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Was this idea doomed from the start?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Feo Takahari, Aug 5, 2015.

  1. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    In my last book, several characters bought into narratives about what they were and should be, distorting their behavior to match. One of them bought into stories that framed Native Americans as bound to nature, and he proclaimed himself a defender of the natural world. I just got my first review, and among other criticisms, it blasted him as both an unlikable creep and a blatant Native American stereotype.

    I can see why they were so angry, but I'm not sure how else I could have done the character while keeping the message about how awful the "nature hero" trope really is. Short of having another character interrupt the story to sermonize about how toxic his ideas were, was there any way to make it clear he was deluded? Was it even worth trying to write such a precarious character?

    (This is not a thread to argue with the review. If the reviewer wants to post, they're welcome, but I won't link the review or name the reviewer.)
     
  2. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    I would like to give an answer, but I think I need a deeper understanding to your particular case. What are these "toxic ideals?" Why is a nature hero bad? Finally, why did these characters choose to buy into narratives?
     
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I'm really confused. From the little that you wrote describing the story, it sounds like you deliberately portrayed the character as an unlikeable creep and a blatant stereotype.

    Are you asking if you should be surprised that one of your readers didn't like either of those two things?

    Some readers prefer likeable characters. Some readers don't like blatant stereotypes. Therefore, it makes sense that, if that's the way you wrote the character, someone wasn't going to like him.

    You could have chosen to have a likeable good guy who didn't conform to traditional Native American characteristics. That particular reviewer might have liked your story better.

    And another reviewer might have complained that the guy was too likeable and didn't seem like a Native American ...
     
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    For Wolf, the nature hero in question, it's about power and superiority. When the villain gave him his magic, he was working a dead-end job in a factory. By rejecting that the factory, and all products of technology and reason, had any value, he could separate himself from a technology-focused way of life and think of himself as better than everyone who uses technology. In its place, he adopted a very simplistic idea of "the law of the jungle" and "nature red in tooth and claw" and all those other common but misleading ideas about nature. He's not ignorant about cooperation and teamwork in the natural world, and he recognizes value in protecting other people who may be useful to him, but he brings everything back to how he's big and strong and could beat up anyone if they attacked him. He sees the power people gain from technology as a false strength because it can be taken away, and he doesn't get that there are other metrics that might be more meaningful than power.

    Ultimately, all his magic is ripped away from him, and he nearly dies before a weaker character intervenes. There are also points where the other characters argue with some of his ideas, and they even convince him that technology isn't totally evil. However, he never admits that his overall philosophy is wrong, and he scores a few points when other characters go too far with their own beliefs.

    He's not the only character the reviewer disliked. For instance, one character bases her entire concept of how to be a girl on what girls are like in the various programs and advertisements she sees on television, and the review blasted her for things like fighting in high heels and giving another character fashion advice. But with that character, I felt like it was sort of . . . obvious that the girl who constantly talks about how this is "just like in the shows" isn't supposed to be a positive role model. I'm more afraid that I genuinely screwed up with Wolf.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Without actually reading the piece in question, I doubt anybody on this board could tell you if you screwed up the character or not. If you feel that you did, you're probably right, though. At least, in my experience, I usually come around to the conclusion that that nagging feeling I had that the piece wasn't working was right.
     
  6. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Feo,

    This from my perspective as an outsider to the book, is the value of reviews in action. I can't tell you if you got your characters wrong. No one can, not even the reviewer. Only you can. So the question becomes is your character how you wanted himto be? It doesn't matter whether a reviewer doesn't like him. What matters is whether or not the reviewer got the character right in terms of the story you were telling. And it sounds to me like he did. You wanted to have an unlikeable character and one who pushed an unlikeable stereotype. So your reviewer picked up on that meaning you did it well enough at least for him.

    Since I seem to be on a Moby Dick run at the moment ask yourself - does anyone actually like Ahab? No. Would there possibly have been reviewers complaining that the captain was unlikeable and filled the unrealistic stereotype of the madman too well? Probably. Does that make the book wrong in any way? No. Moby Dick does what it sets out to do perfectly. It tells the story of a madman obsessed with a whale that took his limb. In the same way no one likes Dr Moreau. You do feel for him to an extent. You see the madness but also the dream in the man. How about She? Apart from being constantly described as beautiful is their anything likeable about her at all? No. Noble perhaps, regal certainly, but not likeable.

    If I were reading the review and had read the book I would be thinking these reviewers get the character. My question wouldn't be about whether the characters were well fleshed out. It would be more about the overall feel of the book. The focus. The one thing in the three or four considering that there is a sequel to She, is that while these unlikeable characters are indeed the focus of the books, they are not the POV. Why? Because in part at least if they were readers would have to share the headspace of monsters and madmen. They wouldn't like that - and it would be difficult to write as well. Therefore the writers instead used the headspace of another character - a narrator. That way the reader gets another, more familiar if someone Victorian perspective of the characters, and gets someone they can like. The narrators are all good people. And they all see the madness and darkness of the focus characters. They provide judgements on their behaviours that readers can both like and agree with. But at the same time they allow the stories to be told so that the readers fully understand the focus characters.

    To me this review suggests that the reader did not get this experience. Instead he / she got put inside the headspace of a character he understood but did not like. That's what he/ she is reacting to.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
    L M Rush and Feo Takahari like this.
  7. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Satire can be a tough thing to portray. Too subtle and people take it at face value. Too in your face and things might seem silly. But sometimes you might have to go into the realm of ridiculous in order to make a point.

    Some people don't realize the Starship Troopers movie is satire, and if taken seriously, things can seem kind of stupid and awful.
     
  8. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Pen,

    Starship Troopers is part satire and part sci fi action flick. The book is not satire at all, but purely the thought processes and idea of Heinlein who was actually at least in part a right wing miliatarist. He actually built a bomb shelter from memory and was on committees during the cold war to consider survival after the bombs dropped!

    As I understand it the book and the film script were merged at some point which is why you get these strange satirical shots like the recruitment videos mixed with the right wing thought processes like the cost of citizenship. (I do wonder how someone like Donald Trump would get on with these ideas being a right winger who talks tough but dodged the war!)

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  9. L M Rush

    L M Rush Scribe

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    You could embrace the idea, personally I think it sets you up for lots of growth for the character and even gives you an ongoing conflict with the audience, deciding whether you like a character or not is sometimes far more rewarding that being told you like them, or should do.
     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I get why you created a character who rejects technology, then adopts a back-to-nature lifestyle that he cobbles together from ideas taken from the very society he rejects. It's a good idea.

    What I don't get is why make him Native American. That's where it's awfully easy to tread into offensive stereotypes. Why not just make him Average Joe? In fact, why not make him a female? Or make him old? Or African American? Or Asian American?

    This is not to say the Native American angle is wrong. It's just more chancy and perhaps less interesting. Unless, of course, he went back to his tribe only to find out his "own people" didn't see things the way he did. It'd be even better if at first he got the wrong tribe. Show how simplistic and naive he is. Perhaps the problem came from presenting him without nuance.

    Now that I write it out, it looks like there are two themes here stuffed into one character. One is about civilization versus primitivism. The other is about Native Americans. To sell, you'd need to show the necessary connection between the two. Otherwise it can come across as: well, he's an Indian, so of course he would.
     
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  11. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    @Skip.Knox: I think you just hit on the central problem. I created characters who represented the effects of toxic narratives, but then I also had them mirror those narratives on a surface level (like giving the feminine character blond hair and having the Batman wannabe be a rich orphan.) Maybe it would have worked better if the feminine character dyed her hair blond to be more like her idols, and the nature hero claimed to Native American heritage but didn't actually have any . . . I should have kept to the "distortion" theme, without adding in "mirroring" that I then failed to do or say anything about. In retrospect, I feel like I didn't really think about why I was giving them various surface-level traits, beyond a basic feeling of "Oh, they'll choose narratives about people who look like them."

    Oh well. I know I'm going to rewrite some scenes when I compile this as part of a larger collection of interlinked stories. Maybe I can redo Wolf while I'm at it.

    Edit: on second thought, I do think I had something in the flashback where a racist factory foreman mocks and berates Wolf, telling him that his people have to answer to white people because they weren't the ones who had guns. (This is a few seconds before Wolf gets powers and beats the crap out of the foreman.) Maybe I could bring in at some point that the biggest factor was disease--nature, not science. I considered having another character mention that in the original draft, but felt like I was straying too far afield . . .

    Don't mind me, just thinking out loud.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
  12. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

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    Who do we think we hate most, and most often, other than perhaps the people we love and or admire, but have lost faith in?

    It is too easy to express hate without sympathy for Ahab.

    His character was written as having spent 40 years on the open sea.

    40 years of toil and hardship changes people.

    How better to explain the cantankerous nature of the elderly?

    How many friends did he lose to the wind and waves, how many precious moments did he lose with his wife and child?

    It is a natural part of being human that we must eventually come to the brink and taste from the cup of madness.

    Sanity is a wave and we must learn to ride the crest.

    Until a person has had to swallow the bitterness of betrayal and loss, they should not be so generous to hammer out the stamp of disapproval for the great and all absorbing vortex that formulates mental affliction.

    The white whale is suppose to represent the hand of the imaginary person in the sky. Ahab feels betrayed for his years of hard labor because the imaginary person in the sky has punished him for biting off more than he could chew.

    Perhaps his death is not blasphemy.

    Perhaps we should see Ahab as a man willing to sacrifice his own life for the shitty hand that luck has dealt him.

    At least he died with pride and the blood of his enemy in his lungs.

    If one is vain enough to seek glory, what could be more glorious than that?
     
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I haven't gotten around to reading the books, but yeah, I understand the movie was a departure. To me, the recruitment videos were what solidified the movie as being satire. As soon as I saw the first one, it was like a switch being flipped, and I started to look at the film as akin to Nazi propaganda.
     
  14. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    You could make him like Chief Doug Smith from the Sopranos, embracing his 6.25% Native American heritage for the wrong reasons.
     
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  15. brokethepoint

    brokethepoint Troubadour

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    You could have him confronted by a Native American that truly follows their beliefs.
     
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