Strength in kindness

As a writer today, my major concerns for writing include the quality of my work and whether I’ll ever be able to measure up to anyone, whether my work, even if it is good, will ever be noticed by anyone, and whether, even if it is ever noticed, if it ultimately matters if I wrote in the first place.  Y’know. Existential dread and all that.  

When I was 11 or so, my most major concern for my writing was trying to make sure none of my characters were Mary Sues, which was one of the most damning insults for the kinds of OCs I was working with in the mid-00’s.  As such, on several occasions, I tried running my characters through various “Is Your Character a Mary Sue” quizzes, which I believed back then could determine how good your character was by asking questions like, “Are they beloved by characters from the original series?” “Do they naturally have unnaturally colored hair?” and “Do they have an animal companion?”

While I understand now that most of these are absolute nonsense qualifiers for the quality of a character, as if that was something that could ever be universally determined, and that the whole concept of a “Mary Sue” is its own problematic can of worms, there were many things I was struck by on this quiz that I spent years actively trying to avoid, including one item in particular that’s struck me as of late.  

The question itself was something like, “Is your character lacking any major character flaws?” along with the disclaimer “Being ‘too nice’ doesn’t count.”  So while too much kindness wasn’t an area I focused on too much with my early characters anyway, I spent years afterwards with characters whose flaws and issues came more from being too tough than being too soft, partly because the Mary Sue Litmus Test said being too nice wasn’t a real character flaw.

I know now that being too nice can absolutely be a flaw.  It can be self-destructive on the part of the too-nice person who does everything for everyone without taking anything for themselves.  It can also be harmful for others, in the cases where people let being nice gets in the way of being good.  

Realizing that was part of why I was able to develop Bee to be the way she is.  Bee can be, both in ways harmful to herself and others, too nice. She wants so desperately to be liked and accepted by others that she’ll squash her own emotions and opinions just to be seen as agreeable.  She’ll refuse to take sides in an argument just so that neither party has any more to dislike her than the other. In some ways, that too much kindness is a flaw of hers, but I’ve also been thinking about kindness as a quality of Bee’s in a different way lately.  Her kindness can be a flaw, sure. But it’s also what makes her strong.  

There were a lot of things I started to doubt when I finally got into production on the finale of season one, and among them were my doubts about how people would react to Bee’s choice to let the Luptile live.  I knew even when writing it how much of a last minute reversal it was. There was a reason I wrote in Newt’s “This is the dumbest thing ever” line, because I wanted people to know I was aware it was a weird choice to have a whole season that seemed to be about building up to killing this one monster...and then not killing it, purposefully.

Ultimately, the reaction to that choice was much more accepting than I had been expecting.  People tweeted me and told me in person they thought Bee made the right choice. And that at time, that just made me feel better as a writer, but I didn’t think too much beyond that - at least not until “The Dragon Prince” season two came out.

For those of you who haven’t watched “The Dragon Prince” yet, it’s a Netflix original from a small animation studio and one of the writers from Avatar: the Last Airbender.  It’s definitely oriented towards the younger end of young adult, but it has a gorgeous, original fantasy world, wonderful characters, and some of the most prominent disability narratives in animation right now.  But it also has a king, who in season two, is allowed to more fully share the story of his reign, his philosophies on leadership, and his ideas of what strength truly means.

“I now believe true strength is in vulnerability,” King Harrow recounts in a letter, meant to serve as his final words to this sons, “in forgiveness, in love.  There is a beautiful, upside-down truth, which is that these moments of purest strength appear as weakness to those who know better.”

It wasn’t until I heard those words and really considered them, that I began to consider how true they could be for my world as well.  I began to realize that Bee’s greatest moment of strength, of fighting for something that she truly desired, wasn’t when she went to face the Luptile.  It was when she faced Newt and Capy, and told them she wanted the Luptile to live. It was when she stopped doing what she thought was her only “right” path and said “This is wrong.”

I began to realize too that this was definitely something that was going to carry into future seasons as well.  There’s a reason the phrase “bleeding heart” features so prominently in season two, and why there’s going to be a very important episode in season three named along those lines.  It’s because kindness, even in the face of adversity, is something I dearly want to see developed in The Beacon in seasons to come.

So this may not be entirely new information for everyone reading this, but I hope at least it’s insight for you into my process for solidifying characters and developing themes for the show.  It’s been exciting for me to see my characters come to life beyond my initial visions for them, and I hope to share more of these developments as they make themselves evident.