As a general rule, assume that anything I post here contains spoilers through the most recent chapter on AO3.

In an early version of this story, Clint's girlfriend was an original character named Helen, and neither she nor Dr. Rosie survived their injuries. Sometime after I wrote that, I was reading about Bobbi Morse (one of Clint's canonical love interests) and thought, "Why don't I put her in the story?" But then I thought, "No, she's way too cool to die like that. But it's okay for Helen." That was when I realized I had a problem.

Fridging, or Women in Refrigerators, basically refers to killing off female characters for the emotional development of male characters, or for plot development. The concept was introduced by Gail Simone after an episode of Green Lantern where the main character's girlfriend was killed and stuffed in his refrigerator by the villain.

I originally intended to kill off Helen and Dr. Rosie to make more angst for Clint and Natasha, respectively. Dr. Rosie was the first to escape her planned fate, because she was just too cool; to me, she was one of those characters who walked into the story and then popped off the page. I didn't need to kill her because Natasha (Natalia) had quite enough angst already. And I didn't want to kill her.

When I decided to leave her alive, I discovered something fundamental about fridging, which is that live characters are a lot more interesting than dead ones. Killing off Dr. Rosie would have meant a loss for Natalia as she began to consider trusting people at S.H.I.E.L.D., but leaving her alive meant Natalia had to work through those feelings of trust, and empathy, and confusion, not just grief. Natalia had already experienced loss, and it shaped her; keeping Dr. Rosie alive allowed me to explore how kindness, and the complicated, messy business of human emotion, would similarly shape Natalia.

Switching Bobbi Morse (Mockingbird) for Helen was a bit different. I realized that killing Helen would be an archetypal fridging, and I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to create a character whose story would be told entirely by Clint and who would exist for the sole purpose of dying to make him angst. I briefly considered killing off his boyfriend instead, but I didn't want to play into the also-common trope of killing off gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters. I decided that neither of them had to die, and that death was not the only or even the best way to achieve character development. That was the point where I also made Helen into Bobbi, since I like call-outs to the comics, and I like awesome female superheroes with agency.

Bobbi hasn't appeared in the chapters to date, and her story has been told by Clint and Phil, but I like to think the possibility that she could appear, and speak for herself, makes my options richer. Also, in earlier versions when Clint's girlfriend was the one-dimensional Helen, I was in real danger of making her a flat "bad guy" with regards to her romance with Clint and the way it went bad. The little added character depth that I gained by switching Helen for Bobbi made me reconsider that attribution. Just as she deserved better than to die for the sake of Clint's angst, she deserved better than to be made into a caricature for the sake of Clint's angst.

As I revised the story, I learned first-hand that fridging, in addition to being an overused trope that curtails the roles of female characters, is also bad, sloppy, and lazy writing. If I had killed off Helen and Dr. Rosie, I would have had fewer stories to tell, and less work to do to tell them: tropes are tropes for a reason, because you can invoke them as shorthand for a particular emotional response in your readers. Leaving them alive strengthened my story, because it meant I treated them as people, not cardboard cut-out placeholders.
Even in a story the length of "At My Back," not everything fits. This is a scene that didn't fit. It would have gone in "Chance," but it was too medically improbable. All these outtakes are unpolished and unbetaed.

Warnings: violence.
“Come on, Barton,” she muttered, feeling for his pulse again. Nothing there. )

November 2014



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