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What I'm Saying Is, The Search For Equality Is Pretty Messy

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by A. E. Lowan, Nov 12, 2013.

  1. saellys

    saellys Inkling

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    Yeah, I'm definitely not saying that, and I have yet to encounter anyone, even in the most militant social justice circles on the Internet, who thinks that makes sense.

    I dig it when stuff like that gets inverted, actually, like in Jabrosky's example about one or two Europeans visiting ancient Kush.

    Oh, we definitely agree on that. As I said, no one has to be an expert on civil rights from the slave trade to the present in order to write a person of color in a fantasy story who isn't a stereotype. They do need to be aware of and sensitive to certain issues so they know how to avoid mistakes that will get them called out by communities who have seen writers perpetuate the same harmful things for years and years.

    For some reason, there is a lot of resistance among writers to the idea of doing research for their characters. These are people who extensively read about medieval horse breeding, or swordsmithing, or what have you, so they can write about it competently and they won't get an angry letter from an expert on the subject about how much they screwed up. (A friend of mine wrote Age of Sail stories back in the day when they were distributed to communities by e-mail, and she would get absolutely skewered by the group if she mixed up her topsail and mainsail or some such. And this was one of those "easy" settings, since sailing ships were crewed almost exclusively by white men, which is a group of people no one at all has any problem writing as well-rounded individual characters.)

    But apparently there's something sacred and untouchable about a writer's "artistic vision" for their characters, so when they do write a person of color, they haven't looked around at the opinions of actual people of color enough to know that they're really tired of seeing their skin described with food metaphors, for instance.

    Sure, but upbringing is not a terminal condition. ;)

    I know a similar sentiment has been expressed elsewhere on this forum with varying conclusions, but do you think that might be in part because we see the future as a wide-open field of possibilities, where fantasy is perceived as being stuck in our very limited historical template? I know you and I don't see it that way personally, but I feel like this is a prevalent misconception.
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2013
  2. saellys

    saellys Inkling

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    Tor is great when it comes to this kind of thing. They're ahead of the curve; most publishing houses seem to be pretty content with the status quo.

    The thing is that merely by writing a story set in fantasy-styled Japan, you're deviating from what gets represented in much of fantasy. So yes, this is another instance where the setting dictates a certain amount of homogeneity, but this time the homogeneity is not the usual white protagonists of fantasy, so you're already setting yourself apart.

    I think you're in a better position to naturally reflect that in your work than most. Some of us have to work much harder at it.
     
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Saellys,

    Here's the way I see it. You're passionate in the extreme about this particular subject, and you want everyone else to embrace it. Nothing wrong with trying to convince others to embrace your cause.

    Understand, however, that a lot of us just simply don't care about this particular cause. I'm not even convinced that it's a cause that is worthy of being advanced. To ask a writer, "what's the harm of inserting this cause into your story" is to, imo, misunderstand completely the writing process for most of us. There are an infinite number of choices and causes and elements that we can insert into our stories. Inserting one necessarily means that we now have less story space for others.

    I agree with Ankari. A writer will do much better if he writes about what he is passionate about.

    For example, Feo is really into societies not based on Europe. Personally, I don't care all that much about my "world." It's simply a place for my story to take place. A vaguely European concept is easy for me to write because I'm most familiar with it. For me to do the research necessary to make my world based on some other society when I have no passion for doing so is a poor idea.
     
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I won't argue with the rest of what you're saying, but in its barest form, minority representation doesn't take more space than putting in a white man. Take The Hunger Games, which I mentioned earlier--because it doesn't really matter that Katniss is brown-skinned, the fact that she's mentioned as having brown skin doesn't slow the story down in any way. (For that matter, I think Katniss could just as easily have been male and Peeta could just as easily have been female--it would have been a little more cliche, but neither way takes up more or less space.) That doesn't mean minority representation is necessary, but it does mean it's probably not going to impede your story.

    I'm just sick of medieval Europe. I'm actually quite fond of Europe from the 1600s to the early 1900s. (And for that matter, I like medieval Europe when folks write it like actual medieval Europe, though I don't usually see that outside historical fiction.)
     
  5. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    Ditto (and I'm Asian)...
     
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  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I disagree with this point.

    Characters are partially a function of their upbringing, of which their society plays a role. If all my characters come from the same society, that part of their foundation is the same. Once I introduce another society, I have to figure out things about that society and how that society impacts my characters.

    This is all time and story space that I could be devoting to other things.

    It really doesn't matter to me one way or the other. My only point was that it would be stupid for me to made story decisions on what you like.
     
  7. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    I'm all for having an awesome character who's black or gay or (especially) female (my heroines tend to be larger than life super powerful warriors who are better than most or all of the males) but I'm just not that into world-building in general - my stories are basically just a vehicle for showing off the AWESOMENESS of the characters. I'm more likely to build the world around my characters and adjust for them than vice versa.

    *waits for flames for being shallow as hell*
     
  8. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Okay, so you want to write one society, because that's simple. And you want to work based on a simplified medieval Europe, because that's what you know. Since medieval Europe was majority white, it would be pretty arbitrary to write medieval Europe with brown people. (Not bad, mind you, just arbitrary.) But what about other categories? Sexism is a bit of an obstacle to a female protagonist, but not an insurmountable one--and in any event, sexism is a complicating assumption, and I've seen some writers simplify to remove it. Prejudice against gay folks is a little thornier (reflecting it means adding additional elements to the story, and removing it means adding a new dimension to how your society approaches homosexuality), but there are still some interesting stories that can be told with a gay person in medieval Europe.

    Let's set aside issues of "should." If you like to write about medieval Europe, and you want to write a lot of stories, you'll need to have a lot of characters. Aren't you at all interested in the things you could do with a blacksmith's widow who works the forge herself, or a male servant who secretly loves a prince? Besides and in addition to stories you want to write about straight white men, aren't there any stories you want to tell about other groups?

    Cards on the table: I remember your rant about pendulums that got a previous thread locked. I think you're fundamentally misunderstanding something, but I'd need to hear you talk more about your ideas in order to address them properly. I'm hoping that I can draw you into talking about that again, and that this time you'll do so politely and the thread won't be locked.
     
  9. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    Mine too! High five!
     
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  10. Shasjas

    Shasjas Scribe

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    I'm not a writer. I'm just a person who likes fantasy and wants to write as a hobby. I have no power.

    As for representation, there's not necessarily any reason to describe your characters skin colour, you can just leave that to the readers imagination, unless it actually plays a role.
     
  11. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    No prob.
    I have no control over what other writers do, so my comments are based on what I do and how I work, which I probably wasn't clear on earlier. The hazard is if a writer tries to make diverse characters simply for the sake of having diversity, the characters will likely come off as flat and stereotypical.
    The first is available through the link in my sig. The second is a very rough WIP.
    No, it doesn't have to. I was just stating how I work. Maybe it would be more accurate to say setting influences it. As others have said, if you set a story in feudal Japan, most of your characters will probably be Japanese.
    I was relating it based on the way I work. Each writer has their own way of doing things. The way I operate, a list like "proper race? check - proper gender? check - proper sexual orientation? check" is a bad thing. Some people approach character creation like baking a cake - they gather all the ingredients and put them together. I approach it more like growing bacteria cultures - put the right conditions in place then step back and let nature take its course. My two flagship characters are both women. That's not because I set out to create strong female characters. That's just the way they formed in my head. With the story I'm writing now I've had characters of various races pop up. One started out as being from a desert culture, but as time went on his appearance morphed into a more Asian. Why? Not because I felt like I needed an Asian looking character, but because that's just how I imagined him. That's what I meant went I said by being true to the character and properly crafting the story, diversity is often a natural by-product.
    Depends on how it's done. I think if a writer goes about creating characters based on race, gender, orientation, etc., rather than the character's personality traits there's a huge danger they'll end up with a bunch of stereotypical cardboard cut-outs for characters. I've read several stories in which there were gay characters. Some made it work. I thought Gail Baudino's Dragonsword Trilogy did an excellent job of exploring gender roles and sexual orientation. But all too often it seemed like the character's primary purpose was to act as a representative of his respective demographic group (the token gay person, black person, whatever) and show what a great, open-minded person the author was, and the character's actual purpose in the story took a back seat to that.
    Nothing, as far as I know. Bad or good depends on the execution. Like I said, I think Gail Baudino did a beautiful job with it, but I've seen others really fall flat with it.
    Easy. I don't do that. Unless, of course, that's what the story calls for. For example, if I were to write a story about the original Mercury astronauts meeting aliens, my characters are going to be seven straight white males simply because that's who they were.
     
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  12. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    [​IMG]

    Guy gets it. Hot damn does Guy get it. Diversity isn't about quotas and checklists. Diversity is about telling stories, and about the different characters you create to make different stories work.
     
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  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I'm not 100% sure what you're trying to say.

    I do not in any way attempt to portray an accurate version of medieval Europe. My characters all have modern attitudes, to an extent, about sexism and use modern language, though I try to scrub out anachronisms. I do this for three reasons:

    1. It's easier. I've accepted that writing is hard, and the fewer handicaps I give myself, the better.
    2. I think it makes the story more understandable for the reader who isn't a hardcore fantasy fan.
    3. I have no passion for creating a world that mimics medieval Europe.

    I agree completely with glutton; my world is simply a place for my characters to inhabit. I want to make it as real as I can and not have inaccuracies, but it, in and of itself, is not important.

    I have absolutely no desire to write about homosexual people in medieval Europe. Why is it in any way a good idea for me to throw these kinds of things into my story that have nothing to do with my story?

    My story is about a teenage lab geek who is desperately seeking love, the girl he thinks he wants, and the girl he actually does. Along the way, he stops "the bad guys" from invading his kingdom and the "really evil guys" from taking control of the world.

    I see absolutely no value in including different ethnic groups or people of different sexual orientation.

    There are causes that I feel strongly about, and I don't plan on trying to advocate for those causes in my writing because they don't fit the story I want to tell. Why, then, would I think it a good idea to advocate for a cause that I:

    a) am not in any way passionate about AND
    b) not sure is worthy of my advocacy in the first place?

    Not to say that I will never want to tell a story about such, but for my current WIP? Nope.

    If it makes you happy, I am also working on a story that features a half white/half Brazillian teenage girl. I didn't choose the character ethnicity because of some idea of promoting equality, however, but because I based her on my niece.
     
  14. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Before I respond to this, let me make sure I understand where you're coming from. You have stated that your setting does not revolve around sexism, and 2/3 of the characters you've mentioned are female. Are those characters main characters?

    Edit: Also, why do you keep saying "cause"? What do you think I'm advocating? I'm seriously confused about this. (If you think I'm with Saellys on this one, I can assure you I'm not--I'll explain this later if the topic strays towards it, but the short version is that I think her ideas are part of the problem.)
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2013
  15. saellys

    saellys Inkling

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    Well, we've reached the "I just don't care enough about it" part of the discussion, which is exactly where I abandoned the diversity thread I started a year ago when I first joined this forum. Coming full circle feels like a good time to bow out, of this discussion as well as this whole forum. It's wearying to be the only voice saying certain things, and ultimately I don't think I and Mythic Scribes have a lot to offer each other. My time would be better spent writing.

    It's been real, everyone.
     
  16. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Perhaps the question we should consider is less whether we should represent this or that group of people in our fiction, but rather why we want to represent those groups.

    In my case, I don't write African settings and characters because someone else told me to incorporate racial or cultural diversity in my writing. It's because I have developed a special interest in that part of the world that began in second grade when my class did a unit on ancient Egypt. This same passion has made me sick to my stomach of how Africa and its people are represented in popular consciousness. It's not just that Africa gets glossed over as a setting in the fantasy and historical genres. It's that when it does get represented, that representation is disrespectful or contributes to a disrespectful trend.

    I'm damn tired of people associating Africa only with slavery, oppression, post-colonial strife, or cultural pathologies. I'm damned tired of people denying pre-colonial African cultural sophistication or attributing it all to Arabs, Phoenicians, or some other "Mediterranean Caucasoids". And I am really damned tired of people saying that Western civilization is inherently morally superior to all others, especially Africa. Sure, Africa has always had its problems, but the same could be said for every other part of the world, including the idealized West.

    That is why I want to represent Africa in my stories. It's not because I'm filling out any kind of checklist or forcing onto myself some obligation to represent every nook and cranny of humanity. It's because I have this passion for a particular nook that everyone else keeps putting down, and I want to rectify that.
     
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  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think writers on the whole are fairly enlightened and do tend to care about these kinds of issues. You can't make someone care about them, of course, but casting oneself as the lone voice in the wilderness seems a bit much.

    I suppose one might wonder why those who don't care about it bother reading and posting in threads on the subject. Seems a bit odd.
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2013
  18. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    Are you kidding me? Just because people don't agree with you. I get it, it sucks being the only one arguing a point but come on. From what I've read so far it seems that the majority all agree that diversity is good but it should be a natural evolution from world building. It's not like everyone here is saying your opinion is bad and a no no.

    Hell. in the diversity thread you made me rethink a valid point, that whole making an effort line in response to one of my posts. It made me think that every revolution, national or social, began with someone making an effort towards change.

    I don't have to agree with you, nor does anyone else, the point isn't to make everyone else here agree with ourselves. The point is to share our thoughts, opinions, and experiences about becoming better writers. You cannot make people agree with you. Hell I've had a few rows with a few people here because we disagreed about something. I doubt me and Kit see eye to eye, and a few others but there have been more than a few occasions where I have stopped and rethought my opinion about things they have said. No I may not completely change and agree with them but I certainly incorporate these ideas into my world view because I find them valid.

    Also I don't think this is about people not caring enough about something. I think it has more to do with interests and how to proceed. If I have no interest in feminism you cannot expect me to include feminist ideas in my writing and expect them to be well thought out, especially when my interests are more towards warfare. It doesn't mean I don't try to include certain small little snippets when I can and I'm sure everyone else does too. You cannot expect us to all become champions of a very complex social issue. I don't think anyone here set out to write the next Uncle Toms Cabin, Kudos to you if you did, no we simply want to write good fantasy and at times that can include diversity, or addressing sexism and racism it depends on who is writing and what they feel comfortable with. Some people don't feel comfortable writing CSA or rape, not because they don't care exactly the opposite really. Those are two issues that deserve a lot more attention than they get in my opinion, I cannot get upset if people choose not(or how) to write about them, that is their choice. My point is I don't think anyone here really disagrees with you inherently simply at the execution. We all make small little steps where we can and how we are best capable. There is nothing wrong with that.

    edit: Ok maybe not caring enough is the same thing as intrests but I think my point still stands
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2013
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  19. Quillstine

    Quillstine Troubadour

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    So if nothing else....we know the title of this thread has been proved correct! :D
     
  20. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I'm not sure how having female characters relates in any way to sexism, but okay...

    I have a male protagonist and 6 main characters. Of the main characters, 3 are female and 3 are male.

    It seemed like you were advocating for the inclusion of a diverse cast of characters. I consider that a "cause." If not, what are you advocating?
     
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