Friday, July 11, 2014

Ubermadchen: Personal Aesthetics

Compared to the previous two weeks, this week has been spectacularly unproductive. My self-control decided to take a vacation over the weekend and I've been fighting to get it back all week. Now I think I'm better than I was before, but I'm still not producing at 100%.

It doesn't help that I'm at a difficult patch of UM, a liminal bit that's setting up for the more action- and plot-oriented "main course." The girls are in one place gathering information, getting their bearings, and it is boring.

Which is why yesterday during my writing session I found myself looking up dresses on Tumblr.

Writing about the modern AU of Ubermadchen on Tuesday made me want to draw the girls in that setting, because I'd rather draw modern clothing than drag through pictures of 1770s dresses looking for something sane and not-overembellished. Then I began thinking about the problem of style, which, like MBTI types, is a topic to which I return frequently and then scorn and then return.

Each time I write about style I think I've said all that I wanted to say about the topic. Style is how we present ourselves to the world, and for young women especially it is vital because we're judged by our appearance and looking "like a slob" will apparently cause our worlds to end. Style as individuality, style as a component of identity.

Style is more than just clothing, of course. It just happens that clothing is the most public expression of style. One's personal aesthetic is also made of favorite music, books, mannerisms, and so on.

How is aesthetic different from other parts of one's identity? Aesthetic speaks to the surface, to the connections we make with others and how. Aesthetic is how we want to control how people see us. Perhaps aesthetic is the most public subset of identity.

I'm trying to think of something in my identity that can't be mapped to some aspect of my aesthetic. But perhaps that's the wrong avenue--because aesthetics is about how others see us, an aspect of myself that isn't reflected in my aesthetic is probably something I don't want to expose.

But that's enough about me. I wanted to talk about the Ubermadchen, and the interplay of personality and aesthetics in character development.

(NB: in Italian, carattere means character as in disposition, nature, "he's a man of character" while personaggio means character as in fictional person. Normally when I talk about character development I mean development of il carattere--in-story, how someone's character changes. Right now I mean development of il personaggio, or how I form a character.

The discussion of how a character's in-story shift in aesthetic mirrors/causes/is correlated to their shift in personality is another worthy topic to which I may return once I get over all the literary analyses I had to do in junior year.)

Marilla Rieux is the main character, the viewpoint character, and when I started writing I didn't think she would end up being my favorite, because that's cliche. Yet, she really has grown on me, despite being timid and emotional and Romantic. Or maybe because of those things.

I knew when I started thinking about the modern AU that she'd be the one who always wore dresses and cute hats and had a very feminine aesthetic. This picture is how I imagine her:

Then I realized that she would probably dye her hair blue. And I discovered that my sweet, demure dreamer has a subversive streak and that, during a very important arc later in the story, she will need to rise to the occasion, and she will.

Josefina de los Arboles has the most aggressive personality, among the five. She is the most extraverted and opinionated, and has fire as her elemental magic.

In other words, I had no idea what to do with her.

When you write a character that cliche--mouthy, literally fiery, with an attitude--it may be time to step back and think about her for a minute. So I did. And the thing that led me to a somewhat-breakthrough with Josefina was when I was in China, horrendously bored on a train, and musing about what kind of prom dresses the girls would wear. That sounds like a very shallow train of thought (pun intentional) but it led me to the realization that I had no idea what kind of prom dress Josefina would wear.

Because a part of her aesthetic was unclear to me, I discovered that my view of her identity had a similar blind spot. This led me to a productive session of character exploration. And I realized that, rather than bright colors and Boho-y things, Josefina would dress in conservative, professional clothes, a counterpoint to her personality.

I could go on, but at some point that stops being useful for other people. Main takeaways:

  • clothing style is an element of personal aesthetic is a public element of identity
  • if a character is going too far in one direction, look in the opposite direction for something to anchor them--some chiaroscuro of the temperament
  • you gotta have blue hair*

*Which reminds me that I need to write a post about how mahou shoujo anime have contributed to the concept of Ubermadchen.

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