WRITING: Writing Whatever You Damn Well Please
That’s right, you guys get a ranty-rant this week. I’ve got one other post coming up (a request post, woo!) but it might be an hour or two until then. So, in the mean time.
I wanted to talk about something I’ve gotten very tired–very, verrrry tired–of seeing around the internet this week.
I can’t say it’s a trend. I’ve seen a lot of these articles (particularly about women–there’s something intrinsically wrong with a post titled ‘How to Write a Female Character’), over a long span of time. But this week, for some reason, I keep running into them–and every time I do, whatever the subject, I feel that special little twist in my cackly heartmuscle that means I’m going to go motherfucking crazy soon, so I should probably post a rant.
There are a lot of people, on all sides of the political spectrum, all of them well-meaning, who seem to feel your characters should be a certain way, say certain things, react certain ways. Your female characters should be more assertive, your black characters more liberal, your male characters more masculine, your priests less stereotypically mild, take your pick. I’m not kidding. Pick a way you want your character to be, and someone’s written an article about how incorrect it is to portray a character that way, or how unpopular it now is, and how you ‘should’ do this, this, and this, or people will be offended/no one will ever read your story.
Guess what, guys?
It’s a story. It’s a motherfucking story. It’s fiction.
Not only that, it’s my story. You’re welcome to approve or disapprove of the way I’ve written a character. Of course you are–it’s a free country. But if you don’t like it, the answer might be, instead of telling me to write differently, to read someone else’s book.
There are assertive ladies out there, yes. There are also timid ladies. There are assertive men and there are timid men. There are mild priests, sanctimonious priests, raucous priests, blasphemous priests (if you don’t believe me on the last one, cut one off in traffic). There are gentle and kind Muslim men. There are Muslim men who’re real assholes. There are Muslim women who have been helped and healed by their religion, and Muslim women who have been hurt and repressed by it.
We’re all writers here. Why is it–why the hell is it–we can’t seem to understand that a character is just a character, and a story is just a story?
If I write a story about (just for example) a Muslim woman who takes strength and courage from her belief in Islam, I am by no means saying all Muslim women are happy with Islam. If I wrote the opposite story–the story of a woman oppressed and beaten down by her own faith–I would by no means be saying all women are. If I wrote either one of
these stories about a Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, take-your-pick woman–the same goes.
You see, here’s the thing. We don’t exist in a saran-wrapped bubble of our own little economic/racial/religious/gender-based identity. I don’t, for instance, only interact with and write about straight white atheist liberal women.
But, if you do or don’t–you’re damned whatever you do. I go into writing knowing that. I’m encouraging cishet cultural norms if I don’t write a few queer characters, I’m misrepresenting queer people if I do. Some people are thrilled I’ve chosen to write about a queer character at all. All of which is fascinating to me as, you know, I write fantasy, and therefore don’t represent anyone on this earth particularly.
But that’s the nature of the beast. Some people are going to love what you’ve done and some aren’t. That’s how it is, and that’s fine.
Just don’t try and tell me how to write, and I won’t try and tell you how to review.
This person is in my story because my story needs them. They have many other characteristics than the one I’m apparently portraying incorrectly. A green person in a story might be a part of green minority culture, but he’s also a loyal man, good to animals, generous to his family, a pretty mean cook. Who knows? You do, because you wrote it.
We are all–all of us–part of a very big, very complicated, and very multilayered world. Our characters, whether you write literary fiction (whatever the hell THAT is precisely) or F/SF, are based on the voices of our world. You should always remember that each voice is different, and the color of our skin, our gender, our sexual orientation, etc., has nothing to do with that. Our voices would all be different even if we were all green, four hundred pounds, and female.
So write the voice you hear.
Don’t write the voice you think is truest to you belief system, or closest to what Donald Trump says it should be, or is most politically correct (is it sad that Item B was what I thought of as ‘precise opposite of Item C’ in forming that sentence?).Or, the saddest yet perhaps the most common–don’t write the voice you think is most popular. If your character is a shy and timid girl, don’t write her brash and assertive because that’s how women are ‘supposed’ to be now. Women aren’t ‘supposed’ to be shit.
Write the voice you hear.
Let me repeat it, to make sure you understand this:
Write the goddamn voice you goddamn well hear.
And all that stuff people might say afterwards?
You wrote your story, and now you’re going to reap the benefits (or punishments) of doing so. And that’s just how it is–writing is open to interpretation, and people are going to interpret. You can’t stop ’em–nor should you.
But don’t let them (or fear of them) stop you.
I say it over and over on this blog, but I’m going to say it again.
Write whatever you damn well please.
It’s the only thing you can do.