March 7th, 2012

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Characters, Variety, and Writers

I have written before about the way that people try to tell writers--especially women writers--what they should write, and that this is wrong.   It's annoying enough when men tell women what they should and should not write, but it's even more annoying when other women do it.   And when they do it in the name of feminism...the chain holding me in the doghouse breaks and I'm out here snapping and snarling in the open. 

Here's the deal.   A writer should write what the writer wants and needs to write, as honestly as that writer can.   If you like it, fine.  If you don't like it, fine.  If you the reader can't find anything you want to read, write it yourself.  No, that's not being snarky.  That's how a lot of writers get started...with an itch for something to read that we can't find, so we finally give up and write it ourselves (and find out in the process that it's a lot harder than it looked, but that's another rant.)   When that happens,  the pool enlarges--a new vision shimmers into being on its surface--and this is what we need.  More voices, each expressing an individual's reality.  If your reality isn't represented, then...maybe you need to write a book.

So...the current topic is characters, and the all-too-common complaint that this or that kind of character (that a reader/reviewer/critic would like to see) just isn't being written.    Writers, it's implied, are just lazy and self-indulgent (a common complaint about writers anyway, esp. from family and friends who wish the writer would shape up and mop the floor or clean the windows or remember birthdays) or they would write what that reader (every reader) wants to read. 

But the common complaint has another problem--that of veracity.  Is it true, for instance,  that SF/F lacks a variety of female characters, in terms of age, gender preference, sexual behavior, occupation, social status, etc?   Reading a recent blog post on this topic, I could think of examples for every category the writer listed as unavailable.   (I could think of most examples in my own work, but looking beyond mine there are plenty of others.)     Yes, many writers choose to write about a certain kind of character in a certain kind of role (they want to, they need to, they enjoy it.  Deal with it.)   Others, like me, choose to write about different kinds of characters in different roles.   Some readers, at least, recognize this and tell us so.  But how do the others manage to miss the diversity and complexity?   (Or do they just skip such writers as McCaffrey, Bujold, Brennan, Cherryh, Elliott, Durgin, Friesner, Shwartz, Lee...and me...for some reason?   What reason? )   And if you step into male-written fantasy,  Terry Pratchett has created a full range of interesting characters of various genders and races. 

It's puzzling.  And it's annoying.   I write these characters--these situations--and then someone says "No one's writing that."  Yes, dammit, I am.    Old women?  Yes: as POV characters  in the whole Serrano-Suiza group and as the solo protagonist in Remnant Population.    Villains?  Lorenza, sister of a cabinet minister, and the "therapist" who's a secret agent of the Compassionate Hand and ends up killing Lorenza for incompetence.   Young women?  Paks, Brun, Raffaele, Esmay, Ky, Stella.   Middle-aged women?   Heris, Dorrin Verrakai,  the Marshal-General of Gird, Aesil M'dierra, many more.  Women who choose to be childless?  Paksenarrion and Esmay and the Vatta cousins Ky and Stella.   Women who choose to have children?   Miranda, Prima, Raffaele, Ofelia, others.   Professional women who give it up to get married?   Yes.   Professional women who choose not to marry?   Yes..  So where is this supposed lack of diversity?  Hundreds of women characters in twenty-five books (so far), including gay, straight, bisexual, dark skinned and light skinned, tall and short, heavy and skinny,  with and without religious beliefs, rich and poor, each with her own specific personality, her own set of weaknesses and strengths,  and someone still thinks they're all of a type?  (Throws up hands and stomps around the room for awhile.)    It boggles my mind, it really does. 

And I'm just one writer.   There are others.  Dozens, writing books full  of individual characters who are not just "women warriors" or "kickass" or "professional masks."  Why aren't the people who think none of us write a variety of women characters reading our books?    Why, for that matter, do they assume that a woman warrior can't be a complex character?  Or that a "kickass" heroine might not have something underlying that kickass attitude?   Could it be that they'd been fooled by the publisher's subgenre labels into thinking they know what's in the book without reading it?  ("Military SF" must be only about a caricature form of military; epic fantasy must be about a lone Hero on a Quest, etc.)  In that case, I challenge those who think there's no variety to read the books and do a character analysis of every woman in Bujold's books, in Cherry's books, in Elliott's books (to pick writers very different from each other, but who have a range of women characters.  

(Wanders away grumbling mildly.   It's now far too early on my birthday morning and I should be asleep.)