a challenge to see if you can predict what they'll do, and, of course, anyone who can earn the admiration of a fairy must be exceptional in some way. It also doesn't hurt that they can bring a little magic to a love scene, and the element of danger when one beds a fey lends some spice and excitement.
Then there are Gods/Goddesses. To me, this one is simple, they represent power. After all, what is mightier than the divine? Everyone wants to feel safe and protected, and who better to look to than a deity? And in romance, if you're with a god, doesn't that imply that you're as good as a goddess?
Finally, at least for this article, there are aliens. This one is kind of a catch-all, in my opinion. There can be elements of all of the supernatural creatures listed above, as well as just about anything else. Aliens can have "magical" or psychic powers, extraordinary long lives, superhuman strength, speed, endurance, or almost anything. They can be god-like in their abilities or technology, they can be brooding or impulsive, they can be unpredictable or complicated, or really anything else the author wants. When it comes to aliens, you aren't dealing with thousands of years of mythological history, so you're really only limited by your imagination. And I think that's why we like them so much.
When it comes to aliens, you never really know what you're going to get. You have to wait for the author to tell you who and what their aliens are, and you still never really know what to expect until the end. It makes for a wild, exciting ride, and tantalizes your imagination in fun, new ways. For romance involving aliens, the sky, and beyond, is the limit. They can have new/extra appendages, intriguing gizmos and gadgets, unusual abilities, and more! It can, literally, be a whole new world.
So, those are the themes, but why do so many authors seem to follow them? After all, doesn't that make stories boring and predictable? Well, and again this is only my opinion, I think it's because it helps readers have a "reference point." When you're dealing with the sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal genres, you're already dealing with a lot of twists and unknowns.
Yes, it's always necessary to make sure a story is interesting and engaging, and that it has something new to catch readers' attention. But if you make too much of the story unfamiliar, readers have a hard time immersing themselves in it. Following these themes lends a bit of the "comfortable familiar," and it also helps readers know what to expect from a story. And when stories match readers' expectations, they're more likely to enjoy it.
Okay, that's my two cents. What do you all think? I'd love to hear from you. :-)