What Do You Sow?

When the teachers in high school and junior high would tell us what the author of a book or piece meant when he said something I would always wonder how they knew that. Most of the stories we read were by people that were long dead. No one could have recently asked them and in some cases things are interpreted through modern look perspectives and that changes the entire meaning—take the feminist interpretation of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There’s definitely a case to be made for it, but at the time she wrote it a lot of the views used to make that case hadn’t taken hold.

I think there is something to be said about the timelessness of writing and our ability to breathe new meaning into words hundreds of years after they were originally penned. The imaginative way in which documents such as the Bible and the United States Constitution are interpreted is further proof of this. Truth of the matter is that we can’t control how people view the things we write anymore than we can control what they think about what we say.

We’ve all been in that position where we unknowingly said the wrong thing, I’m basically in that position on a nearly daily basis it seems. When you’re writing the same thing can happen. There are people who will read something and think it’s brilliant and that you’ve written so many female characters while another person will look at it and go “Why aren’t there more men in this book?”

The title here is a little deceptive because while I think it’s important to not write to offend and to treat each character as if they are a real person who thinks they’re the star of their own story, I also think that it’s important that you not worry so much about interpretations that might never get written and just write. A lot of that thematic stuff can get weeded out in post (editing) and you’ll hear about it from beta readers and other people who look over the story. The more people you get to look at it, the better.

But people are often so worried that one line here or this theme might offend someone, so they don’t write it. Usually, if you write a good story that’s offensive it will help you more than it hurts. A lot of offensive books got press for that reason and were sold for that reason, even some not so great authors have made a living off being offensive.

So don’t worry about reaping what you sow, at least not now—just worry about actually sowing something.

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Meeting Your New Characters

Since I finally took the time to finish reinstalling the important programs like Microsoft Word and Photoshop on my desktop, I decided to go ahead and do some work on the blog. There’s a new layout, nothing fancy really—just one of the predetermined layouts that the site gives you. There’s also a new page up there ^ entitled Keep Austin Safe. I’m sure you can all guess what that’s for.

If not, it’s just a preview of the first chapter of the Keep Austin Safe short story that I’ve been talking about on here forever. This isn’t how the story is going to appear in it’s final form as that is looking like it will mostly be in first person. But I felt that I needed a place to showcase this piece of writing for everyone to see.

One of the hardest bits when it comes to this short story is writing new people. I’ve written about the same set of characters for such a long time and thought of only them in terms of my story that when faced with these new characters it’s hard not to make them parallels of the characters that came before. A lot of authors and writers probably do this to some degree. Before the popular Naruto jumped what can only be describe as several sharks, there used to be some credibility for calling it a story about doubles, parallels and the bonds we make with others.

But for the characters in Keep Austin Safe I wanted to really make them stand on their own and to feel more like their own people. Some of them are meant to be foils for other characters in that same story, which is different than being a parallel, really. And at some point down the line they might actually be running into the characters from my other writing since they exist in the same world.

With my old characters, they grew over a long period of time. From around the time I was in junior high school until just a few years ago there was so much going on with those old characters. Most of it happened organically. They grew not because I was forcing them to through plot, but because I was learning more of what made someone a well rounded character. I was beginning to read more outside of my comfort zone and I was maturing myself.

This time around feels tougher somehow. It’s like being asked to come up with them all at once and write them makes them feel less legitimate even when I know they’re decent characters with interesting backstories. They might even turn out to be more well rounded than my first set of characters. There’s a lot of anxiety going into this round of writing; new characters and trying a new perspective seem to be the crux of it. But there’s other things too, small things. Like it’s so hard for me to find beta readers who just want to look over it and give their thoughts on what they read. I can ask and send it out and it seems like most people just sit on it and never give it a glance.

That’s probably a topic for another day, though. 

Now rape is a gift from God?

This is going to be a short blog, but I just caught wind of this a little while ago and I had another post I was working on that was getting nowhere. So I decided to use this as an addendum to the earlier post on sluts. This time a Senate candidate from Indiana said that rape pregnancies were something God intended to happen. This not only blames God for something that a horrible person did of their own free will, but it is an insult to rape victims everywhere and yet another way that abortion is being fought through tactics akin to burning everything down and hoping you get the problem with it.

I would believe this was more about the baby in the abortion, which is the only real argument against abortion, if there wasn’t so much slut shamming and general misogyny tied in with all of this mess.

If you’re curious to see what the candidate said and what his response after the fact was, look here. The You Tube video has mysterious vanished but good ol’ C-SPAN is there for us.

I don’t think people like Mourdock are the cause, they’re a symptom of a larger, more sinister problem engrained in our culture and the more I see said the more I realize that it will be hard to weed this out because these attitudes are really prevalent.

The Slut Problem

With all of the recent talk about a War on Women and the stuff that I discussed in an earlier post, it’s no surprise that I have run into even more bigotry toward women. This time I didn’t even look for it in the form of research or expect to hear anything but comedy.

I turned on the Foxhole radio station the other night expecting to hear some stand up comedy. For those who aren’t aware, the Foxhole is a comedy radio station on Satellite radio, it’s billed as comedy for African Americans but they play a diverse array of comedians like Bill Burr, George Lopez, and plenty of others. Anyway, I forgot that around ten or eleven at night is when they do all of their talk shows on the weeknights. So I found myself listening to The Zo Williams show (called The Voice of Reason). Normally I would have switched it off or put the iPod on or something. But I heard comedian Corey Holcomb and he’s a pretty funny guy so I’ll see what’s up.

The topic was about family and women when I first got there and the main point that Holcomb had was that women who had sex with men outside of marriage were automatically sluts and that it was these sluts that were ruining society. He went on to add the white man in along with the sluts as being the people ruining society, but he kept homing in on how sluts were ruining the family and the idea of family and that this was in turn spreading through society like a cancer.

Now let’s forget the fact that other people have opinions. We all know this is grade-A bullshit, and I’m sorry—there’s really no other word to call it—the most worrying thing about all of this is the call in response. I think both the host, Zo, and I were shocked because the lines on the phones were lighting up but all of the callers were basically agreeing with Corey. I think maybe twelve women called in and out of them all of them said that he was right. Some of them admitted to being these sluts themselves.

Corey, nothing I have to say here will change your opinion. How you feel about women is probably shaped by something you’ve gone through and while I think you’re inherently and thoroughly wrong, you’re not the one I think that really matters in this equation because you’re going to think what you think and it’s hard to change something that’s so set into a person.

But the thing I wanted to say is that the opinions of these women, that they’re whores and home wreckers and that’s all that they’ll ever be, is horrible. While many of them might be beyond the point that their opinions of themselves can be changed (the same way that some of the men out there are beyond that point with their ideals of women), my main goal is to really write something that doesn’t paint the picture of women we’re used to seeing in popular fiction.

People need to know that women are out there after more than just money and men. People need to see strong female characters who are written into plots where the author buys into a culture that treats women like second class citizens and men like they’re the only ones who can take any sort of action in a plot.

All the while we need to make sure that while we recognize the double standards, characters aren’t bound by them and that they can rise above them. We don’t need to hide the ugly part of society, but make your character about more than that. There are a lot of people out there who are more than a stereotype and there are plenty who want to read about more than that. I really believe that’s there to be tapped into.

If it teaches someone that they’re more than these names people call them or that they’re not evil just because they were born into privilege and that they don’t have to be ashamed of where they come from even better. Uplifting fiction doesn’t have to be literary and without a little action. You can draw comparisons to the real world in a lot of places.

Things to come

I decided a few weeks ago that  I needed to try a new approach to writing. Around that same time I posted on here that I needed to come up with a way to actually do a first person narrative.

That would prove to be a big hurtle and because of it I delved into the world of first person books. Of course some of my favorite books are first person, Fight Club and Prep come to mind, but at the same time I read both of those books so far apart and they were both so different from the kind of first person that I thought I needed to see that I needed to put myself into that world for a while.

So I read about five books in first person and I took some notes, I dug out my Characters and Viewpoint book by Orson Scott Card. I started taking a serious look at it for the first time in years. My mistake was thinking that I wouldn’t ever need first person. A long while back I made up my mind that I was going to be a third person writer…and nothing else.

That was the mistake of an amateur and I only wish I had learned the error of my ways sooner. I could have worked on this all that time, but now I am having to struggle for it. I am having to really fight my way into some respectable level of skill, while when working with third person I feel completely at home most of the time.

Writing is filled with lessons that I will never be done learning. I think that is part of what makes it all so exciting for me. I’m almost ready to start back up on the writing now, but there might be one thing I have to go do first. The main character of Keep Austin Safe might be getting her own blog where I make little posts and things like that. Just spoiler-lite filler that I can use to keep the character’s voice fresh in my head. There should be a link coming to that soon, if it does indeed happen.

Also, I am still enlisting the help of my best friend. Though his level involvement in the project still remains to be seen. It could range from artwork to some kind of co-author. He’s not much up for the writing part but the plotting could be something work on. I already spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off of him.

Writing the Other and diversity in writing

The people over at Writing Excuses seemed to have been timed the podcast on Writing the Other perfectly. I was in the midst of researching everything I needed to see get my main character right. And while I have only recently decided that I am going to do this in first person, I have known for a while that I needed to know more about the kind of person that I was writing and that just having a vague stereotypical woman in my head wasn’t going to be good enough. I wanted her and the other characters to ring true in this thing.

Writing the other becomes important for me as most of the people in Keep Austin Safe are unlike me in most ways.

Now for those of you who don’t know, writing the other is a phrase used to describe just that, writing anyone other than those described like you. Essentially it’s all about trying to create non-stereotypical characters from backgrounds different than your own. Sounds easy, right?

Well it’s more complex than one might think. There’s a serious lack of this in say, High Fantasy, where we have whole races of characters who seem to be exactly alike. We’re rarely shown any other representation of a Dwarf besides the typical thing, for instance (This is also a huge problem in table top gaming). A lot of the time in fantasy or High Fantasy the problem really lies with the fact that there is just one of that race in the main cast. When more of them show up their personality kind of reflects the original one.

The thing is that I decided early on, way before most of other things, that if permitted by the setting and time, I wanted to make my books diverse. I want to feature people of different sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, genders and the like. So far it’s working out well and I do my work not to shove it down your throat like some kind of lesson. But I don’t want anyone to be able to look at this work and think that someone they can relate to in some way on some level is missing.

Struggles With First Person

The majority of the books that I read, come to think of it, are first person. This viewpoint seems to be the more dominant one in modern writing because of the closeness it offers to the thoughts of the character. But it does tend to limit what the author can say about the other characters and their thoughts because everything is through the eyes of the viewpoint character.

I’m not used to writing first person, though. I’ve always thought of third person limited as my go to view point. To me it just made the most sense. You kind of get the best of both worlds. You get some of the closeness of first person without the strict restrictions. Despite what I have read most of my life, third seems to be the most natural to me.

But sometimes a story doesn’t want to be told in third person. Sometimes it’s screaming at you that it needs to be in first person. Everything in it demands first person. It’s fighting to get out of you in that way and threatening to fall apart if it doesn’t get it’s way. Keep Austin Safe is going through this right now and I think I should appease it.

The story, in my mind, should be read in first person. We should be in this girl’s head for this one, I keep thinking.

The problem is that I’ve trained myself to write one way. I’ve never really had to work on my first person because I avoid it when I feel it should be done. I’ve put too much work into this story to go and avoid it or write it in some way that it doesn’t want to be told now. So how do you relearn an instinct?

Thus far the only way I see to pull this off is to power through it. If I keep pushing, I’ll make it somewhere.