Fridging versus The Grieving Widower merits the subtitle: The Troublesome Pattern of Killing Off Female Characters.
We writers know that the only thing as fun as creating a character is killing one off. Here I’d like think about what we’re doing when we’re killing off a character, especially a female character.
What is Fridging?
The term ‘fridging’ was popularized by writer Gail Simone in 1999 through her website Women in Refrigerators. There she cataloged all the women characters in comic books who had been killed or maimed in some gruesome way. And the term references an incident in Green Lantern #54 (1994) where the villain has killed the Green Lantern’s girlfriend and stuffed her into a refrigerator for Our Hero to find. See title image.
Fridging serves two purposes:
First, it kickstarts the revenge plot; and
Second, it creates instant sympathy for the hero.
Over time the term has come to reference lazy writing. An easy grab at an overused trope, thereby cheapening both the hero’s anger and his girlfriend’s life.
Needless to say male comic book writers have been doing most of the fridging.
I thought of this term in the context of a romance novel I happened to read today.
The Grieving Widower
The romance writer’s version of fridging is killing off a hero’s wife before the start of the story. Such was the case in the romance I read today.
Bottom line: I liked the story. It had solid intrigue, two interesting main characters with good chemistry and nice historical details from early 18th-century Scotland. So I was happy. However, since I’m going to wonder about the grieving widower aspect of it, I don’t think it’s fair to name the title or the author.
The hero is everything you would want in a hero. And so as the story unfolded I started to wonder, “Why? Why did the author make the hero a grieving widower?”
Not only did he lose a beloved wife, he also lost his 3-year-old son at the same time. Their deaths happened in wartime conditions the hero learns about only after the fact. And for which he was not to blame …. But nevertheless does blame himself, as if he could have/should have anticipated those particular conditions.
Furthermore, those conditions are not relevant to the plot. That is, they do not generate any action on the part of the hero. They serve only as the cause of his distressed emotional life to which the reader has access, although he keeps his emotions to himself – as a hero would.
To answer my question “Why?” I came to the conclusion: the hero’s backstory exists to create instant sympathy for him and to show he’s capable of deep and abiding love.[For more advice on writing characters in your story, visit my complete guide for writing a book.]
Is this lazy writing?
I don’t have a definitive answer to the question.
I’ve created heroes who were widowers.
Simon’s Lady is a medieval. Simon is a perfectly happy young-ish widower. His emotional life is ungoverned by women until Queen Mathilda forces him into an arranged marriage with a woman he does not understand but falls hopelessly in love with.
Love After All is a contemporary. Gino is a widower in his 50s whose emotional life is no longer dominated by grief but who, after he meets Laurel, must confront the question:”Can I fall in love again?”
The young widower is a statistical anomaly and a one-time Hollywood fantasy. The Sound of Music (1965), Love Story (1970) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) come to mind. But, at least, for a medieval, young widowers were more common. (Step-mothers in fairy tales suggest a high rate of maternal death.)
The mature widower in a contemporary is a product of what happens over the course of a long life.
My overall point: when creating a backstory for your hero, be very clear why you are making him a widower. Avoid any whiff of lazy writing.
Final note: Nineteenth-century writers, choreographers and composers killed off their female characters with stunning consistency. In the end: Balzac’s Madame Bovary eats rat poison, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina throws herself onto the train tracks, Adam’s Giselle dances herself to death, and Puccini’s Tosca flings herself from the battlements (well, no one makes it out of that opera alive). Why so many tragic heroines?
See also: All My Writing Tips
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen