Young Geoffrey (ed_rex) wrote,
Young Geoffrey

30 days on writing: Entry #13: Making up the real

Making up the real:

Middle-aged white guy writes teenage black girl as heroine, tries not to offend or to Mary Sue

More memeage: In this edition, Young Geoffrey talks about culture, making use of the familiar, making it up and (sort of) appropriating the other.

13. What's your favorite culture to write, fictional or not?

As with characters and worldbuilding, most of the cultures I've written about have been pretty close to home. In particular, a sub-culture that came of age in mid-80s Toronto. A variant on behemias throughout the western world for a couple of hundred years, SEEDlings were a group of bright, often under-achieving and almost always over-indulging kids who preferred to talk than to fight, whose politics started out very left-wing (whether that changed varied quite a lot from person to person) and whose sexual morality was generally either progressive or perverted, depending on one's prejudices.

Many of my stories are set mostly or entirely in bars or on patios and even those that aren't more often than not feature one-on-one scenes in which much alcohol is consumed over the course of a conversation.

But not entirely, not always.

Sometimes I just make things up, or try to; and sometimes I rip things off. The Jewel of Eternity contains attempts at both. For the latter, I've re-imagined Tolkien's elves as a devolved, thuggish remnant of a civilization become a tribe, or even a gang, as if Elrond and the other wise guys in Middle Earth, cut out their genetically less-well-endowed brethren and left them behind at the docks of the Grey Havens. But for the former, I invented a brand new species and gave them at least a patina of what I hope is both an original and an interesting culture.

However, as of this writing, they play a pretty minor role in the story and so don't even get the chance to be fully-developed. We'll see how that goes if and when a re-write or a sequel provides more room for them.

In The Valley of Shabathawan, I took what little I knew of motorcycle gang culture and then made up my own. Ditto for the hippies, whose commune is the novel's focal point. At various points I've thought about researching both sub-cultures in depth, but opted instead to just use my imagination, telling myself I'm in the story-telling business, not journalism or documentary-making; so long as it sounds plausible, what do I care?

Now, hippies and bikers must surely vary enough in their various sub-cultures, and neither has much in the way of an organization to make noise about poorly-conceived characterizations, so I figure it's a safe enough way to go without unnecessarily offending anyone.

I'm a little more nervous about the way I am "making up the real" in The Jewel of Eternity.

I mentioned in an earlier entry that I "realized" that the protagonist of Jewel is a mixed-race girl who was mostly raised by her (Nigerian-born and raised) father.

Realized is a funny word when you're talking about something you've made up in the first place, so I think it bears a little more discussion.

Or maybe not. What can I do but assert that I did "realize" my erstwhile why protagonist (who was never anything but a paper-thin cypher, not a character at all) was in fact a nerdy black girl whose father had forced her to take Karate until the day he was physically incapable of forcing her to do anything any more?

Consider it asserted. I really don't have any insight into how or why a chracter becomes "real" in my writer's mind. It's one of those things that probably convince some people there is a god or a muse or whatever (I'm happy enough to bracket it in the "I don't know how the brain works" column and leave it be for the unforseeable future).

That said, I don't and haven't known a lot of African immigrants, and I can't claim to be super-close to the the Nigerian man who married into my extended family; we like each other well enough, but we live in separate cities and don't know each other any better than most cousin-in-laws do.

So what to do? Amanda's father is not a major character in the book and Amanda herself was born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario. I could have done a shit-load of research, but ultimately, sloth and/or creative instinct won out.

I decided/realized that Amanda's father was Amanda's father, not a representative either of a particular Nigerian tribe or of that enormous nation as a whole, let alone of Africa.

He was an intellectual, a widower raising a daughter in an alien culture, a basically decent man making what were to my mind some pretty bad child-raising mistakes, but still a loving father doing the best he knew how. I also took a note from some of the immigrants I've either known or known second-hand, and decided/realized that he was one of those immigrants who decided to be more "Canadian than the Canadians", at least in part.

He wanted his daughter to fit in to Canadian society. He was one of those who rejected the Old World when he came to the new, and if it cost him, that fact wasn't reflected by his limited role in the novel itself.

If you're thinking that all of this serves to make life easier for the writer, I can only plead guilty. It does. I get to hold on to my intuitive understanding that Amanda was a black girl without (I hope) either offending anyone or playing at tokenism. I get to write her father without going too far beyond my own experience while not (I hope) white-washing him either.

And as a bonus, I can get on with the story and (if I can make it publishable) there will be a young adult novel out there with a non-white, non-male protagonist, something that is still rarer than it should be in the western world.

Am I missing something?

0. Explain yourself! In which Young Geoffrey explains the meme and his reasons for exploring it.

1. Tell us about your favorite writing project/universe that you've worked with and why.

2. How many characters do you have? Do you prefer males or females

3. How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you're writing about fictional places)?

4. Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

5. By age, who is your youngest character? Oldest? How about "youngest" and "oldest" in terms of when you created them?

6. Where are you most comfortable writing? At what time of day? Computer or good ol' pen and paper?

7. Do you listen to music while you write? What kind? Are there any songs you like to relate/apply to your characters?

8. What's your favorite genre to write? To read?

9. How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.

10. What are some really weird situations your characters have been in? Everything from serious canon scenes to meme questions counts!

11. Who is your favorite character to write? Least favorite?

12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of worldbuilding? Any side-notes on it you'd like to share?

14. How do you map out locations, if needed? Do you have any to show us?

15. Midway question! Tell us about a writer you admire, whether professional or not!

16. Do you write romantic relationships? How do you do with those, and how "far" are you willing to go in your writing? ;)

17. Favorite protagonist and why!

18. Favorite antagonist and why!

19. Favorite minor that decided to shove himself into the spotlight and why!

20. What are your favorite character interactions to write?

21. Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them?

22. Tell us about one scene between your characters that you've never written or told anyone about before! Serious or not.

23. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire story — from planning to writing to posting (if you post your work)?

24. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What's the most interesting way you've killed someone?

25. Do any of your characters have pets? Tell us about them.

26. Let's talk art! Do you draw your characters? Do others draw them? Pick one of your OCs and post your favorite picture of him!

27. Along similar lines, do appearances play a big role in your stories? Tell us about them, or if not, how you go about designing your characters.

28. Have you ever written a character with physical or mental disabilities? Describe them, and if there's nothing major to speak of, tell us a few smaller ones.

29. How often do you think about writing? Ever come across something IRL that reminds you of your story/characters?

30. Final question! Tag someone! And tell us what you like about that person as a writer and/or about one of his/her characters!

This entry was originally posted at Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.
Tags: 10 days on writing, amanda, bikers, culture, elves, fiction, hippies, mary sue, meme, race, the jewel of eternity, the valley of shabathawan, tolkien, writing

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