Let Me Explain This To You…

A funny meme came up on my Facebook page the other day. It depicted a conversation between a doctor and a woman. The doctor informed her that her husband’s status is stable, and that he is currently in the recovery room. The woman replies “Well, I warned him that the floor was wet and he stepped on it anyway”. To this, the doctor responded, “This doesn’t explain the bullet in his skull.” and the woman replied “So, I shot him.”
There is one section of this meme, that is not only unnecessary, but quite frankly condescending and off-putting, to the degree that it actually ruined the joke. Why? because instead of making me laugh, it kind of pissed me off.
Why do we need to see the woman reply “So, I shot him”? The author of that joke should have just left that part out, and trust us to make the connection. But by following it through, it told us “This joke is funny because so and so.” It’s a distraction from the punch line for one, and a slight insult at the reader, which… spoils the fun.
This meme did not make me want to write a post. It simply sharpened a point or two that I wanted to discuss for a while now. I’ve read books on writing, attended workshops, listened to podcasts, and listened to many writers talk about their craft. One thing that really stood out for me, is the varying opinions about how much information should be shared with the reader. It includes aspects like description, dialogue as well as information that is key to the plot.
Everyone warns against the “information dump” and for a good reason. If we wanted that, we could’ve bought an instruction manual or something. But everyone agrees that information should be imparted to the reader, so she would be able to understand what, where, how etc. and follow the story along. The opinions begin to differ at this point. What method best serves this sharing of information? description, narrative voice, dialogue? How much information should be revealed, and at which part of the story? How reliable the information is? All of these are valid questions, and interesting topics, for another post.
The question I’d like to raise here is, how much information is enough? Where do we draw the line, between – giving the reader the needed information to stay engaged and understand what’s going on – and patronizing him with information that he should be able to infer?
There is an aspect that doesn’t necessarily depend on the writer, which is the type of reader. Some readers love the immersion in the environment, the little details – especially when it’s shared via eloquent, beautiful language. There are others, who would like a magic marker that would remove every “unnecessary” bit of description and “stick to the story”. When we write, we will have to live with the fact that some people will not enjoy the style of our writing, or more accurately, won’t enjoy it to the fullest.
There is also the aspect of genre. One might expect to find different level of detail in a romance than what he would find in a thriller. The way information is shared in either one may very well be different, as well as the technique used to share it.
But in all genre – I find – the stories that captivated me, and kept me engaged as a reader, were the ones where some information was held back. The opposite is true as well – stories that fed me too much, made the reading a bit tiresome. I don’t recall a book I slammed shut and refused to read, just based on this aspect, but I can say that parts of books felt more labored, ironically because they did not make my brain fill in some gaps.
Now, as a writer I face a dilemma. Having the reader experience I just described, how much information and which piece of it do I hold back? perhaps “Hold back” is not a 100% accurate. Perhaps the term should be “leave to the reader”. How much space, do I leave to the reader? I want to be generous, and trusting, and leave a good bit of it for the reader’s imagination to fill in. But I also don’t want to lose the reader by withholding important information that she may not be able to fill in – I have to be fair.
I wish there was a mathematical formula, but I’m sad to report that, having read quite a few books that handled this very well (based on my full engagement), I do not have a proven ratio. And that makes perfect sense. There are so many things to consider here. Genre is one. Target audience is another. But there is also the question of when to leave something for the reader? Did I lay enough ground work, to make it logical (within the story’s frame)? I like tidy endings, no loose ends. I’m not a huge fan of “letting the reader choose the ending”, though I do think that even these threads, which we bring to closure at the end of our story, should not be with no room for the reader to experience them the way they feel like.
A tricky set of balancing acts, no doubt. So, what to do?
For me, it seems like the best formula for this type of problem is – give it to someone and ask them to tell you where they might have gotten lost, what did they understand, and how easy was it for them to read? I am guilty of being a prisoner of my own (very likely flawed) logic. Some things seem obvious to me, but were pointed out as unclear by others. Some things I say that draw the reaction “Well, duh…” So, I guess there is only one way to understand whether you shared enough information or too much – ask your potential reader.
Now let me explain this to you.
Just kidding.


Did You Hear The One About Robert Silverberg, Georges St. Pierre And Chris Cornell?

Ogres may be like onions, but so are we, people. You know – Layers. Our lives unfold (at least without the persuasion of Alcohol of other un-inhibitor agents) slowly, as we get to know each other. We introduce ourselves by name, sometimes by country of origin, our profession, family situation, and other generalities. As our connection to each other deepens, more layers may shed, and we talk about elements of our belief system (though, some of it, likely leaks through our behaviors before), opinions on current events, or other topics, which continues to expose the core. Somewhere in this process, we talk about what we like. It’s this kind of conversation that makes some people raise a brow, when I share some of my more serious interests.
“Oh, you write? How interesting. What do you write about?”
“Yeah, what kind of music do you like?”
“Wait, what? M.M.What? is that the cage fighting? Hey, I know Conor McGregor!”

Confused The Big Lebowski GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

At this point, some conversations seem to peter out. I thought about this for a while, and even to my brain, which is engaged in the general love of these three areas of interest, it did feel somewhat random. Literature and music are related as arts, but what about the people punching each other in the face?
Well, I could state the obvious (and I will) – M.M.A stands for Mixed Martial Arts. But this is not satisfactory. While musicians and writers create some “product” through their artistic process, the fighters merely meet inside the cage and try to beat each other, then leave. So, where’s the connection? Where is the deep meaning, that drew me, and kept my otherwise distracted mind engaged?
It started crystalizing, as I left the house for a walk the other day. I was more than a little irritated with the music (if you can call it that) my kids were playing on the computer. I won’t name names, but it was one of the more recent pretty faces, in skimpy clothing, bumping to some catchy, repeating computer-generated groove. I put on my earphones and hit play as soon as I closed the door behind me. Good, old Soundgarden for the rescue.
Bear with me people, I will walk you through my process.
As I listened to the wonderful progression of “Blow up the outside world”, I mused about what makes me like the musicians I do, as opposed to the ones I am not a fan of. And as I waited for a light to turn green, an internal one flash inside my head. It’s the tools of the trade.
Which musicians do I like? I can list many, but the point is – what do they all have in common? Well, the ones at the upper part of my list are musicians who write lyrics, play an instrument (or 5), sing and perform. I am not a huge fan of many “performers”, as in singers with great voices who “just” sing. Don’t get me wrong, I respect a great voice, but this alone does not me, a fan make.

Writes, Plays, Sings, Perform. Rest in peace Chris

This immediately resonated with the writer me. What makes a good story? Surely, it’s more than a good plot. It’s more than a relatable character. More than proper spelling. A good story is made, by using – there it is again – the tools of the trade.
And just like that, I found the connection. A mixed martial artist is another person, who needs to have the tools of his trade in order to perform well.
True. Art is not a competition – as opposed to MMA – but they are all arts. A writer, a musician and a mixed martial artist all present something pleasing by bringing all their capabilities, talents, training and passion to the table. If the musician plays the right chords, but sings out of key, or if the writer tells a plausible story about a flat and boring character, or if the fighter shows up with the skills but is out of shape… we will likely be disappointed with the outcome. But if they connect everything – and it doesn’t have to be perfect – we are almost guaranteed some fun.

Mixed Martial Arts

This was a nice little moment of satisfaction, in being able to identify something that links some of my main interests, logically. But it also started me thinking about the next question – can I use this?
Can I draw from what I’m learning of martial arts, and apply it to another? Can my appreciation to the martial artist inform my writing? Not just as subject matter, but as applicable knowledge?
Well, I begin by asking what does a good MMA fighter need? Skills in striking, wrestling, BJJ (That’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu! Git yer head outta the gutter). He needs stamina, mental strength, discipline, patience. Practice is a must. I will stop here. I’m sure there’s more, even if the list as it stands is enough to deter anyone from even attempting…

Robert Silverberg

The focus of this exercise is the writing itself. Not the writer (I hope we already agreed there are parallels between the three professionals). So, what can we take from this list of skills, capabilities and habits, in order to help a story work? I’ll start with patience. The reader may not have it, but patience is the ability to act when appropriate, and wait when necessary. It’s in the pacing of the story. We don’t want to spill it all in one hurried stream of consciousness (well, not in a novel I’d say) on the one hand, but we also don’t want to keep the reader waiting for something to happen.
But the story needs to move forward, right? Just like a fighter who wants to win. Here is where some other skills come into play. The first thing that pops to mind is the art of the takedown. Sometimes you want to “floor” the reader. There are ways to do it. One is to sneak up on him with great speed, changing the level of your approach, grabbing him and putting him on his back. Other ways to do it is by using the great striking skill call “fake”. A jab might do the trick too. The idea is to let the story throw your reader slightly off. Not off the story, but a little off guard. A red herring is a tried and tested fake. slowly, teasing action, foreshadowing, is like taking jabs, preparing the ground for a good power shot. This also helps with pacing, so it’s a win-win situation.
What about Jiu Jitsu? There are a few things it could teach us. One of them is the shift of the power balance. If the story has your hero on his back, trying to avoid submitting to the antagonistic forces of the story, there’s a way you can help him turn the tables. The magic is in the steps. Normally, the fighters don’t just trade places. There’s always a struggle, both of force but also – even more so – technique. If you want to escape a dangerous position, and reverse the balance of power, you have to know the steps, and execute them one by one. Sometimes it will work, and sometimes it may fail, as your opponent may (and likely should) be at least as skilled and powerful as you. Let your character learn these skills. In fact, it’s a must if you want a character that develop over time. A white belt will rarely sweep a black belt without proper training and practice. This is also where mental strength comes into play. Your character may not be very strong in the beginning, and even if he doesn’t end as a very strong character, he will need to “toughen up” some, in order to handle the multiple obstacles, you put in his way.
So, there you go. I love music, literature and mixed martial arts. Not only does it make perfect sense, I can even apply lessons I take from one and implement in the other.


UFC 236 AfterMMAth (Who-Knows-Fights)

When Joe Rogan screamed the pre-PPV hype, next to Anik and Cormier, he dubbed the Co-Main and Main event of UFC236 “Who knows fights”. That was true. Who knew? Well, some of us thought we did, but even those of us who called the right score, would admit it wasn’t a lock. For my part, I can say that all the main card fights were kind of “Who knows?” Let me put in a bit of, badly written, foreshadowing – Not me…
Alright, let’s jump right to my picks. Then, we’ll chat about this, that and the other.

Continue reading

No Conflict, No Story (Sad But True)

Boy, we haven’t done one of these in a long while.
Those of you who stuck around (got stuck) with me for a while might know that this here blog started, not as the MMA ramble-store (with seemingly random cultural commentary) it is now, but as a place for me, to flesh out my writing process, to air my dirty writing laundry and make some forward progress on that front.
With time, things have significantly shifted from the beautiful craft of writing, to the celebration of the art of mixed martial arts. I’m like that, I find beauty in the exquisite wordsmithery of Ursula Le Guin on the one hand, and the devastating accuracy of a prime Anderson Silva right cross.
With that been said, let us leave the sports, respectfully aside, and talk about the writerly side a little. I think a status report is overdue by a couple of years, and I do believe I have some things to say, that may or may not be of some value to those of you, who may or may not share my affliction.
Those of you who just got on board, might be surprised to hear that I have finished writing three novels. Well, ‘Finished’ is a big word, so let me be a little more specific. I finished a first draft of a science fictiony book. This one, serving mostly as practice, is currently sitting collecting some dust, until such time I decide what to do with it next. The third one, is a draft for a thriller I need to get back to at some point in order to decide whether it needs more polishing or re-writing. The second one is done! Oh yes, by that I mean that it was written, rewritten a couple of times, professionally edited, copy-righted, designed, edited for print and pending only one technical issue to be resolved before it gets published! I invite you to get excited for me, as there’s so much of this I can do by myself.
So in the macro, I guess I can say it’s all good. Can’t complain. But then again, what is a writer but a guy who just has to keep asking questions? (See what I did there? [and here?]).

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

See, people who’d written novels before, warn you all the time, that having done so once, doesn’t mean you cracked some ancient puzzle and all you’d need, in order to repeat that feat, is to go through the motions again and shazzam! No, it is quite obvious it is far more complicated than that. I wrote three of ’em bad boys, and I believe that it is the experience of having written them, that – quite ironically – put me in a state.
You hear a lot about the infamous “writer block”, and no, I don’t think I have one. I write pretty often, on different topics in different platforms, so I know I am not blocked. Yet, I have not made further progress on my creative writing endeavor in a while and I admit, it is starting to frustrate me.
I have all the reasons lined up. My day job is very demanding, leaving very little time for family, let alone other things that one does for his soul, and all that jazz. But in reality, that is not what’s stopping me.
Let me contradict myself a little before we continue. I do have a method to this madness, and this method took me through the aforementioned three novels. I’ve written about the 60 scenes method in the past, and wouldn’t have said a word about it, unless it actually worked for me – not just in theory, in practice – and I feel I can continue to use it for any future work.
So what is stopping me? I know all the questions a writer should ask himself. Or do I? And believe you me, I ask them. I spend smoke breaks, bedtime, showers, and other opportune moments to ask them. But I guess that I am not just asking questions, I am applying increasingly growing pressure on my poor brain. Who is your antagonist? What is the actual premise? What does your hero want? Is this your main plot? or is it a sub plot? Does this make sense? Why would he do that? Who is even going to care? Are the stakes high enough?

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

One thing I am really struggling with is really an ironic, fundamental conflict between my personal journey in life, and my journey as a writer. It seems that the better I do in my personal development, the worse I do in writing. To wit, as I learn to resolve and diffuse conflict in my own existence, I find it harder to create it in my stories.
In most cases, I am able to separate person from writer, from character, but I find myself sitting in front of the paper thinking “Meh… this isn’t conflict. It’s tepid.” Then I create some conflict and after some reflection “Whoa… that’s not conflict. That’s world war 3 you moron. People don’t work like that!” and the internal critic (perhaps the least forgiving one) berates me to paralysis.
As my friend Christina Ranallo, rightfully says – If there’s no conflict, there’s no story. And so far, there is no story. There are many things happening to and around my character, all impacting him, and his goals, moving him along a path, but at this moment I am sorry to report that the path is going nowhere. At least nowhere you, as a reader might care about.
The most frustrating part of it all is, that – as you can see – I am aware of the problem, yet unable to get out of this loop… yet.

So what to do? I guess I can ask you that (and will be happy to hear about it here in the comments section).

Here are a couple of things I am already doing:
  • Reading – Always a good idea. catching up on some “Discworld” books, as well as some long-awaited Brandon Sanderson novels. Oh, also read Ursula Le Guin’s “The word for world is forest”, and Emma Newman’s “Planetfall” series… all very much recommended.
  • Writing posts like this one… Part of what’s stopping me is the fact that this discussion is going on inside my head. I find that putting things down “on paper” helps me look at it from a different perspective. Not to mention that it is writing about writing.
  • Writing – while nothing creative (in the artistic sense of the word), the action of writing is, in itself, a mechanism to keep this habit going, providing some outlet so my head doesn’t explode with thoughts, and hopefully, giving someone something to read and – who knows – maybe derive something worthwhile out of it.
  • perhaps something that doesn’t sound intuitive to this predicament – not committing to a timeline. I will do everything necessary to write this story (and the next), and will not cut corners, but I will take the time. No one is holding a gun to my head, is one? I’d rather come up with something worth writing, something that I can enjoy writing, than inflicting unnecessary, and unproductive pressure on myself. I do believe that there are a whole lot of writers there, to release read-worthy books while the world awaits my next piece of work… not to mention that I am about to release one very soon.
That’s it from me – for the time being. I have to wonder, what is stopping you? and what works for you in situations like this? I sure would appreciate your tips, tricks and pieces of magic.


 

 

Doctor Who? What? Why? (A Short Rant In Time And Space)

This will be a short rant, so hold on to your seats.
So… Seven episodes into season 11 of Doctor who, I stumbled upon a few – how shall I put it – “interesting” takes. For the most part, I see positive reviews, but every now and then, there are some really seething videos out there, with tons of venom… People care. Well, sort of.
So what are the more negative comments so far? I guess there are 3 main ones:
    1. The show is too politically correct
    2. They ran out of ideas
    3. Jodie Whittaker is a horrendous actress
With the first one, I have no argument. We have a female doctor (finally, by the way), two young companions of different ethnic backgrounds, and an older white “apologist”. I do find the casting of the companions too much “text-book PC”. It’s cool, I’m not objecting (and no one would care if I did) to casting more diverse characters, but right out the gate, it just makes it too lazy and less interesting.
About the ideas, I guess it’s very much a matter of taste. While going back to the past, to protect Rosa Parks, and the change she helped drive is less exhilarating than say… save the world from the Daleks’ latest scheme, it still is a valid exercise of the Doctor Who concept. The problem with episodes like these may be related again, to PC. While the doctor (especially recent incarnations) always dealt with topics like interracial conflicts, it was done via allegory. Personally I prefer that method of delivery, and I get why it irritates some people. Still, I don’t see anything so wrong, that should incur so much rage…

And finally… Jodie Whittaker… I watched a video yesterday where the reviewer used the very phrase “Horrendous actress”… While I am a pretty civil person at most times, allow me to break character and ask a short and direct question:

WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?

Jodie Whittaker is a GREAT actress, and is doing a GREAT job as Doctor Who, with the tools she’s given.
As opposed to previous regenerated doctors, she literally “falls to earth” and put in action from the first second, with little to no chance to stop and think about who she is.
If anything, the show runner should be put on trial, for giving such a good actress so little to chew on… I thought Peter Capaldi’s first season was great, especially because it allowed him to ponder, to understand himself better. But Whittaker is asked to just hit the ground running and deliver something out of thin air?… You are aware she follows a script right?
And here is where I get more than a little miffed.
With the show being as politically correct as it is – How in heaven’s name do you miss the ONE place where playing up gender is not only appropriate, but a MUST???
“Oh, I’m a woman. let’s move on…”

This is the FIRST female doctor – spend some quality time, allowing her to play off of this. Let us revel in it. There are sooooo many opportunities (ALL of them missed) for humor, for more character depth… This is my biggest disappointment.
And all of that is dumped onto Jodie Whittaker, and in return, what does this great actress get? jeers from some keyboard warrior…
Season 11 is not the best season by any means. It’s also not as bad as some of these raging reviewers make it out to be. I enjoy watching for the most part, and a lot of it is because Whittaker is, in fact, a very good doctor.


Oh, It’s All Good Man

I liked “Torchwood”. As far as spin-offs go, it’s a pretty good one. I am still not a huge fan of “Fear the walking dead”, though the last season finally started to take steps in a direction I’m willing to go along with. I am, however all in for “Better call Saul”!
When it was just announced that this series is going to be produced, and by the same folks who gave us “Breaking Bad”, I was excited and worried at the same time. Excited because I can watch Saul Goodman doing his thing all day, but worried because being a spin-off to a show of that magnitude (“Breaking Bad” is, in fact the best TV drama ever. It’s a fact because… reason) it had the perfect opportunity to fail. Having finished watching season 4, I have a few things to say about what I consider to be the best current drama show on TV.

They took their time

It was something of an itch, to some of us Saul Goodman fans, to see the guy from Breaking Bad come out, guns blazing from the get go. Luckily the gifted production team, starting from the writers, with the perfect delivery of Bob Odenkirk and the wonderful cast, decided to take their time and show us how Jimmy McGill becomes the man we all knew and loved. It wasn’t a gag fest of “criminal lawyer” Saul Goodman. Instead it is – as a good story should be – an arc. We take the ride with a very relatable character, with plenty of flaws, and we cheer for him. Even if we know he gets corrupted, we understand. We get it. It’s all good man!

Those aren’t really cameos

Sure, there are a couple of faces who show up with limited purpose, but for the most part, characters who we originally met in “Breaking Bad” and were introduced into “Better call Saul” were introduced because there’s a story to tell, and they either play a major role in it, have some back story to show or both. The best examples might be Mike and Tito Salamanca. Along with Gustavo Fring and others, they don’t just play the “Hey, these guys were on Breaking Bad” roles, but move the story forward, or serve as part of the setting (we all know that at some point, Walter White meets Saul. It’s part of a bigger story).

They are respectful

The way the story is written, and told both by way of script, as well as the way it’s screen-played, shows a great deal of respect to “Breaking Bad”, to Saul and his cast of course, and perhaps most of all to the fans. There is an independent story here, told with great care, putting the focus on the main character – Jimmy/Saul – and woven into this, the larger story of the set of characters who feature into the “Breaking Bad” universe. There is a lot of correspondence with the original series, both obvious (again, not just for cheap pops – with a purpose), as well as far more subtle. I may be barking at the wrong tree, but there are many scenes that I can immediately relate to “Breaking Bad” without them even having to do with the story directly. An example of that, I find, was the scene in the last episode of season 4 (Spoiler alert if you haven’t watched yet), where Mike is about to kill Werner. Mike’s character is of a person who always owns up, and even if for a brief moment there was hope for the German, it was never going to be different. And why does that scene corresponds to the original? In my mind (and I believe that it was done with thought behind it), this was very similar to when Mike was going to Kill Walter, and the only reason he didn’t was Jessie getting to Gale, leaving Fring without a cook. Werner is a professional like Walt, who’s skills are valued. Unlike Walt, he could be replaced and had no backup.

Bob Odenkirk

On a “Breaking Bad” panel, I heard Bob say that “It’s just the writers”. That he just comes to work, reads what they tell him to and go home. Rrrriiiigghht…
I don’t think Bob Odenkirk is a good actor. I think he is a phenomenal actor. I think he can do a Psycho killer, a lover, a tough military guy or a clown with the same level of credibility and grace. He is required to do a nice range of acting in this series and I think he nails it on every turn.

The timeline

I think that part of what makes this series so great, is the decision to have it as a kind of prequel, and not a disconnected series of events. By making that choice, the producers committed themselves to an end. An end that we are all very familiar with and as such, it is tied to some expectations. This gives the writers an obligation to stay true to the character, and not go off on some crazy bunny trails that in so many cases result in completely losing focus and faith from the viewers.
Whoever is in charge of making the decision better let these guys take this series all the way to its satisfying end.
You want the end to be Walter White walking in with a silly disguise, trying to influence him to keep Badger quiet – great. You want to end it simply by receiving his first customer in his tacky strip mall office – great. But let it get to its natural conclusion.  However you want to – It’s all good man!

 

Weighty Topics And No Excuses

I don’t know about you, I love me some podcasts. There are some great sport related ones that I follow, and others that are completely unrelated. An excellent example of the latter is “Writing Excuses” which from my perspective is a “Brandon Sanderson and friends” kind of deal. I learned of this podcast quite recently (as in sometime in 2018. You’ll have to excuse me, at my age one starts to forget details), and for the most part, I really enjoy it. It’s kind of short (which is the point really) and focuses on a specific writing related topic in each episode. It’s also ordered by seasons and episodes, which I find fun, and while I’d never recommend to take any podcast as a bible, one thing this one offers is some perspective. Out of what the team has to offer, I may or may not take advice, but even if I disagree with some things (and I do), I still enjoy the contrast, even if only as a test to my current held position. You should definitely check it out if you’re interesting in the topic of writing at all.
Having said that, I listened to the episode “How To Handle Weighty Topics” from Sunday, August 12th, 2018 on my way to work and it (as it often does) made me think. I’m not necessarily challenging anything said on the podcast, or saying “you’re wrong”. I merely offer my thoughts on the topic.
As the topic of weighty topics is… weighty… I’d like to break it down a little (well, more than a little). First, what did they mean by weighty? My understanding is – At any time one writes about a person or persons who are not of his “group” (we’ll get to that), or something that is outside of his existence which is of sensitivity to one or more groups, the topic becomes weighty. Of course I could be misunderstanding, but that – in itself – doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
With the above assumption in mind, let’s start touching the weighty topics.
One of the best questions asked during the podcast was “Why is it so important for the writer?” and I think that this is the fundamental question each of us should ask ourselves before embarking on the project. Are we writing about racism because we want to “be cool”? or perhaps because we “have a message”? Are we writing about racism, or is what we write racist (or can be perceived as such)? mind you, this applies to most all isms. Is one of our characters racist? “just a little”? Outright obnoxious, racist, pig? and if so, what does that mean for our story? Do we write that character in “to have a racist character”? There are a lot of “whys”  we should ask ourselves before even going into a weighty topic (more on that later).
For me, the decision is made based on one question – Does it  serve the story in any meaningful way? whether it’s the plot, character or settings. If the answer is yes – you will see some ism in my book. If not, I’m not even going there.
Another question that really interests me, and I’m hoping some of you may want to give me possible answers (I’m really asking) is, do we really need to address the isms every time? What I mean is this – If I’d elect to write a story featuring, say… a gay person. If I illustrate the discrimination and suffering that person may experience, I may be misrepresenting it, or perhaps worse, over simplifying it. If I tell a story, in which a character just happens to be gay, why does he have to be gay? (and excuse the usage of male, that’s just my habit). How does the character, being gay, contribute to the story, other than to be a “hey, I included a gay person in my story” (Do we really have to choose a “pet minority”?). And If I chose one group, or three, and not others…
What I’m trying to say is, inclusiveness is fun, and I go back to that question – does it serve the story in a meaningful way? if so, why the hell not. As a reasonably new writer, I tend to write more of what I know, and I do not know enough yet to pretend to get in the head of some groups. I feel that, until I’ve spoken to, learned about, understood people better, I’d rather stay away. That way I am – at the very least – significantly reducing my chances of falling into the trap. One day I will know more. On that day, I may take the plunge.
The most insightful and meaningful comment I heard on the podcast (and excuse me, I don’t remember who said what – they are all interesting) was regarding the fact that, though we all may be (whether we want to or not) part of certain different groups, we have so much more in common than we are really different. I totally agree that, from a writer’s perspective, if we write our characters with that in mind, the chances of our writing being offensive, or perceived as such, are reduced. I want to say it clearly again – there’s a huge difference between writing an offensive character (which is perfectly fine) and writing offensively (which I don’t recommend).
So far I focused on the writing itself, as it relates to weighty topics. But There is still the question of what is the writer’s role in the discussion of a certain weighty topic. My personal opinion is that it’s up to the writer. Some may feel a burning need to address a weighty topic because it may hit “close to home” for them, or perhaps the opposite – choose to stay away from one, for the exact same reason. I don’t think that everyone should necessarily write about them, but I do expect from any book that I write to be true to its reality. If a character in our story is of a group that suffers blatant discrimination, I expect to see him as such. I don’t need a militant activist of any faction for that. I just expect that the character will not be “just another guy”. Otherwise I will ask again – why does he have to be part of a specific group?
I’m not a big fan of preachy fiction. I identify with causes, but I do that in real life. In fiction I’d like to read a story that is informed by whatever reality it exists in. I can identify with a suffering character, as long as it’s not meant to “educate” me. It’s more about empathy to a character than a “message” that the writer wants to send.

 

I also don’t view the writer as a pacifist. What I mean by that is that, I am not actively looking to offend people. As I mentioned, I do not intend to write offensively. But I don’t believe a writer should “hold back” when it comes to writing about weighty topics. It boils down to target audience I guess.
If the story justifies it, a character will say the most horrific racist slurs and will behave in a despicable manner. Because the character is not the writer. That character may even be successful in his endeavors, because – it’s fiction… and yes, some people may be offended.
Beside the fact that people get offended more easily these days, there’s also the question of why should the writer compromise on a story that could be stronger should it included things that might offend some people? Again, target audience aside, I think the story should be told, IF – and I will try to close a little circle here – the writer has a satisfactory answer to that question: “Why is it so important for the writer?”
A Facebook friend of mine posted a couple of days ago about people who say that, when it comes to people, they are “color blind”. Meaning, we don’t see a black or white or whatever person as a black or white or whatever person. She challenged them, and I agree with what she said. This color blindness is mostly reserved to the privileged, to people who are part of stronger populations. Because it’s much easier. Like her, I choose to see colors, and religions and sexual orientations and other points of conflicts.
Is it not the ability to recognize the differences and yet look past them, understanding that indeed, these are far less than the things we have in common, and kill our prejudices the way to get rid of racism and other isms?
And also, how do we expect to empathise with a person who is marginalized, categorized and mistreated if we fail to recognize that he is? by being blind to the differences, we also have to be somewhat blind to problems that need to be addressed.
Now, I don’t see a gay person ONLY as gay, of course. That’s part of the problem. But I’m not going to ignore the fact that he is. Not as a person and not as a writer. As a person, by doing that I’d be ignoring the issues and basking in my privilege. As a writer I’d miss – at the very least – on two of writing’s most valuable aspects – conflict on the one hand, and empathy on the other.
Hopefully no one’s offended. You know no offense was meant.