Tag Archive | Writing

Race, Fantasy Literature, and Political Correctness (part I)

I will say from the get-go that I am not a fan of political correctness; it seems far too close to 1984’s Newspeak to me; at the very least, it is eerily similar. When I wrote my novel, Drasmyr (about 18 years ago, now), I pretty much paid little attention to variations in the human race and while writing, pretty much imagined all my characters as white (I’m white); however, I never went out of my way to specify human races in the novel, so, it would require little effort on the reader’s part to imagine the characters as black, or oriental, or what-have-you. The only thing that might jar would be the names. That said, as the author, I imagined the characters as white. So, let’s just assume they are.

 

Is that a weakness in the book? I’m sure some people think so. Personally, I think it is much ado about nothing.  To me, the way to overcome racism is to be colorblind. It simply doesn’t matter that all the characters are white. By the same token, a black author should have no problem writing a book featuring all black characters. Or I could write a book featuring all black characters if I wanted to; either way, taken by itself, a book featuring human characters who are all of the same race should be acceptable, particularly since it is not necessarily true that—especially in earlier times—the human races were mixed equally around the globe. I mean, really, the reason racism starts, is because a homogenous population encounters someone who looks “different.” That presupposes that the population was homogenous in the first place. So, why can’t you write a story that takes place in that homogenous population before they encountered peoples of different races? A story set in ancient Japan would probably be strange if it featured American Indians, unless it incorporated a very specific justification for such, would it not?

 

Still, the politically correct forces are what they are. But they do lead to some strange, if not downright silly, results. A friend of mine actually pointed the following out to me: in the movie “Thor,” from a couple years back, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) is accompanied by a small group of companions. All of them come from Asgard, the home of the Asgardian “gods”—you know, Odin, Loki … them guys. His companions are, conveniently, a mix of different races representative of the peoples of the various places of Earth. Yet, as my friend pointed out, Thor and Odin were NORSE gods. The gods of every culture on the planet have always, according to the legends, pretty much been of the same race as the people who worshipped them—just bigger, stronger, and immortal (or they were human-animal hybrids). That kind of poses a difficulty for the movie “Thor”: if Thor had black and Asian companions, why didn’t the Norsemen worship them and have corresponding legends about them? Maybe that’s a trivial flaw—and I’m sure you could get by it with some mental gymnastics—but it does show how adherence to politically correct tenets can cause difficulties with plots and stories that might be better served if such tenets were ignored. In the case of Thor, political correctness might have been better served if, again as my friend suggested, the major Earth characters in the movie were of mixed races—which they weren’t.

 

Anyway, this leads to my next point: as a writer, I don’t like being “told” I have to include such and such a character in my story or the story is flawed or I’m a racist. I prefer to write characters that fit the story, and sometimes, an all white, or all black cast might be called for. That said, Drasmyr was written with only white characters in mind only because I never made a conscious effort to do otherwise. It was not intended as a slight to blacks or Asians or anyone else. All that being said, I will tip my hat to political correctness to a certain extent and include a black snake priestess in the next book. But only because I think she is really cool … and that’s the real reason to include a character, any character, in your novel.

Literature: On The Nature Of Writing (Part II)

Last time I wrote, I listed a large number of writing types and a few means of looking at each type. From the large list, I selected the following types: philosophical essays, novels, and short stories (and poems); and I claimed that of the many different ways of looking at a piece of writing, the ones I was interested in included: as a means of self-expression, as a means of communication, and aesthetically. Today, I’m going to combine both thoughts, and evaluate each type of writing in accordance with the ways of looking at it. And maybe add one or two thoughts to top it off.

 

I wrote tons of philosophical essays in college. And I can tell you most emphatically that philosophical writing is all about communication. I guess there is some self-expression involved, and, I suppose, aesthetic writing is always a plus, but the primary duty of the philosopher is to communicate, clearly and cogently, some thought worth telling. That’s why it’s so difficult to read. Seriously. It’s a paradox, but not really. Natural language is so vague, that philosophy involves going through various literary contortions to precisely delineate the exact meaning the writer wants to express and none other. It’s that ‘none other’ bit that is problematic. Oh yes, and there is Logic involved. Lots and lots of logic. Philosophers are basically the inspiration for Star Trek’s Vulcans.

 

At the other extreme, I think, is poetry. That seems to be largely a work of self-expression, greatly concerned with aesthetics almost above all else. It does communicate thoughts, but it is as much emotional thinking as it is analytical. It is something that you either ‘get it’ as it comes across, or you are hopelessly lost. But, like I said, my experience in poetry is limited, so I could be totally wrong.

 

Novels and short stories, though, are kind of a hybrid. They involve both self-expression and communication. Pretty language has a place, dressing the work up as an art form, but it is useless if it does not communicate some thought relatively clearly. Like poetry, the thought need not be purely rational (unlike philosophy—irrational philosophy is like a computer spewing out illegitimate code); it can be emotional, or humorous, or what-have-you. But it must be communicated clearly enough that the average reader will get the point without too much difficulty.

 

Regardless of which type of writing engaged in, many of the best examples involve some kind of social commentary, be it a critique of the current political structures or what-have-you. But that isn’t an absolute necessity. I enjoy stories that are just stories all the time.

 

I do have one final thought concerning the distinction between philosophy and literature (in whatever form). Literature consists largely of opinion (admittedly opinion that is defended or critiqued to varying levels and degrees, but it is, all the same, just opinion). Philosophy is concerned with knowledge. Which is one of the reasons it makes virtually no progress. I took four years of philosophy, and what do I know with absolute 100% certainty beyond a shadow of a doubt? Not much: I know I am not omniscient. That’s one thing. And I know 2+2=4. It’s a small kernel of truth, but it is truth nonetheless.

 

Take that Mr. Relativist! (Yes, I have this horrible fixation on murdering the hideous relativistic beast that is slowly eating our society alive!)

 

Bwu-ha ha ha!

Very Inspiring Blog Awards

A couple weeks ago I was nominated for the Very Inspiring Blog Award by Sophie E. Tallis at Sophie E. Tallis (Thank you very much!). This is like the third or fourth time I’ve been nominated for this award. I haven’t gotten around to posting this notice since then, so I’ll do it today. I was going to go the full distance and nominate fifteen other bloggers (as the rules require), but that is just way too many. I’ve already nominated all the bloggers I follow in the past, so I tried to pick some new ones, but I only came up with six. Anyway, here goes:

Inspiring

The Rules of the Award are as follows:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 7 things about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 bloggers for this award and link to them.
  5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

First, seven things about myself:

1. I own a cat named Confucius.

2. I have a black belt in the martial arts (though, I am seriously out of shape).

3. My favorite color used to be green (it is now black).

4. My favorite number (as a kid) used to be 2100 (and that’s pronounced twenty-one hundred, not two thousand one hundred).

5. My favorite monster as a kid was Godzilla.

6. At one point in my life, I wanted to be a Ninja (didn’t think too hard about the assassination bit).

7. I was a philosophy/math major in college.

15 blogs is way too many; as I said, but I’m only going to nominate six. So, in no particular order I give you:

1. http://margueritemorris.wordpress.com/ A vampire blog. Gotta love it.

2. http://dlsummers.wordpress.com/ A fantasy blog.

3. http://jezstrider.wordpress.com/ A freelance writer.

4. http://ajmotia.wordpress.com/ A blog with a few dragons in it.

5. http://thedarkglobe.wordpress.com/legends-undying-the-beginning/ A multi-artist site dedicated to showcasing the work of various artists.

6. http://branwenreads.wordpress.com/ A new book review site.

Blogging: Is There Such a Thing as Posting Too Often?

I run a blog (this one, of course) and try to post to it at least twice a week, sometimes three times. There are a number of blogs that post far more often. Some five times a week; others, even several times a day. My purpose for blogging is to gain exposure for my writing. My blog, itself, is not supposed to be my career, but a complement to it. Other bloggers make their living off their blog. I’ve heard, and I kind of assume, that posting only once a week or less is not really worthwhile. Even posting twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, seems to be severely limiting. But, as I write fantasy literature, I’ve only got so much time to work on my blog. Twice a week (with an occasional extra) will have to do. Clearly, there is a minimum number you should post if running a blog, but is there a maximum?

Perhaps it is my technological naïvetee, but I seem to have problems keeping up with some of the more numerous blog posters. I own a smart phone, and for a while, I was following certain blogs and having the messages sent to my phone. Because they were posting so often, my inbox was being flooded with updates for each and every post. I finally broke down and set up filters that sent the blog posts to their own individual folder, so at least the primary inbox would remain clear of everything but the most essential e-mails.

I guess the answer to my question depends upon each individual consumer. For me, I like a more sparse number of postings: two or three times a week. It’s easier to keep up with and it’s easier to work into my schedule. Because keeping up on blogs, is almost as essential to my writing career as my own actual blogging. At one point, I didn’t bother following some blogs, or unfollowed others, because they just posted too much. I’ve had to rethink that strategy. I guess it was naïve for me to think that if I was going to follow a blog, I would be able to read every entry that blogger made. That seems more genuine, at least. But there are innumerable bloggers whose stats indicate they are following hundreds or even thousands of other bloggers. It’s almost like reverse spam. I do see the reason it happens, and understand why—and I will probably begin even doing it myself—but it still feels disingenuous.

Under such conditions, where people are seeking to maximize followers and maximize the blogs they follow, it seems that the best strategy is to maximize the number of posts you make. Each post has a chance of picking up more followers for your blog. But I think there is a certain innocence lost. I must wonder what happened to the blog-followers who just kept up with one or two blogs that interested them. Have they become a vanishing breed? If so, is that a good thing, or not? I honestly don’t know.

What do you think?

Fantasy Literature: Writing and Revision: When is too much?

Writing fantasy literature, or any kind of literature, is hard work. And as it is often said, the secret of writing consists of “Revision. Revision. And Revision.” Any piece of original writing can be improved with revision. No piece of writing will come out perfect on the first draft, that’s a fact. The human brain just doesn’t work that way. You might get a few choice one-liners in the first draft, but on the whole, it will require reworking it to produce the polished gem you want.

 

However, in my experience, any piece of writing can be improved upon ad infinitum. This leads to a question: when is the revision process complete? If you insist on perfection, it won’t ever be complete. There must be some point at which the writing can be regarded as “good enough.” Does that mean we are settling for second best? That we’ve given up, because the struggle is beyond our capacity? I don’t think so. It is just a pragmatic way to deal with reality. As one revises over and over again, the manuscript will improve by a smaller and smaller degree each time. At a certain point, the reward (the degree to which the manuscript improves) will be insufficient to justify the effort (all the editing, proofreading, and rewording that goes into it). Determining this is, of course, a matter of skill and experience, and not a function of variables you can plug into some computer or some odd calculus you can do in your head.

 

Ideally, every writer should have at least one, preferably several, practice readers for their work. For my book “Drasmyr,” I had basically my sister—she’s got an English degree, but spends most of her time taking care of her kids—and a high school buddy who not only has an English degree, but some experience in the field of journalism. I would have liked to have hired a professional editor, but alas, I do not have the finances for that. The book has received several four star and five star reviews, so I think the process was ultimately thorough enough. Still, if I had to do it again, I would hire the editor… even if I had to scrounge for the money. The rule of thumb is: “If you got the dough, hire an editor.” Anyway, it is important to remember that even with the professional editor, the person with the final word on the document is you. You can only make so many changes to a document before you will start getting sick of looking at it over and over again. At this point, you have a choice to make: either publish it as is, or put it aside for a month or two, or even a year, then look at it again with fresh eyes after the allotted time has passed. Regardless, at some point, putting it aside will just turn into wasting time for meager improvements. At this point, just publish it. In today’s day and age it is very easy to do so… well, easier, anyway.

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