Monday, September 20, 2010

Cross-gender and Multicultural Writing

I have been going through the archives of Mur Lafferty's "I Should be Writing" and there was a discussion on writing for the other gender, which seems to baffle people. I want to say something on that, and extend this advice to every politically loaded axis of personal identity.

I believe people's traits are not particularly inherent to their social class, race, gender, nation, or sexuality, but what those axises do change is people's relationships with those traits, and what society in general expects of them.

So here is a process.

1. Pick the traits you want for your character. I don't mean black, straight, and moneyed, I mean like they're recalcitrant, competitive, intensely focussed on personal hygiene, and they compete in dog shows. It doesn't have to be anything wild or "different", just however you would normally make a character. Don't think about how to write a woman, or an Asian American, or a post-operative transexual. Just think about who they are as an individual right now.

2. Determine how fixated they are on the political axis of their identity and what they think they're "supposed to be" based on that (note, this may not be the standard, this is their personal thing). You'll hear people say things like "people like me don't go to college" or "that's fine for them, but I don't think it's appropriate for someone like me". Does your male character shop alone for fabric because he loves sewing, but feels like it might make him a little less of a man? Does your black character feel guilty about liking Tarantino more than Spike Lee? Does your lesbian feel a little vain about how many men's head she turns, even though she has no interest in them? Is your quiet domestic female proud of herself for doing so well at being the perfect wife?

Conflicts and double standards of identity are great for character development.

3. Once you've determined how they feel about the places they deviate or conform with their idea of their axis, think about the social pressures this axis brings on them and how they react to that. Say you have a very aggressive woman who loves to fight and is pretty proud of how well she does- what does she do when people whisper behind her back, or when her friends ask her why she just won't settle down and be normal? How does your shy young black man who loves to compose waltzes react to his classmates and his relatives trying to engage him in verbal sparring, or get him to play music that they think of as less white? Does your character hide and try to blend? Do they dig in their heels in resentment and be what they are more visibly? Do they lose confidence in themselves because deep down they feel everyone around them is right?

Conversely, how does that shy young black man feel when a white professor congratulates him on not confining himself to "the ghetto of black music"?

Society is no more uniform than people are, but statistics do come into play. If your character deviates, they will eventually catch flack from one side or another (or from many sides. You can't please everyone, but sometimes it feels like you CAN displease them all). If your character conforms but feels ambivalent, they're eventually going to be rewarded for something they're not sure they feel good about. If they naturally conform, they may internalize the expectations so thoroughly they have trouble believing anyone COULD deviate ("oh that's just silly! All women are inherently nurturing!") and get flustered when they run across it.

Not only do these scenarios help you round out a character, they make for great scenes.

So, that's my thought process on it, and I hope it's something I do right by. I also highly recommend Nisi Williams' "Transracial Writing for the Sincere" for people who want to be more multicultural with their characters, but are scared of doing it wrong.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Inventory

So, recently, I went through what stories I have on my computer. These are the rough numbers:

-? an unknown number of unwritten stories (though probably over 50) for which I have made quick notations as they occurred to me. These include:
  • a weird west Chinese gunslinger story
  • an instillation artist vs. a zombie invasion
  • a puppeteer in a house of imperial courtesans
  • a love story in a restaurant called "Baba Yaga's Dancing Chicken Shack" with some notes about folk-tale themed dishes the place would serve.
I have been scribbling notes down on receipts, spare pieces of paper, the backs of class notebooks, just whatever's handy. Many of these are affixed to my refrigerator with magnets, and, honestly, I don't look at them much, but they're there when I need them.

-About 50 unfinished stories. In my defense, the bulk of these come from a weekly group exercise I was a part of in which we would be assigned a quick prompt and then given one hour in which to complete a story. Some of these were the disposable trash one might expect, but I got some real gems too, and I hope to go back to many of them.

-About 75 first drafts. Between hour writing on one site and contests on another, I have finished a fair bit of fiction, but I have a great deal of anxiety about editing. I realize it's something I just need more practice at, but it has had an unfortunate tendency to actually make stories worse. Even among the best of these stories, I don't feel there are any ready to send out yet.

-About 10-15 stories in some stage of editing.

-6 stories currently in submission rotation, of which 3 are flash.

-1 published story.

I went through this list and looked at which stories I was absolutely sure I wanted to publish. These were my personal favorites, and the ones I think show off my best as a writer. I came up with 28 out of that list of 125 written and partially written stories, which is a little easier to work with. For the 17 that were first drafts, I'm going to see if I can find a magazine home to submit them to, and if I can, I'll edit up the ones I think I can place first.

Those 17 are (in alphabetical order by title (not appearing)):
  • the beetle creation myth
  • the wish granted to the schizophrenic
  • the slipstream thing in the car trunk
  • the noveau-arabian nights fable with the pastry
  • the story about the maze and the guy destined to die 100000 times
  • the flash dream piece with the lizards
  • the arctic unicorns story
  • the kid's fiction about fear and manticores
  • the swamp witch love story
  • the punk rock version of the orpheus myth
  • the story where they show crazy people in a circus
  • the flash about virgin sacrifices in a divine brothel
  • the story about the old female knight coming home
  • the story about the dragon rider pirates
  • the jazz era retelling of Eros and Psyche
  • the hungry ghost story/ Chinese festival story
So that's my plan.

Happy Bicentenial Mexican Independence Day!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On Blogging

I have been told by numerous people in the field as well as by trusted friends that as more of the onus to promote fiction falls on the writers, a blog becomes an absolute necessity.

So I made a blog.

Then I had to sit down and do some serious thinking about what it was I intended to blog about. Presumably this will be a way that people can reach me if they find something of mine they like (leslianne.wilder @gmail.com), and another handhold I can give them toward remembering my name (Leslianne Wilder) if something I've done sparks they're curiosity- though the latter only works if I fill the space with something worthwhile to them. If this blog does what it's supposed to, it may be the lasting impression I give to numerous people with whom I hope to work in the future.

Which means I also want to be very professional with what I say here.

So my blog, by this metric, needs to be both honest and inoffensive, personal and professional, unique without being exclusionary, and good enough to keep my name in the minds of people who might like to buy the next great story I write- the one that makes all my previous stories look like amateur scribbles on the bathroom wall, but will sit in dusty, living-Emily-Dickens-like obscurity unless someone takes a chance on it.

And I need to do all this without taking time or effort away from the actual writing I do, because I can market a really attractively wrapped box till my throat is hoarse enough to fall out, but that doesn't make anyone less upset that it's empty.

So here's my plan as it stands: at least one blog a week on one or more of the following topics:
  • Reading recommendations and authors I personally admire
  • Publications you may not know about yet
  • My experiences writing fiction and any insights I feel comfortable advocating
  • My experiences trying to sell fiction
  • My experiences with actual publishing
  • My calmly expressed observations and opinions on trends, themes, and movements within published fiction.
I resolve not to use this space as my personal soap box to complain about things that bother me. I will not whine into the void. I want this to be a useful place even for people who I disagree with, and I want to succeed in the writing world not just by being a good writer, but by being a good person.

Thanks for sticking with me while I thought through that in text form.

~Leslianne Wilder