The Hidden Hero: Tropes & Clichés

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I get it.  You’ve seen that trope a million times.  You are sick of it.  “Can we please have another type of story?”  The same characters, situations, and conflicts appear over and over.  So, you write an insightful blog or article that instructs all current and future writers that this topic is done.  “Stop,” you say.  “It’s all been said, again, and again, and again, and again…”

I have two words for you.  SCREW YOU!

Here are some more words.  Not everyone has read the same books as you. Or been to the same movies, or watched the same TV series. Not everyone is from the same culture as you, or has the same privileges.  Not everyone has had the chance to be represented as the hero of the story because of their gender, skin color, sexuality, beliefs, etc.

The “Classics of Literature” have been set in place by a small sub-set of humanity. We have barely started listening to the point of view of other voices, and we are already shutting down whole topics?  Really? The writers of the past have already had their say.  Now, it is our turn.

Yes, we should be aware of cultural shifts and language drifts.  Words and phrases come to mean something different over time. Yes, we should be evolving, both as people and as writers. Only an idiot tries to stay the same, birth to death. Yes, we should be aware that there are topics that people don’t want to deal with, but catharsis is an important tool for recovery.

Take back the freedom to write about everything that makes you uncomfortable. It is on the edges of the hard topics that you find clarity.  Rape and consent.  Gender self-identification and sexuality.  Xenophobia and colonialism.  Privilege and classism. Morality and justice.  In fiction we can take these topics apart–tropes and clichés included–and put them back together in ways that make them easier to understand.  We are searching for hope among the debris.

Right now, on this planet, there are cultures that still force women and men to dress in gender significant ways.  Force!  As in legal and physical punishment. The trope “girl dresses as a boy to gain freedom” is still relevant.  So is its opposite.  Maybe YOU don’t require that story to be told to you, but someone else does.  Stop insisting that stories cater only to your specific needs.  You are tired of it?  Fine.  Avoid it.  It’s not that common.  Meanwhile, stop attempting to put limits on writers and storytellers.  Don’t expect every story you encounter to explore your particular set of circumstances.

Writers, I’m begging you, stop trying to conform to every “How to write” article you come across.  Some of them are pure bunkum.  Write the story you want to read.  You are not so unique that your story can’t be enjoyed by someone else.  You will find those who want the story, maybe even need it.  If you can’t help but read those articles from curiosity (like me), remember that it is someones OPINION, and everyone has one, just like… bellybuttons.

Seriously, why is there such an effort to micro-manage future storytelling?

You Can Have The “Suprise Kiss” When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead Lips

I am very glad there are so many helpful articles about avoiding sexism and racism in our writing, but why do so many of them make my blood boil?

These articles are a mix of sensible thoughts, badly chosen examples, condescending attitude, and weirdly unhelpful tips for improving your work.  I’ve decided to no longer post those types of articles on Facebook or Twitter, even for the lively debates.  The most recent of these, an article about the harmful effects of sexist tropes applied to male characters, left me with a bad taste and these helpful impressions:

  1. We can only write about well-balanced characters.  No Fatally Flawed People!
  2. All characters must have a wholesome and fulfilling home life, with perfect parents.
  3. Everyone must be a winner, and nobody can be unattractive AND a bad person.
  4. No seducing anybody, male or female, ever.  No changing your mind.
  5. Don’t match negative qualities with stereotypes, or… something…  What?

I get it, writers are trying to help other writers.  I’m trying to pass along helpful tips, too.  But the sheer audacity to feel you can write down a set of rules to control what can or cannot be written about stuns and infuriates me. I will use anything and everything I need to tell the story.  If I get it wrong and readers don’t like it, fine.  I will dig my hole with my own damn shovel, not a borrowed one.

It is the suggestions about sexual assault and rape that really ball up my fists.  There are some very uncomfortable truths about these topics.  Yes, male rape exists.  No, you shouldn’t include rape in the story to make a character more interesting.  Seduction exists.  Changing your mind isn’t rape.  Men and women have the right to change their mind about a situation.  Someone can go from dislike or nervous trepidation to accepting sexual advances without losing consent, and can also reverse that decision.  Consent isn’t a fixed point.

But to suggest that no one should ever write about sexual situations that aren’t 100% consensual to all parties is ridiculous and unrealistic.  Yes, consent and rape are controversial subjects, but to silence writers and other storytellers is sweeping the subject under the rug.  As a writer and a survivor of rape, I Will Not Be Silenced! I will use the emotions, unflinchingly, to tell a story.  You live through it, or you die inside.  You can get professional or spiritual help, but it is the internal self that makes that decision.  Being told I can’t write about all of my experiences, whether in fiction or blogging, is my trigger.

Heart pounding, muscles tensed, skin tingling as my senses expand.  Weight shifting to my toes, ready to fight or take flight.  Hands clenched next to a keyboard as I read a damn article.  On a computer.  In my home.  That is what a f**king trigger is like.  It’s a visceral reaction I found–oddly enough–reading words meant to silence me, not words in some novel (with or without a trigger warning).

Trigger warnings are a nice idea, but unrealistic.  You can’t bubble wrap the world.  You learn to survive, just like with any other type of abuse.  You learn to cope.  To thrive.  In my case, to write.

I guess it’s not too surprising that my plots tend towards Romance (and because I don’t look away from the relationship once it ends up in a bedroom, shifts over to Erotica).  The edges of consent and seduction fascinate me.  The negotiation of ego verses vulnerability, and who you choose, and why.  Who pulls at you, opening your soul, giving you a safe place to simply exist?  Who becomes your bedrock, a stable place to stand and face the world?

Do I think surprise kisses are bad?  NO!  Look, if you misread a situation and go all “50 Shades” in an elevator, you deserve the sexual assault charges.  Attraction doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Consent can be implied through action and reaction.  We are past the formal courtship rituals of bygone eras, and you don’t have to ask for permission and have a clearly stated “Yes” for every level of contact.  Body language exists, learn it.

All first contact, like a touch on the hand, is a risk.  Both the chance for outright rejection, and the chance for pushing a line too far because you misread the situation.  If no one ever took that risk, there will be a lot less love, happiness, and children in the world.  You might as well supply your genetic sample to a computer and let it make the next generation in sterile laboratories.  Personally, I don’t want to live in a world without good surprise kisses, even at the risk of bad surprise kisses.

Life isn’t sanitized for your protection.  Live, laugh, and get messy.  I hope you receive at least one steamy, decadent, toe-curling surprise kiss in your lifetime.  It is well worth the risks.

Gender Politics and the Modern Storyteller

Why does the princess dress as a boy?  Why does a girl cut her hair and run away?  Why does a young woman throw her life away, entering a lethally dangerous world, to reject  the marriage proposal she doesn’t want?  Simply to escape the trap of being female in a male dominated society.

The struggle for an equal voice in our society is just as old as those Fairy Tales, if not older.  Some are of the opinion that Campbell’s mythic Hero’s Journey is for men, exclusively, and to place a female in that role is ‘manning’ her.  After centuries of waiting, women–in fiction and reality–are breaking free of the imposed roles of golden princess, mother goddess, and throne side trinket.  We are becoming the Hero, because the hero is Human.

Movie and TV Producers don’t think it’s happening.  Toy Producers don’t think it’s happening.  Book Publishers don’t think it’s happening.  Everywhere I look are people who don’t think it’s happening.  Some Manufacturers see it, I think, but are sure to charge us more for the same product sold to men, while simultaneously paying us less.

Can you not see it?  I see it in social media, dating practices, self-published books, and Sci-fi awards (including the backlashes).  And it’s not just about the equality of genders; it’s equality for all the things a Human can be. (None so blind as those who will not see.)

I see the signs everywhere.  The firm rock our culture is built on is shifting toward equality, moving like a tectonic plate.  Gender politics pop up in every aspect of our lives, like sudden volcanos sprouting in open fields.  The ground shakes, liquefying, and you either figure out how to float or sink down.

It’s a struggle, figuring out who you want to be as a gender.  Some of us make mistakes, as many are quick to point out, fingering the most obvious cases of toxic feminism, confusion at gender fluidity, and concern over woman becoming too manlike.  We are evolving, and that is a difficult process.  Mistakes will be made, and hard lessons learned.  (That’s just the tip, Honey.  Lye back and get used to it.)

I don’t want to take away or suppress the masculine voice.  I just want to be able to say, “Me, too.  I have a story!”  Equality is understanding we all have both masculine and feminine sides, and being allowed to express them as individuals is the evolved form of society.

It may feel like we are entering a new Era to you, but it’s been whispered to me my whole life.  The earliest myths, Fairy Tales, and the stories we tell ourselves are all part of it.  The voice is louder now, promising a better way, if we are strong enough.  You can’t keep a segment of the population suppressed forever.  All of the stories tell us…  They rise.  Always.

I don’t want to be your Queen, or Goddess, or Mother/Sister/Daughter to have your respect.  I want to be acknowledged as roughly fifty percent of the population.  I am equally human, so don’t force me to play the Bitch card just to be equal.

Keep your eyes closed.  Pretend it’s all going back to the way it was.  Feel free to take that risk.  Just be aware that if you keep trying to force that golden bikini on us, we have new role models, and we will wrap that chain around your throat and pull.

If we choose to put that golden bikini on, for you, for an evening, that’s another story…

(Dammit, I’m back to erotica.  Again!)

 

 

 

Do’s and Dont’s of Writing Spell Casting Scenes

Nobody writes graphic descriptions in their spell casting scenes, and if you do you will look like a big stupid head.  Here’s an arbitrary list of rules; if you don’t pay attention your book will suck, you will suck, and you will get an award for Sucky Writing.

  1. Don’t be graphic.  Don’t use words like rod, staff or wand, or how it sparkles and vibrates.  It’s tacky, and we know you have that thing helping you make magic. Everybody has one.
  2. Don’t talk about the mechanics of magic.  We all know it’s swish and flick. Don’t go describing it.
  3. Don’t describe the results.  Don’t tell us how the character fell to the ground afterwards, gasping for breath, exhausted from expending so much energy.  Or how they are buzzed from the residue of making magic; it’s icky.
  4. Don’t focus on the magical act.  Tell me about the smell of dog across the street, or the way the light makes a pattern on the wall.
  5. Less is more.  You must make your reader struggle to understand that a magic spell is being cast, or what is the point of writing?  How else are you going to trick them into re-reading your wonderful words?

Does this look familiar?  Despite the excessive level of snark, it’s pretty close to the articles that keep crossing my Facebook and Twitter feed.  If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m tired of the “How to Write Sex Scenes” articles regurgitating the same tips.  Why do so many different article writers use the same phrases over and over?  Is there some master article that they are all paraphrasing?  Do you get paid a bonus if you re-write and re-post these sex scene shaming tips?

Why aren’t there just as many articles about how to properly write a spell casting scene, or a fight scene, or any other specific type of scene.  I don’t know how many badly written fistfights I’ve glossed over because it’s a list of moves, and not putting me in the moment.  However, I don’t decide the writer is worthless based on that scene.

Can’t we–as writers–judge for ourselves if we are using the right tone for our stories?  As a culture, we are trying to be more openminded about sexuality and gender.  Can’t our characters reflect that, unafraid to express their sexuality, or must they all be stuck in the morals of a past century?

I also have a real pet peeve about how sentences are excised from books, then held up as bad writing for all to see.  What about context?  Maybe it’s a bit purple, but was it a natural progression in the story?  What is purple for one book could be fine for the next, and too weak for the following book.  What one reader thinks is too purple could be acceptable for the next person.

I understand that a lot of people may not like my writing style, but I’m a proud member of the Order of the Occult Hand (although they haven’t told me what the current phrase is, the Bastards).  Euphuisms–and even clichés–are your friends, because they evoke an immediate reaction.

Sex can be a lot of things, good and bad.  Sometimes it makes you hyper-focused or feel your existence is exploding into everything.  Sometimes it’s badly awkward or happening for all the wrong reasons.  Sometimes it’s so intimate that you feel as if you are inside your partner’s soul.  I reserve the right to tell the story the way it wants to be told.  You reserve the right to not read it.

 

 

 

Genre in Fiction: A Writer’s Search for Clarity

Genre is on my mind a lot lately.  I have to make some hard decisions about my manuscript, and decide what path to take in the revision.  The decisions I make now will directly affect the promotion of the book when it is ready to self-publish.  I have to choose carefully so my  future readers will be able to find me, and so I don’t give potential readers the wrong impression about my book.  Lets take a walk through my mind…

Some genres have to do with the setting, like Science Fiction, Fantasy, Modern, and Historical.  Add the more recent sub-genres like Alternative History, Dystopian Future, Paranormal, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, & and you end up with a place for the story to take place.

Other genres have to do with the plot, like Mystery, Romance, Horror, and Adventure.  These can be subdivided into other genres like Crime or Epic, although Epic could have more to do with length than plot. This is the path the story takes, and each genre has certain expectations placed on it by the readers.

Still other genres seem to be about the voice or tone of the story, like Literary, Young Adult, or Erotica.  There are also descriptors that are less of a genre and more of a flavor, like Gritty, Hard, Military, Sport, Steamy, Cozy, or Warm Hearted.

These lists are by no means complete, just off the top of my head and hopefully enough for you to get my point.  Humans like to slot things into categories, but the single word genre is often woefully inadequate to describe most books.  So we play mix and match, and get things like Cozy Mystery, Paranormal Romance, and Young Adult Fantasy.  But we also get Gritty Fantasy, Steampunk Romance, and Literary Adventure; which could work, or be a total disaster, depending on the writer, and the reader.  (Has anyone tried Cozy Horror?)

My opinion of my own manuscript’s genre has shifted as I’ve written it, from Science Fiction Romance to Erotic Science Fiction Romance, simply because I can’t seem to ‘look’ away from the sex scenes.  It interests me, how the two characters navigate a new relationship, including the time they spend in bed, whether it’s talking, making love, exploring some aspect of their sexuality, or contrasting the way that their cultures and species are different.  They spend time outside of bed, of course.  They both have friends, family, and jobs.

To get a better handle on the expectations of the readers of Erotica, so I could mesh it with the other genres I’m using, I did research.  What I found was a lot of people equating Erotica with porn. I keep hearing “Erotica doesn’t need a plot,” or “Erotica is just sex,” or “I don’t read Erotica, it’s trash.”  And a lot of handcuffs, but not enough feathers.  I’ve been very confused, since I didn’t realize there was such a negative perception to the word Erotic.

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought erotic meant engaging the senses related to romantic desire and sexual love.  That’s what the dictionary says. I read things in most books that I consider erotic.  The description of a first kiss, depending on the author, could be erotic, along with the feeling of lying on a blanket with your love interest while stargazing.

So I look down at my 179,194 word manuscript, trying to figure out if I can cut the sex scenes, and revise the character arcs into less racy words, but that…

Makes me want to chunk the whole thing in the trash and go back into fiber arts.

I haven’t yet, but I’ve come close.  Then I look over at the notebooks full of my other stories, waiting their turn to be developed.  They have themes and words in common with my current project.  If I take out the intimacy, I lose interest in telling the story.  This issue isn’t going to go away for me, unless I give up on crafting stories out of words.  I don’t want to give up.  Writing has become my choice of hobby, vice, and meditation.

So, I’m back to figuring out my genre.  Steamy would be misleading about the graphic words I use.  Is there such a thing as Cozy Erotica, or Spiritual Erotica? Am I really going to try to market under “Warm Hearted Hard Core Erotica Science Fiction Romance”?  Shall I add “Strong Female Lead”? How about “Don’t Read This Because It’s Confusing and Mislabled”.

That Damn trash can is laughing at me.

Fear of… Lists

Reasons I haven’t given my manuscript to my beta reader(s);

  1. I need to go through it one more time, to look for bad grammar that would ruin the reading experience.
  2. I have future slang I need to make sure is the correct slang for each character, and that they are using it correctly.
  3. I need to do a text-to-speech run through, for errors that would ruin the reading experience.
  4. I need to be sure I have firmly decided on the characters names.  “Final answer?”
  5. It’s trash.
  6. It’s smutty trash.
  7. It’s smutty trash that nobody should be forced to read.
  8. Especially if want to be able to look them in the eye, ever again.
  9. I need to take an axe to all the sex scenes.
  10. How many sex scenes does it have?
  11. Should I count the sex scenes?  What would be too many?
  12. How many penis jokes is too many?
  13. I need to do a major revision.
  14. I need to take a chainsaw to all the adjectives and adverbs.
  15. Did I really ‘show’, not ‘tell’?
  16. Did I give enough descriptions?
  17. Did I give too much description?
  18. I need to re-design my blog.
  19. I need to post more on Facebook and Twitter.
  20. I need to set up the Pintrest account.
  21. I still don’t have a web page, and Word Press offers to attach one to your blog.
  22. I need to write my weekly blog, and I’m searching for a topic. The manuscript can wait.
  23. I need to go lay down until my heart calms down. Or lie, or layed… lieded…something.
  24. If someone asks how it is going, say, “It’s a process, and I’m really happy with it.”
  25. Oooh, Cats in Space Quoting Scientists.  LIKE!

Fear of… Secrets.

I’m terrified of the world.  It feels like a train wreak happening before my eyes.  We are shown so much information on things that don’t matter, while turning a blind eye to some really shitty things.  Sexism.  Racism.  Classism.  Human rights violations. Slavery.  It’s all still happening, sometimes on our very own street, our very own house.  Have we really made any progress at all?

I though my last post was about sexism.  It wasn’t.

It was about books, and hoping books would make everything all better.  They won’t.

I was attempting to turn a mirror on sexism in books, and in my own life.  I failed.

I whistled a happy tune while tap dancing my way around the issue.  I apologize.

The truth is that I’m terrified.  I’m terrified there are so many people who still don’t understand that a legal abortion is better than the destruction caused by unsafe abortions.  I’m terrified that people are unconcerned with a significant wage gap dependent on gender.  I’m terrified people still hear of a rape and automatically think “What did she do to deserve it?”  I wasn’t terrified that the UN reported how badly we were doing at women’s equality in this country, but I was profoundly sad.  I’m also sad at how hard it still is to find female action figures, but then I’m a geek.

I’m furious about the fact that there are books and seminars on how to get away with rape, and how to control and subjugate your wife or partner.  I’m pretty pissed about the sexist grandstanding currently going on in the political arena, and how many people seem on board with it, including females. I guess it’s some kind of backlash against feminism and women’s equality.  Sometimes the movement goes too far in the wrong direction.  Sometimes you have to scream and pitch a fit to even be heard, but then you do damage to your own ideals.

I’m angry that there are four males in the world that have sexually abused me, and that it is unreported abuse.  I’m not even talking about the times I have been treated badly for being female, or cat-called, or just general sexual harassment.  Just about every woman deals with that everyday, which is sad in it’s own way.  I’m talking about four males who have had their hands or bodies on inappropriate places on my skin.  Against my will.

One incident includes rape.  I’ve been raped. It is horrible and strange to admit it.  Now all those judgments people put on victims of rape will be turned to me, but I’m tired of the secrecy.  It has not made me any safer or happier. Do you picture me differently, now?

Despite being decades ago, It haunts me to this day.  Being stronger than the incident is exhausting.  Some days it’s easy, and I forget how hard the hard days are.  Other days it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed.  Some days I tune out the world and write.

I truly don’t want sympathy.  It is actually a small thing in a life of ups and downs.  What I want is anybody reading this to just spend some time examining their own behavior.  I have, and I continually find places my views are horribly sexist, against both genders.  It is unbelievably deep in our culture and our brains.

Brace yourself, here’s the hard questions… In what ways are you promoting sexism?  Your behavior?  Your jokes?  Your silence?  Your secrets?

Why haven’t we done better with this as a society?  Why are we smug about the small progresses we have made, and ignored how bad it is in some cultures?  Why are we sliding farther from true equality?

Now, take a deep breath.  I’m not saying you are bad. I think you are good.  I think most people are good.  I think we are all good enough to ask ourselves the hard questions, and to examine ourselves, and our society.  We are good. We are humans. We can be better.

Would you like to know the number one thing that terrifies me?  I have a teenage daughter.  She’s next, on the front line.  She’s next…