Representation in Fiction

Yesterday was the 27th of April 2017. That probably isn’t important to many of you out there but here in South Africa, it was also Freedom Day 2017, the anniversary of the first truly representative democratic election in 1994. We’ve still got a long way to go (obviously) in terms of representation, but it was a great step forward. If I wanted to use that thematically, I’m a day late, but whatever. I suppose it’s better late than never to discuss representation and how I go about dealing with it. I’ve written about the portrayal of genders already, so I’ll skip over that one this time.

1. Race. I’ve never really placed too much emphasis on race and it’s really a tired trope to do so in this day and age. It ends up being a more incidental thing than important to the core of the character for me. Race shouldn’t really define how a character acts unless the context or plot specifically call for it and then it should be dealt with very carefully. Stereotypes are a bad path to wander down, unless you want to be metaphorically mugged.

Communities are more nuanced and subtle than stereotypes allow. As always, research into different sorts of contexts and situations allows one to portray one’s characters of colour more sensitively. If you get something wrong about a community, that’s fine as long as it’s not offensive. The thought of including different kinds of communities goes a long way.

2. Sexuality. Gay is not a character trait. Unless your plot or special context calls for it, I wouldn’t place any emphasis on someone being gay/bi/pan at all. Queer romance is practically identical to heterosexual romance, with the distinction of potentially bigoted characters getting in the way. Unless your aim is to show this facet, I suggest identical treatment for all romance. Normalising things is good.

3. Religion. Please, please, please do your research on this one. No one appreciates having their beliefs, organised or otherwise, ripped apart by some fool behind a computer screen who didn’t bother to get any of the fundamental facts straight. No person’s faith is identical to another’s: atheists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus etc all have different individual details among themselves. Try not to make anyone upset if you choose to depict any given religion in a light that isn’t strictly neutral.

4. Politics. I’m not brave enough for politics nor am I brave enough to depict them. Many writers make their political leanings extremely clear when they write and this is bound to upset someone. The fact of the matter is, there’s no right answer for politics. Some people will like any political sentiment in your work of fiction, some people will absolutely hate even the faintest sniff of politics. I can’t help you with this one.

I hope the above points help at all. Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

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Frame of Mind

Recently I finished writing My Angels, which is easily the darkest piece of fiction I’ve ever done. And I admit, I was not in a good place when I wrote it. It contains scenes of torture, child abuse and forced drug addiction. But now I’m just shilling Blackout and not writing anything informative.

1. Mood is important. Try to be happy when writing happy scenes or it’ll show in your writing. Try not to be angry while you write, or it’ll show in your writing. Try to be positive about the piece of fiction you’re trying to put forward or it’ll reduce the quality of a piece of fiction. The exception is dialogue. Feel free to be angry, or channel anger, when writing angry dialogue. This can actually sell the whole thing.

2. Don’t be scared to put something out there. Even if it’s not the best thing in the world, it’s still yours, it’s still recognisably yours. You should own every piece of fiction you put out and you should get into that sort of frame of mind when you write and advertise. Fear and self-doubt are killers that you shouldn’t succumb to. This frame of mind is similar to that in positive writing. Believe in yourself and what you’ve done and you’ll be alright, I swear.

3. Be You. I cannot overstate this. Everyone who comes to read your work is there to read your work. Not Tolkien’s, not Martin’s, not Applegate’s, yours. Be in the state of mind to make things your own. Don’t be a second-rate someone if you can be a first-rate you!

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day! Happy holidays and a Merry Christmas to you all!

Writing Supplements

The writing muscle is one that needs to be exercised regularly and occasionally it needs a bit of help to develop. I definitely use a few supplementary aids to help out. The ones below all relate to me but they might still work for you.

Music. For me, this is the biggest one. I, for one, certainly work much more effectively when I have scene-appropriate music filling my ears. Between the understated but powerful piano for sad scenes, upbeat, lyric-filled pop for more cheery or funny scenes and exciting, fast rock and metal for action, there is a wide variety of genres and types you can fit to each of your scenes.

Environment. I tend to write in places that have a positive or free atmosphere but I also tend to move. When I write at school, I find that sitting under the shadow of tall trees gives me some sort of boost, the oxygen giving my brain something to work with. At home there’s a workroom or study I sit in when I want to get down to business but most of my writing comes from sitting in my bedroom under a blanket or two. One’s state of mind is very important when writing.

Journals. The writing muscle is one that needs to be exercised regularly and there’s no better light exercise than journal writing. If you get the more distracting thoughts out of your head in the form of a diary entry, or even think of something good while you’re there, you’re going to end up with something of decent quality.

Breaks. I cannot overstate the importance of breaks. Much as many videogames encourage you to take a break every hour or so, I’d recommend the same for writing. Taking the time to clear your head and breathe with definitely increase the quality and clarity of your thoughts and writing, which is what you want, really. Put the pen down, make some tea and just rest for a bit.

I don’t know what works for you, but these definitely help me when I work. Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Descriptions, Descriptions, Descriptions!

There are many ways to describe something. Minimalistic, flowery, to-the-point, extravagant. There are many ways to structure the descriptions of objects, people and settings. Long sentences, short ones, flowing paragraphs and short, broken sentences. Every one is part of an author’s style and can work in any circumstance. Here are a few tips that might work if you’re feeling down about your descriptions.

1. Make an image or images in your mind. This way you know what you’re trying to put on paper. Now there is the task of actually putting it on paper. Depending on how the image makes your or characters feel, some music may help here.

2. Only add as many details as necessary. Of course, necessary is rather subjective. A first person narrator who is infatuated with a certain person or nostalgic about a certain place may use more, and different words, than a third person, objective omniscient narrator might. An omniscient narrator may describe the majesty of something more than an unimpressed passerby. This isn’t to say that you should go crazy in those kinds of situation. Keep it relevant and related to the one telling the story.

3. Do it if it feels right. Like anything in writing, you shouldn’t force it. If you feel like adding what seems like an odd detail at the time, put it in and see if it still feels right when reviewing your own piece. That way you can feel more confident about your writing and your descriptions.

4. Make notes. If you’re feeling uninspired, write down a few sentences or words you have on hand and come back to the piece later. In an environment more conducive to free thought than your writing station, you may find yourself inspired by something. Write it down, be it a snippet for your description or even something as important as a piece of plot. Save it somewhere.

5. Relax and write

Attractiveness of Characters

It’s almost the norm these days for leads to be dashing and handsome or elegant and beautiful. It makes sense on a few fronts. Beautiful characters are often the kinds of people who are idealised, looked up to as paragons of humanity (or whichever group the give allegiance to). However, beauty in characters can have its faults.

First is the point I made above. Unfortunately for us common folk, conventional beauty does not come easy and because of this beautiful people stand out. As in, they’re different. It can be difficult for an audience to sympathise or empathise with someone who is different from them in such a drastic way as attractiveness. This means that conventionally attractive people are set up idols in stories where that might not fit.

The fact that beauty makes an idol can be, and has, been seen as incredibly shallow. Such characters may be given the stamp of perfection but may be awful people. It’s also an easy way out for a novice author (yes, I’ve done this) to give an additional character trait. Unless explored upon (which I’ve seen quite interestingly played with), attractiveness is no more of a character trait that being plain is. (You may make opposing arguments if you wish 🙂 )

I read an article recently in which the author asked for more ‘homely or just plain’ female characters in fiction. This, and the ensuing lines, gave the impression of a need for demographic spreading. Bombshells and the like cater to a specific demographic: men, generally under forty-five. The article argued that if people stopped staring at these characters, then their actions would be in greater focus and they’d be better characters. I give no opinion on the implications of what I just rephrased but I agree with the fact greater female role models and round characters  need to inhabit traditionally ‘boy’s fiction’. I’m trying to rectify that right now. Wyvern Diary‘s current squad has a gender ratio of 4 male:3 female and one of the guys is going to *spoiler* die *spoiler*.

In short,  attractiveness can be done poorly or done well and it can have important implications.

The Art of the Fight Scene

It might just be the genres I like, but it appears that a good ol’ slugging match is rather popular in literature, and why shouldn’t it be? Fights are moments of suspense, action, intensity and hair-raising awesomeness, but not everyone pulls them off perfectly. So, as a practiced writer of such scenes and gauged to be ‘quite good’ by my peers, I’ll try to give a few guidelines for to help.

Step 1: Flow

In real life, fights are quick, brutal and tiring and there should be some kind of reflection of this fact on paper. Combat shouldn’t be a step by step commentary to how the fight goes and each blow should get a few words to it or a line at most for standard strikes. Only in plot-important or particularly grandiose performances should a single blow of any kind take any longer to read, because reading speed dictates the excitement and speed of the action.

Here’s an example from Fate of the Forty Sixth that serves my purposes

Springing into action, Edge began to sprint right at Condor, deftly avoiding the reaching strike of his scabbard, even slapping the blade away. Disconnecting the weapon, the Hispanic warrior barely managed to have his sword up in time to parry his foe’s sword. Edge’s onslaught continued as he slipped the sword into one hand and punched Condor, full force, in the stomach. The cyborg spat, hunched over Edge’s fist, but flipped the tide of the duel with a jab from his scabbard and a barrage of armour breaking punches. Pulling the frontal carapace away, Condor managed another winding strike, reversing his earlier situation.

Verbs, short adverbs and commas make up the majority of these sentences and starting them on participles adds a sense of movement and action. Drawing out your sentences as the fight progresses gives the reader the idea of the combatants slowing down from fatigue.

Step 2: Meaning and Character

Fights should always, always, mean something. Being drunk (the characters, not you) is a perfectly good reason, despite what literary critics might argue, as is revenge or honour. But a fight for the sake of a fight looks tacked on and will detract from the reader’s enjoyment.

In a fight, characters should talk (if it fits their characterisation). Some individuals may want to taunt their opponents, straight-laced coppers might want to interrogate their opposition and a charming villain might goad even the most closed off hero into chatting, for whatever reason. Characters speaking in the direst situations gives the same sort of insight as casual dialogue does, so don’t throw away chances for your readers to learn and care about your characters. The fight itself can be a look at the fighters. Is the winning party playing with their opponent when they could clearly win? Is the normally restrained character attacking carelessly because he/she is distraught? Mould your fights around your characters.

Step 3: Do the Research

Nothing is more jarring in an action scene than when something like a .357 Magnum makes a man’s head explode. Or a Kukri becomes the equal to a sword in a scrap. Extreme, I know, but exaggerations make decent examples. Doing the research can be the difference between Willing Suspension of Disbelief and critical failure. If you have the luxury of writing what you know, then go along with it. I’ve spent quite a bit of time training with a properly weighted wooden sword to judge movement and such.

Step 4: Use your Tools

Listening to the right music works for me and I like to use active, intense music for writing action scenes (right now I’m listening to the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Soundtrack).

Planning a fight beforehand is very useful if you want it to flow naturally, if the fight is formal and clean. If it’s a back alley brawl you’re telegraphing, writing with no plan gives the impression of the fight going in any direction upon a reread, if done well.

Watching movies/reading books can give you something to work off of. If you like something, you can adapt it with an original idea thrown in.

Remember, the important part is if you like it and if your readers like it.