characterization


I just started lesson five on the How to Think Sideways class (lesson six is up but I’ve been slow). This lesson … mind-blowing. If you can imagine tapping into your subconscious for all the things that motivate you, then putting THAT into your writing on a conscious level … it’s incredible.

I have two great ideas for stories from lesson 4, but I’m going with the SF one (any surprise?) because I can do a better job on this without a ton of research — I’ll need some (know someone who curses in Chinese?) but it’s set in Los Angeles and that’s a place I already know.

Click the box at the top of the sidebar on the right there for more information on the course, or you’re welcome to ask about it. I’ve gotten my money’s worth already and I still have the rest of the year to go.

Going back to the beginning of this rendition of this mess, I have to say: just like I would not go to an auto mechanic if my chickens were sneezing, or to the farm store if my car won’t start, it does not make sense to me that I would, were I looking for resources on writing about people of color, go to a white person. The basic premise is fucked, even before you add the baroque levels of fuckedness that have accreted over the last couple of months. I don’t think that’s a lesson that a white woman should be trying to teach the internet.

— LiveJournal user Serrana, about the current race debate over on LJ

Which is an astute comment.

Makes me wonder if I’ve been a little too enthusiastic in “showing how it’s done”. Because I’m pretty white myself.

So if I’ve said anything offensive I hope someone tells me so I don’t do it again.

I should be writing my NaNo right now, but I need to explore this first. Maybe it’ll be of some literary interest.

A friend’s situation has me thinking about bitterness. Everyone gets bitter about some situation at some point in their lives. Not everyone overcomes it.

Hannah in the first book of my Freedom series illustrates that (and in some ways this friend’s life parallels hers, although it’s not about him by any means; I had already written it when I met him)

What came to me this morning: bitterness is always justifiable. Unless you’re just paranoid, someone did hurt you, and you can’t do anything about it (otherwise you’d be angry instead, and take action). So the knee-jerk reaction someone always gives when they’re called on their bitterness is, “well, look what they did!”, with the implication that you’re either unfeeling or judgmental or both.

Yes, that’s it, isn’t it. The focus is on what they did, and while certainly you can be bitter about it (since you can’t change things), the real question (to paraphrase Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park) is not whether you can, but whether you should.

But we all know this, which causes the angry rebuttals when we’re called on it. Lord knows I’ve verbally backhanded enough well-meaning ex-friends to recognize that, and thank God I’ve managed to let go of a lot of it, through various means.

You have to Let. It. Go. Because the other thing about bitterness is that it seeps into other areas of your life, poisoning things that should make you happy, altering your view of people, leaving you cynical, aging you, ruining your physical and mental health.

This doesn’t apply to my friend as yet, but imagine a fictional character who continues along this road. There’s certainly potential for a story here, and gives me some insights into Hannah. They say when the time is right the teacher appears.

Been real busy lately, what with school coming to a close and the garden ramping up. It’s satisfying to be able to literally put food on the table (that you grew yourself).

I got a rejection on “Kythera”, and sent it out again. Been doing an interesting class on FM, studying openings to novels and having the others in the class analyze your own.

Also working on a fantasy novel crit for a friend. Put up “Heart of a Demon” for crit on this new short story crit circle I joined, also on FM. Love that place.

Anywho, that’s what’s been happening here. What’s up with you?

Double Consciousness is hosting an Erase Racism Carnival, which led me to write this. Here’s why.

Two years and change ago, I wrote my first novel. While I was trying to edit it, I realized that my protagonist was severely prejudiced towards the majority (this is set three hundred years in the future; the majority happen to be psychic). This got me thinking about prejudice issues, and my research led me into racism (our majority issue) and how it affects people.

Over the last two years I’ve had my pale butt handed to me more times than I care to count, but in all this I’ve learned a few things. Namely, a start on how you as a white writer might not get it wrong.

(If you’re not white, please drop a note as to what I got right/wrong. I’m still learning.)

This is why you get it wrong:

1. Your prejudice hurts people. It hurts your writing.

When you believe all Blacks are poor criminals, all Asians are super-smart kung-fu masters, all ‘Hispanics’ (a loaded term in itself) are lazy or illegally here, then your actions will follow. Clutching your purse or wallet when a certain race person walks past, putting too high (or too low) expectations on a young child, denying someone a job or refusing to welcome them to your home … when you turn that around and imagine it done to you or your children … it hurts.

And it hurts your writing. When everyone in your stories are white, when the only ‘ethnic’ person dies in the first third, when you write racial stereotypes or make the villain ‘dark’, your prejudice shows. You lose readers. Your stories don’t ring true to life.

“But I don’t do that!” you protest. “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race, I just treat everyone the same!”

2. Your privilege blinds you.

What is white privilege? You can look at that link (or Google it), but the basic idea is that in America, if you’re white:

  • you don’t have to prove you’re a good person
  • you were preferentially treated by everyone from your kindergarten teacher on
  • you don’t have to think about race, because being white is a given.

The word privilege trips people up. I can hear you now … “But I earned everything I got! I waited in line like everyone else! No one gave me anything!”

The problem is that you don’t know your history. Do some research.

I said your privilege blinds you. Meaning that you don’t see it, by definition.

If you say that you don’t see race (aka ‘colorblind’), you are not only avoiding your own feelings on the matter, but you’re saying that this person in front of you is really just a white person with dark skin.

Would you like it, white person, if someone said you weren’t a white person, just a black person with light skin? It would negate your upbringing, your culture, your whole experience and life up to now. It would say you were lying about who you are.

That’s the other pitfall in ‘colorblind’ — it blinds you to what makes a person of another race unique. You’re just as handicapped as a person who’s literally blind. Perhaps more so, as yours (and mine — I don’t claim to be over this) is a handicap of the mind.

Read the links I’ve provided, they’re a good start. Then start reading blogs you don’t normally read. Ones by non-white writers are a good place to start. Don’t know of any? Google is your friend.

If you’re anything like I was, you have a long road ahead of you. But just maybe when your dream of being published comes true, you won’t have gotten it wrong.

Something (which I’ll go into later) reminded me of this article:

As essential as change is to renew life, most of us resist it and cling rigidly to old survival systems because they are familiar and “seem” safer. In reality, even if an old, obsolete survival system makes us feel alone, isolated, fearful, uninspired, unappreciated, and unloved, we will reason that it’s easier to cope with what we know than with what we haven’t yet experienced. As a result, most of us will fight to sustain destructive relationships, unchallenging jobs, unproductive work, harmful addictions, unhealthy environments, and immature behavior long after there is any sign of life or value in them.

This unyielding commitment to old, exhausted survival systems that have outlived their usefulness, and resistance to the rejuvenating energy of new, evolving levels of existence and consciousness is what I refer to as the fatal flaw of character.

The FATAL FLAW is a struggle within a character to maintain a survival system long after it has outlived its usefulness.

It’s a good article; go read it.

The precipitating event to remembering this piece, though, came from a cycle from real life:

  • I take on too much
  • I procrastinate
  • As a result, all (figurative) hell breaks loose close to deadlines.

I gotta stop doing this. It’s one of my many fatal flaws, which is going to come back to bite me if and when I ever try to get a book published.

This time turned out better because this time I saw what happened and took steps to prevent the usual multi-faceted meltdown: I backed out of two things where my contribution wasn’t vital, and I quit procrastinating on the two things that only I can do.

In a week or so we’ll see if that was good enough.

Inspired by Claire’s post, here’s my top ten novels. Not my ten favorite (although many of these are), but ten that showed me what a novel could be.

In no particular order:

  1. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons. This series is both deeply disturbing and (at the end) tremendously inspirational, not to mention producing the coolest (and the most terrible) means of FTL travel ever seen in SF. I hope someday to write even a fraction as well as he does.
  2. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Many find these books (especially the latter) dry, but the depth and quality of storytelling in these works (really, one huge story) is unequaled in literature. The hobbit in me loves genealogies, too.
  3. Dune, by Frank Herbert. While I like the whole series (especially God Emperor of Dune), the first in the series is a masterpiece of weaving multiple storylines and points of view(in deep omniscent) so seamlessly that you never realize what he’s doing unless you make yourself focus on it.
  4. Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind (In the Sword of Truth series). Now, many people don’t like this series, because it’s violent, dark, and some say misogynistic. But Faith of the Fallen is flat-out inspiring. The best and the worst of human nature, and how one man, just by being himself, changes an entire city for the better.
  5. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Such brilliant writing that you never notice he’s in third person present the entire time! He foresees Google Earth, VR, and a pay-the-author eBay-style version of Wikipedia long before any of those come to pass. And it’s a hell of a fun book from page one. Where else can you get a pizza-delivery hacker wielding dual katanas, a murderous harpoonist with a nuke strapped to his sidecar, and a balkanized Southern California, all in one story?
  6. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Not just a book for chicks. I had to read this in high school, and if you didn’t get to, you should. This gal overcomes things that flatten the people around her, without dipping into pathos or making her a stereotype. Not easy, considering it was written in the 1800’s. Mystery, moral dilemmas, and gritty reality in the Dickens tradition. One of the classics for a good reason.
  7. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Psychological intrigue at its finest. Another classic.
  8. The Gap Series, by Stephen R. Donaldson. A dark, claustrophobic series (most of it takes place in space), where alliances shift from chapter to chapter and the reader constantly wonders if they’re getting (as the first book is called) The Real Story. The author has created main characters you care for in spite of the fact that they are not ‘good people’, and the creepiest, the most cold-blooded and fear-inspiring alien race I’ve ever seen.
  9. A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin. A gritty, sprawling epic fantasy, that works in spite of a multitude of POV characters on three continents, just about all who are plotting against each other. The story itself is about an entire civilization coming apart right at the worst possible time (it just occurred to me that the timing of publication might be apt). Complex, real, and filled with deeply flawed people, some of whom are doing the best they can.
  10. Tunnel in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein. The first SF book I read as a middle school student, which hooked me on SF forever.

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