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I made a note in a friend-locked post about working on Even the Littlest Monsters (ffvii fanfic novel, Lucrecia/Vincent, Vincent/Yuffie) has been an interesting experience because it mirrors some of the problems I wrestle with when writing original fiction -- namely the issue of how to write complex female characters.  I decided to unpack this further with more of my thinking while planning/structuring Monsters, although I need to state upfront that this is a bit of a rambling info dump. The act of writing this helped me think but editing it heavily so it is readably by anyone passing through isn't gonna happen. ;)


So, another episode of writing about writing --- Writing Unapologetic Female Characters.  (Mostly about Lucrecia, but Yuffie is in this too)

 >> Lucrecia is such a difficult character to unpack << 

Despite Lucrecia's repeated "i'm sorry" lines in Dirge, she is actually a very unapologetic character. She does what she does because she has decided to Just Do it.

The canonical dialogue nods to her unapologetic nature in a number of places: Vincent remembering her and wondering why she even feels the need to say "I'm sorry," remembering how she also just did things, etc.

But canon aside, unapologetic female characters are a challenge to write. For instance, when I think about what I like about DA2, there are quite a few unapologetic female characters who just DO their thing. Zero apologies and very little regret either, which makes them unapologetic. But finding enough of these characters .... idk. Yes, they do exist throughout lit and genre fiction. But how many times are unapologetic female characters undermined or made to pay for their nature? This is an issue I am attuned to when I write original female characters, and it is an issue I work at addressing.

***  I think the biggest thing missing (sort of) from Lucrecia's canonically story line was her explaining to the viewer/player WHY she felt her choices were justified and WHAT she felt she was accomplishing.  ***

Understanding Lucrecia requires thought on the viewer/player's part. Unfortunately, a viewer/player's thought can also be careless. Thought can also be colored with negative emotions (misogyny directed toward professional women, ship jealousy, etc.).  Or it can be characterized by the desire to want simple answers like "Lucrecia never loved Hojo, etc." 

Despite all of the RL trainwreck (from science and academia no less!!! ;) that feeds into my composite characterization of Vincent, Lucrecia, Grimoire, Hojo, Yuffie, Tifa, etc., one big thing I have wanted for Monsters' Turk!Vincent, Lucrecia, Hojo, and also undead!Vincent and Yuffie is to put their actions -- both professional and relationship-wise -- in context. The story needs to SHOW that context, and show how these are people who made specific decisions because their decisions generally make sense (more or less) when put in a context.  

Now for some headcanon + canon = motivation :

When Lucrecia (and Grimoire) started working on their Chaos-Omega Weapon vs Lifestream theory, I am imagining that Lucrecia was both fascinated and horrified with the fact that the planet might have these defense systems that are beyond human control. These are systems that lack a fail safe mechanism for when the weapon is triggered by accident or through maliciousness. In Monsters, Lucrecia makes her final decision to fuse Chaos with not!quite!dead!yet!Vincent because she feels way more comfortable knowing that the fate of all life on the planet is at least partially bound to the consciousness of a human being. Basically, that a human consciousness acts as a fail safe. And this is why it is so important for Vincent to gain conscious control over Chaos, because without that, he cannot act as a fail safe who guides or circumvents what Chaos does if/when the whole Chaos+Omega dance begins. 

Monsters!Lucrecia sees this fusion of Chaos and a human consciousness as a radically world-altering scientific contribution that she can make.  To her, this is on par with paradigm shifting contributions like discovering the structure of DNA or modeling how the planets move around the sun. THAT kind of scientific contribution. Something fundamentally paradigm changing and ground breaking..  

So, my Lucrecia makes that final decision not just to save the life of Grimoire's son (given that her study of chaos caused a lab accident that killed Grimoire and no, please, not another dead Valentine). She makes that final decision not just to prove her hypothesis -- one that other scientists laughed at.  She does it because she can fundamentally shift the entire paradigm of life and knowledge on the planet. She does it because she believes it will make the world better/safer and more under our control.

She does it to almost!dead!Vincent not just because she can't have another Valentine die due to her "mistakes" and not just because he's already been experimented on so, hell, what is one more experiment. She does it not just because she cares deeply about him and wants him alive ... Yes, all of those things are true but, in Monsters, she does this because she sees that Vincent is a deeply thoughtful and philosophical person, and a person with strong ethics and life-affirming convictions, therefore she believes he's the right kind of human consciousness to fuse with chaos. That he'll do the right thing. 

And, normally she'd never do this to anyone in a completely willynilly manner but this was an emergency, Vincent was almost-dead, so many emotions swirling around, Lu knowing she has so little time left (because of the Jenova cells in her body), Lu feeling like she needs to make one BIG lasting contribution.

And she does.

and for 3 decades it is all but lost in obscurity (because female scientist..............)


As for other unapologetic female characters: Yuffie. She is fiercely unapologetic.  That aspect of her character development is interesting from CC-->OG-->OtW2aS-->AC-->DoC.  She starts out fiercely defensive of Wutai but also completely certain that after the war, Wutai has gone to waste through bad decisions (becoming a tourist destination for the very same people who conquered it). She gets a taste of not being viewed favorably by people in Wutai when she returns after meteorfall (OtW2aS) and that experience matures her while still keeping her fiercely unapologetic. By the time DoC rolls around, she's decided that her father is making (at least some) reasonable decisions suggesting that she has mellowed (or matured, or "complexified") on her assessment of what Wutai needs.

Tying this back to Lu and to Monsters:  I am purposefully making the timeline of the story weave back and forth between past and present in order to put Lu's story into a better-bigger-deeper context. Too many limitations exist if the story only focuses on the past, which runs the risk of being interpreted as a tragedy for the sake of t.r.a.g.e.d.y. Worse, Lu becomes the only female character so there is no one to compare and contrast with.  Also, it makes it difficult to explore Lucrecia's success because the Tragedy of Lucrecia (sephiroth, jenova "poisoning," ending her career, pretty much taking her own life...) ends up becoming the whole of her story. The success occurs decades after she disappears ... and, honestly, having Vincent be the only one to make sense of her success isn't really the kind of story I want. Thus Yuffie (and Shalua, and others). 

Monsters is about having two very different yet very fiercely unapologetic female characters on the center stage (Lucrecia and Yuffie) but it isn't only that one is trying to make a major paradigm-shifting professional contribution that protects the fate of planetary life whereas the other is trying to make a major nation-shifting professional/leadership contribution that preserves the fact of a nation/culture/people.

I mean, it is DEFINITELY THOSE THINGS. Lu and Yuffie are both career women at different stages of life. But they are also women who see no reason why the cannot have their career as their primary and (select any of: romantic/sexual/domestic/intellectual/emotional) partnership also in their life in ways that work for them.

Thus, in addition to unapologetically doing what they are going to do career-wise (which is foreground in their POVs in Monsters), they also have both decided to unapologetically take control of how they seek out various kinds of companionship. (seen in their POVs but foregrounded a bit more in Vincent's POV). Do Lucrecia and Yuffie do eyebrow raising things while doing this? Yes.

Do they unapologetically cross social/moral boundaries? Oh yes. Lucrecia never intends ever to date much less monogamously commit to Vincent despite that appearing to be precisely what he wants yet she allows him to become emotionally entangled with her nonetheless; Monsters!Yuffie knowingly pushes up against and manipulates Vince's strong sense of morality in order to reap "safe" affection and not-really-romantic-but-nonetheless-emotionally-partnered companionship (that is, until they both grow up/older/wiser, boundaries move, needs change, and Vincent calls older!Yuffie's bluff).

Do they both have emotional scars that cause them to have "it's complex" relationships with, frankly, a willing-to-be-complex partner? Yes. Lucrecia: canonical issues over Grimoire's death (making her feel bad/responsible for Vincent, and feel more emotionally connected than warranted on the surface, etc.) are mixed with monsters!Lu's ways of escaping the sexism and misogyny that defines her professional life (and how Vincent serves as an escape value).  Yuffie: canonical Wutai war scars have left monsters!Yuffie a bit fey regarding issues of life/death, and an un-aging un-breakable immortal(ish) dude is actually someone whom she is comfortable extending her emotional trusting. And, later, someone she's comfortable committing to. And if Yuffie is destined to someday grow old and frail, she wants to do it flamboyant in-your-face shock-style: her fantasies of being an 80 year old lady with someone who looks as if he could be her grandson hanging off her arm as her faithful consort/companion/lover...  Both are totally unapologetic about how they take control of the various kinds of companionship they seek.  ...and both of them find someone who, despite the emotional rollercoaster, is literally willing to consent to being involved in these "it's complex" relationships.

In summary, Lu was really difficult for me to approach despite knowing how I wanted her to act the moment I got the initial idea for Monsters. BUT, once I made her unapologetically who she was, she just started WORKING as a character.  But, I couldn't just have her alone because of the kinds of choices she makes and how those choices are interpreted across fandom/gamerdom. Yuffie was needed to balance things out.

And then other female characters came in not as POV characters but in supporting parts that make clear that the choices that the POV characters (Lucrecia, Yuffie, Vincent) make are their choices that they willing make when, in fact, other choices exist. So far the female support cast includes:

- Shalua -- career decisions contrast:  a career focused female scientist who provides contrast to professional!scientist!Lucrecia while also touching on differences in the barriers that women faced in Lu's time vs Shalua's time.  Shalua respects Lucrecia's scientific work and puts Lu's contributions into context, including the pros and cons of Lu's work vs the pros and cons of other major (male) scientists.  Given that I am keeping canon as is, Shalua makes a heroic sacrifice but, actually, this works in Monsters' favor because Shalua's sacrifice can be contrasted against Lu's. In Monsters, Shalua and Yuffie's professional relationship is established before the start of Dirge's events and Yuffie is interested in finding out more about the science behind Vincent's chaos situation.

- Minor female OCs who are Lu's university friends. Again, more context of being a woman breaking barriers in academia during a sexist time in history. The choices they feel they need to make. The choices they have. The pressures/barriers they face.

- Tifa -- relationship decisions contrast:  Word of God is that the Lu/Vincent, Aerith/Cloud parallels were intended. In monsters, Tifa/Cloud acts as a contrast to Yuffie&/Vincent and despite the initial parallels, the relationships end up in different places. Yuffie & Vincent stay together as a monogamous "until death do we part" couple and other than the emotional overlap of Vincent's prior with Lucrecia, neither he nor Yuffie become involved with anyone else. They go from "it's complex, it's problematic, and well-behaved!Vince was age-squicked too" to "it's totally mundane and almost societal-normal minus the 'undead doesn't age' thing". Meanwhile, Tifa & Cloud go through a variety of different "it's complex" configurations while Tifa dates other people and slowly works through her guilt/feelings and her desire to just settle down. Parallels in Tifa and Yuffie not understanding each other and then, as time passes, coming to deeply understand and very closely support each other.

- Skelke - relationship/decision consequence contrasts:  okay. Shelke's entire existence in canon is convoluted but I have been willing to make a case that her POV -- particularly when she triggers old memories -- provides the view of child who doesn't understand why the adults she loves and respects are Making Difficult Adult Decisions: why does Shalua sacrifice her life? why aren't Vincent and Lucrecia together when they appear (from a child's view) to love each other? Thus, when Shalua (randomly or not) asks Vincent to look after Shelke, I am 100% willing to argue that it is representative of a finalfantasy-complex father-daughter relationship (albeit a product of Lucrecia's memories and, if I remember correctly, Grimoire's research applied to something horrible). Anyhow, keeping Shelke in the text provides a character/plot token regarding taking responsibility for prior actions. Or, it isn't like Vincent just moves on and shoves his past in the back of his underwear drawer without consequences.  And I kind of like this because the two female POVs in Monsters get to move through their story arcs on their own accord, making their decisions because those decisions are unapologetically theirs dammit. Vince, on the other hand, thinks he's moving on and then he's told, "oh, you are now socially a father thanks to your prior associations that have created this child. so, here you go. have fun." (Yuffie more or less takes this in stride, Shelke needs to learn how to adjust to the "Other woman" who is now in Vincent's post-Lucrecia life ... very much a story about children dealing with parental remarriage once the final fantasy convoluted stuff is stripped back). It also serves as a direct link between Lu and Yuffie. Yuffie understands that having a positive attitude toward important!memories!of!dead!Lucrecia is best for everyone, herself included.

- Minor female OCs in Vincent's family - sister and mother:  OC Mother and Sister contrast with each other as very different approaches to being female and othered (immigrant family in Midgar's melting pot, originally from southeastern part of the map) ... and they contrast against Grimoire who is so very big and bold and successful and masculine versus Vincent whom I write in a male-identified but gender-whatever manner. Philosophical!Vincent thoroughly gets that gender is partially a social performance filled with societal expectations while also being partially biological and he quietly-yet-openly questions, exaggerates, and flouts the performance/expectations aspect of gender. Minor nods to Vincent's canonical prettiness and his not-particularly-masculine appearance/demeanor as something that affects how other treat him.  And this gets contrasted with Yuffie's and Lucrecia's different approaches to flouting gendered expectations. Or, one thing that Vincent, Lucrecia, and Yuffie have in common (for different reasons) is their conscious knowledge that gender is one big fucking performance, and all three of them perform -- tomboy!Yuffie (later butch!Yuffie) and quiet&pretty!Vince perform as a matter of necessity, existence, "we were born this way and this is what we do." Lucrecia, on the other hand, is a "typically" feminine woman but her gender is rubbed in her face the sexist career path she takes. Anyhow, the minor female OCs in Vincent's family (plus Grimoire) add context + contrast regarding Vincent's conscious gender performance as a POV character set against two female POV characters, much as Vince himself provides contrast to the kinds of gender performances Yuffie and Lucrecia consciously make. Sorry if that sounds convoluted. 


The point here is that a wide variety of contrasts regarding femaleness are working their way into Monsters which makes the Tragedy of Lucrecia so much LESS about the t.r.a.g.e.d.y and far more about women making decisions and then, after decisions are made, things happen and then more decisions need to be made. Wash Rinse Repeat.  (Or, women make decisions, things happen and Vincent either watches or is affected and makes decisions of his own, and then women make more decisions.)

I mean, the problem with the Tragedy of Lucrecia is that when it hyper focuses on her, either she is a tragic victim of circumstances (not very agentful and really not very interesting to me either), or she is the crystal jesus savior forever loved by a mopelord (*cough* objectified by vincent and self-fridged and... ugh, plz stop, kill me now before the tropes kill me), OR she is that hated "cock-tease" whom male gamers sling insults at for the ways in which she makes Vincent look like a "pathetic" "friendzoned" boy (..........don't even get me started on this bullshit........), OR she the "hated other woman who stole vin-vin's precious heart" which is a giant ball of female shipper jealousy nope as far as I'm concerned.


On one hand, there is a double standard here in that we can have tragic stories about tragic male characters and people just accept the tragedy as GOD GIVEN LITERARY GENIUS. 

But on the other hand, that allows tragic male characters to just exist without exploration or explanation. The only explanation is : has cock, allowed to exist. 

Frankly, lack of exploration doesn't make for good fiction.

So, this double standard is a blessing in disguise because the amount of work in making one possible satisfying story (emphasis on ONE asin one of many possible satisfying stories) out of the tragedy of lucrecia is, actually, quite rather pleasing from where I sit.

Yes, the spot light isn't shining on her and only her. In fact, in the current outline, her POV takes over only 4 of 20 chapters (currently 5, 9, 12, and 15). But her presence is in nearly every chapter, either through undead!Vincent's memories, Turk!Vincent's POV in those chapters, Yuffie's unabashed fascination/interest with Vincent's stopped-clock undeadness and monster-hostness (mostly earlier in Monsters), and Yuffie's interactions with the science side of the story (the later parts of in Monsters). So, Lucrecia is all over the story even when her POV (+ Turk!Vincent's POV only take up) a portion of the text.

In Monsters, what Lucrecia does has consequences and who she is matters. What she does literally shakes the world, but in the end, she gets something she wanted: she'll go down in history books as a paradigm shifting scientist who was proven correct in her reasoning for why a human consciousness fused with chaos acts as a fail-safe in the chaos-omega weapon system when the system is incorrectly triggered, which saves the planet and makes people sleep safer at night? (I guess. I mean, it is dramatic!cape-swishing!vince, but, hey. we can sweep that detail under the rug.) The point is that not only was her scientific theory correct, the application of her theory actually *worked*  (just ignore the dramatic cape swishing... or try not to laugh... or just be happy that yuffie's warped sense of awesome only has heart-eyes for the laughably dramatic planetary weapon system fail safe.)

Lucrecia's other consequence in Monsters is that her involvement in Vincent's life and her intervention in Vincent's almost!deadness actually doesn't result in forever alone mopelord (which would make vincent less human, potentially less attached to life, even more cynical than he already is,, and potentially dangerous when bound to chaos-omega, thus the ultimate tragedy of her work, which is an interesting story in its own right, but not this one). Vincent, Yuffie, and Shelke -- all victims of Shinra -- find what they need in each other, which keeps all three of them far more grounded. At least for now. After all, Vince is the immortal one. Whether or not Yuffie successfully teaches him to embrace the nowness of life no matter what century he is living in is left ambiguous in Monsters (on purpose). 

I'm still trying to decide how I feel about my series of decisions that led me to split the Tragedy of Lucrecia across an interwoven Lucrecia/Vincent story and a Yuffentine story. I suspect the readership will see this more as a Yuffentine tale merely because that is where the "success" and the "present" is, although Monsters!Yuffie is rather fascinated with the Lu/Vince side of things (in her own quirky way). 

I see the whole thing, from beginning to end, actually being about Lucrecia/Science. So, idk. Lucrecia/Science begets Chaos!Undead!!Vincent who is shaped by the enormity of Lucrecia/Science? And by pure happenstance, Chaos!Undead!Vincent is exactly what Yuffie is looking for, so that is the "love story" side plot??????  idk.  (meanwhile, the more traditional surface-level love/sex/romance tension in Monsters happens very clearly and directly in the Lucrecia/Vincent arc, whereas the Yuffie/Vincent story is literally the quirkiest WTF companionship story that slowly reveals itself as two people who refuse to quit/leave/reject each other. 

And .... there it is.  


(but, yes, the story is filed with vincent lost in his mope-thoughts and people doing things that are painfully "people being people."  Yuffie (at age 16) doing inappropriate things to Vincent just to see what his reaction will be. Yuffie (age 18-19) storming in and out of Vincent's life in ways that leave everyone confused and uncomfortable. Vincent calling Yuffie's bluff in ways that really aren't all that mature or constructive. Turk!Vincent drinking himself to near alcohol poisoning at Lu's wedding and causing a catalyst of shit that ends up in Lu mercy fucking him some weeks later, which then sets in motion their affair. Lu flaunting her affair for her own purposes in order to manipulate husband!Hojo.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  ....  But people also being very tender to each other too... Otherwise they wouldn't put up with each other. Let's just say:  It's complex.)


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