Tag Archives: fiction

#INeedDiverseGames – and #WeNeedDiverseBooks – because anything less is shitty writing

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There’s been some great stuff said in the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag in the last couple of days, though if you check it out – and you should – be aware that of course people with other agendas have found it and are being ugly in it. Not all of it is overtly ugly, though, in the same way that not all of the people supporting the GamerGate crowd are actually monstrous assholes. One of the things I saw linked – and I’m sorry, but I can’t now seem to find it, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it – was a rather long post that picked apart the demographics of people who play games, delivered an analysis, and ended with the claim that there’s no solid evidence that lack of representation in media has detrimental psychological effects (untrue) and questioned whether diversity really is necessary in games. “It would be nice, sure”, said the author (I’m paraphrasing somewhat). “But is it something we really need?”

Okay.

I mean, maybe you don’t think we do need it. Maybe you don’t think it’s actually necessary. Maybe you think it would be cool and you’re not against it as such, but you think people are making kind of too much of a Thing out of it and they’re just looking for something about which to be loud and angry. As the demands for more diverse and inclusive SF&F have intensified we’ve seen the exact same kind of claims, usually along with protestations that things aren’t actually that bad anyway. It’s not necessary.

Okay.

Got a question for you, then: Do you care about good stories?

Just that. That simple. Presumably you do – if you read books, if you play games, if you watch TV and movies, presumably you’d prefer to be reading and playing and watching stuff that’s actually good, right? You’re not going to embrace stuff that’s shitty and boring. If someone came up to you and said “wow, you sure do prefer tame, safe, bland, status quo-embracing shit, don’t you?” you’d probably push back against that pretty hard, right? And yeah, a lot of us like stuff that’s loud and silly and focused entirely on being entertaining with no pretensions toward anything more and that’s great, but I don’t think any of us would cop to loving it because it’s shit and wanting nothing except more shit for the rest of whatever.

Right?

And if you write books and short stories, if you make movies and TV and games, I’m guessing you feel even more strongly about this. You’d ideally like to be making good stuff. You probably don’t want to make shitty, boring, unimaginative things. You probably wouldn’t like to see your chosen field choked with shitty, boring, unimaginative things. We all want to be proud of what we do, and we want to be proud of the community in which we’re doing it. If we’re creators, we want to be creating good things, and we want to be surrounded by people who are making good things, because they push us further, make us want to do more, make us reach for greater creations. Even if you’re writing pulpy, silly stuff, even if you’re making those same big, loud, entertaining, unpretentious spectacles, I’m sure you want to make the best damn big, loud, entertaining, unpretentious spectacle you can. If you’re a creator, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you actually give at least a little bit of a fuck about what you’re making.

Right?

So here, if you refuse to accept anything else, is the reason why we need diverse games and books and stories: Anything less is shitty writing.

If your writing is full of white men, it’s shitty writing. If your writing erases any sexual or gender identity other than straight cisgender people, it’s shitty writing. If your writing reduces women to (usually injured, kidnapped, or killed) motivations for your male characters, it’s shitty writing. If your writing presents histories in which people of color play no role at all and you defend it with “but historical accuracy!”, you’re wrong and also it’s shitty writing.

It’s status quo, it’s tired, it’s boring, it’s bland, it’s unimaginative, it’s been done to death, it’s shitty shitty shitty. And if you give even a little bit of a fuck about your craft, you have no excuse whatsoever for being satisfied with it, let alone defending it.

Know what else? It’s also not true. Because here’s the thing: writing stories is about telling lies that are fundamentally true, and any writing that doesn’t do that on a foundational level is shitty writing. Telling a story is about creating characters who feel real, who are recognizable to us even if they aren’t like us. Truly great writing will open a way for us to feel connected to people who are very different from us, who themselves represent an expansion of how we see the world. And the world is diverse. Fabulously so. The world is rich and wild and beautiful with diversity – it’s a treasure house of diversity, of so many different people with so many different experiences, knowledges, struggles, histories. These are deep waters, friends, and they are teeming with glorious diversity. Each element of difference is a chance to tell a new story, to weave a thread into a larger, grander tapestry. And the stories that do this don’t have to be anything but entertaining. They don’t have to be the next Academy Award-winning film, the next show to get showered with Emmys. They don’t have to be books and short stories that win Nebulas and Hugos and Campbells. They can be loud and big and silly and fun, and aim for nothing more.

That doesn’t mean they can’t also be true. It’s not a burden to make them true. It’s not difficult. It’s easy. Just be willing to write stuff that isn’t shitty.

This is why the whole “but it’s bad to be diverse just for the sake of being diverse!” argument is utter bullshit. How about being diverse for the sake of writing well? How about being diverse for the sake of being real? How about doing it for the sake of writing true? How about doing it because it is not that goddamn hard?

If you really think that – if you really think it’s silly, that doing it is sacrificing some kind of artistic principle, if you really think people are making a Thing out of it, if you really think it’s unnecessary – fine. But in that case I have no choice but to conclude that you’re a lazy, shitty writer or a consumer of lazy, shitty writing, and that’s what you’re satisfied to do and to be.

And dude. Dude. Dude.

No.

Finding the door

image by Rob Wanenchak

image by Rob Wanenchak

If thou followeth a wall far enough, there must be a door in it. – Marguerite de Angeli, The Door in the Wall

One of the first books that I remember being specifically formative for me in terms of actual writing is Stephen King’s Misery.

Like a lot of people, I went through a period of being obsessed with King’s books, beginning with a series of summer nights down at my family’s lake property in Texas wherein I stayed up until the small hours reading The Shining. One could – and many have – levy a number of very legitimate criticisms at King and his writing, and as I’ve learned more about the craft it’s become clearer to me that a lot of his books frankly aren’t all that great. But I retain the opinion than a lot of his stuff really is pretty fantastic, if often flawed – The Stand, the Dark Tower series (mostly the first three books but yes, I love the whole ridiculous thing) Duma Key, It, Desperation, Dolores Claiborne, The Green Mile, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (a massively under-appreciated gem)… I could go on.

A lot of what I learned about writing, I learned from Stephen King, and not just from his slim, lean, wonderful On Writing. I could name a number of writers who first sowed in me the seeds of Wanting to Write, but when I determined that I might actually attempt the business, it was from King that I started to grasp the inner structure and workings of how to put a story together, how to make all the pieces fit and set the thing running. More, from him I gleaned an idea of creation that was at once cautiously mystical and flatly practical, devoid of both the gauzy, fluffy nonsense and the pompous inflexibility which stand as unfortunate features of a number of books about writing. I got useful images from him that made a lot of what I intuited easier to grasp: toolboxes and tools, people digging away in mines. I gained an understanding of the business of writing as far more practical craft and hard work than the base-level possession of talent, or of sitting around waiting for inspiration.

But sometimes you do wait. Sometimes you shove whatever your current project is into the back of your mind and go on about your life. Sometimes you get an idea but you know it isn’t ready yet, or you suspect it may not be. Then you let it be. I’ve found it useful to conceive – heh – of this as a kind of pregnancy; I can feel that something is growing, but it’ll grow at its own pace. I’ll know when it’s ready to emerge, and to try to force it out before its time could kill it before it has a chance to get going.

But sometimes it doesn’t simply emerge in its natural time, and then you have to hunt for it. You have to chase.

In Misery, King describes my understanding of this process as regarding a blank page, waiting to fall into it. That image has stayed with me, because it feels so right; what you need is a way through and into, and you won’t find it by avoiding it. And it’s not fun. It’s painful.  It’s lonely and frightening, and I think that loneliness and fear is what keeps a lot of would-be writers dependent on inspiration, the lack of which provides an excellent excuse to quit for the day and do something that isn’t writing.

And then there’s what I tend to experience more than anything else when trying to start a project – and sometimes when stuck in the middle of one – which is a combination of the two.

I’m not waiting to fall through a page – or a screen – and I’m not waiting for something to birth itself. It’s like I’m in the dark, feeling my way along a wall. There’s nothing in the dark with me but that wall – except for the wall, I’m in a void. What I’m looking for is a crack, a hole, a window, maybe even a door. I have no clear idea what’s behind the wall. Maybe I can hear things through it, very faint – voices, music. Maybe I’ve heard rumors about what’s over there, unreliable third-and-fourth-hand reports. The fact is that I don’t know. All I know is that I can’t stay in the dark.

And if I keep feeling along the wall, sooner or later I’m going to find my way through.

That moment, when I find the way through, is difficult to describe, but I think King would recognize it instantly. I think most writers would. It’s a moment of quiet elation and revelation both – not an understanding of the whole story or of the totality or the plot but more that you now see the path by which you might get to the end. You have a way in. The country beyond is still undiscovered, but now you can begin – or continue – the journey. And now the journey doesn’t seem nearly so impossible, nearly so overwhelming.

That moment is one of the moments I’ve come to live for. I had one of them last night. I’m not quite ready to start that particular journey, but I can see the road through the door, and I’m looking forward to it with great anticipation.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. – JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

You can’t have history without violence

amazing art by John Jennings

Let’s talk about “historical accuracy”.

A few days ago I saw some stuff on Twitter by Long Hidden co-editor Rose Fox about someone upset/offended to find violence in the anthology. Rose noted that it’s possible the person in question just couldn’t handle violence/horror, which is okay and to be respected, but Rose thought and I agree that it’s a strange thing to not go into an collection of stories like this ready to see.

Marginalized history is violent history. Marginalization is itself a form of violence. If you’re going to tell these stories, each one will, in its way, be a story of violence.

“Historical accuracy” is so often employed by writers as a defense against people pointing out that stories that use rape to add shock value or to motivate male characters or as the sole defining feature of the characters hurt in that way, or that stories that focus on primarily white cisgender straight ablebodied male characters are ignoring a huge proportion of the population of the entire world and are sorta kinda racist/cissexist/homophobic/ableist/sexist (also fucking lazy, dig?). THESE THINGS HAPPENED IN OLDEN TIMES OR WHATEVER, they cry, or THESE THINGS HAPPEN WHEN THERE’S WAR AND STUFF, or IN MY INVENTED UNIVERSE ONLY THIS ONE GROUP OF PEOPLE IS IMPORTANT SO IT’S NOT MY FAULT. As if these are objective facts of some history – whether of the past or future – instead of real choices being made by an author with total control over the shape and content of their story.

And then there are voices clamoring for authors to not be “forced” to make their stories “artificially” diverse, as if it was some kind of hardship, as if it would make the story bad instead of richer and more interesting.

When used in this way, “historical accuracy” is an excuse for not writing well. And it’s one that – I think and hope – fewer and fewer people are accepting as legitimate.

But historical accuracy requires violence.

The history of humanity is a history of violence. It’s a history of oppression, of subjugation, of mass-murder, of the erasure of voices and stories and cultures and entire peoples. Violence is woven through history like a blood-soaked thread, staining everything it touches. History shapes the present and the future; everything it means is inextricably bound to the world in which we live and move. Stories of marginalized people, forgotten people, are necessarily violent. They must be violent, if they’re going to be true.

Those of us in the category of the oppressor, whether or not we want to be there, can either face that violence or turn away. And if we don’t want to be there, if we don’t want to hurt anyone anymore, we can’t turn away. We can’t afford to. This is the truth.

If you can’t take violence of the kind I think this person meant, that is, again, something that has to be respected. People need to be able to make safe spaces for themselves. But one shouldn’t go into Long Hidden expecting to see anything but violence. These stories are true in the way that the best fiction is. They’re “historically accurate” in a way that is not a defense and needs no defense.

And it’s the kind of historical accuracy we actually need.

Sunday Linkdump: All the cars upturned talk like the trains

Heisenberg

Be aware: There is a lot. Without further ado:

  • This week in awesome: An artist is making a map of Manhattan using only handwritten directions from strangers. It’s about as great as you’d expect.
  • “Man Creates Very First Website for Women Ever”. No, this is not an Onion headline.

    Where is the Gawker for women? The ESPN for women? The Awl for women? The Slate for women? The Onion for women? Perhaps when Google finally launches a search engine for women, we will be capable of locating the websites targeted at us, so that advertisers may sell us things. For now, we will read Bustle.

  • Breaking Bad as Hamlet. I don’t totally buy it, but it’s an amazing comparison.
  • “Mark Millar and Todd McFarlane: Ladies, Comics Aren’t For You”. And here’s where I would register my outraged shock if I had any. Shock, I mean.

    Comics aren’t for women. And if women do like comics, they shouldn’t, because testosterone, and that’s not the right platform for them. But for those women who do read comics, it doesn’t matter how they’re portrayed. Because women don’t read them, you see, so it’s not necessary to write characters that will appeal to them. So if you’re a woman, and you’re reading comics, first of all, why are you reading them? Second of all, don’t expect anything that appeals to you.

  • Related: Do villains really need to commit “taboo” acts for us to get that they’re villains?

    A cowardly bully, who snivels and whines when any hurt at all comes their way, isn’t just a villain that people hate. He or she is a villain that people despise. It goes back to what people mean when they say a “bad guy.” Someone being “bad” isn’t just about actions, it’s also about character in the old-fashioned sense of the word. And when the focus is on “bad character” rather than atrocity, it’s possible demonstrate that a villain is despicable without showing any crime at all.

  • Also related: Warren Ellis on why we do need violent stories.

    We learn about things by looking at them and then talking about them, together. You may have heard of this process. It’s sometimes involved in things like science. It’s also the system of fiction: writing things in order to get a better look at them. Fiction is how we both study and de-fang our monsters. To lock violent fiction away, or to close our eyes to it, is to give our monsters and our fears undeserved power and richer hunting grounds.

  • Also also related: Why it may be a good thing that video games “devalue life”, and why it might open up some opportunities to rethink the meaning of death.

    This fixation on interactivity obscures the fact that games are also a computational medium, based on models and protocols, codes and commands, simulations and rules. By assigning literal, numerical values to life and death, games are necessarily going to “cheapen” them to some extent – but, as we’ll see, this cheapening can render the form peculiarly suited to exploring what life is worth in the era of biopower and computerized risk assessment, drones and cloning, artificial intelligence and data mining.

  • N.K. Jemisin: “There is no neutrality when bigotry is the status quo.”

    Put simply, SFWA must now take action against bigots in order to prove itself worthy of being called a professional organization. SFWA’s leadership is going to have to choose which members it wants to lose: the minority of scared, angry people whose sense of self-worth is rooted in their ability to harm others without consequence… or everyone else.

  • Orson Scott Card: Now officially disconnected from reality in every meaningful way. Also howlingly racist, in case anyone wasn’t sure about that.

    “Where will he get his ‘national police’? The NaPo will be recruited from ‘young out-of-work urban men’ and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities.

    In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama’s enemies.”

  • (TW: wow racism) Amazing series of photos: “A Day in the Life of the Ku Klux Klan, Uncensored”. The only real issue is that it’s sort of implicitly presented as if any of the images are a surprise or are skewering common perceptions of the KKK, when in fact they are all exactly what I would expect.
  • “Of course all men don’t hate women. But all men must know they benefit from sexism”.

    These days, before we talk about misogyny, women are increasingly being asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings. Don’t say, “Men oppress women” – that’s sexism, as bad as any sexism women ever have to handle, possibly worse. Instead, say, “Some men oppress women.” Whatever you do, don’t generalise. That’s something men do. Not all men – just somemen.

  • “Thoughts on the Trending Hashtag: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen”.

    Recently I had lunch with a good friend, and he asked how I felt about getting my major in Women and Gender Studies since he heard that it’s basically learning about white women, which I’m inclined to agree with. The primary feminist group on my campus simply ignored my critiques that women of color were not being truly represented by them. Instead, I was simply told, “Oh well, we believe in equality for all.” I can even think of a few times when I was on Facebook and saw white women post articles about women of color, ignore my comments regarding my own experiences as a Latina, and carry on talking to other white feminists discussing something that they have no real clue about.

  • Bayou Corne, Louisiana is disappearing into a sinkhole 24 acres wide and about 750 feet deep. There are reasons why this is happening.

    Bayou Corne is the biggest ongoing industrial disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of. In addition to creating a massive sinkhole, it has unearthed an uncomfortable truth: Modern mining and drilling techniques are disturbing the geological order in ways that scientists still don’t fully understand. Humans have been extracting natural resources from the earth since the dawn of mankind, but never before at the rate and magnitude of today’s petrochemical industry. And the side effects are becoming clear.

  • Finally, from me: a post on the systems of cultural capital built up around print books and the spaces they occupy, placed in the context of a world that features increasing numbers of ebooks.

    Of course the spaces themselves in which one goes to experience books are laden with differing degrees of cultural capital. Independent bookstores tend to be more prestigious than chains. Independent bookstores with lots of antique shelving that’s high enough to need those cool rolling ladders tend to be more prestigious than a little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore. You stand in these spaces, a hardcover first edition in your hands, surrounded by whispers and wood and that fantastic old book smell, and you can think Aha, I am a Cultured person in a Cultured space and I am Experiencing Books.

Hope the bridges all burn your life away.

More fiction-themed bloggy stream-crossing

Just because once again it seems pertinent; my academic alter-ego has been blogging more over at Cyborgology about fiction and why it matters, even to people who do ostensibly non-fictional work.

Fictive writing doesn’t just allow us a deeper understanding of our past but a richer window into our present and a more vital imagining of our future. As I’ll argue extensively to anyone who has the misfortune to raise the topic with me (I am so much fun at parties), far from being merely escapism, fiction – especially speculative fiction – is a fantastically useful arena in which to do social theory, yet it’s one that most social scientists roundly ignore…Speculative fiction, among other genres, allows us to explore the full implications of our relationship with technology, of the arrangement of society, of who we are as human beings and who we might become as more-than-human creatures. It’s useful not because it’s expected to rigidly adhere to the plausible but because it’s liberated from doing exactly that: it’s free to take what-if as far as it can go.

Perhaps I don’t need to keep making this argument, given that whenever I do it seems like there’s a chorus of people who soundly agree with me. Then again, I get the sense that there’s a sizable block of older-generation sociologists who still think the internet might be kind of a passing, unimportant thing, so there you go.