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Interim President Jeff Ettinger inside Morrill Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Ettinger gets deep with the Daily: “It’s bittersweet.”
Ettinger reflects on his presidency
Published April 22, 2024

Writing conventions help us understand out own biases

Despite popular conventions, writers have permission to conjure unlikable characters.

I recently had the opportunity to attend Nerdcon: Stories, a convention hosted by Hank and John Green of the Youtube channel The Vlogbrothers. Over the course of two days, I attended panels, open-mics and guest showcases — all of which explored how writers convey stories to our audiences.

I learned the most during a discussion regarding the representation of women in fiction. An all-female panel discussed the importance of writing about strong female characters and the biases they had growing up because of sexist literature. I took notes while they spoke, and when it came time for questions, my hand shot up.

“When you were first starting to write, did you ever write female characters that were too strong? Like, one of the first stories I ever wrote ended up being about an abusive relationship because my lead lady was so strong that she ended up mistreating other characters. I was just wondering if any of you has ever had issues with that.” Before I could sit back down to let them discuss, poet Rachel Kann leaned into the microphone and gave me an answer I didn’t expect.

“Let the women in your stories be assholes,” she said.

I had to stop and think for a moment. The problem I had been having with my writing wasn’t so much that my lead characters were too strong but that my characters weren’t reacting properly to their mistreatment of others. It was something I had never really thought about.especially with the education I had about constructing identities of powerful women in writing. I had permission to conjure unlikeable characters.

Even after the panel was over, other audience members came up to me to talk about my question, saying they had had similar problems and how they worked around them. The best part was that I felt accepted by the panelists and attendees. They understood where I was coming from and that sometimes authors feel the need to write likable female characters in order to write a successful story — something that is simply untrue.

Without Nerdcon I never would have made the small but important revelation regarding my own writing and how I represent women in my stories. But if Hank Green’s predictions are correct, there probably won’t be another Nerdcon: Stories. The convention simply didn’t make enough money this time around, so it’s slated for demolition. I can only hope that by some miracle they’re able to continue it for one more year to make room for further learning opportunities. After all, I’m sure I’m not the only one with a revelation in the making.

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