I should write SciFi

Anyone not heard of Queers Destroy Science Fiction yet?

I think it’s both a very cool, and very sad, thing.

First off: the cool. It’s not about queer characters, though they (logically) have said if they have to choose between two equally good works they’ll probably pick the one with queer characters over the one without; it’s about queer writers. Normally my opinion is that such details are wholly irrelevant. I couldn’t care less if my favourite authors are bigger into goats than Lord Byron (if you don’t get it I suggest that ignorance, in this case, is bliss), so long as they tell a good story.

But the rationale for this just plain rocks. The thing is that there are a rather vocal group of vitriolic homophobes, transphobes, people who assume bisexuals are more mythical than unicorns, etc. SciFi personalities from widely recognised fans, to authors, agents, even editors. Too, there’s this habit for the agents/editors to say things to the effect of “good story, but the queer quotient is too high”.

John Joseph Adams: It’s mostly people complaining about the presence of queer characters appearing in stories that I’ve seen, as opposed to complaining about the sexuality of the authors themselves. But of course by complaining about the sexuality of the characters, they’re telling queer authors that their POV is not welcome.
As one example, take a look at some of the lower-rated reviews on Amazon of my anthology THE END IS NIGH (http://www.amazon.com/End-Nigh-Apocalypse-Triptych/dp/1495471179/). There were several readers there complaining about the very existence of queer characters in the stories. And that’s in a book where I think literally 5 stories had any mention of queerness (out of 23). One story was political (about marriage equality), but the others just contained queer characters, yet the very presence of queer characters “destroyed” the stories for them. That’s what Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is rebelling against.
As another example: We did a Facebook “promoted post” to boost the signal about the Kickstarter. Within a few minutes of that going up, the post got comments like “No queers in my scifi please” and “Being gay is wrong.”

So, it’s a great protest of this attitude, and I love great protests. Pickets and clever chants have their place but are not, strictly speaking, positive nor always terribly powerful/effective (besides, too many slogans these days aren’t even all that clever; they need to find some old 1960s hippies to help). This is so many kinds of positive and powerful. It’s also heartening that the Kickstarter earned US$53K of its US$5K goal.

But it brings me to the sad: it’s heartbreaking that such a thing should even seem necessary, let alone show strong evidence of being necessary. Queers Destroy Mysteries or Queers Destroy Romance or Queers Destroy Westerns (okay, maybe Westerns) … no such feeling that this is a Thing (though it can be, there’re agents for Romance that won’t handle LGBT material … how rude!). Science Fiction, though?! Of all genres that should never have needed such a thing as this, SF was it.

Science Fiction is the genre that is supposed to make us ask questions, to dream, to show us a better future to strive for or warn us from a path towards a terrible one. It paints the world of the noble gentlemen heroes known as Lensmen, it gives us the bleak dystopian corpocratic UV irradiated hells of cyberpunk, the alien scapes of Star Wars … the new gospels of love and acceptance of Stranger in a Strange Land.

Too much of it, today, though is caught up in … I’m not sure what to call it and what my wife has to say about it is horribly unladylike and R-rated … if I cleaned it up and censored some of it.

I’ve said before that I adore Science Fiction (and its sister genre, Fantasy, so commonly collectively known as Speculative Fiction), and I do wish I had more SF ideas than I do. But I don’t really read much newer stuff, in fact I’m wont to not even be able to bring myself to consider so much of what is dubbed SciFi these days (and a sad proportion of Fantasy along with it) as legit; I just can’t bring myself to count these works as the same genre as Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Doc Smith, and Jules Verne. They just don’t really push the envelope of human imagination in the way that even some of the pulpiest garbage from back then could. As for Fantasy, it’s doing better, but there’s quite a bit lately that I feel has Lewis & Tolkien spinning in their graves such that we could connect them to turbines to power the world.

There was a time when the biggest names in SF, along with some of the least names in it, would look at the world and write things … oh hell, SciFi has been ill for so long … the beginning of the end was when Star Trek: TNG not only didn’t start with even a single character who wasn’t cis+straight, but never got one … we had to wait for Talia & Ivanova in Babylon 5.

I could go on like this for ages. It’s just that it isn’t only about representation, but about the fact that if our new mythology (Fantasy) and our dreams of the future have no place for women, people of diverse ethnicity, or queers … what hope have we of ever being accepted? Luckily the slack is taken up by drama & comedy, Will & Grace, and Orange is the New Black among others, take up the slack left by SF falling asleep on its job.

So, it’s cool Lightspeed is stepping up to the responsibilities of the genre, but it’s pretty shite that they have to resort to such methods as this.

Binary Isn’t

Originally posted on Whatever:

There’s a very interesting piece in Nature today about how science is making it more clear than ever that the binary nature of the sexes isn’t actually binary at all — that there are a lot of gradiations in biological sexual development, brought on not only via chromosomal differentation (the old “XX” and “XY” thing) but a host of other processes. This is how people with XY chromosomes can (rarely) get pregnant and give birth, and how a man who fathered four children can be discovered to have a womb. Biology: It’s wacky.

I don’t imagine this report will make essentialists (“There’s men and there’s women and that’s it!”) particularly happy, but then it’s not actually the job of science to reinforce people’s comfort zones — or bigotries, to be less polite about it. But I look forward to the mental two-step some of these folks will take to try to cram…

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Women in Canada can wear what they want (and that includes niqabs)

Originally posted on niftynotcool:

(Hopefully) soon-to-be Canadian citizen Zunera Ishaq has recently won a court battle allowing her to wear her niqab (a veil, worn by some Muslim women, that covers most of the face) during her public citizenship ceremony. Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Ishaq’s wish to take the oath with her face covered “offensive”, and his government is currently appealing the federal court’s ruling.

Before I offer my opinions on the matter, some background (which you can also obtain by reading the article linked above):

  • Though Ishaq wants to wear her veil during the public swearing-in ceremony (at which a large number of people and photographers are usually present), she says she has no problem uncovering her face with a government representative in private to verify her identity before taking the oath. Therefore, the wearing of a niqab during swearing-in would not be a security concern.
  • Since 2011, a law introduced by…

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(Bad) Advice for Fictional People: How to Be a Guy.

Jaye:

I fully agree with Mr Weaver’s assessment of the … ahem … advice, but would like to add that I do think it’s useful in one regard: it’s a handy checklist for making a nice stereotypical and generic western culture male. Picking & choosing up to 2/3 of those traits WOULD yield a decent societal expectation of a man & work for a throw away character’s surface gender expression. The full list can be used to get the kinds of guy “Bro Country” is about and the guys who identify with it try to emulate, but please note even here it ought to be exterior characteristics … not internal reality … of a character who will be unimportant and non-lasting.

To use the advice for its intended purpose would be a terrible and sexist idea unless you’re writing satire, parody, or other comedy.

Originally posted on North of Andover:

Today I want to talk about stereotypes in fiction.  Specifically, I want to talk about stereotypes in writing characters’ behavior.

Yesterday, I happened upon a blog post  with advice on how to write ‘realistic male characters’ — you know, fictional people who speak and behave the way men speak and behave in real life.

So… You probably already know that I’m not in favor of any pigeonholing of people — real or fictional — based on sex. gender, race, age, species… If I go on a bloggish rant when I see some fantasy story where the author says ‘All gnomes think alike and act alike’ — people who are entirely fictional — why should I have no opinion about stereotyping half of the human species in a similar way?

I’m sure the author of that article meant well and was just trying to help women who write male POV characters. Still…  There would be quite justifiable outrage if someone were…

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There are no shortcuts

Sorry for the long time with nothing but social commentary, but I’ve just not had a lot of new things to talk about.

Well, not today.

My wife, who has infinitely more patience for internet discussion forums than I (mathematicians, please feel free to correct me, but infinity is how many more times than less than nothing is something, right?), was noticing how a lot of aspiring authors, especially of an age equal to or less than our own (she was born 1980 & I 1981) seem to think there’s a secret formula to a) turn whatever idea they have into a novel & b) for it to sell.

Well, I’m here to tell you absolutely free that yes such a formula does exist!! [Try to imagine that sounds a bit like the twin sister of that bearded guy on all the infomercials]

A) Sit your arse down (you may stand if desired, but it’s liable to get uncomfortable and awkward), put letters together until they form words, put words and punctuation together until they form sentences, put the sentences together until they make paragraphs, those you’ll group into chapters, and finally you gather you chapters into a novel (advanced authors can group novels into series).

B) Put it out there, and don’t give up.

That’s all you can do.

Yes, if you want to write something as, largely, ephemeral as a Harlequin Romance there’re formulae to follow and it will turn you out a cookie-cutter story quickly and you can usually get Harlequin Press to buy it. Not knocking it, for one thing some really phenomenal authors have written that kind of thing, and some if the greatest Western & SciFi stories were that. But those authors took the formula in hand and, pardon the expression, made it their little bitch; it followed them, rather than the other way around. It set the parameters of the story, but they still has a story to tell.

There’s no special trick that will guarantee you’ll finish the thing, except not giving up.

Outlines? No, I couldn’t even outline my finished work if my life depended upon it, let alone something I haven’t written yet; I don’t really have the faintest clue how. You can try it, if you like, some authors dig it and others hate it, and still others (such as myself) are mystified and intimidated by it.

Character questionnaires? They’re fun, the better of them can possibly be a handy reference tool, but remember that you probably couldn’t fill one out completely for yourself and six friends and, even if you can, you probably won’t have an accurate picture of any of you … so they shouldn’t be your alpha and omega of characterisation.

It doesn’t matter if you sit down with Pantera at decibel levels that would shame Grand Funk and a Big Gulp full of Jamesons, lock yourself in a sound proof room with incense, try to use a laptop while sitting zazen, or spend the day on the London underground with a BIC writing on Kleenex. It’s just got to work for you. You probably shouldn’t ritualise it over much or you’ll find yourself so caught up in ritual that you lose track of ideas; really, that spark of inspiration isn’t going to wait while you to fire up the Yanni CD, brew that special herbal tea, paint your toenails, take a bath, and chain the family and neighbours in your basement (yes, I’m sort of making fun of a few people from a thread on NaNoWriMo).

There’s no secret to making it a great story, either. Doesn’t matter if you wrote it in one draft or fifty (though excess drafts can lead to a too sterile narrative, but excess is a relative quantity), it doesn’t matter if you go over it with a fine toothed thesaurus or strip out every scrap of descriptive language, axe murder every adverb or add fifteen to every sentence. None of those tricks you find touted are a magic solution. Some help in certain genres, some work for certain types of writing (non-fiction, scripts, etc.) because, contrary to a new popular attitude, writing is not the same across all things. What is necessary to ensure accurate and logical textbooks is useless to a novel, what helps keep a short story streamlined can ruin a script, and so on. All that can make a story great is a mix of perception from the reader, talent of the writer (yes, there’s such a thing as talent, and all the piano lessons & practice in the world will no more turn you into Bach than all the writing exercises in history will make you Rudyard Kipling), and some stories are more liable to resonate with people than others (according to someone, Pat Rothfuss I think, that’s going to ultimately be the human heart in conflict with itself).

As for selling it? Well, you’ll never sell what never leaves your hands (literally and metaphorically). Whether you self-publish or traditionally do so, you have to try.

There’re things that help.

First off, yes, having written the current popular formula … assuming you haven’t finished in a saturated market that is beginning to reach critical mass and be transitioning to something else. If you like the style of story, fine. But I suggest you not write it just because it’s what’s selling right now … not unless you’re an experienced writer who can knock out a clean manuscript to shop to an agent or to post to iBooks in only a month or three, because you’re unlikely to finish while it’s still In.

Secondly, don’t get discouraged. Remember, it took a long time for the Beatles and J K Rowling to get a contract. They both could wallpaper a room with rejections. If you’re self-publishing … remember that, by and large, people don’t read. Even NYTimes Bestsellers might only have got a thousand sales, and they probably had the help of ads that cost a couple thousand dollars each.

Thirdly, don’t give up. Taking down a story that isn’t selling isn’t going to sell it any better. If it ain’t costing you to offer it, don’t remove it. If you’re traditionally published … try talking to your agent to see if they can help you get some better publicity or something.

Finally, edit. Self-published especially, since you’re not going to sell very well if you’ve a book out that looks like it was written by a schizophrenic toddler with Tourette syndrome, but even if you plan to submit it to an agent/publisher it’s not going to impress them to look at a garbled parody of English (or French, Portuguese, or whatever you wrote it in); they’re buying your writing, not your glorious idea … besides, even if they love the idea, they’ve got to be able to find it inside all that text, and they can’t do that if it’s unintelligible.

One trick that does really help, though: read. Doesn’t have to be the genre you’re writing in (might even help not to be, but that depends on you), but read. The kind of writing does matter, it does no good to read novels to learn to be a poet, but beyond that just read for the simple pleasure of it. Don’t pull the story apart like some literature class assignment looking for themes and plots and cheeseburgers and … buggered if I know, I was never lying when I said I paid all but no attention whatsoever in my literature classes … just read. By doing so you’ll, the same way a child learns to speak by listening to people around her talking, you’ll start to get an idea how to tell a story.

Really, if the only thing you’ve ever read is a book about how to write (or books) it’ll show. There’ll be something unnatural about it to those who can’t spot the signs, and the rest of us can probably damned near say which writing manuals you used.

Stephen King, American author best known for h...

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

― Stephen King

Writing, like life, can’t be hurried and still maintain quality. Kraft Easy Mac might only take a minute in the microwave, but is it really anywhere near as good as the stuff your nana made from scratch with three kinds of real artisan cheeses and homemade pasta? Probably not, unless nana was real shite in the kitchen. And, unlike the Easy Mac which, news flash younger readers, used to take something like five minutes, there’s nothing much that can speed up writing except, maybe, spending time you could otherwise be writing doing exercises in Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. So, if you never want to be better than mid-list (if that high) forget about shortcuts, forget about tricks, forget about anything except what it takes to keep your story moving, your fingers on pen/keyboard, your characters from wandering off to play strip poker, and so that you can remember that Bridgette has curling green hair now because of that spell that backfired in the third chapter.

And seriously, folks, who besides Dean Wesley Smith actually ever wants to be known for churning out literary Easy Mac?! (don’t ask).

An open letter to lawmakers

To those who govern and those who make legislation,

What purpose does it serve you to discriminate against those whom you are sworn to serve? Or to encourage and support those who would do so?

First of all, your oaths of office are to serve your states, counties, countries, cities … not select portions of it, but all of it. Seems to me, you’ve an obligation to all of them, minority or not, rich or poor, LGBTQIA+ or not, it doesn’t matter.

Then there’s the simple fun fact that you’re an elected official. Seems to me that running on a platform of hatred, oppression, discrimination, etc. may help in the short run, if you can stir up enough of one crowd and hope more of them can get to the polls (or somehow discourage the rest from making it to them) than those whom you’ve just campaigned to alienate. Once in office you have to hope your vitriolic efforts don’t push too far and alienate even those who once supported you.

Most importantly, it’s just self destructive. What good is it to legislate or govern a state that is destitute? What worthwhile businesses will a state, city, county, country, or what have you attract if that place is doing all it can to tell people they aren’t welcome here? Worse, what businesses will want to be beholden to the laws of a place that might be so two-faced as to claim to be welcoming but then is exclusionary in practice?

Businesses want the best and brightest. Most have learnt that this means accepting people for who they are so that they aren’t missing out on some brilliant individual who will help them to turn over that almighty profit. They won’t find their best and brightest in a place that drives them off, that discourages them moving there in the first place, and so on.

Alabama and other states fighting so hard to block marriage equality? You might want to stop and realise how foolish you look.

Georgia, Texas, and others trying to pass “right to discriminate” laws? Oh, you’ll attract some businesses with that, but not the kind you’re liable to be terribly proud of: places that’ll be in constant litigation over wage theft and other labour abuses looking for one less thing they can get sued for.

Uganda and other places trying to actually criminalise people being themselves? Newsflash, this isn’t the Dark Ages; we’ve broken the sound barrier and walked on the moon! Can’t we get over such archaic lunacy? Certainly not too many companies are liable to want to do business somewhere that is stuck in the 10th century.

It doesn’t just have to be sexuality or gender identity. How about women? The poor? True, if no one is treating a demographic well then you’ve nothing to worry about; but that’s not the case. When every Carolinian who can is headed to California, Vermont … or Americans headed for Switzerland, Norway …

Taxes! Your money. Where will it come from? You want people to want to stay, and to want to come. You want people to have jobs that pay them well. Conservative politicians may not have realised it, but the 19th century is over, and with it the viability of a system ruled and owned by a small elite over an enslaved majority. That can work in agrarian societies, feudalism or its analogues, but today that just won’t fly. What makes money isn’t pigs and corn, chickens and beets … it’s money, it’s commerce. Industry, even, in the end is commerce.

Commerce doesn’t work if people haven’t jobs. Jobs are worthless if there’s no money. Do you really think it wise to encourage unemployment by acting rashly?

Yes, you have constituents who believe a woman’s place is in the home and by an extension of “logic” that is more than a little meandering shouldn’t earn the same as men (and which has apparently, blissfully, started not to be argued … now it’s sticking to weird political slants), that marriage is defined thus, that [race] are God’s special ones … you’ve also constituents who believe their sofa talks to them. All of them have the right to believe that – in most democracies, anyhow, and it’s a good idea to push for it in places that don’t – but the rest of us have the right not to be subject to that by the same freedoms. I mean, barring ones where being non-Muslim is illegal, even Islamic states with the Quran enshrined in their constitution draw a line where non-Muslims aren’t subject to that holy book except where ideas overlap (e.g. No Stealin’!!). Just as you would not seriously pass legislation that sofas are citizens with rights et al you shouldn’t take seriously those who, no matter their numbers, would argue beliefs as law.

You want to legislate holy books? How about “judge not”? How about charity? How about hospitality? How about Man was made to be the stewards of this world? All of those come from the Christian Bible that so many who are fond of legislating intolerance seem inclined to cite … funny how the same ones legislate against social aid programs, environmental protections, equality, immigration … then again, those same voices do all they can to defund education; funny, the American South tried banning slaves being literate, even for a time before that tried to not let the slaves be Christian at all in order to keep them knowing about things like the book of Exodus. I suppose shouting the Old Testament to people who can’t make heads nor tails of the New Testament works, but to what purpose?

Have you a plan for what to do with these people? Certainly not hire them, even the good straight Christians are now illiterate & useless as employees beyond the most menial tasks. Not have them in your cities; you’ve done all you can to criminalise being broke and/or homeless … even if you regressed things to an Antebellum society, are you ready to live in an age of outhouses, woodstoves, gas lamps, and horsedrawn buggies? Today’s society was built by, for, and with a middle class enjoying freedom and economy for leisure … they sent their children to colleges, bought cars and computer, they watched movies, listened to radios …

No sirs, madams, and others … conservatives who want to maintain a status quo that no longer exists must, therefore, push for regression; and regression is always harmful. History teaches us this; the Dark Ages didn’t get their name from a candles shortage or some solar calamity. They were a regression from a time of high literacy, education that permitted the building and maintaining of such things as flushing toilets, hot & cold running water, widespread international (and intercontinental) trade, effective medicines and surgeries, and more. Put bluntly: for a few centuries, most of Europe had lost the fork.

Conservativism has a place. It’s good for society to have a voice that says “hold on, now, is this change good? Or is it just change for the sake of change?” Fiscal conservativism doubly so, except today’s fiscal conservatives less often ask “General/President/Congressman, just where in Hell do you expect to find the money for this idea?” and, instead, are more inclined to cut specific spending, but hand blank cheques over to other sorts … often much more expensive sorts.

It’s all related. Is it worth spending so much to defend state laws & amendments that should never have been taken seriously enough to have made it to a ballot in the first place? Defending it costs money. It’s bad press: businesses looking askance at your environment & thinking they can attract better talent elsewhere (whoops, there goes various tax & license funds). It’s that much less work for existing business (more marriages means more caterers and florists get work!). It’s that much more spent on welfare to take care of children waiting to be adopted. It’s lost spending by people who leave, never move to, or never want to visit.

It is said that evil carries the seed of its own downfall. What can be more evil than hatred, whether you choose to dress it in fancy clothes and call it discrimination or not, it is what it is. And denial of rights or denial that what is being withheld is a right is intolance, discrimination, in a word: hate.  Look at World War II Germany … perhaps, if the Nazis hadn’t been so eager to round up Jews, gays, and others it would have been they who had the first atom bombs; it was more than a few of their scientists who helped the US invent the thing, after all.

Simple point of note: history remembers Lincoln freeing the slaves, and that Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. No one knows the names of those who put the slaves in their chains, and in the Biblical story of Moses the oppressor was a villain and liberator a hero. Who is recalled more kindly? Dr Martin Luther King or Chancellor Adolf Hitler? Ghandi or Genghis Khan?

Your place in history was recorded the day people took to the polls. What role will you play in history’s narrative? Hero or villain? Saint or sinner? Healer or murderer? Bringer of peace or of war?

Maybe it’s time to look around and see that there’s a bigger world, a bigger picture, than your campaign podium and your biggest contributers, because shortsightedness could cost you personally, will almost certainly affect your children, is all but guaranteed to affect their children, and their children have no choice but to face the consequences of our actions today. Remember that Reconstruction, after the American Civil War, was a slew of rash decisions that came to a head almost exactly 100 years later.

Good day.
Ms Jaye Edgecliff

[Reblog] 7 Tired Phrases That Marginalize Trans People – And What to Use Instead

I thought this was very well said.  Yes, I discovered the article because it linked to one of my own posts but I’m reblogging it because it’s just damned good advice.  Is it advice I necessarily follow in my own daily life?  No and yes.  Not as put here, no, but I have my own version of some of this stuff.

7 Tired Phrases That Marginalize Trans People – And What to Use Instead

Person in a blue shirt with long, dark hair standing in front of a chalk board that has a speech bubble drawn on it

A few years ago, when I became a government volunteer, I had to be fingerprinted, as it is now the custom for the US to get the biometric data of everyone they possibly can.

The employee filling out my information got to a page about gender. There were four options: “Male,” “Female,” “Male Impersonator,” and “Female Impersonator.”

If it were not for my fear of the NSA, I might have pointed out to this person that, for a governmental body as intent on intelligence collection as this one, it was certainly going to have trouble gathering accurate information with those four options.

I certainly hope that everyone reading this article knows that trans people are not “impersonating” anyone.

However, many well-intentioned people simply don’t know the language that we use for ourselves. They want to treat us with respect, but they often fail because they don’t know the practicalities of how to do it.

Some may have heard that the trans community is very “sensitive” about words and are extra nervous about this as a result.

I say, though, that we aren’t “too sensitive.” That label is used to dismiss the concerns of oppressed people time and again.

Society has built a language and mentality that does not accommodate trans people or allow us to exist. We have created new language and reshaped old words to build a place for ourselves in the world.

These words work to reframe an entire language that is focused on cis supremacy. Of course, using the right language is not everything (check out Jess Ide’s article on page ten of this newspaper for a more in-depth analysis of this).  

Language is not a replacement for tangible support of the trans community. But shifting our words is an important step in shifting our ideas and actions.

These words are not the wailing of a “sensitive” community. They are tools that can bring us all closer to gender-based freedom.

Just to be clear, when I use the word “trans,” I am using it as an umbrella term for everyone who doesn’t completely identify as cis. When I use “non-binary,” I am using it as an umbrella term for everyone who doesn’t solely identify as male and female.

I know that many people’s experiences and identities are more complicated, but I’m using those words as shorthand in this introductory article.

I also want to acknowledge that I am only one person in the trans community. I cannot speak for everyone. In particular, I want to acknowledge that my race and class privilege has likely influenced this piece, although I’ve tried to mitigate it.

I’ve done my best to make this list inclusive, but many others might have more to add or say differently on these issues. And I absolutely welcome you to comment and engage with others on this topic.

Language changes over time, space, and culture/subculture, and although I have done my best to gather as much information as I can, this list is definitely not the last word on this topic. If you are trans and have more to add, please let me know! (Continue reading on @evrydayfeminism)

When in Doubt, Go with Sweetness

Originally posted on Eye-Dancers:

Ideas can strike writers at any time, and often without warning.  They can frustrate and baffle, but they can also give us wings as we soar aloft, above mountain peaks and green, lush uplands where our imaginations roam unhindered.  In short, ideas can be magic.

uplands

But what if, after the initial euphoria has worn off and you step back to examine your idea with the cold, hard light of objectivity, you realize that it’s not a perfect fit for a particular market; it doesn’t neatly fall into a trendy category; it doesn’t reflect what’s on the bestseller lists or the prime display shelves at the local bookstore.

bestsellerlist

Even so, you can’t deny that you feel genuinely excited about the idea, the scope, the characters you can create that will populate the pages.  You feel a connection to the project.  It’s a story you feel meant to write, and you know…

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Beautiful characters

Have you ever noticed how often the characters of our novels and stories are beautiful?

What I find fascinating is, sometimes, they aren’t or at least aren’t explicitly described as such – we merely assume they are.

I think this has to do with escapism and romantic notions.

Too, I think it’s down to perceptions.

Now, it’s no good talking about the ruggedly handsome specimen of masculine archtypicality John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom.  I suppose there are reasons we could, he’s described in pretty fair detail so we could make and reject all manner of philosophical debates about it; especially since it’s never explicitly stated he’s supposed to be remarkably handsome, only the kind of handsome that comes from being a healthy and fit human with self-confidence.

I’m going to use my own writing for this, though, because they’re my characters so I know them intimately.

Sally, Lauren, their friends:  are they beautiful?

Oh sure, Sally describes Lauren as quite gorgeous repeatedly.  Thing is … is she a reliable narrator?  Most descriptions wherein Lauren is any remarkable beauty are (… wait for it …) from Salencia’s point of view!  Sally’s biased.  For one, Sally loves redheads.  Why?  Dunno, she just does.  My high school girlfriend was a redhead, and I’ll admit she had a certain charm, and my wife certainly loves my red hair, and for that matter a lot of women I know (men too, come to think of it) … I suppose it’s something about redheads.  Still, no one else describes her as beautiful beyond circumstantial points or when talking about her spirit and personality.

Lauren is not ugly, I would imagine, no.  Simply put it is hard not to be attractive when you are healthy, fit, and take a certain measure of care in your choice of hair and clothes not in regards to societal expectations, but rather in regard to what suit both your body and your personality.  Suffice to say, I do not have either the face shape nor personality to pull off a Pat Benatar or Joan Jett look, on me it’d be unattractive whereas on them it’s bloody stunning.  She is what she is, a petite redhead with freckles, and a demure hippie fashion sense, and the musculature of a dancer; she’s healthy, she’s trim … and it’s important to note that healthy is specific.  You can work out to the point of unhealthy, all muscle is not actually any better than all fat with regards to your overall health.  If coppertopped pygmies are attractive to you, then yes, Lauren is quite beautiful, but if you’re not into that then she generally falls into the realm of “cute”.

Sally, on the flip side, does trend toward more universally beautiful.  To each her own, not everyone digs the exotic skin tone, dark hair, etc.  But on general terms, while Lauren probably wouldn’t have much of a modelling career, Sally could.  She’s something between 5′ 6″ and 5′ 8″ (167 – 173 cm), proportioned like Shakira, with lots of leg, and features reminiscent of Aishwarya Rai (especially with regards to her hair); Sally could model pretty successfully (well, if she had the personality for it).

The rest actually aren’t described.  They’re as pretty or ugly as you’re comfortable picturing.  Though from my point of view the characters are all fairly attractive in that generic way that comes from good health.

I mention this because it’s an odd criticism that comes up about fiction, that the characters shouldn’t always be so spectacularly stunning to look at.  On principle, I agree.  I mean, Bilbo Baggins isn’t supposed to be some playboy with all the lady hobbits fawning over him, and maybe that puts an important detail into his character.  I also agree that some fiction goes too far and … just peruse some of the not-so-good fanfiction some time for easy access to an example (though the gods know there’s plenty of it on store shelves too).  Romances … okay, they’re given some leeway, for one thing they’re probably narrated from a POV that, like with Lauren, tends toward a bias, the rest is just tradition … for whatever reason, we’re happier with Westley and Buttercup than we are Miracle Max and his wife (whose name utterly escapes me now, even though she has one in the novel).  Still, I think, if we look strictly at the text as given, we find more cases where the characters aren’t especially pretty nor especially ugly; generally the heroes are going to need to be healthy and fit, so a measure of attraction comes with that, but beyond it … I think a lot of character beauty is perceived, not narrated.

Verity Price, for example?  Is she a Sally or is she a Lauren?  She’s in really good shape, and depending how you like the look she cultivates, you could probably go either way; but the real point is … nothing explicitly says one way or the other.  My vote is more of a Lauren.  Dominic, however, is more of a Sally.  He’s got the muscular Fabio-esque euro-hottie vibe turned up to 11 … well, until he talks, anyway.  (see: Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue Light Special.)

Now, to prove that it’s not always just the men who get to be the supreme hotties.  Let’s look at Barsoom.  Dejah Thoris is, admittedly, not explicitly described possibly to keep her look more timeless, since within Burroughs’ lifetime the epitome of feminine beauty had shifted a few times before he wrote that book.  Still we’re given enough to agree with his assessment, and little enough to fill in the blanks with our own opinion – in short, Dejah Thoris is the most beautiful woman on Mars both because you’re told she is, and because she’s put together in the right way to somewhat ensure this.  Our good gentleman, John Carter, on the other hand is described in detail.  Yeah, he’s got a lot of dashing hero tropes, so he’s going to be handsome in that fit fighting man kind of way; but he’s also described in rather generic terms.  He could be any of our brothers, fathers, sons, etc. if they only had spent so much of a lifetime relying on the strength of both their wit and arms to keep them alive.

What’s the point?  Why does it matter?

I’ve wondered that too, somewhat.  Why should it matter if there’re characters with crooked teeth, or characters with perfect teeth?  Both sides, in other words, confuse me.  Why are describing teeth unless it’s important?  At that point, they’re perfect or crooked based on the dictates of the character.  And, I’m sorry, but some people’s teeth grow in quite neatly without orthodontia (which, I might add has existed since the mummies were still being entombed in Egypt) so a pre-modern character can still have perfect teeth (just now you’ve a reason to mention it).

I don’t understand this idea of forcing “unattractiveness” on characters as some kind of Thing.  This idea that making all the characters flawless beautifies as some kind of Thing is equally strange.  Why can’t we just make characters people?  More importantly, why do we need to describe the characters in such tedious detail that the only explanation of why would have to be that we’re jumping up and down going “look! not conforming to unattainable standards of beauty!” or “lookit how pretty (s)he is!!”.  Oh, yeah, sometimes you gotta if the bloody point is how (un)attractive the character is.  But must you do so for everyone?

I’m starting to sidetrack myself with rambling.  Simply put:  who cares?!  Why should we care?  Lauren an Sally only need to be pretty to each other everything else is just decoration; Sally being so remarkably pretty was because that’s what she looked like when she popped into my head as a character … maybe I’d been looking at a lot of Bollywood and Tamil actresses at the time or something.  I mean, I don’t think it’s good writing to have every character be this flawless thing nor the opposite.  I also just don’t agree with everyone thinking someone is oh-so-gorgeous/ugly.  Even people who are considered “classic beauties”, in other words they fit the biological mould of healthy, good genes, fertility/virility, etc. like Marilyn Monroe, Aishwarya Rai, Chris Hemsworth, and Clark Gable aren’t universally adored as beautiful.  Some people really just have a thing for this hair colour or that, for darker or ligher skin, etc.  Also, Rodney Dangerfield was nothing much to look at, but as I recall the man was married and had children … clearly someone dug something about him, probably even found him attractive.

“Darling, did it ever occur to you that, if Salencia had a six foot nose covered in warts and no teeth and a squint and a great big hairy mole in the middle of her forehead, if you loved her then you’d still see her as beautiful? You’d see past the … mess to the person and heart inside and suddenly … well, very few happy and loving couples don’t think one another beautiful, quirky old songs notwithstanding.”

Excerpt From: Jaye Em Edgecliff. “Love or Lust.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/0Qu1N.l

Extremism.  It’s rarely good; not never or that’d be a paradox and therefore nonsense.  We should stop criticising works for having characters who are beautiful or not, and start looking at criticising the works that put big flashing neon signs over it needlessly.  Not even for the act itself, but rather for the sloppiness and laziness that it embodies.  Believe me, I’ve rarely met a story that was explicitly trying to make people stunning or hideous that wasn’t just all ’round badly written.  When telling a story it’s down to that balance thing.  Like Show vs Tell – sometimes you should have one, sometimes the other, generally a bit of an ambiguous blending of the two.

A Twit … in more ways than one

Murdoch is such an arse.

Rupert Murdoch thinks all Muslims should apologise for terrorism. So on behalf of white people I’d like to apologise for Rupert Murdoch.

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