In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: On Stereotypes and …
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers
Sometimes I get behind, or for some reason don’t think to welcome new subscribers. But I do appreciate each of you.
Welcome to Steven D, Maggie K, and Lynn, and to any others I missed along the way. I hope you will find the Journal of value.
Quote of the Day
On letting your characters tell their own story—
Over lunch in New York, Lee Child’s agent look at him across the table, and mentioned that a particular scene in his latest manuscript might make more sense if it appeared in a different place.
Child listened carefully, and when the agent was through, Child smiled and said, “Oh, I agree with you. But that isn’t how it happened.”
Topic: On Stereotypes and Avoiding Offending Readers—A Reality Check
A few days ago an acquaintance posted an article in which she asked “How do you handle diversity as an author?” The thrust of the article was basically about whether writers should walk on eggshells in an effort to avoid “offending” anyone.
Okay, first, as you all know, I’m from the sticks and stones generation. A punch in the mouth will offend me. A knife to the gut or a bullet to the chest will offend me a great deal more.
But words? Not so much. I might get upset if I don’t like what someone else says, especially when the feet of the speaker are firmly rooted (in my opinion) in ignorance.
Nah, too haughty for me.
Today is June 6, the 75th anniversary of D Day. That happened a short 9 years before I was born.
On that day, thousands of young men (average age, 21 years old) stormed the beaches of Normandy. Many of them were “offended,” some repeatedly, and not by some innocent, off-hand comment, much less from a fictional character. Their only “safe space” was at the foot of the cliffs, finallly out of the line of sight of the German machine guns. A lot of them were offended to such a degree they didn’t make it that far.
I mention this because I have one foot in that generation and one in my own, maybe because of my time in the Marine Corps.
But long before I embarked on that 21-year civilian-appreciation course—somewhere around age 5—I came to learn the world just isn’t all about me and my sensitivities.
Now to writing—
No matter how softly you choose to tread, EVERY CHARACTER IS BASED ON A STEREOTYPE. There, I said it.
The good news is, it isn’t your fault.
No matter how well you write a character, no matter whether you prepare a detailed character sketch or just trust the character to reveal his/her own traits as s/he comes to life, the reader WILL see and hear a stereotype when s/he first meets your character.
If a particularly “woke” reader says s/he doesn’t “recognize” stereotypes, s/he’s lying in a weak attempt to convince someone else how special s/he is. Period.
We as human beings ALWAYS see a stereotype when we notice someone else for the first time, even in real life. It’s part of our primal instinct for survival. In most cases, we aren’t even consciously aware we’re doing it.
But in every direct and indirect interaction with anyone we haven’t met before (in real life or in fiction), we first determine “type,” then evaluate whether we perceive the person as a threat.
So stop trying to avoid writing stereotypes. You can’t. It’s an issue of perception, and you can’t control the reader’s perception.
The best you can do as a writer is hang on for the ride as the stereotypical character develops into a bad guy (antagonist or his helpers) or a good guy (protagonist or his helpers).
Now on this matter of diversity or a lack of diversity (in stories) or whatever else might “offend”—
As a writer and human, I laugh at all the yelling about diversity.
The very idea of diversity necessarily sets apart human beings and groups them by superficial traits: skin color, national origin, gender, sexual preference etc. Read Dr. Seuss’ “The Sneetches” sometime and you’ll see how ridiculous all of this is.
To me it’s all silliness, and those writers who bend to it aren’t bending to diversity. They’re bending to the will of those who are yelling about diversity.
In the real world, in the most intense human times—for example, two people hunkered in a foxhole after dark in a bad place or crowded under a counter in a bank or a McDonald’s out of sight of a gunman—most humans don’t care who’s crouched next to them, and superficial things don’t matter. Each only cares, and is grateful, that the other is there.
My characters, like all other real people I know, are much more complex than the color of their skin or their gender or whether they wear a white hat or a black hat (or a hat at all) and on and on and on.
Do we notice those differences? OF COURSE. (See above about stereotypes.)
But do those superficial differences matter once we learn more about the person or character? Not so much.
As a writer and the recorder of my characters’ stories, I sit alone in a room, making stuff up. That’s all. I just write.
As the characters reveal things about themselves, I write those things. As they reveal their “baggage” (for example, through an action or through a casual comment to a friend or a more pointed one to an adversary or their opinion of a particular part of the setting) I write that too.
I write what I’m given to write. Neither I nor my characters set out with the intention to “offend” anyone. We’re only telling a story.
If a person or persons yell at me about diversity (or any other “offense”), I mark it up to them not having met and come to know the people I’m writing about.
Then again, those who yell about things like diversity, even if they DID come to know a character and believe s/he was portrayed accurately, would not admit it. For them, the “correct” portrayal would simply become a hushed, inconvenient truth.
Hence, those who yell about diversity etc. are not living authentic lives. They’re only yelling to draw attention to themselves, and as a result, their opinions simply don’t matter to me.
Yes, they, like me, all have freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment. But nowhere does that amendment mention the guarantee of an audience.
And frankly, I don’t like censorship and I don’t care for narcissists enough to bend to their will.
Rolled out at 1:45 and was in the Hovel by 2. Read a lot for “Of Interest,” then was headed straight to the novel (it’s a short day).
But I remembered a topic I wanted to write about, so I did that first.
To the novel at 3:40. I updated the reverse outline, took a break to let the babies out at 5, then cycled through what I wrote yesterday.
At 5:30, a brief break to feed the horses. (They assured me I’m late and they haven’t eaten for days. They are experts in drama, these horses.)
Back to the novel, and then at 6:30, up to the house for a long break (shower, breakfast, and so on). Back to the Hovel and the novel at 8:30.
A lot of back and forth with email, cycling and writing until around 11, then a break. Back to the Hovel at 11:45.
Well, I messed around too much and fell a little short.
Talk with you again tomorrow.
See “More Learning Than My Poor Brain Can Handle” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/more-learning-than-my-poor-brain-can-handle/.
See “Business Musings: Here It Comes” at https://kriswrites.com/2019/06/05/business-musings-here-it-comes/.
See Dan Baldwin’s “Verbal Contract Abuse – Part III” at http://prowriterswriting.com/verbal-contract-abuse-part-iii/.
See “If You Want Pace & Tension…” at https://killzoneblog.com/2019/06/if-you-want-pace-tension-stick-with-the-action-first-page-critique-of-escalation.html.
Aw Jeez. To see more about the nonsense in the topic above, see the Passive Guy’s take on “Why I’m No Longer Reading Books by White Men” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/why-im-no-longer-reading-books-by-white-men/.
Fiction Words: 3397
Nonfiction Words: 1350 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 4747
Writing of In the Cantina at Noon (novel)
Day 20… 1890 words. Total words to date…… 36451
Day 21… 2961 words. Total words to date…… 39412
Day 22… 1192 words. Total words to date…… 40604
Day 23… 1718 words. Total words to date…… 42322
Day 24… 2313 words. Total words to date…… 44635
Day 25… 1017 words. Total words to date…… 45652
Day 26… 3328 words. Total words to date…… 48980
Day 27… 1538 words. Total words to date…… 50518
Day 28… 4327 words. Total words to date…… 54845
Day 29… 3397 words. Total words to date…… 58242
Total fiction words for the month……… 13607
Total fiction words for the year………… 319712
Total nonfiction words for the month… 9050
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 164610
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 484322
Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 6
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 43
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 194
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31