Monday, December 27, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #7

Sorry this post is late. For Christmas I got insomnia, a burst pipe and a sick fiance. But better late, right?

7) I don't think a female POV would add anything to my story.

This makes no sense to me. All characters are made up of their experiences, and a woman's experience is often different than a man's, simply because (for good or ill) she is viewed differently by society. Female characters provide a viewpoint that the men in your story can't. They will see things through the lens of their gender, and through society's views of their gender, as well as the lens of their social class and occupation.

Isn't it illuminating to see an arranged marriage through the eyes of the bride-to-be? Isn't it helpful to know why she goes through with it, or why she won't? Doesn't having a female perspective on life on the streets of your gritty industrial city provide you with a different view of things? Doesn't it give you the opportunity to show things in a different light? And isn't it interesting to consider how a priestess sees a religion differently than a priest?

Your characters are an extension of your setting. The types of characters (male and female) that your society produces are relevant to the setting, to the depth of the read itself, and to story. You ruin your world's credibility when there are few or no women in it.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Friday, December 24, 2010

Building Cultures: Part 2

Once I have a grasp of the culture itself, I like to look at the culture's neighbors and work out how they will relate to one another on a political, governmental and religious basis. What do they have that their neighbors might want? What do they believe that their neighbors might not? What do they have to do in order to communicate?

After I feel I have a grasp on the current political situation, I look to the past. Where did this come from? How did it evolve? What led to the current situation? I write as much of the history as I feel will be important to the book, and probably more since I like to fill that in instead of leaving it bare bones.

I fill it in because often myth, legend and folklore play a large role in people's lives, even today. Some of us love myth and devour it because it speaks to us, we tell our children folktales although they're not always the same folktales our ancestors told one another. We have our own legends as well, people who do interesting things or win against the odds, or do something really well.

These things have endured for a reason and I think it's important to the story. These things illustrate the lessons people teach their children, their views on the world, their superstitions and their fears. The provide idioms, expressions, and analogies. They shape the way these people communicate with one another, and they can be used in that to really create a sense of the setting for the reader.

Once I've got the government, politics, religion and history down, I turn to the details of clothing, expression, use of materials, architecture, entertainment, etc. These are things that don't always come through in my first drafts because it's much easier to figure out where they fit in once the book is finished.

I'm always looking for ways to include my world building in the story without bogging it down. Details are a great way to do that because if the same detail is used five or six times a book, many people won't even consciously notice it on the first read through. Those most likely to notice are the ones that tend to like details (hence them noticing them). Of course, that doesn't go for phrases, which I think people pick out a lot quicker.

Once I have an understanding of these things about the culture, I start putting names to things. Governmental positions, religious position, people who use magic, anything that needs a name that is specific to the culture from which it comes.

I try not to give names to things I can more easily explain by using a well-known word, and I don't often name things in a culture's language because I think they can be more easily understood with a descriptive name. However, I may call magic users "casters," "runists," "spell weavers," etc. I choose something that fits the story, the culture and the culture's view of that thing.

When I have things named, it's time to write!

Building Cultures: Part 1

What are the most telling or important aspects to you? What elements help you define the most about your culture?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Update

The holidays totally make me crazy. Good crazy, but also very, very scattered.

I haven't gotten much done, but I did manage to cut more than 3,000 words out of Sings the Distant Heart. I've also come up with a new take on the main character that I think will be more emotionally satisfying. It also ties up the plot a little better. The concept itself is going to be a little difficult, so I think making the plot as straightforward and relatable as possible will help. Once I get this revision finished, I'll slap it up and see how it all goes over in the crits.

I also keep coming up with notes for a story I hadn't even planned to write any time soon. I may have to get to it quicker than I'd thought, if it keeps talking to me.

Monday, December 20, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #6

6) “Strong female characters” are too often boiled down to men with breasts, not a character so much as a portrayal of the amazon archetype.

Women in any role can be strong, complex characters. They don't have to be warriors to be strong, nor do they have to be masculinized or feminized. Some will have some traits that are considered “masculine” by our societies' standards, and some will have traits that are considered “feminine” by our societies' standards. You know, like actual people.

Even women who do the wrong thing, or bad things, or have moments of weakness can be strong characters. A “strong character” is one who is a character, a well-round and complicated individual with their own morals, goals and ideas. Any author who creates a weak character who amounts to a two-dimensional cardboard cutout is responsible for that character. Don't blame the concept of “women in fiction” for the characters that authors create.

And that's not a reason to exclude women from your story.

Beyond that, I would love to see more variety in the portrayals of women. Along with the warriors, thieves, assassins, pilots, priestesses, healers and politicians, I want to see clerks and artists, seamstresses and prostitutes, heretics and fisherwomen and beggars and bakers and dockworkers. Oh my!

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Building Cultures

(I'm breaking this post into two parts due to length. I'll post the second half next Friday.)

I love worldbuilding, I think it's part of the fun of fantasy. For me, culture building really starts with creature building, unless, of course, it's a culture of humans. Even then, I like to start with the terrain and environment. How does it affect the culture? What does it give the culture that they can use for themselves or sell? What challenges does it present for the culture? It is, in the end, all about the questions.

And, often, these questions have been addressed to some degree in the creature building as well. What don't they have? What do they want? What will they do to get it? What do their instincts demand of them and how does this influence their beliefs? How do they relate to one another? How do they relate to the outside world?

Once I understand the people themselves, I ask myself what sort of government they're likely to form. How they're likely to police themselves, what they're likely to consider legal, illegal, moral and immoral. How do the people see their government? What purpose does it serves in their lives? What different opinions do they have about it?

A lot of that is influenced by their resources and economy, what they have to sell and what they need to buy. A rich culture might believe that their wealth makes them special and so focus on their wealth when it comes to government. If they value money, there may be a focus on productivity over creativity, or a lot of shady, behind the scenes deals, or they might require heavy taxes and so create a sharp class distinction.

In turn, their economy is influenced by their place in the larger world, both politically and geographically. A country that has little access to trade routes may have to pay high tariffs to access the routes of other nations, reducing the amount of trading they can do. Even if they are rich in products, this might take a chunk out of the money they make, and create a nation which--despite its greater produce--is economically equal to the nations around it. It can also create a nation that is frustrated and ready to attack its neighbors.

Then I consider what part religion plays in the nation. Religions may be more varied in port towns or towns on trading routes, but have fewer or even only one in more rural areas. Religion holds a lot of sway with people. It forms, in essence, a second government and a second set of politics: what is moral vs. what is legal. Is the religion in opposition or concordance with the government? How powerful are the different religions and are there cultural battles between them? What advantages do their adherents and clergy receive? What disadvantages?

These, for me, are the two main poles of a culture. They both evolve from the root of who the people are. One is what they want to believe and the other is what they're willing to accept, and both tell the story of them as a people.

Building Cultures: Part 2

Where do you start building your culture? What's usually the first aspect you create?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #5

(Been sick. Getting better. But the blog must roll on ... )

5) It's unfair to put in a woman character, just to have a woman character.

Is it unfair that women want to buy books in which they are represented? Why? An author writing only, or even mostly, women is often called "feminist," and many men wouldn't buy such a book, even if the plot sounded spot on and the world sounded interesting. And yet, women are expected to buy the books in which men are the main characters, and learn to live with having a lack of role models and characters that share their experience?

Many authors don't put in female characters because they're worried about “tokenism.” Here's a simple solution: Don't make your female characters the only women in the world. Unless you're writing a story in which genders are different, or nonexistent, there are women in there somewhere. There are mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, nieces, cousins, friends, girlfriends and random women on the street. For the men in your story to exist, there must be women. Most often, there is room for a female POV, especially in genre fiction, in which there are often multiple changing points of view. Just because an author doesn't think to add one, or doesn't take the time to consider how the women fit into their plot, doesn't mean that they aren't there, or that they don't fit in.

So, before you start writing, ask yourself a few questions: Where are all the women? Did you create a whole new species and then put in a POV to show that off? Is your spaceship sentient, so it has to have POV of its own to show it off? Why wouldn't you put in a female POV to do the same, to show off the work you've done?

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Sunday, December 5, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #4

4) Women with “feminist” ideas did not exist in history, but women written into genre fiction often turn into them.

Gender politics didn't spring up fully grown into the modern world; it is an issue which is deeply rooted in history. In fact, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, dating back to around 190 AD, is widely considered one of the first feminist works. In it, Thecla follows Paul, doing good works, but trouble seems to spring up whenever she's near. It is other women, and Thecla herself, who get her out of these jams. At one point, Thecla is to be fed to a shark. Before she enters the tank, the shark is struck by lightning and dies. Thecla than uses the pool to baptize herself, after Paul's refusal to do so. Tell me that wouldn't make an excellent fantasy novel!

The Acts of Thecla is also about the sexual freedom of women. Women of the time could choose the church, and chastity, as an alternative to marriage and being limited to the role of child bearer. In those days, chastity was a way for women to claim ownership of themselves, to become scholars, leaders and teachers. This didn't start with the advent of Christianity. In Rome, the Vestal Virgins also filled this role, although many Roman women were often educated as well as expected to educate their children. Still, the very concept of these women having to give up their sexuality (to varying degrees) in order to pursue a different life is an easy way to provide tension and conflict in genre fiction.

You don't have to stick to historical examples, of course, and created worlds should always be internally consistent, but you should be aware that these things can be part of the story. Especially in societies where the roles of men and women are different, in such climates, there will be gender politics. If one gender is not in power, they will find a way to make their voices heard--even if only in a limited way. Even systems which discriminate cannot totally control their citizenry and outlets must be provided or revolution will ensue.

Most cultures are not homogeneous, and this is true of their political and ideological makeup as well. Whenever a stance is taken in one direction, there will always be people who are driven to disagree, regardless of what that stance is. While the gender politics of a created world may bear little resemblance to those in our own history and culture, they should be considered as a factor and can be used to create conflict and dimensions within stories and characters.

Don't be afraid to write women because of the ideas you might find them expressing. Write women who fit into your culture, and the more of them you write, the more of these different cultural viewpoints you can express.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Friday, December 3, 2010

10 Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo 2010

1) Plan ahead.

Having an outline beforehand is invaluable for me. It kept me on track, told me just what I needed to be writing about, saved me from plunging down the path of a sub-plot that later story events would have rendered impossible, and made it possible for me to write a 127,486 word, complete first draft this year! Other people can write without that kind of planning, but I am not one of them.

2) Blogging during NaNo is a must.

While writing my story, I would find myself considering the mechanics of what I was doing. It was distracting me from the story itself. Plus, there are always random ideas that pop up while I'm writing. Talking about those things here helped me get them out of my head, so that I could focus on my story.

3) I love writing novels.

They are my favorite form. I've written flash fiction, short stories, and novellas, and they all have their joys, but there is nothing like a novel. It allows me to dig deep into the story and the characters and the setting, and really get to express those things and watch them develop. It's like magic.

4) The NaNoWriMo forums are a fantastic place.

They're filled with ideas and questions and answers and great people. I met some wonderful people in the last month, was exposed to a multitude of view points, and made some friends. That's as awesome as writing a novel in a month.

5) Break the work into smaller sections.

Sitting down and telling myself that I'm going to write a bunch of words can be daunting. Instead, I sit down and tell myself that I'm going to write 500 words. The knowledge that I only have to focus for as long as it takes to write that smaller number keeps the overwhelming at bay.

6) Sleep is vital.

I shouldn't sacrifice it so that I can do the dishes, watch TV or play video games. I'll regret it, and I'll feel like crap. Sleep deprivation makes it much harder to concentrate and that makes it much harder to get those daily word counts. I should get enough sleep. Of course, this doesn't mean that I will. It's NaNo, after all.

7) Take frequent breaks.

I need to get out of my chair on a regular basis. Even if it's just to make tea, feed the cats, pet the cats, talk to the cats (No, my life doesn't revolve around my cats at all. Really. :D ) getting out of that chair is as helpful as getting in it in the first place. It can start to feel like a cell after a while, but if I get up and take a little walk or stretch, do chores or make myself a snack, I don't feel so much as if I'm chained to it. Plus, taking time away from the story gives my subconscious time to think ahead, to make connections and consider plot points without me. I have a lot of good ideas when I get up and let my mind wander while I do something easy and brainless.

8) Celebrate the milestones.

Writing 10,000 words is an accomplishment, and just because I'm not done doesn't mean I can't take a moment to enjoy it. It's easy to ignore the smaller numbers in that quest for the big one, but reminding myself of how far I've come makes it easier to go on.

9) Everything can be fixed later.

NaNoWriMo is great practice at putting away my inner editor. There's just no time to worry. I remind myself that it can all be fixed later, and keep writing. Ignoring that voice is a skill, and one I--at least--have to practice, especially since I've started critiquing and learning to be a better critic.

10) I love NaNoWriMo.

I honestly believe that this is how first drafts should be written. Not necessarily with the time limit, competition and fanfare, (although I loved those, too!) but without worry that the words won't come out right. Revision is necessary, and it always will be. But having the story on the page is a starting point and getting to that starting point is a lot easier if I'm not beating myself up for writing badly.