How to Kill Off a Female Character Without it Being Gratuitous?

Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Miranha-Pae, Feb 1, 2019.

  1. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    I already provided a framework for what's fridging and what isn't, and I already explained why it's bad. If you're determined to ignore that, there's no point continuing this line of discussion.
     
  2. 18-Till-I-Die

    18-Till-I-Die Banned

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    @X Equestris
    And I'm arguing that framework is entirely subjective, and why it's "bad" is equally so. There is objective reason why Uncle Ben dying is any worse or any different than Barbara Gordon being shot, no logical argument anyway. Their gender is irrelevant. Just like there is no difference between the first two people in one of the first Slasher movies ever made, Friday the 13th, being WHITE and dying in mid-intercourse, and one of the latter characters in Friday the 13th Part VIII being Black and dying in a valiant final battle against Jason to save his friends...it's all but predestined that virtually every character in a Slasher will die, their race is irrelevant.
     
  3. 18-Till-I-Die

    18-Till-I-Die Banned

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    @X Equestris
    Correction NO objective reason Uncle Ben dying is any worse or any different than Batgirl getting shot.
     
  4. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Then you probably should've worded it better, because the way it stands gives a clear implication that anything which isn't foundational is unnecessary.

    You're missing, maybe deliberately, that the graphic novel would sell even better if it didn't treat a quarter of its major characters like props. As I said before, I'm hardly the only one criticizing TKJ for this. It's a common sticking point with readers and critics.

    TKJ isn't "hallowed", it's controversial. And that controversy has always been the big driver of its sales.

    Yet your posts here suggest differently. Your argument up to this point seems to be "it sold well, so there can't be anything really wrong with it, and the criticism isn't worth acknowledging". And when the writer of a work himself says he screwed up the handling of a plot element, agreeing with many of the critics, maybe you should sit up and take notice.

    It's a weak position. I don't think an author's views have the final say, but they definitely matter more than Joe Schmoe on the Internet.

    Which is more or less my view as well.
     
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  5. T.Trian

    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Great points! I think the reason why we tend to have more storylines of a man avenging a murdered woman or rescuing a kidnapped woman is based at least partly on evolutionary psychology.

    DISCLAIMER: while the following is somewhat related to policy here and there, I am not discussing politics but, rather, human psychology through analyzing our behavior on a societal scale. I don't care which political side anyone is, I'm only trying to find an explanation for a literary phenomenon by examining human psychology and its influence on our behavior as a species.

    Also, pardon the lengthy post, I'm simply trying to offer various examples to illustrate the broader context of the psychological framework pertinent to the discussion.

    Anyhow:
    Hypothetically, back in our cave-dwelling days, a tribe could survive with 20 men and 100 women whereas a tribe with 20 women and 100 men was more likely to die out because of how we reproduce, i.e. a man can impregnate 100 women but a woman can only bear one or a few children per pregnancy.
    Also, men can't breastfeed infants (and there was no formula back then), so that's another reason why women were absolutely crucial for the survival of the tribe through ensuring the survival of the following generations.

    All of the above and more made women more valuable to those early societies than men, which is one of the reasons why both men and women tend to be more protective of women (rather than men being more protective of women and women being more protective of men).
    Combine that with the fact that we're a dimorphic species where men are generally bigger, stronger, and more aggressive, it made sense (when the objective was the survival of the tribe/species) to send men to hunt, defend the tribe against assailants, or even to attack another tribe for their resources and women.
    I believe that's also why both men and women tend to react more strongly to news about the suffering of girls/women than boys/men.
    E.g. which headline will trigger a stronger emotional response:

    "A national emergency: 1 out of 5 homeless are women!"
    V. S.
    "A national emergency: 4 out of 5 homeless are men!"

    The former will likely deliver more clicks and garner greater attention on a national scale than the latter. Same with headlines such as "Out of 100 slain, 20 were women."
    It's basic psychological manipulation because it engages our base instincts as a species.
    Note: the above numbers are not real and only intended to illustrate a point.

    It's also what the U. S. military discovered in their extensive studies regarding the integration of women into combat outfits:
    The male soldiers, even when expressly ordered not to do so, would take excessive risks, sacrificing themselves, their male companions, and even the mission when they felt their female companions were in danger during combat simulations, while the male soldiers had a significantly easier time putting the mission first in all-male teams.

    It even makes sense for women to be less self-sacrificing over men because back in the dawn of humanity, it was crucial for women to survive or else the tribe's infants would die.
    Ergo it was more important for women to adopt a "live to fight another day" -instinct while men, especially single, undesirable men, were essentially worthless to the tribe unless they were able to help with providing and defending the tribe's resources.

    Hence why, as a general rule, "incels" (incel = involuntarily celibate, i.e. a single man who is undesirable to women) receive little sympathy from society even though they tend to suffer from mental problems such as depression, autism, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal tendencies etc. more than e.g. married men.
    Despite the challenges they face, "incel" has become a fairly popular insult among the general population regardless of political leanings. Even mainstream media outlets use "incel" to discredit people they dislike, again, regardless of political leanings.

    Also, while modern societies don't require this sort of "lizard brain" -thinking from us on a smaller scale, we still send mostly just men into combat (I believe men are over 90% of all combat deaths in the US), most dangerous jobs are done by men almost exclusively (I believe men are around 85-95% of all workplace deaths), most homicide and assault victims are men, most suicides are committed by men (although women attempt suicide more often), and most prisoners are men.
    Hell, for a long time, women were barred from military service entirely, and even today, women aren't allowed in certain combat roles. While I'm certain a part of that is tied to other reasons, our instincts to protect women, even at the cost of restricting their freedom to voluntarily partake in more dangerous combat roles, seems to stem at least partly from our deep-rooted instincts to keep women from physical harm on a larger scale (note: I'm not saying whether that's a good thing or if it's just; I'm merely observing phenomena and trying to figure out some of the reasons behind some of our choices as a society throughout history).

    This societal lack of empathy towards men can also be seen in the judicial system: men, on average, receive significantly heftier sentences for the same exact crimes as women, and they are sent to prison more often for the same crimes as women.
    In fact, e.g. in the U. S, the sentencing gap is notably larger between men and women than e.g. between black and white men, and because we're talking about people who committed the same exact crimes (e.g. homicide, i.e. I'm not talking about the fact that men commit the majority of homicides but, rather, about the likelihood of a murderer to receive a severe sentence after they've been found guilty), it shows a general lack of empathy towards men on a societal scale, so it's no surprise we've been conditioned by both evolution and by our environment to view men, as a demographic, to be more expendable than women.

    That's also one of the reasons why we've killed millions upon millions of male characters in video games throughout the decades, and nobody really cared, whereas in recent years, there has been no shortage of controversy surrounding video games where female characters are getting hurt or killed, even when they are killed in significantly lesser quantities than male characters.

    Likewise, if you look at the controversies surrounding sexualization of video game characters in e.g. fighting games, pretty much all of the outrage is about the sexualization of female characters even though male characters tend to appear in equally or even more revealing clothing on average.
    E.g. Ivy from the Soul Calibur series has been the target of puritanical outrage again and again, yet nobody seems to be outraged about Voldo, a male character in the same series, who wears an almost identical, very revealing, BDSM-inspired outfit, and his movements are more sexual than Ivy's (e.g. many of his moves include very suggestive hip thrusting).
    I could list more examples of this discrepancy if necessary, but for now suffice to say there are more.

    TL;DR:

    Anyway, by that logic, it follows that on average, a murdered or kidnapped woman is a more powerful motivator (especially on a subconscious, emotional level) for both the reader and the characters than a male character, which, in turn, is a pretty good indicator why a female character tends to be a more effective motivator on average (#NotAll) than a male character on a mostly subconscious level.

    That's my understanding of some of the main reasons (i.e. psychology, especially our subconscious survival instincts as a species) behind this phenomenon, for what it's worth.
    Obviously a lot of the above is speculation and deduction based on circumstantial evidence, there's a lot of correlation (rather than causation) etc, so I'd prefer if the post was viewed more as an interpretation of facts rather than a statement of fact (which is why I softened a lot of the language with "weasel words" like "seems to," "tends to" etc) since a lot of it is up to interpretation, and yours might be very different without being wrong (and I may well be off the mark).

    Anyway, I'd love to hear what others think of the above; I'd rather be wrong and learn than "win" an argument while being wrong.
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Uh....maybe this is a language thing, but that is most definitely not my definition of "incel". I see it as a self-identification by men who hold women in contempt but nevertheless feel that they are owed sex as an absolute right. The web seems to largely agree with me.

    To use the term "incel" for a man who simply struggles to form a connection with a woman is, IMO, a deep and fundamental insult to that man. Most men are not entitled misogynistic expletives.
     
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  7. Lilith Fairen

    Lilith Fairen Member

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    Didn't you just say...
    ...so one minute you're saying a work can have critical acclaim in spite of criticism, but now a work must not be critically-acclaimed because criticism of it exists?

    I don't care in the slightest about comic books or Batman or whatever, but even I know The Killing Joke is one of the most iconic Batman stories.

    (And frankly, if you don't hear criticism of something, that doesn't mean it's perfect; often it just means fans of that thing are hostile towards those who voice any criticism.)
     
  8. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Senior Member

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    Yes, we've been through this...
    ~~~~~​
    The definitions and logic of the trope are now being discussed in this thread, by members other than me. Seeing as they are, I'm perfectly within my rights to participate in those discussions. Many of the back and forth posts here are not aimed directly towards the original poster. Many of yours for that matter.
    No, I don't seem to be arguing that. You can't twist "I wish the OP the best in their endeavor to avoid a purely plot device character," into "I think it's wrong" for them to do that. How absurd.
    ...No. How is that not clear?
     
  9. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    All storytelling is subjective, but the definition of a given trope is not. My framework is in line with the definition supplied by the codifier.

    It's not the action itself that's the problem, it's how the narrative surrounding the event handles it.

    Uncle Ben's death isn't shock value, and it doesn't stir up base impulses to use as Peter's motivation. It's what makes him realize that great power comes with great responsibility, and he's been ignoring his. It impacts people besides Peter. And, a really key point here, it doesn't get forgotten about right after it happens.

    By contrast, Barbara would've been flat out forgotten if Yale and Ostrander hadn't been appalled by how DC was handling TKJ's aftermath. That's the fate of most fridging victims from the Bronze Age and Dark Age. Few outside comic book circles even remember the name of the original woman in the fridge, for example.

    So, in summary:

    -fridging is bad because getting a character worked up over what happened to another, then just forgetting about that character afterward is bad writing.
    -fridging is bad because only touching on how the protagonist feels about the tragedy constructs a distorted world which puts you on the road toward creating a Black Hole Sue. More bad writing.
    -not touching on the effects on a character who survived their fridging leaves a big plot thread dangling. Yet more bad writing.
    -using death or injury to put another character on a revenge quest is a tired, boring plot
    -not acknowledging 1) how the victim has been impacted, if they survived, or 2) how everyone who knew them has been impacted by their death if they didn't, threatens the suspension of disbelief. Basically, treating a character's grievous injury or death as nothing but a prop to help a story move along throws the audience out of the story.
     
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  10. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    No one is doing that though - the point about Fridging is creating a female character for no other reason than to kill her in a gratuitously violent fashion in order to motivate a male character to revenge.

    No one is saying you can't kill a female character - but give her some depth and actually you know make her a person first... and if you want your male character to be motivated to revenge may be try to be a little original in how you do it
     
  11. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Being popular doesn't make something hallowed, it just makes it popular. "Hallowed" would suggest nobody dares to criticize it, which definitely hasn't been true of TKJ. There's no contradiction in a work being popular or generally well regarded by critics while at the same time not being hallowed.
     
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  12. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    It's not.

    I'm getting a vibe from your argument that's hard to put into words. You seem wary, angry, about the idea that anyone might argue that these sorts of characters should be more than a plot device. As if such an argument would be inherently harmful, some sort of slippery slope.

    Maybe that's your view about having any opinion about what makes fiction good or bad. I'm not sure. There's something here that I can't quite put my finger on.
     
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  13. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Senior Member

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    Good grief. I was merely using "hallowed" as colorful shorthand for a book that's, more often than not, listed as a top 10 DC Comics trade. I certainly didn't mean nobody would dare critize it... I wouldn't suggest that about any fiction.
     
  14. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Senior Member

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    Nah. But since we're now talking about "vibes," I'm getting a strong vibe that you're trying to paint me as "wary" and "angry" in a desperate attempt to weaken my points.
     
  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, no. I'm not so awed by your points that they could make me feel desperate.
     
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  16. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Senior Member

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    How would you like me to address your "vibes" and "feelings" then Chicken? Do I need to put your mind at ease?
     
  17. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Exactly. This is all the concerns over fridging boil down to at the end of the day.
     
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  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    No, I've lost interest. There's no saving the thread anyway.
     
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  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm seeing a connection between fridgeing and the Bechdel test.

    Bechdel test: Whether a work of fiction has two female characters who have a conversation that is not in any way about a man.

    I've discussed, multiple times, that Orphan Black does not, in my opinion, pass the reverse Bechdel test--there is arguably never a time when two male characters have a conversation that is not in any way about a woman.

    In addition to finding this an entertaining reversal (I would disapprove of it if it weren't almost unique), I also find it useful in terms of understanding the significance of the Bechdel test. Orphan Black passes the Bechdel test over and over and over and over, and IMO fails to pass the reverse Bechdel test. This is because its world is thoroughly populated with women, and only lightly salted with men.

    A lot of fiction is thoroughly populated with men, and only lightly salted with women. But that's so common that it's hard to see.

    If there's a character role in Orphan Black that could reasonably be played by either a man or a woman, it's usually played by a woman. The pediatrician, the cop's partner, the leader of that criminal organization, the surviving parent of that character, the leader of that other criminal organization--women, women, women.

    A character in Orphan Black is usually a man only when there's a good excuse for him to be a man--that excuse often, I'd say usually, being romantic/sexual/reproductive. In general, if a character isn't sleeping with a major female character, that character is probably going to be a woman.

    Beth died very early in the series, and her death spurred a number of events. That fulfills one requirement of being fridged. But Beth--and her life, and her struggles--comes up over and over and over and over. Beth is a presence throughout the series.

    Spoilers below, the point mainly being that when a male character dies in Orphan Black, it's all about how that death affects female characters. The character himself? Meh.

    Paul, on the other hand, was important for a very long time. He got a lot of screen time. But after he died...that was that for Paul. He didn't really even get up to the level of fridgeing; his death didn't drive actions or revenge. He just got two (female) characters out of a tight spot.

    Leekie was also important for quite some time, and was killed when his purpose as a plot cog was complete. His death was about character development for female characters; he never again mattered.

    Rachel's father's death, and for that matter his life, was completely and entirely about what it did to Rachel.

    I wouldn't say that fridgeing is about wanting to harm women, or wanting them dead. I'd say it's about the fact that in a lot of fiction, women just aren't a meaningful part of the world. They may be well-developed--pretty much every male character in Orphan Black is well-developed--but they only matter to the extent that they drive the plot of the real characters. They're cogs. And cogs get used up and thrown away.
     
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  20. 18-Till-I-Die

    18-Till-I-Die Banned

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    @big soft moose
    Well then we get back to the Uncle Ben argument, or Howard Stark, Daredevil's dad, Oliver Queen's dad in the CW-verse, Thomas and Martha Wayne, etc...

    These characters didn't even EXIST, they had no real characterization or relevance they were just plot devices whose deaths led to the main crux of the story, and no one breathed a word. I'm sorry but sometimes a character IS just a plot device, or rather, the word you're looking for is Background Character, an NPC, a thing that happened but only to give the story weight. It's only in recent years anyone even questioned that such characters exist, or why.

    And before anyone pounces on me because I complained about "something happening just to make the plot move forward" in The Last Jedi, there is a difference between altering established canon and even contradicting yourself in your own movie just to have a certain scene which has no real impact on the plot and in the end could have been removed with no effect whatsoever happen, and having something happen specifically to give weight to a story arc. The former is almost the opposite. Having Leia suddenly learn how to fly in space when no other Jedi ever, including Palpatine who could summon star system annihilating Force Storms and was considered the most powerful Force user who ever lived, had demonstrated this, and then having it happen JUST so she can fly through space and with NO impact, weight or actual effect on the story is different than killing a character--male or female--to act as a central plot point in a revenge plot.
     
  21. making tracks

    making tracks Active Member

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    There have been so many replies already I'm not going to add much, but just to draw it back to the question. You said:

    I think whether or not your reader thinks the stuffed in a fridge trope is ok (or at least a useful writing tool) or not (and tired or overdone), it sounds to me as though you've covered her death more thoughtfully than that anyway by making her a real human and her death having multiple consequences, not just for the male MC, so I don't think you need to worry. It sounds like she herself, her character and her actions are integral to the plot, not just her death. As long as you make this clear in your writing it shouldn't come across as her just being thrown in for his plot point. Personally, I think narratives and characters are far better fleshed out this way, and although I don't think tropes are inherently bad they can bring up complicated issues (as we've seen here). But as there has already been so much discussion about the whys and wherefores I'll leave that for now.

    Also it sounds as though you knew already that you wanted to avoid a flat character plot device, and as far as I can tell from what you've written, you have done.
     
  22. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Senior Member

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    No, it doesn't give that impression. You took a major leap by making that connection, and now you've had to walk it back.
    Neither you or I know how such a change would have affected the book's sales.
    Acknowledge or accept? It's not as if I'm unfamiliar with your complaints against TKJ, I just don't agree with them. Unless you have a line of reasoning as to why I should accept your criticism, then they are as inconsequential to me as someone ranting that TKJ should have had more action beats. Or that Stephen King is terrible. Or that Star Wars is better than Star Trek.
    Care to make a compelling argument as to why I should? Or would you just prefer I do as you instruct?
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2019
  23. 18-Till-I-Die

    18-Till-I-Die Banned

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    @ChickenFreak

    And...?

    Again, that's like complaining certain characters died before certain others in a Slasher, and why I used that example specifically. It's a SLASHER by definition virtually all the characters will die, one dying first and having a higher melanin count is irrelevant. MALE characters exist all the time to be "used and thrown away". Or do all of the literal TENS OF THOUSANDS or even HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of Imperial soldiers who were on the Death Star when it exploded not count, or the billions on Alderaan hen it exploded not count? Or hell, Tarkin, who has virtually no development beyond "Baron Von Evilprick"?

    Or again, UNCLE BEN PARKER! A character who, if I recall, barely had like two lines of dialogue before he died, had no development, no characterization, no backstory and existed purely to create a reason for Spider-Man to beat the shit out of bad guys.

    Yes, fictional characters get used up and thrown away with no consideration for their lives, and this has happened countless times in fiction, male and female. What makes it different because the character has a vagina? I'm not even going into the "Bachdel Test" or whatever because that's so subjective and irrelevant it's mind blowing but to put it bluntly by that standard there are some porn movies I've seen which past the test with flying colors.
     
  24. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yup, no force user had ever demonstrated the ability to move objects before, ever, up until that point. And her doing this was meant to represent her awakening as a force user. This was to juxtapose with Luke's passing and the only reason it doesn't have any impact in the story is that the payoff was supposed to come in the next film, but unfortunately Carrie Fisher passed away since then. Anyway, my complaints against most films being filmed only to be setups for their sequels is irrelevant.
     
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  25. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    18, if you took the trouble, when tagging me in a post, to make that post in some way, even a tiny way, relevant to something I've said, that would increase the odds of my taking the bait.

    But those odds are still quite low. So after you type in your next set of random remarks, you might want to tag someone else.
     
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