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Aug
9
2014

Our Flattening Society, and loss of Characters -- by Sarah Beth

I'm active in several communities of interest. As many are antagonistic to each other, I use pseudonym.  Despite this I see meta-issues accross all the communities.  One of these is identity in a flattening society.  As a quick example, read the screen play, it's free, of "My Fair Lady." http://wearcam.org/decon/myfairlady.htm.

How far did you get before you screamed "but this is not right!"  We are told repeatedly that it is bad writing to show different characters speaking differently.  One, no, make that two writing coaches with their books-for-sale confidently point to "Huckleberry Finn" as an example of how you never develop a character for the past one hundred years.  

Why?

Part of this is likely we're lazy. Why take the mental exercise of understanding a character, right down to the downward inflections of their questions, when we can sit back and have the writer tell us all we need to know?

Part of this is discomfort of having a character act outside of the narrrow norm of memes that are currently fashionable.  Heaven help the female main character who is unabashably girly. Or the eighty year old who has issues with his girlfriend, for whom he pays all the bills, nightclubbing with Basketball stars.  Could a writer in this environment write sympathetically about either?  And not get critiquer's drop like flies hitting a UV trap? 

Did you start writing to curry favor? Then this blog is not for you. If you started writing because something clawed it's way out, then why hasn't it? Does your submissions show something other than the flattened Society norm.

As members of a limited number of formalized Critiquing communities, we need to reach beyond ourselves. If we are lazy, then how does the writer respond?  How many self-assured Steinbecks grace our queues?  Could you write about a "snake woman" who slurred her sippilants at every turn? Even when the first printing nearly tanked because of "Big Press" panning of the admittedly minor character?  

Next time, when you are confronted with a character "acting out", slow down and appreciate that character and how their fellow characters live in the real world of the story.

Posted by Sarah Beth 9 Aug 2014 at 00:51
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Responses to this blog

Irondomain 14 Aug 2014 at 13:42  
I agree with all of this.
Rgraham 18 Aug 2014 at 09:45  
Yay! Someone who thinks like me.
Zileuton 29 Aug 2014 at 15:00  
I think it's rather backwards to claim our society is flattening when the world and our cultural are becoming more open to diverse ideas. The problem with most of your examples seems to be the opposite of what you claim: the writer not treating a character, especially an unlikable character complexly or to make them compelling to the audience. If you the writer introduce a "girly-girl" or a "sleaze" who does obnoxious "girly-girl"/"sleaze" things, I'd like it if you give me some backstory or plot to make trudging through her actions worth-while. I.e. I'd read Lolita, but I'd rather not slog through a pedophile ruining every scene in a fantasy novel just because.

Good examples in pop fiction: Sansa Stark is a compelling 'girly-girl.' She lives relatively sheltered childhood prior to the start of the GoT plot, explaining her initial behavior. She serves multiple useful plot functions as a foil to Arya, as a naive insider to the on-goings of the court/actions of the Lannisters/other plotting in Kingsgate. As she becomes exposed to the reality of the world she lives in she begins to outgrow her naivete.

As far language, China Mieville does a good job in Perdido Street Station with the Garuda, the Weaver, and the Moths, the words and perspectives of each written in 'alien' English. I think the key is a little goes a long way. It makes clear their alien nature without going on for so long as to make reading frustrating.

I'm not sure that My Fair Lady illustrates your point well, as a screen play it's intended to be spoken. Also the accent is central to the plot, not just meaningless ambience. I believe the reason why authors are against overuse of accents in a purely written work is that they slow reading comprehension, the reader must work to understand the phrase instead of readily and naturally processing it, akin to using say/says/said instead of distracting the reader with shouted/exclaimed/snarked/cried/etc. These alternatives are useful but peppering your work with them may be distracting.

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