August 9th, 2016


I skipped yesterday because it was the anniversary of my father's death. It's left me a bit serious, and so a series of tweets by Rose Lemberg got me thinking. She was shamed by readers for writing a particular character. They suggested that it would have been better if the character were female (because the submissiveness would have worked, perhaps) or not written at all. But the character worked within the fiction and was credible as a human being. In shaming Rose for writing well, these readers shamed themselves.

What I find interesting is that some people can write characters that aren't standard and no-one even comments on it. I was waiting for people to notice Geoff's background in Langue[dot]doc 1305, for instance, but he appears to have been acceptable as a love interest and no-one has so much as commented to me that he wasn't WASP. In fact, the only remark readers have made is that they wouldn't mind meeting him. He's their kind of bloke. Given that a whole layer of this novel is about what is acceptable in society and about race, I found it interesting that no-one finds it challenging. They weren't challenged in the way Rose challenged her readers, obviously. Maybe some kinds of differences are more easily accepted by readers than others, maybe we have different readers, or maybe our writing means that the characters are presented differently and mine is easier to accept. I suspect it's more writing styles than anything else ie that they're the root that leads to consequences of various types. I also think that the country one is writing in makes a significant difference,. I wasn't depicting my characters using US categories, so they didn't fit within those clear parameters. This means that different readers will interpret them differently, having had apparently less guidance from me on what to think ('less' in the instance being guidance suiting my particular Australian background). I think this because so many readers have come back from reading my story 'Impractical Magic' and thought my King of Demons had light skin, even though I'm very clear that he doesn't. He's a good guy with a sense of humour and so some readers lighten his skin. I find this depressing but interesting.

A third category (counting Rose's and my work as representing the first two) comes up when a writer very self-consciously pushed a political barrow. We all do, I think, when we write these things, so these categories overlap, but some people push the barrow in public and make a big fuss about it. My worry then is how much they're doing to change things and how much of it is to get attention as a person who is rather clever. Some writers push the barrow and also do the groundwork, and the results can change things. Too many writers don't do the groundwork. Their novels are much easier to read, then, because they've really got standard cultural, religious, gendered or/and sexual backgrounds couched in non-standard terms. The results of this are mixed. (I'm not going to name writers here, because last time I did so I got myself into trouble and I really don't like trouble!) I really hate it when someone with a barrow unintentionally reinforces negatives, however, and makes it easier for people to hate. To me this is unprincipled: fame being more important than social conscience. I would rather writers who don't want to challenge society's norms admitted it and just told good stories.

I have a lot more thoughts on this (of course I do) but to explore them means to get into trouble. I'm very much not in the mood for trouble. What I'm thinking about today, though, is, basically, how complex things are when one starts moving away from standard background for characters. Looking for simple outcomes is not a wise path. Once the complexity is accepted, however, I think amazing things can happen. That's a discussion for another day, though.