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Work Room - Week 18

This was posted in the Green Room today, but it's interesting enough that I wanted to make it a Work Room.


It's about writing and gender.

Sure, it's talking about film and speaking roles - but it easily translate to fiction writing as well.

For those of you who do write a lot of fiction - is this imbalance something you keep in mind while creating characters? Is it "easier" to create someone you more closely identify with?

For that matter - when you write as someone who *isn't* from your specific identity, is that a huge risk of "getting it wrong" and receiving backlash as a result? (Which I'm pretty sure *wasn't* your intent! :D)

I've seen a few writers out there in publishing who seem to want to "embrace more diversity" in their writing, but when they do, it comes out really poorly and they just end up upsetting the people who they wanted to attract. How much - and what kind - of research do you end up doing with something like this?

We all know that the only *real* voice - and opinion that matters in any of this is ME. But in your pretend little universes, creating your boxes of moonlight-filled dreams, where - if anywhere - does this fit into your writing schemes?

(the new topic is at: http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/919252.html)


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 12th, 2016 05:37 am (UTC)
I'm not professing to be good at writing to any particular identity that isn't my own, but it seems riskiest when I assume that an identity would behave in certain ways because of an assumption on my part about an identity.

To de-vagueify that, I have a character I've wanted to write for years--a middle aged black man living in a poor neighborhood. First, I have serious doubts that I even have the right to create this character. How could I even hope to encapsulate the texture of his life with tone and mannerisms? Second, when I've tried to approach it, it's bad. Like, roll-my-face-across-the-delete-button-until-the-pain-of-knowingly-writing-a-harmful-stereotype-goes-away bad. It's not even about backlash fears: it embarrasses me to say that I understand so little about how other groups of people live and speak well enough to write those characters.

When I do have success writing different identities, I've found that little is actually needed beyond letting them be individuals with their own voices. I think there are limitations to this, though. I'm still just a novice.

I'd like to be halfshellvenus for example. Regular experimentation with occasionally culturally-based voices to rather cool effect.

Edited at 2016-04-12 05:38 am (UTC)
Apr. 12th, 2016 05:51 pm (UTC)
! Thanks for this very cool comment. That's really nice of you. :)

"Voices" so often drive characters for me. If I can clearly hear the voice, I know who that character is-- even if it isn't someone I'd expect to be writing.

I know that isn't true for a lot of writers, and it may be kind of a handicap at times. But it makes a huge difference for me.
Apr. 12th, 2016 07:16 am (UTC)
I don't write a lot of fiction, but I've occasionally written male characters. When I do, I still have to admit they're a lot like me. I think the most important thing is to stay close to your self and to write about genuine human emotions.
Apr. 12th, 2016 07:34 am (UTC)
Here's what I said in the GR about the gender in movies study:

It's pretty interesting, and beyond the general statistic-goodness of it, it made me think about the role of the writer in changing these things. I mean, I know producers often turn things upside down before a movie is made, but writers have some initial power there.

And fiction isn't my thing, generally, and I'm proud that when I think about the fiction I have written that I have some strong female characters (who might fall under the "action" category in the article), but I also have female characters falling to violence by men, while I only have one story where a secondary male character falls to violence. I haven't counted my male vs female characters overall, but it makes me ponder.

It's worth spending some time clicking on.
Apr. 12th, 2016 07:39 am (UTC)
As far as the diversity question goes - I think the answer is to get to know people - really know - people who are members of whatever the group is. The things you don't know and you don't realize you don't know - well, you just don't know them.

I've read several attempts male writers have made toward writing lesbian romance (read - porn). Wrong, guys. Just wrong.
Apr. 12th, 2016 05:48 pm (UTC)
I've read several attempts male writers have made toward writing lesbian romance (read - porn). Wrong, guys. Just wrong.
This may be along the lines of how women write M/M slash, though.

They are writing what appeals to them, generally for other women. So, it's not an attempt at realism, and yes-- you can debate the ethics/intent of wish-fulfillment fiction. I've written a lot of M/M slash, so I'm guilty of this myself.

There was a memorable "dictum" (stop smiling, Kathryn, I know you've just mentally gone to the pun-place on that!) written in the Supernatural fandom by a gay male fan and it was all about "M/M relationships, UR Doing It Wrong!"

But the authors weren't trying to write authentically gay characters, they were trying to write "unexpectedly opportunistically/emotionally attracted to a specific member of their own sex" characters. Yeah, that's wordy. BUT... for writers/readers of slash, it's a really important distinction.

So, I have to give male writers the benefit of the doubt (or of understanding) on that one.
Apr. 12th, 2016 06:32 pm (UTC)
I don't do fandom, so my knowledge of slash is limited, but I see it differently (and maybe that's more about my opinion of fanfic - "not real" vs canon.)

I guess I feel like if they're writing their own personal faux lesbians, then don't call them lesbians. I mean, to what extent is there responsibility for the continuation of false assumptions and stereotypes? And, seriously, what percentage of actual lesbians want some guy to think, "Hey, she and her girlfriend would be completely cool with a 3-way with me, because lesbians do that all the time?"
Apr. 12th, 2016 07:02 pm (UTC)
And, seriously, what percentage of actual lesbians want some guy to think, "Hey, she and her girlfriend would be completely cool with a 3-way with me, because lesbians do that all the time?"

Ugh. Okay, I can't speak to that, except to say that a lot of people don't understand (or worse, don't believe in) the differences between gay and bisexual. (Some of those are people who are gay themselves)

Heck, even sexuality as a spectrum is a foreign concept to some (I lost a lesbian LJ-friend over that), and that's an idea that arose with Kinsey in the late 1940s and yet is also still too radical in some quarters. (Though I'm personally not sure that 6 points is enough-- feels like 10 points is more reflective)

The "phallocentric" perception of lesbian sexuality seems really off to me too, but I'm not in a position to say that for certain.

I do wish more lesbian and bisexual women were writing lesbian erotica, to help balance the perspective-- and provide books for the audience of other women like themselves. I think that with self-publishing, that's more likely to happen. I hope so.

For fanfiction, I would say that it's much like fiction that plays in someone else's sandbox. It's not for everyone, and at the same time... Gregory MacGuire is making money off of it ("Wizard of Oz" universe), and people are being hired to write Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels and some of Tom Clancy's works. To me, those are also forms of fanfiction. Broader than some people's definitions, I realize.
Apr. 12th, 2016 07:20 pm (UTC)
I've always seen it as a spectrum, but with an infinite number of points.

Some people don't get the difference between lesbian and bi, and some people don't get the difference between bi and promiscuous.

Unfortunately, some of those people are writers.
Apr. 12th, 2016 07:26 pm (UTC)
and some people don't get the difference between bi and promiscuous.
*headdesk* *headdesk*

And yet, I hear you, because I've seen it too.

Unfortunately, some of those people are writers.
Yes... *sigh*
Apr. 12th, 2016 09:07 am (UTC)
lordrexfear posted this in the Topic thread
which means I had to delete it. But it's good information, so I cut and pasted it:

"Time to drop knowledge to help folks out

Two of these are on the nose. Or will inspire easy. Cruising can inspire many of a story. Human Cloning allows tons of stuff.

Sagayan can too though... a lot. As I understand it, the term means "pre-war ritual"... so anything about how you psych yourself up for battle.

John Otto is/was/is the drummer for Limp Bizkit. He's also a Texas Representative. They aren't the same person."
Apr. 12th, 2016 10:36 am (UTC)
Apr. 12th, 2016 04:12 pm (UTC)
When I googled last night there were, I think, 188 John Ottos on linkedin. And then there are the famous ones. Must admit, I like yours a lot. (My idol senses are tingly.) :-)
Apr. 14th, 2016 11:08 pm (UTC)
I hope someone writes this one!
Apr. 12th, 2016 04:49 pm (UTC)
I'm still sorta weighing towards the musician one but using him as a branch.

LJ Idol is freedom!
Apr. 12th, 2016 04:51 pm (UTC)
At the same time there's something about pre-war ritual. Not sure which would be more fun, interesting or sincere to my current oeuvre in this season.
Apr. 12th, 2016 05:32 pm (UTC)
I mentioned it as an option, not a replacement.
Apr. 12th, 2016 06:43 pm (UTC)
Oh I know and I appreciate education. I apologize for not mentioning that.
Apr. 14th, 2016 11:07 pm (UTC)
That is the one I had in mind when I submitted the prompt! I figured there were others, but I'd just finished a fascinating nonfiction biography of that one.
Apr. 12th, 2016 06:15 pm (UTC)
Most of my characters are male, which I obviously am not. A lot of them are just basic guys, you know? Like, middle-of-the-road kind of people who find themselves in unexpected situations. Sometimes humor, sometimes drama, sometimes horror. I write fewer female characters, but they've been pretty spread out across the same gamut.

Some of the characters I write are assumed to be female, when I perhaps think of them as male or unidentified (yes, I am that evil!) Once, in S8, I wrote a story in second-person where the gender was explicitly withheld-- and a lot of the men assumed the narrator was male, while most of the women assumed it was female. Heh.

Of course, I've also written a lot if inanimate-object fiction, too. Yes, I know that's not common. And yes, those characters have distinct personalities to me. I'm starting to sound schizophrenic or something, aren't I?

I've written a few stories (fanfic and Idol) with a black male character. I'm not sure that the character's race was very distinctive in the Idol piece to anyone but me, and it was second-person, so... \o?

Also a couple of female black characters in fanfic, notably Rachel for "Justified," but less often overall.

How successful I've been at those last is hard to know. I mainly hear those voices as more matter-of-fact, a little stoic (because, hey, lots of bullshit that just never stops), a nod to vernacular at times but not all-out dialect. Someone closer to being those people would have a better perspective.

It's a tough line, for fiction. You don't want to presume or stereotype, but you also want those stories to be told. You may not be the best person to tell them, but it is worth the try, at least I think so.

/freakin' Pollyanna
Apr. 12th, 2016 06:28 pm (UTC)
As someone who writes a lot of science fiction, and being mindful of the drama that surrounds that genre from time to time ... yeah, it's a consideration present in my mind. But I don't write characters for quota - I just try to tell an honest story ... whether it's someone matching my orientation or gender or race or species or any of the other continua on which we all live. And if I can write an honest story, then POV seems to follow.

(Novels, on the other hand ... I drop in different sorts of characters, just to see how they react. And I've had POV characters switch age and gender and personality as I struggle toward a more interesting view.)

I'm not always successful (especially in the early drafts), but closing myself off from another point of view doesn't help me or anyone else, does it?

Edited at 2016-04-12 06:38 pm (UTC)
Apr. 12th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC)
But what about the shifting LJ ID? Chameleon-ness? You don't love us anymore?
Apr. 12th, 2016 09:34 pm (UTC)
Regeneration. (It was the end, but the moment had been prepared for.)
Apr. 14th, 2016 06:22 am (UTC)
I think fodschwazzleechoed my thoughts on the question perfectly by saying, "...it seems riskiest when I assume that an identity would behave in certain ways because of an assumption on my part about an identity."

To elaborate a little bit, I feel that in the case of 'minorities', they are not my stories to tell. I'd be profiting (by having an audience for a story that is not my own to tell) off of the oppression of someone else. Published writing in North America is already so full of 'whiteness' that to steal the opportunity from someone else to tell this story - and to no doubt do it badly as I'm out of tune with all that the experience entails - would not sit alright with me.

I do occasionally write from the male point of view. I admittedly don't really think much about gender differences while writing. Or if I do, it's a subconscious thing. I hope this doesn't equate to 'getting it all wrong', but I don't think that the harmful effects of this would equate to the same damage done if I had been writing in the voice of someone who does not have the same opportunities accessed through privilege. This is my hope, anyway.

My realization while writing this is that by not ever mentioning ethnicity and refusing to write from a POV that is not white or straight, am I just painting an extremely limited picture of society with no queer or ethnic people included in it? I'm not quite sure what to do with this.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )


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