My Problem with the Clumsy Girl Trope

Yes, this is a leftover Christmas pic, but I just dug it out of my camera and loved it. I was out taking sunset pics and noticed Jackson watching me from the window. I didn’t realize at the time how I caught the reflected sunset, along with my own. So much of what I love about my home in this one photo.

I’ve been mulling lately about the trope of the Clumsy Heroine. For the most part, I don’t want to call out specific books (though I’m sure you can think up several offhand), but I will cite Twilight as a well-known example. For the record, I’m a fan of Twilight. In fact, I blogged just last week about my reasons why

Bella, the heroine of the series, begins the first book as ridiculously clumsy. To the point that this is one of the most frequently leveled criticisms of the book. Even those of us who love the book and series roll our eyes over that. She’s so clumsy that she staggers into life-threatening danger at every turn – requiring the hero, Edward, to repeatedly save her. It gets so bad that you begin to wonder why she didn’t get killed playing in traffic before the age of five.

Now, Bella is irritating to many readers for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with her not feeling like a fully formed human being. She’s subject to the vicissitudes of fate, not an assertive person, seems like a puppet at times. There are arguments that she’s “empty” because she’s essentially an avatar for the reader. The reader inserts herself – and her own personality – into the glove that is the protagonist. Arguably this is part of what makes the book and series so compelling. But what about the clumsiness – what purpose does that serve?

I’m going to suggest that making a heroine clumsy is shorthand for creating a character who has not yet come into her evolved state. She hearkens back to the stage that most of us go through, that awkward adolescence where we seem to be able to do nothing right, whether we’re blessed with physical coordination or not. Even in the naturally athletic types, the growth spurts of our teen years can create situations where our limbs out pace the nervous system, creating dissonance in movement.

Another way of saying clumsy!

However, this stage doesn’t last into adulthood (if all is well) and we rarely see male protagonists with this syndrome, if ever. I did a quick survey in the SFWA chatroom – thanks all! – and the only exceptions we came up with are ones like Thomas Covenant, who has an actual chronic illness (leprosy); ones like Daniel Bruks in Peter Watts’ Echopraxia, who’s arguably only socially awkward; ones where the effect is intended to be humorous like Dirk Gently; or with the pervasive bumbling sidekick. The latter exists mainly to contrast with the ultra-competent hero.

I’d submit that readers wouldn’t tolerate a clumsy hero. So, why the clumsy heroine?

I don’t like the trope because I do think it’s shorthand for that raw emotional state of feeling inadequate. The clumsy heroine has not yet grown into graceful womanhood – despite her age – and requires (sometimes repeated) rescuing by the hero. It feels like lazy writing to me.

Does anyone LOVE the clumsy heroine thing? Clearly it’s been a successful trope, especially in romance. Arguments in favor?

Top Three Books of 2016: Jeffe’s Picks

Every year since my birth, my mother has given me a Christmas ornament. She usually gives it to me at Thanksgiving, so that I have it for decorating my tree. This year she gave me a Nambé star for a tree-topper. I may have made a special request, as I love all things Nambé, and I love this, in particular. One day I hope to have Santa’s sleigh, but … alas the price! 

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is a round-up of our three most memorable books of the year. I think it’s interesting that we frame it as “most memorable,” as opposed to the best, or most loved or favorite. There’s a difference, isn’t it?

At any rate, come on over to find out what mine are!

Twelve Days for the Twelve Kingdoms

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As Veronica hinted in her post yesterday, I have similar exciting news! The duology that Grace Draven and I did together, FOR CROWN AND KINGDOM, was picked as one of the Best Books of 2016 by Library Journal!! We are over the moon. What tremendous validation for our joint effort.

Which means, of course, that we’ll have to do another!

I think the others of the SFF Seven are trying to drive me mad, because this week’s topic is Flash Fiction Based on Your Favorite Holiday/Festival Carol/Song/Hymn. Since I’m looking at the December 27 release of THE EDGE OF THE BLADE, I decided to riff on Jepp’s Twelve Days of Christmas. Now, the world Jepp lives in doesn’t have Christmas, and if it did, she’d probably loathe this song, but she still can give it her own particular spin. Come on over to see what I came up with!

Why Dropping a Ball Isn’t Such a Bad Thing

001Longtime readers of my blog know that my mom has given me a Christmas ornament every year since I was born. These last few years, we’ve formed a tradition of shopping with my stepsister the day after Thanksgiving. Not big box store mob sale shopping, but at this lovely outdoor mall in Tucson. Our first stop is always Crate & Barrel, where I now get to pick out my own ornament(s).

This year I spotted these sparkly castles – just perfect to remember that this is the year my Twelve Kingdoms books come out. I’m so in love with them.

Once again, however (this make two years in a row – eep!), I’ve decided not to put up a Christmas tree. Jackson, though no longer a kitten, is still wild to tear up any and everything he can. He’s also become keenly interested in climbing.

Uh huh. Exactly.

Also, we’re going on a bit of an odyssey this year. We’ll drive to Tucson for Christmas, then drive up the western slope over several days to Billings, Montana, for my stepson’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. We won’t be home until January 2, at best. Maybe later if the driving weather is bad, since we’ll return down the front range.

(For those who don’t know the Rocky Mountain region, the weather on the western side of the mountains is typically much warmer and drier than on the front range, the eastern side.)002

Though we’ll have a house sitter, that’s still a lot of opportunity for Jackson to wreak havoc. And, by the time we get home, I won’t want to deal with TONS of clean-up. Last year, however, I found I really missed getting out all of my ornaments, revisiting all those Christmas memories. So this year, I plan to do a lot of garlands and suspend the non-breakable ornaments from those.

(I haven’t SEEN Jackson climb walls, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.)

One of my nephews has gotten into juggling lately, so we’re getting him a copy of Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle. It might be a bit dense for him, but he’s struggling with adolescence and I think the themes of being dispossessed and discovering who you are will speak to him. Plus, juggling!

I recall that book for the way his learning to juggle gave Valentine the keys to handling his problems. It’s been a long time since I read it, so forgive me if I get the details wrong, but I recall the concept that, while keeping the balls in the air is part of the point, dropping one isn’t the end of the world.

I think about this sometimes because I often use juggling as a metaphor for keeping up with everything I’m doing. We all do, really, referring to “dropping the ball.” (Or is that a sports metaphor? Brilliant, really – the metaphor that works for both sportsing types AND theater geeks!) The problem with that is, I get so focused on keeping those balls going, adding in more, concentrating on catching and throwing, that it’s easy to lose the sense of fun.

And yes, juggling is fun.

Also, occasionally dropping a ball is part of the game.

If there wasn’t the possibility of dropping a ball, then juggling wouldn’t be interesting. The real joy, too, is when you get them all flowing.

Like magic.

Creating the Ideal To-Do List

Middle Sister WineMy stepsister brought this wine over on Christmas, by way of celebrating my three-book deal. Isn’t it great? Just love it! Thank you, Hope!

You all know how much I love my lists. And spreadsheets. Over the holiday, I was comparing To Do lists with Stepdad Dave, who shares my Virgo inclinations and loves a good To Do list. We discussed the merits of various approaches – the long-term To Do list versus the short-term one. We gave him a Boogie Board a while back – an electronic listmaker – and he complained that, because of the way it erases, that he has to write down important tasks that he won’t do later (like after the holidays) over and over again.

What? This is so interesting!

Plus, there were cookies.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking about my lists and how I have them set up. The long-term vs. short-term thing can be an issue. Especially when a long-term task is something like “write this novel.” Of course, that kind of thing one breaks out into daily word counts, but it’s still on the list, at least mentally. Hovering out there, like a grinning hot air balloon on the horizon. Other long-term tasks are things I’ve been meaning to do – like contacting certain bloggers for reviews, or putting tax information together. No deadline (yet), but needing to get done.

My big problem is that I tend to load too many tasks onto a single day. With an entire day ahead of me, I become flush with ambitious optimism. I truly believe that I will accomplish All The Things. The problem then is that, if I don’t, I get all sad. It doesn’t matter that I finished ten tasks, those two things still lurking on my list, undone, taunt me. Worse, I have to move them to the next day, or back to my long-term list.

What I’m thinking of for the New Year is making a tiered list, one that reflects priorities. I might make a Must Do list, followed by and optional list. I wonder, though, if the stuff on the optional list will *ever* get done, if they’re not prioritized enough…

What – you’re still reading? If so, you might be a listmaker, too. What are your secrets for prioritizing tasks??