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e_moon60

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Characters, Variety, and Writers [Mar. 7th, 2012|01:48 am]
e_moon60
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[Current Mood |awake]

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?   Er...no.   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.)

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:15 pm (UTC)
I did not expect that ANYone would read this before I got up later in the morning, pried my eyes open, had something to eat and took at least four deep breaths...wow, you lot are industrious (or in different time zones!)

Thank you for your birthday wishes...much appreciated.
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[User Picture]From: xanify
2012-03-07 08:04 am (UTC)
Happy birthday!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks. The promise of rain is in the forecast, so there's joy in what may someday be Mudville but is still Dryville at the moment.
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[User Picture]From: wldrose
2012-03-07 08:18 am (UTC)
First off HAPPY BIRTHDAY I hope your next year is all you wish it to be with just enough good surprises in it to keep you excited.

about 15 years ago I had the privilege of getting together donations of gently used books to go form the core of a free public library run by the students in an Appalachian coal town. The teacher who came to me and asked for help at a world con had been draining her bank account dry to buy books. We came up with about 2000 books many bought for this by dedicated sf fans.

We asked people who donated to books if they could include an index card about why they liked this book. We got a lot of yours because young woman said they saw themselves or people they loved in them. So I dont know why those pontificating fools are but perhaps they need to go to the back of parade magazine where they offer to send you a book that use your name and description 23 times, of course the reading level of 8 year old might be right for them.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks--the birthday week so far promises some rain (yay!) The socks are ready to be "heeled" although I still say even YarnHarlot's instructions have me confused. Staring at the sock my mother knitted I'm not seeing how it could be done that way. I see another way but...I have no directions for it; it would be blind-navigation. Kinda fun, though. Like writing a book...
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[User Picture]From: mrs_redboots
2012-03-07 08:33 am (UTC)
Happy birthday; have a wonderful day.

Raining here in England and I shall be late for work if I don't go NOW!!!!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:19 pm (UTC)
I hope to report later than it's raining here in Texas. That would make the birthday even better. Thanks for the good wishes.
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[User Picture]From: litch
2012-03-07 09:22 am (UTC)
part of why I really enjoy your work is the variety of female characters but you have to admit you are fairly exceptional in that regard, most other writer don't begin to approach your breadth and many of those categories of characters are very thinly populated (older medicare age female protagonists particularly).

sort of related, what do you think of Heinlein's women?


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From: (Anonymous)
2012-03-07 12:06 pm (UTC)

sigh

Somedays the 'net seems a swamp misinformation and ill informed opinion. Best avoided.

Let's instead set off a few sparkling fireworks to celebrate your natal day and imagine a feast of fresh from the garden veggies, prepared by by Farrin Cook and a bouquet of wild flowers from your fan's grateful hands.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:43 pm (UTC)
You're probably right. The criticism will go on, one way or another, only tangentially touching actual books.

A lie-in would be a great idea next time. Today...I'm up, I've now had breakfast (the rare treat of eggs & bacon) and I'm going to look up heel-turning on YouTube when I'm through answering the comments...
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[User Picture]From: redheadforever
2012-03-07 10:59 am (UTC)

Happy Birthday, dear lady, and thank you for all the presents you've given all of us over the years.

You're so right; in science fiction/fantasy nearly everyone you want to see is right there if you'll only LOOK.


Edited at 2012-03-07 11:01 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you--in order to give presents, someone must be willing to receive them, and I'm grateful to those who have enjoyed the books.
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[User Picture]From: samrobinson
2012-03-07 11:19 am (UTC)

Rudeness

First and foremost, Happy birthday!

I've heard variations on the theme of "fans" telling writers about their shortcomings from a lot of writers. I have to admit that it startles me every single time. I am particularly startled by comments like (what I think might be) the comments that would result in a discussion like the one here. Generally, they seem to be nothing more or less than rudeness. I certainly don't wish to tell you what to write, you've managed to write things I didn't anticipate and entertain, amuse, and occasionally inform me quite well with no guidance. I'm certain that if I got in the middle of that process your output would be less interesting, I buy your books for your vision, not mine.

To attempt this in the name of feminism, liberalism, conservitism, or moral thinking is even worse, it reduces whatever cause the person espouses to an attempt at controlling a free voice. It certainly lowers my likelihood of paying attention to the person's underlying message. I have rarely met anyone less convincing than a zealot in full tilt at their personal windmill.

Of course the people I'd really like to say this too don't read your blog. In any event, please keep writing. I appreciate your body of work and hope for more (not demand, mind you... hope for) and I hope that the rest of this birthday is happy and pleasant.
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[User Picture]From: mevennen
2012-03-07 01:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Rudeness

Happy birthday! And I agree. I've had at least 2 old ladies as novel protagonists, as well as women who remain childess from choice, young women.... etc etc.
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[User Picture]From: fair_witness
2012-03-07 11:56 am (UTC)
*one-Musketeer salute to our dear captain*

Happy birthday!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:46 pm (UTC)
(raises knitting needle in salute, that being closer than a sword)

Thank you!
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From: abwarwick
2012-03-07 12:08 pm (UTC)

Happy Birthday!

Wishing you all the best.

P.S. Love your books and your characters.
:)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Happy Birthday!

Thank you. It's been great so far.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-03-07 12:25 pm (UTC)

Happy birthday!

I, for one, really enjoyed your rant. Reminds me of Spider Robinson's defense of Robert Heinlein--no believable women characters in his writing? Only if you don't believe 'em...
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:48 pm (UTC)

Re: Happy birthday!

Well, there are Heinlein female characters I can't believe in, but quite a few I can...positing that they fit the era in which they were created. And that's probably true of any writer. (I am a rock-solid Austen fan, but Fanny from _Mansfield Park_ isn't true to even the most timid modern girl I've met.)
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[User Picture]From: dragonmyst
2012-03-07 01:26 pm (UTC)
Happy Birthday!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It's being a happy one so far.
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[User Picture]From: sharrainchains
2012-03-07 02:24 pm (UTC)
Agreed - I am not sure how people can miss things like that. perhaps they just want you to write them into stories - so that they cam complain that the characters are unrealistically drawn!

And Happy Birthday!
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[User Picture]From: redvixen
2012-03-07 02:50 pm (UTC)
*gasp* What? Have a free cameo in a famous author's book. Now who would ever think of that?
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[User Picture]From: redvixen
2012-03-07 02:49 pm (UTC)
Happy Birthday!! Hope your day and week is full of good times and everything you wish.

I admit, when someone starts criticizing and uses the word "all" I tend to respond with "You do know that example with ostriches, right?" After the startled silence, I usually get a blank look and astonished "What?"

That's when I bring up the lesson my English teacher was fond of quoting regarding making assumptions with generic phrases.

"All birds can fly. An ostrich is a bird. Therefore an ostrich can fly."

From what I've seen, people who criticize are not well informed about the field they are criticizing. Probably they read one book by a relatively new or inexperienced writer and made a judgement on the entire genre based on that book. Or worse, they never read the genre and are quoting or misquoting someone else's opinion.

People can be busybodies who will always try and tell everyone else how to do whatever they do in the way they think would be best not the way that works for the other person. I tend to smile and ask a question that makes the busybody stop for a moment and hopefully think. Alas, the logic doesn't seem to be that clear to them so I just listen, nod my head, and then ignore them.

Don't let the busybodies get to you. Although, I think having a business card done up with the phrase "If you don't like what I write, please write your own story." on it would be something to have to give out for these people, I believe the number of cards you'd go through would require a small trailer following you loaded with just the cards.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-03-07 02:53 pm (UTC)
You provoked a definite chuckle...thinking of that trailer full of "...then write your own !**! story" cards.
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