Weight-Loss Narratives and Why They Can Go Die in a Fire

I don’t really see much about fat* characters included in diversity discussions–and that’s understandable and totally cool with me when you consider that there are much larger (no pun intended) gaps in diverse representations in publishing such as race, sexual orientation, and disability. Excellent discussions for diversity in books can be found here, here, and here.

However, fat representation is something I can speak to from experience because I’m a fat woman and was a fat teenager and a fat child.

The topic is broad, and so it’s likely I’ll return to it again. For today, I’ll focus on weight loss narratives.


Phew. Had to get that off my chest.


Apparently I feel strongly about it.

It’s definitely a personal thing. Is there anything inherently wrong with a weight loss narrative? No. Is there something wrong with the fact that I could list dozens of books with fat heroines who have lost/are losing weight and can only think of a handful of stories with an is-fat-and-stays-fat main character? Yes. That’s where the problem lies.

It’s the prevalence of the weight loss narrative in fiction. It’s the fact that fat protagonists are seen as protagonists (rather than some kind of lazy anti-hero Homer Simpson) only if they’re virtuously trying to not be fat anymore. I call bullshit. Ideally, a human being should be no more defined by their fatness anymore than they are by their hair color.**

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

One of my all time favorite books is The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. I adore this book. Princess Elisa, the main character, is a compulsive overeater with some major hang-ups about her role as the Chosen One. I will keep spoilers to a minimum, but over the course of the novel circumstances are such that Elisa, by no choice of her own, loses much of her excess weight. It’s realistic given what she goes through. The larger problem of her self-esteem and inadequacy issues are addressed realistically too, and as a result, in the next two books in the trilogy she has “overcome” her emotional eating and never gains back the weight.

Although I love this trilogy like a “drowning man loves air” there is a stubborn part of me that wonders how much more awesome it would have been had Elisa not lost all that weight–if she’d overcome obstacles and been a bad-ass queen and also a proud fat woman. I hate to say it, but to me that would have been even better. (Not to mention that as more research is conducted, weight loss is shown to be rarely long term, especially weight loss sustained by hard living, starvation conditions like those Elisa faces in the first book).

I’ll give another example, focusing more on romance. I planned to “hate-read” Breaking His Rules by Alison Packard the other week but to be honest I rather ended up liking it. The characters were introduced previously in the series, and I knew that the heroine, Melissa, had lost fifty pounds before her story starts.  Melissa’s weight loss is a main focus of the book, and the hero, Jake, is her personal trainer and helps facilitate all the weight loss. It feels a bit stupid to criticize a book that uses weight loss to bring the heroine and hero together and still enjoy it, but that is who I am, friends.

Just like I said about GoFaT (I just noticed that GoFaT says “Go Fat” and isn’t that so, so perfect), I’m not sure why Melissa needed to lose fifty pounds. Did you know that there are people who exercise and are fit and are also fat? You can go to the gym and eat reasonably healthy and still be fat.*** The story makes it clear that Jake was interested in Melissa even before she lost the weight–which is nice, but feels a bit like lip service. If he liked her anyway…why does she have to lose fifty pounds in order to get her Happily Ever After? I would have prefered the bolder choice: a fat woman who works out on the regular with her hottie gym-owning boyfriend and doesn’t care that her size is a double digit number. As is, the book makes it clear that Melissa is deserving of love, fat or not, but of course…she doesn’t get it until she’s lost the weight.

I could list more books with weight-loss narratives, but this post is already going to be too long.

Here’s a character I would love to see much more of:

A fat woman who isn’t hung up on her weight. Who treats her weight as a feature of her body, not a defining feature of her self and character. A fat woman who dates, is happy with herself, exercises and eats right or doesn’t, but doesn’t view weight loss as the measure of whether or not she’s succeeding in life. Realistically, few fat women who grow up with today’s media do so without developing a few complexes about their bodies (realistically, very few women fat or not who grow up with today’s media do so without developing a few complexes about their bodies). But this is why fiction is great. As authors we can write about characters who are different than ourselves! We can write about worlds and people we’d like to see. As much as I love reading about characters who are struggling with the things I struggle with (like the best TV show ever)  it’s just as much fun to read about a character who should have some of the same hang-ups I do but doesn’t.

As a fat woman, I’m sick of seeing fat person representation inextricably tied to the question of weight loss (having lost weight or wanting to).  As if that is my number one goal in life. It’s not. The fact is that there are scores of fat people satisfied with their lives, who achieve their goals, find happiness and love and success all while being fat. To me it’s a moot point whether or not they’re also trying to lose weight. That’s a side pursuit that actually has little bearing on their value as human beings or their success in other areas. So why don’t we see that in fiction?

Why not a character who represents these successful, funny, personable ladies?


Image via Plus Model Magazine


Image via pitch-perfect-wikia.com


Image via fanpop

I’d read the hell out of a romance about a Melissa McCarthy-like celebrity.

Or how about stories where we see young professional women succeeding all while being fat? Or because they’re fat?

Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh

Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh

Maybe a story about a waitress who does competitive weight lifting in her spare time:

Holly Mangold (image via the NYT)

Holly Mangold (image via the NYT)

And what if a story mentioned the protagonist’s size only in the way you’d also establish that the main character has blonde hair or is one of five children? Why does being fat have to take over the story?

Examples of stories that do this really well.

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

Eleanor’s weight is definitely mentioned. I’m sure Eleanor at one point thinks about losing weight, but I can’t remember because Eleanor has other things in her life that are much more worth worrying about than her size, like finding a way to get a toothbrush, or where the family’s next meal might come from, or how to get away from her awful stepfather. Being fat isn’t even remotely the most pressing worry she has. Bonus points for Park being head over heels for her.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Tracy Turnblad’s weight is the subject of torment by mean girl Amber and her mother Velma Von Tussle–but Tracy doesn’t care. She just wants to dance! And girl is good at it, too. Bonus points galore for having several fat characters (Tracy, Edna, Motormouth Maybelle), featuring a fat character excelling at a physical talent, and for giving the fat girl a love interest.


*I am deliberately reclaiming “fat” as a descriptor, not a pejorative term. Thoughts on the “f” word are varied in the body acceptance community, but personally I’m fine with it as a descriptor.

**I choose to reference my fatness much more than my blondeness though, and that’s because my society tells me one is bad and the other is neutral good. Fat activism/fat acceptance/body diversity movements are necessary and good and I love them.

***This is a point made by the fat acceptance movement. I don’t feel the need to expound upon it here since it’s easily Googled.



How to Plot for Dummies (by a Dummy)

Our blog is called The Plotless for a reason. Not that I can speak for my co-bloggers, but plotting is the single hardest thing about writing. Characters spring out of my brain like multiple personalities come to life. Dialogue comes naturally enough. I can write a descriptive paragraph in my sleep. But plotting…it’s a wily devil. Complicating matters is the plethora of plotting methods floating around in my brain. I’ve been around the writing advice block a few dozen times. Not that writing advice is bad, but you know the saying “your mileage may vary”? Yes. My mileage is very poor. Like 1 MPG poor. Writing advice just doesn’t really work for me. I focus so much on someone else’s method as a means to avoid the hard work and copious amount of time it takes to figure out your own writing method.

With that complaint about myself sufficiently logged, I want to share the best plotting methods I’ve found plus one I’ve come up with myself.

(1) Brandon Sanderson’s sense of progression.

I’m a huge fan of Writing Excuses. Podcast host Brandon Sanderson also teaches a college writing class that I’ve taken. In both he’s spoken about his primary method of plotting; he plots using a sense of progression. It’s an interesting idea, but a little vague, you know? But when I’m reading a book I understand what he’s talking about. Having listened to more of Brandon’s advice about writing than your average human being, I have also gathered that he thinks of the most spectacular ending he can and then plots backwards. What steps will it take to get to that spectacular ending? With those milestones in place, you can then write scene to scene with the idea that your characters just need to be moving (not always forward, either. Characters aren’t always supposed to succeed. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes failures take them exactly where they’re supposed to be).

The latest Writing Excuses episode that references this plotting method here.

(2) Seven-point story structure.

Dan Wells, another Writing Excuses podcaster, gave a great presentation on this popular structure.

Part 1 of the series here.

The disclaimer here is that this method is often better used to analyze what you’ve written rather than to plot a novel from scratch…but if you’re desperate for a little structure to help your plot gel, then this is a great method. It focuses on conflicts, (the pinch, the turn, etc.) It also helps you focus on arcs, for both plot and characters, more than other plotting methods I’ve seen. Where your characters/plot end up should be the opposite (or close to it) of where they/it started.

As a lazy discovery writer who should probably be a plotter  (an explanation of pantsers vs. plotters here) I find this method interesting because it lets me think of my plot in the fuzzy way that comes naturally to my brain. It allows me to come up with twists and turns as I go. Character A is going along trying to achieve Goal A and all the sudden BAM! Conflict.

(3) The dubious plotting method of Megan Gadd.

Don’t get your hopes up that my plotting method is brilliant or anything. It’s just a nice, friendly way for my brain to approach plotting without freezing up like a deer in the headlights.

To be honest, I can never quite figure out how to pull off the Brandon Sanderson method of plotting. And the seven-point story structure always leaves me feeling like the characters are dead on the page between “points.” I desperately need my own method.

As a reader, my favorite plots are those that feel like Rube Goldberg machines. You have no idea where it’s going to end, but each step leads brilliantly to the next.

Recently I was reading a book and I could NOT put my finger on what was bothering me about it.

As it turns out, a fellow reader was able to help me out. I read a review of the novel, and in the comments someone pointed out that it had no sense of cause and effect. The characters act (an essential part of plotting to be sure) but their actions led to no consequences. Without that sense of consequence (complications or conflict) your characters might still be moving forward, but not in the concentrated, focused way that good storytelling requires. I mean waking up everyday to face normal everyday conflicts is all well and good, but it’s not that great a story, you know?

So. Cause and effect. To effect something you have to act (or choose deliberately not to act). There can be more than one effect to an action, perhaps an immediate consequence and one that comes into play down the road. I love this method because as a writer sometimes I write without an end in mind (a pantser) and sometimes I write with an end in mind (a plotter). I think this method can work for both plotting modes. A pantser can have a character make a decision and can decide the consequence on the spot. Lather, rinse, repeat, and see where that takes the novel. A plotter can use this idea to sit down and plan out the Rube Goldberg machine step for step.

This kind of chain reaction plotting sounds very linear, and I guess it is. For right now that’s how I’m going to approach my writing. As Michael Scott says to Dwight, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

NaNoWriMo is nigh and I’m excited to use this method to keep me writing every day. I’ll report back afterwards and let you know how this plotting method works out for me.

Read a Lot. Write a Lot.


“[R]ead a lot. Write a lot.” –Stephen King

*This is the Monday post you’re looking for*

Without further ado (who am I kidding? I love ado!) this Tuesday’s Monday’s post!

Continuing on a claim I made in my last post—that I’ve read 150 books so far this year—let me say that I had a reason for reading so much. Since last year I’ve been writing in the new-to-me romance genre, and I wanted to get a feel for it.

But reading so many books is expensive. Erasmus might be able to spend his money on books first, but I like to wear clothes and eat decent meals too. Over the years, I’ve come up with some ways to read a lot on a budget.

(1) The library, duh.

You might not have heard of a library, but it’s a wonderful place where you’re allowed to borrow books for free! It’s book paradise.

But seriously. I know many people who love to read and don’t ever go to their local library because the library never seems to have the books they want. If you have a little know-how and patience, you could read virtually whatever you wanted using only your library. All copies checked out? Place a hold. The title you want isn’t carried by the library? Put in a purchase request. That’s right. Depending on the library, they might go ahead and buy the book for you. (Your mileage may vary).

(2) The online library.

This option is for those who perhaps don’t have the ability or wont to go to the physical library. Increasingly, libraries offer digital media, and as with all technology, the interfaces are becoming slicker by the year. Many libraries’ online catalogs let you download audiobooks and ebooks. For example, the Provo City Library uses One Click Digital and Overdrive. I’ve used both.

Even more exciting, more and more library catalogs have “one-click” downloads that allow you to check out and download the book directly from the catalog without navigating to an external site. But even if the library catalog redirects you to an external site, the process for downloading your books to your computer is extremely easy for even the non tech-savvy.

Companies (like Overdrive, the one I’m most familiar with) are also developing mobile apps that are continually improving. Once you have an account set up (based on your library card information) you can check out and download books straight to your phone or tablet.
All for free!

(3) Online retailers.

Amazon? But this is an article about saving money!

True. I will admit that sometimes I have a hard time finding the titles I want to read at my local library (and sometimes I don’t have the patience to wait for a hold). Perhaps it’s because libraries often carry the most popular books, and I’m to the point where I’m reading in niches and subgenres that don’t make sense for the library to carry. Libraries are the best, but I’m also not averse to buying books if it supports the author. The key for me is balance. I check some out from my library, I buy some from Barnes and Noble or Amazon or wherever.

But here’s a cool idea. Go to your local library’s website and see if they have a program called Buy It Now. This is a fairly new program that some libraries have that allows you to enter Amazon’s website through the library’s Buy It Now portal. For anything you buy, including items other than books, a percentage of the proceeds is given back to your library!

Here’s an example, again from the Provo City Library.

buy it now

Full disclosure: I work for the company that developed the Buy It Now program, but they’re not asking me to pimp it. I just think it’s really, really awesome.

(4) Free ninety-nine.

Try a self-published book or a book from a small digital press.
They often cost much less than a book from the Big Six. I often buy books for as little as $0.99–if you’re braver than me, you can go for the free books.

I’d recommend taking the time to find a blogger or two you like who review indie-pubbed books in addition to books from big publishers. You’re more likely to avoid the low-quality offerings and go straight for the good stuff. In the romance genre, sites like Dear Author and Smart Bitches Trashy Books review indie-pubbed books, and through experience I’ve learned I trust their reviewers’ opinions. Some of the best books I read last year were indie-pubbed and I learned about them because of these two review sites.

For YA and Fantasy, my favorite bloggers are called The Book Smugglers. They will also occasionally review indie-pubbed books. Let me know if you can think of any others.

(5) The book round-up.

The two sites I mention above do a daily deals feature, and they nearly always include books deals for all the major online retailers and from all major and minor publishers. Even if Amazon isn’t your cup of tea, Barnes and Noble and Kobo deals are also featured. Here’s a little secret for the people in love with Amazon’s low prices—Barnes and Noble more often than not price match Amazon. If Amazon is running a great deal on a book, B&N probably is too.

(6) A final note.

For print-only readers I have fewer suggestions, and unfortunately they’re all pretty obvious. Use the library. Borrow books from friends. Swap or trade books at a used book store.

Any way you slice it, writers need to read. We need to know what is happening in our field. All writing is a conversation, and we need to know what’s already been said in that conversation so our contributions can build on the whole and add something unique.

Megan Reviews Books She Read While Procrastinating Writing Her WIP

Or, in other words, the story of my life. Since I got a full-time job, I don’t really come home after staring at a computer for eight hours and feel like staring at a computer screen for two more while I try to make a daily word count. Instead I read. Copiously. Insanely. As of August 15th, I’d read 150 books this year. While I love that I’ve read so much, both my word count on my WIP and my wallet have suffered.

Something good ought to come out my procrastination, so I’d like to do occasional book reviews/recommendations. I’ll mostly focus on the positive and only do reviews for books I loved. Plus, I imagine that I’ll tell you far more about my personal life and psyche than anyone really wants to know. What a treat! (No really. I’m super good at making fun of myself).

Without further ado:

Isla and the Happily Ever After

Beautiful cover, no? (Image via Goodreads)


The last of the trilogy, I&HEA is a gem of a novel that follows Isla and Josh (previously introduced in the first book, Anna and the French Kiss) as they go through their senior year at an American school in Paris.

Rather than summarize the plot (you can easily find that on Goodreads), I want to give an aspiring writer’s perspective. When I read the first novel of the trilogy (all featuring a different hero and heroine), Perkins’s debut, I was…swept away. Honestly. I’ve always loved romances, and I love YA, but this book went beyond genre for me. Perkins so effortlessly put me back into high school–but not the sucky parts of being a teenager (at least, not only those), but the best parts. The magic of new places, the hope you find in your dreams of the future, the elation and heartbreak of crushes and cute boys  and their amazing hair and even more amazing accents. As a reader, I was practically salivating at the story. But as a writer? As a writer I wondered how on earth Perkins managed to do that to me. I won’t say the story was unoriginal, because I think originality is kind of a red herring in discussions of quality. But at the same time, it’s a young adult romance novel. Certain elements are expected. And they were present. So what exactly did Perkins do to take this beyond cute and satisfying to OH MY GOSH WHERE IS THE NEXT BOOK to picking up the book a week after finishing it the first time and diving in for a second read?

It’s something that I think about a lot. Beyond the craft of writing there is the art of writing, and hopefully at the art of writing you’ll find the heart of writing. I read books that are technically proficient; mature sounding voice, excellent pacing, great plot, rounded characters, and I’ll walk away from it pleased–but then it’s easily forgotten once I read a few more books. But books that have a bit of the writer’s heart and soul in them, those stick with me. Stephanie Perkins’s books are like that.

I’d recommend reading the first books in the trilogy before you get to this title. They’re wonderful, but Perkins strays beyond the normal unfolding of a romance plot (they meet, conflict, first date, conflict, first kiss, conflict, etc.) and develops the love between the hero and heroine rather quickly. What follows is a conflict that turns this from sweet love story to relatable coming of age story. Yes, the others in the trilogy were also coming of age stories. What YA book isn’t? But Isla’s identity crisis feels both authentic and moving and brave. After Perkins’s blog post about moving I&HEA’s pub date back due to mental health reasons, I can’t help but read a little of the author into Isla’s fear of the future and fear of not being good at anything. Whether that’s true or not, I find it both inspiring and brave and it makes me see myself in Isla as I read. I wanted to reach into the pages and pluck that girl up right into a tight hug because I’VE BEEN THERE. I’VE FELT THAT. You can’t judge Isla for pushing away Josh when you know exactly what made her do it–because you’ve done it too. The emotional heft of this book has left me in a state of funk for a week, just thinking about it.

I know that this kind of relatable angst isn’t for some people, but a book can’t please everyone. I’d so rather see books that wear their hearts on their sleeves than books that feel like they’re simply going through the motions.

I’d recommend this book to…everyone. Okay, probably not. I’d recommend this book to anyone that likes contemporary YA or a good romance. I’d recommend this book to fans of graphic memoirs (Josh is working on his own graphic memoir) or to girls who think about the future and feel a little lost. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has loved someone with high-functioning autism (like Isla’s best friend, Kurt) or to people whose parents expect more of them than they can/want to give.

Like I said, this novel has heart.

9/10 stars.