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Diversity Lioness misfire?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Graylorne, Mar 20, 2015.

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  1. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    Yes, now I see what you mean.

    You're right, I did make the wisewomen sound all the same. I didn't mean it so absolutely, but I did write it so. I can change that.

    Wemawee acts as intended, but I can change Maud's reaction. If I have her (Maud) recognize Wemawee from Jurgis' description as one who is a known troublemaker, would that ease the effect? For W. is a special case and not at all like the other Kells.


    And re. the girl next door, you're right as well. (Do remember I try to explain complex matter in a foreign language...) Of course she should be able to relate to my characters, else it wouldn't make much sense writing about diversity. But the culture of the Kells should be as different to her as to me. So I didn't consider using the girl's cultural background, not the girl herself. Do I express myself better now?
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
  2. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Yes, let's talk about this example specifically! I'm going to bang out a quick response before I fall asleep, so sorry if I don't make any sense.

    If Maud belongs to this matriarchal society, why is she framing the nakedness of a female religious figure as a temptation to men? That's a profoundly male-centered sentiment, and something that has to be reconsidered if you really want to treat this culture with depth. Sure, Jurgis might find it brazen and titillating, but wouldn't Maud just see it as matter-of-fact, or a symbol of female virtue, or something like that?

    Show us other wisewomen (with lines, preferably) and then you can turn this wisewoman into an antagonist. Don't, for goodness' sake, generalize all wisewoman as being bitchy. Maybe don't make this character the reader's introduction to wisewomen.

    I think that part of your problem may be that you want specific characters, so you've created cultures to explain these characters, instead of making the character seem like genuine products of their culture. Note that them being a product of their culture does not mean that they are the average person of their culture. (Main characters usually aren't average people, if you've not noticed!) Want Maud to be a badass horny warrior lady? You don't need to say that every woman in her culture is a badass horny warrior. Want a wisewoman antagonist? All wisewomen don't need to be terrible, tempting people. Societies don't work like that. You can absolutely also have gentle weavers and headstrong musicians and meek rule-following soldiers. If you paint with these broad, generalizing strokes, you run the risk of creating negative stereotypes because these characteristics apparently apply to entire racial and gender-based demographics.

    Also, you end up with the unfortunate implication that Maud could not be a badass if this "unnatural" gender-flip in society hadn't happened. How could there be a confident female warrior in a male-dominated society? Well, ask history, why dontcha. There are scads of examples.

    (And what's the message intended to be about this unnatural magic-caused gender-flip? Is it a bad thing that women are strong and sexual? Or is it a good thing, and then you run into a weird "idealized" fantasy land where women sexually dominate men and we're getting into 1970s pulp fiction territory (I've no problem with this as a kink, but if this isn't intended to be erotica, I don't think "it's sexy" is a good reason to create a culture like this). In short, what's the statement you're trying to make about gender? Because this reads like some kind of garbled statement about gender.)
     
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  3. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    Here is the same bit, adapted and with the second part added, it being integral to the first. Here I changed a few things as well.

    A bit of explanation: The M'Arrangh were a traitorous clan. In secret they had joined the old enemy, and in the end they were expelled. Only the few M'Arrangh wisewomen, whose calling supposed them above treachery, remained. Both Wemawee and Wargall, her lover, were the last of these M'Arrangh.

    The message regarding the gender-flip is equality. Not patriarchal, like before the War, not matriarchal as it is now (through necessity, not choice), but equality between the sexes. I must study the text to see if and where I gave the impression it could be anything else.

    Would this be acceptable, or am I overlooking more?
     
  4. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    Equality may have been your intention, but based on the extract and the world building notes you've presented, I'm afraid I don't think you've really succeeded.

    The thing is, if you're trying to argue for equality of the sexes, why is your novel presenting an inherently unequal society? If anything, it's probably more likely to be read as an anti-feminist work, the kind of sentiment expressed by all those neckbeard fedora-wearers who think the feminist movement is about female supremacy rather than equality.

    If you wanted to argue for equality, then you should probably have created a society that was, well, equal. All you've done here is just swap the status of men and women.

    Now, that's not to say your book can't have the message you intend presented within the story itself rather than the world building, but how many people do you think you're going to turn off before they actually get to that bit? First impressions are vital.
     
  5. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    I get a lot of comments on snippets. That's judging out of context. Maud's society (one out of several equally important and described ones) is unequal matriarchal. The Chorwaynie/Jentakans/Vanhaari are equal. The Unwaari are in-between. Everything now focuses on the Kells, but they are only part of the book. And equality is only one of the messages.

    NB - If anyone here wants a copy of 'Lioness' to judge for themselves, PM me and I'll send you a Smashwords code.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2015
  6. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    An emotional exercise, up to now.
    It is clear I unintentionally pressed a lot of wrong buttons. Some because I didn’t think a point far enough through, some because certain tropes and stereotypes aren’t items where I am sitting, and some simply because my English was insufficient to formulate ideas well enough.
    Especially the last two posts of Devor and Nimue made that a lot clearer.
    Up to now my books were pretty straightforward, with simple themes. ‘Lioness’ was a much bigger work, both in word count and in scope, and a lot of things were unfamiliar for me.
    What does bother me, is that none of my beta readers, some of them very professional, nor my editor gave even the slightest warning things were wrong. If these safety nets fail, that’s worrying. But I wrote this mess, so it’s my responsibility.

    I can, when I’ve got all the problems clear, try and rewrite the worst parts, the slip-ups and such. I cannot change the gender-swap, that is integral in the story, but it must be possible to explain it better.

    For a next book, I am at least more alert what I must watch out for, so that’s gained.
     
  7. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I'll read the snippet in a moment when I have more time, but I'm glad some of this is making sense now. If you have other specific concerns, we'd be happy to take a look at them.

    A quick point about the gender-equality gender-flip, and some suggestions. The fact that it was the Kells, the only black culture in this world, that needed to be taught about gender equality, is kind of unfortunate. Because if the starting point was "the men are too sexually and physically aggressive", well... there are some really horrible stereotypes about black men being more violent, more prone to rape, and more animalistic that was used to justify the treatment of slaves and still results in increased incarceration today. On the flip side, there's also stereotypes about black men being irresponsible and leaving all the work to black women, and that black families are single-parent and matriarchal because of that. Yeah, it's hard to escape negative tropes about black people no matter which way you turn...says a lot.

    If it's necessary for this cultural plot to happen, and it sounds like it is, I have a few suggestions about how to treat it more carefully. Frankly, I would not have there be any transfer of “innate characteristics” between the genders, or downplay that. It makes the men sound naturally brutish, and then the women get naturally butch. Bleh. What would be less problematic to transfer is magic and societal power. While physical strength might not be, sexual dominance and aggressive personality traits are the kind of thing that could be created by socialization. If there was a magical coup and women were suddenly the political heads of society, that would change how girls are raised and taught. Their personalities and behavior would change, much as if you compared a woman from the 1800s to a woman from today.

    Another thing that could rescue this is if you show that the initial problems with men and shamanism weren't caused by a culture-wide character flaw, but by a political or religious movement--something that can happen to any culture, given the right time and place. Bonus points if it's led by a charismatic individual and has (male) dissenters.

    Lastly, you know what would help diffuse all of the issues of race? If you had another black (Sub-Saharan African-analogue, specifically) culture in your world, and they were doing just fine, thank you very much. The key to not falling into stereotypes or tokenism is showing the reader a spectrum of character portrayals, positive and negative.

    ...Ok, that wasn't very quick.
     
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  8. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    I need to re-read the major part again to get the gist :)

    But the last part: Wouldn't the fact that the Chorwaynie/Jentakan are brown peoples (and doing perfectly fine) work for this?
    They aren't even vaguely African, but there aren't any other peoples available.

    As an aside, the Kell as a whole are, in spite of their problems, a civilized people. They have a large (described) capital city, built into an immense cave, with stone houses, palaces, a major harbor, etc. Very disciplined, too. Maud visits a Garthan town early in the book, and remarks how all the drunks, the whores, the filth wouldn't be tolerated at home.
    There are other Kell professions, traders and artisans, only those play no significant role.
    The Queen of the Kell is a major power, on equal footing with the Prince-warlock of the Vanhaari and the Chorwaynie Overcaptain. And that does play a role.
    The sex drive of the females is carefully controlled. They can have sex, because their anti-conception amulets are effective. Young girls are not allowed out of the country without a chaperone, like Veteran Hala was for Maud. Only the adolescent girls haven't learned how to live with it; after their early twenties they have it under control. All this is explained in the book. I must reword the role of the men, though.
    But Kell is not a backward place at all. Wouldn't that help?
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Nimue, thanks for responding to some of this, and with a level head - it was starting to get outside of my ability to tackle all of this.
     
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I think this might be fixed by having your beta readers and editor look for things that may specifically being racially sensitive in this regard if you want to avoid these kind of issues in the future. If you don't direct them towards these kind of things and they're not as aware of these issues being problematic, then they may focus on other aspects of the story like dialogue, description, plot points, etc. I think the primary issue tends to be both racially charged and gender charged. I would suggest to ask your beta readers in the future if they can pinpoint these kind of things. If they feel like they aren't as sensitive to these issues, you might want to recruit some extra readers to hone in that aspect.

    This seems to be sort of an issue with fantasy races now and again. Like all elves are majestic and beautiful or all dwarves are grumbling complainers that hate elves. Painting any race in broad strokes (which it seems some people are seeing here in regards to the Kell) can give a reader a bad taste in their mouth.

    From my experience, I have races in my novels with different cultures and such, but I try to always make the characters that are integral to my stories different than some conceptions of what people may think. For instance, in one of my novels, Yurgish people are tall, have olive skin, and are known for being very serious. Yurgish are very rare in the country of Abeth where my novel mostly takes place. So my main character is feared, whereas in her home country she is considered quite beautiful. I show that some characters view her in a stereotypical way, while others (like a little girl at the beginning) refers to her as "pretty lady." The girl sees what I hope the reader sees: that even though she is feared in some capacity, she is also recognized as gentle and beautiful, too.

    I think one thing that can certainly damage attempts for more diverse fiction is readers picking apart any depiction that is not wholly positive. There needs to be some kind of balance. You can do like Kameron Hurley did and remove white people from her books altogether. That way all of her characters, good and bad are people of color. I like this approach in some ways because it shows characters as more than just a skin color and a culture. It shows them as characters born from these backgrounds that may effect them positively or negatively.
     
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  11. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    But the last one came through alright, Devor. The density was on my part, not on yours.
     
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  12. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    Perhaps being more specific would help. I generally ask them to watch out for anything that doesn't sound right, but it could be that isn't clear enough.

    I tried to do this. I even thought making the Vanhaari alabaster-to-dark gray would be enough. Looking back, it is quite clear that wouldn't work. On the whole, I wanted too much. The problems should have been a lot smaller. Nimue's remarks about a political or religious movement would have been much more effective.
     
  13. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Hey guys. Just checking in to say that I've been having a particularly unproductive week and haven't been able to do as much reading or writing as I would prefer. But I plan to start on Graylorne's book after I get off work on Friday and hopefully finish it and my comments over the weekend. Many good points have been made during my absence however. Nimue has highlighted something I did not pick up on until now: namely that the Kells being the only black culture in the entire world magnifies the inherent problems considerably. And I don't think having "brown" people that exist without these social issues really lessens the problem because colorism is also a thing.

    Also, what's the deal with the sexuality thing? Because after reading Nimue's comments on it, it sounds kind of... messed up to be honest. Like the creepy bondage elements that were part of early Wonder Woman comics. But I'll reserve judgment until I see it in context.
     
  14. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Scribe

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    I'm not saying he isn't. But it's just head-scratching how he could unintentionally hit so many wrong notes.

    That's no one's dilemma but his. If harsh, stinging criticisms make him want to quit the field, it was bound to happen regardless. You can't say 'reviews aren't meant for the author' only to turn around and ask for the author's feelings to be considered. Reviewing or not, any reader's only concern is what's in front of them- and there's only one person responsible for that. How's it perfectly fine to give gushing 5-star reviews or tepid 3-stars but not blistering 1-stars?
     
  15. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Scribe

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    You're discounting the ability of human beings to rationalize anything. I've had more than a few encounters with non-Black people who use certain words with regularity, only to come back with "but so-and-so says it/it's on that record/it was in that movie" to justify it when challenged. I'm sure we all know all kinds of words we'd never use around certain types of company- race, gender, sexuality- because we know better. If you know people will find them objectionable, why're you using them?

    Again, this isn't saying Paul did this deliberately. But when you claim to be seeking enlightenment and understanding for what went wrong, don't dig in your heels and resist it.
     
  16. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Scribe

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    This brings me back to my post about worldbuilding, and it may seem as nitpicking, but in light of Paul's responses I don't think so. Wemawee is our introduction to a Kell Wisewoman, and it's not a good one. This is a diplomatic mission, representing their country and it's leadership... and this is who they send? As the author, you're telling us that this is how Kell wants everyone to see them? Since Hala was sent to help guide Maud along in dealing with other cultures, why is this uncouth, crass individual sent out alone as an emissary? It's your story, and you're telling us no one else was available? Why not introduce us to a more mature person to give a better idea of what they're about?

    Worldbuilding isn't just creating a society, but also its counter-culture(s) and sub-culture(s). Not everyone agrees with the way things are (which is how the Wisewomen rose to power) and they're willing to fight against it. There's also layers to every level of a civilization and when designing one as the author you really need to detail these and how they came about and function, since they're probably the most important aspects of it.
     
  17. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Scribe

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    She is flaunting it; she openly and deliberately displaying herself. I've already addressed this in my previous post: how's she not aware of how she'll be viewed and what everyone's reactions will be? If she's that clueless or pig-headed, what's she doing on this assignment in the first place?
     
  18. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Scribe

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    Since this portrayal of Black women in the book is a staple American stereotype, intentional or not, what's your point?

    And not once did anyone call Paul a racist or a terrible human being. I don't know how you're injecting that into the discussion.
     
  19. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    Darkwriter - You have the book, so you know what you say here is not what the book says. Did you read it?

    First, there is no diplomatic mission. The only mission was to fetch Jurgis out of Brisa, early in the book. After that it is all the MCs own adventure.
    Wemawee is no official representative, she was sent to Maud to unlock the door to a sealed building, no more. After that she manages to teleport herself, alone, to the old country and starts her own adventure.

    It is my story, but if you don't read it, don't comment.

    I repeat my offer to anyone here, I will mail you a free copy to check what I did write. Just give me a PM.
    But let us stop commenting on half-read snippets.

    ---

    Ah, OK. Your next comment clears all up. I thought you had got a copy of the book from the Tour Operator. Now I get your comments.

    Yes, I sent the excerpts. I had no idea of their impact. You said ' staple American stereotype'. I am not an American; I don't know all your stereotypes.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2015
  20. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Scribe

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    The excerpts came from the promotional kit. In other words, they're the teasers to give us an idea what to expect and try to generate interest. Who else but the author chose them to represent what the book's about? I can post the others if you'd like to read them.
     
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