Thoughts on People Doing Things

I had the opportunity to sit down with Nick Thornton, host of the People Doing Things podcast recently, to talk about some of the things I’m doing. It was a great conversation about my writing, my process, and my relentless negativity. Trigger warning, I do talk a little bit about my personal experiences with depression and suicidality. Take a listen to the episode and subscribe to the podcast! Nick has some deep conversations with interesting people doing important things but hides it well with a glib humour and self-effacing remarks that I, as a person doing a thing, really appreciate. My favourite episode – apart from my own obv – is number 31 that I have dubbed Alcoholism and Activism.

So take a listen, you can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and let Nick know that you like him as a person doing a thing.

Nick and I after recording the podcast.

Nick and I after recording the podcast.

Perspective

This week’s writing prompt comes from a recent episode of Writing Excuses about Character Perception vs. Narrative.

Your writing prompt:

Take something that you believe to be false, that you completely understand to be false, and write a character who has the absolute opposite belief. Do it in such a way that you take actual umbrage at the idiocy of your character and now find ways to hang flags on that so that you’re not mad at yourself as an author.

The podcast was an interesting discussion about how to write characters that hold opinions or beliefs that are contrary to those of the author. For example, authors writing scientifically or technically wrong opinions intentionally, and doing it in a way which isn’t distracting. Personally, nothing will kill my ability to get into a book like an author confusing concrete and cement. To me, it’s as glaring as a typo. Yes, I am a special kind of bad person.

Now it might seem silly, but if instead of a character using the wrong technical or scientific terms they were espousing ignorant or discriminatory opinions that’s entirely different. The guest speaker Nancy Fulda talks a little bit about her experience writing historical fiction involving, but not centered around, racism. She says that she relies on subtle clues about peoples response to racism to point out that the opinions are ignorant. In this case, the modern reader will also see the racism for what it is because of where they’re approaching the novel from. This is totally reasonable, but what if it’s too subtle?

I say this because some discrimination isn’t so obvious. In stories where the discrimination is allegorical or isn’t well recognized, it may reinforce certain behaviours in the reader, intentionally or not. While a modern reader might be able to point to racism in a story because, obviously, the bad guy used a racist epithet. It’s harder to recognize when a sympathetic character used homophobic language or espoused transphobic opinions, despite being basically the same thing. The only difference is that in this case the already poorly recognized bigotry is hidden because of who said it. The best example that I ever saw, was in Harry Potter when Hermione was challenging people’s exploitation of House Elves and everyone dismisses her. The readers may have let it go because it’s an allegorical kind of racism in a kids novel set in a fantasy world. However it illustrates that good people like Ron or Harry, who repeatedly expressed disgust at the term Mudblood, were unmoved by other forms of discrimination in their world.

While it might be easy to defend these behaviours in your character as being authentic or true to their characters, authors aren’t powerless over their work. They can employ little hints from other characters to help editorialize the point. The panel in the podcast call it, hanging a flag on it (or Lampshade Hanging on TvTropes).  Now, it might not always be easy to do this artfully, but I have faith in you. Unless of course you mix up cement and concrete, they we’re through.

Happy Craft Wednesday!

Like all (future) Craft Wednesdays I’ll be posting about things that I’ve found that have helped me write better. Today, I encourage you to check out Writing Excuses a 15 minute podcast by 4 wonderful writers releasing a new episode each week.

Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart

My husband recommended it to me when I started revising my NaNoWriMo 2012 novel. At the time I was more oblivious about writing as a profession, and these 4 professional writers started giving me the language to describe my writing. Through their banter about work and process, I felt that they’ve made writing more accessible. It made it less scary and more possible. This exposure made it a little bit like I could start coming out to myself as a writer. I feel more comfortable talking about plot and pacing. I feel camraderie (in a distant and respectful way) for these people who’ve been published and continue to publish works.

I recommend checking it out, it’s only 15 minutes and is practical and entertaining and who knows, you may get a good writing prompt or reading suggestion out of it.