Writer Victory!—Yearning, Empathy, & How Political Correctness is Killing Diversity in Literature
After deviating last week, today we tackle the final letter in our Writer Acrostic. Thus far, we’ve covered: V is for Voluntarily Submit. Anticipate trials and challenges and understand there is far more strength in bending than breaking. I was for Identify Problem Areas. We can’t fix what we fail to acknowledge. Our profession hinges on us writing better today than we did yesterday. C was for Change Your Mind. We can only achieve what we can first conceive. Make your mind and set it and keep it set.
T was for Turn Over our Future. When we let go of things we can’t control, we’re far more powerful to drive and direct that which we can. R was for Remember Writers are Magicians. This isn’t a hobby or “playtime.” Our society is only as evolved as the artists who drive the change. Show me a country without writers and I’ll show you a country doomed.
Y stands for Yearning. Natural talent has very little to do with being a great writer or a successful writer. We have to want the dream. I can teach you guys structure, technique, POV, etc. but I can’t do the work for you. You have to want it.
Over Memorial Day, Hubby and I watched Lone Survivor. There was a really neat quote in the intro: “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards.”
A Writer’s Work is Never Done
Unless I’m sleeping, I’m always on the job. Even then, y’all should be privy to some of my dreams. Since my fiction involves a lot of complex science, it’s not uncommon for me to bolt up in the middle of the night with an A-HA! I make a joke that I do my best work while sleeping.
One of the reasons I tell writers NOT to start a writing blog is that teaching writing and writing are two completely different skill sets. Writers are not necessarily good teachers. In fact, I will go so far as to say some of the most brilliant authors I’ve ever met were dreadful teachers.
I remember being at Thrillerfest and one of the mega-authors (who I won’t name) had somehow been coaxed into teaching a class. This was a writer I…worshipped. BRILLIANT man.
I battled for a spot right in the center so I could take notes and learn all I could. The poor author, though? I was waiting for him to chew off his own leg to escape. He kept saying things like, “Well, I don’t know how I do it. I just…do it.” *looks at watch* *looks for fire exit*
Writers (novelists) are not all craft teachers and that’s fine. Readers won’t care about plot or dialogue unless we screw it up. What WE are experts at and what we should be experts at is storytelling. Paying attention to life. We explore questions regular people might not even know they have. They just have this deep dark niggling they can’t articulate. We see what others miss. We make the seemingly trivial relevant. We pay CLOSE attention.
I don’t think it’s an accident that science and art use many of the same parts of the brain. In ways, writers are scientists. We extend the logic.
We ask things like, “What would happen if the government was allowed to completely rule our lives?” “What would happen if suddenly an alien race ‘answered’ all these messages we are sending out?” “Could humans keep their humanity in a world with no food source other than other people?” “How would a Muslim girl cope with trying to balance two vastly different cultures?”
I have been devouring John Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series. It has been immensely popular with young boys and male teens, the toughest demographic to get to read. This has inspired me. After I finish the novel I’m working on, I want to write a YA series for boys using two of my son’s favorite things to talk about—zombies and dinosaurs. I want to pen books my son will love.
Talk about a brain-bender. How can I get zombies and dinosaurs in the same book without it being the stuff of Sharknado? What diseases can I use? What disease might affect humans and yet affect reptiles differently? Is it an engineered bioweapon? What timeline should I use? How does the disease work?
Maybe incorporate time-travel? Perhaps unknowingly infected scientists go back to the Jurassic Period to explore and are made into snack food. Infects dinosaurs and immediately alters current timeline for those in the future. Humans now face a two-front war. Bio-weapon has unleashed hoards of the undead and suddenly creatures that should have been dead are very much alive.
How would this affect our world? What would be the bigger “human” question?
I have a log-line:
Borders and beliefs no longer matter. Humanity is now facing extinction from the extinct and the undead.
Maybe it’s lame. Maybe not. The puzzle is what keeps the yearning in me alive. It’s a challenge.
Yearning is vital. It’s what makes us do the stuff we might not like (I.e. branding and social media). Yearning challenges us to grow where we are weak. Yearning keeps us going even when others think we are nuts. Yearning asks WHY, even if the question goes nowhere or the answers are uncomfortable.
Yearning Leads to Understanding
After my post The Disease of Self-Importance—Can We Find a Cure? Jami Gold wrote a fabulous follow-up piece about how PC could endanger diversity in books. If we allow PC to reign, will it discourage authors from writing about a diverse mix of characters? I believe yearning is what makes us good at writing other characters.
***And PC kills yearning because it makes us afraid to just talk to each other and ask questions out of fear of “offending” someone and being labeled a racist. My POV.
I have a confession. Y’all ready for it?
I have never been a dinosaur.
Now, don’t tell AARP that or the folks sending me coupons for hearing aids and information on prepaid funerals (I AM ONLY 40!). But, I might make the dinosaurs sentient in my book. I’d have to use empathy to imagine what it would be like to have the brain the size of a walnut (might call Congress for tips 😀 ).
I’ve also never been SHOT and hope it stays that way. But I have written characters who’ve been shot.
I believe yearning is often what makes us good at writing characters unlike ourselves. I know my male characters are almost ALWAYS better than my female characters. Why? As a chick I take too much for granted. Since I’m 99% sure I’m not a man (or a dinosaur), I pay attention to mannerisms, speech, beliefs, etc.
Same with characters of different racial groups. Years ago, I wrote a novel that won a major award and the BEST character was an African American female. Last I checked? I’m still white.
I’ve won awards on three short stories with protagonists vastly different from me. One was from the perspective of a suicidal middle-aged white male and the other two were love stories from the POV of the elderly WWII generation.
Great writers must have empathy. The stronger the empathy the better. Just like we don’t have to be kidnapped and beaten to be able to write about it, I don’t feel we need to be another race, religion, orientation to write those characters. In fact, if we can’t write characters who aren’t us, we’re in BIG trouble.
Yearning fuels empathy. Empathy leads to appreciation and understanding. We yearn to understand the perspective of another. This is why diverse characters and diverse books are so vital. Rot and Ruin was from the perspective of a young teenage boy, and because I could spend time in that unfamiliar head, the book gave me new insight of how to be a better mother to my son. Maberry highlighted areas that a boy needed that a mom might not be aware of.
Yearning is the fire that fuels the passion and the progress.
What are your thoughts? Do you have to read books or attend conferences to reignite your yearning? Are you always on the job, too? Hubby has forbidden me from speaking during movies. Do you like coming up with insane story ideas and seeing if you can make it plausible without being ridiculous? Do you write characters who are different from you? Do you have the same experience? That maybe the characters unlike you are actually stronger? Do you think PC is anathema to diversity in literature? Maybe makes writers afraid to explore and thus leaves only the stereotypes and tropes (ironically fueling more misunderstanding)?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Note: I’ve just gotten over a nasty bout of bronchitis, so will announce May’s winner later this week.
If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.
I am running my First Five Pages Class on June 20th. The first five pages are essential and often symptomatic of bigger weaknesses in the book. Hook hard and hook early. For those who want a DETAILED critique of the first five pages, I offer the Gold Level. This is WAY more than simple line-edit and is a thorough analysis of your writing. Use WANA15 for $15 off.
Also running my Antagonist Class. This will teach you how to make sure your core story problem is as strong as it can be and also how to generate tension on every page. Will teach you to become a master plotter and FAST. Excellent class for anyone wanting to write multiple books a year or even series. Again, use WANA15 for $15 off.
I also offer the Gold level for this, which is one-on-one time with me. Clear up a confusing plot, fix a weak plot, plot a series. I am here to help.