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Writing Outside Your Traits - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Writing Outside Your Traits
Here's an essay about male vs. female writers and how they feel about writing across gender.

The male writers felt that gender influenced their writing, and some preferred not to write female characters. The female writers did not feel that gender influenced their writing, that it was all about creating plausible characters. This fits a pattern I know from various sociology classes, which is that in any pairing of an advantaged and a disadvantaged group, the disadvantaged people have to know a lot more about the advantaged people in order to accommodate them for sake of personal survival. In a patriarchal society, women will therefore tend to know more about men, and it will be easier for female writers to handle male characters well than vice versa. Of course there's variation; some female writers don't handle male characters well, and some male writers produce brilliant female characters.

My own thoughts on this issue include ...


1) You don't "have to" include any particular thing in your creative output. What projects you undertake is up to you. So if you don't want to write female characters, or male characters, or whatever -- that's okay. Just be aware that it will affect what audience you attract. That guy who said he'd leave writing female characters to women, who are better at it? He's almost certainly right. His female characters would probably suck, and he probably wouldn't enjoy writing them, and that would make nobody happy. Don't use a screwdriver to pound nails.

2) Writing outside your traits is harder than writing inside them. Some writers are diverse and love to push their envelopes. Others are comfortable establishing a niche. It's great to venture outside writing what you personally know, but it takes a lot of extra work to make it plausible and effective. If you don't want to do that work, or you happen to suck at it, then you're probably better off writing what you know. If you want to explore farther, be aware that sometimes you will fall into a pit of alligators and that will suck.

3) All of the stories need to be told. They do not all need to be told by any one person. The more people writing, the more diversity of representation will happen naturally. If you put together stories by people with a certain trait, there are often trends. Men and women have different favorite topics, although there is plenty of crossover. Even in the same field or genre, they often tell different kinds of stories, and that's awesome. Genderqueer folks of all flavors widen the spread yet again. Whenever there's a split with most of the stories being written by one group, it is advantageous to encourage people in some other group(s) to write their stories.

4) There are different character types. Some are active (changing over the story) while others are static (not changing). Some are simple (they only have one role) while others are complex (they have layers, even contradictions). All of those types are useful in different stories, in different ways. Not every character needs to be dynamic and complicated. Not every story does, even; some people love formulaic plots, and there are entire pulp genres that cater to those tastes. That's okay too. The folks who want more complexity and variation have other branches of pulp, and literary fiction, to enjoy.

5) Write what you like. Read what you like. Use your folding vote to influence entertainment and politics. If you dislike someone's output, you can pick something else. If you don't feel that the mainstream is representing you or your interests, ask for and support things that are different. Crowdfunding makes this much easier than it used to be. You can look for open prompt calls or browse hub sites like Kickstarter. You don't have to settle for oppressive crud.

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wyrmwwd From: wyrmwwd Date: February 5th, 2014 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
That first paragraph is brilliant. I know those things, of course, but I had kind of forgotten.

This will become one of my arguments for why women need women-only space. We, as women, are often so focused on the men in our lives that we know little about ourselves or other women.

And example of this is that I just learned about Catherine Lee Bates, the woman who wrote "America the Beautiful". She was also, apparently, a lesbian, who lived with the same female partner for 25 years. How could I not know this?

This fact was pointed out to me on FB by Z Budapest yesterday, and Kat Robb, another lesbian who blogs on Wordpress this morning. Notice, the women who thought to bring this up to me were both women not focused on men.


This is also why most of us know so much about Christianity whether we are Christian or not. I met a woman from Korea a few days ago that was raised Buddhist, the dominant religion in Korea. She had no idea about anything in the Bible... literally. She didn't know what Genesis was, or the gospels, or about the Old & New Testament... none of it. Nothing. It was very refreshing.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 5th, 2014 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> This will become one of my arguments for why women need women-only space. We, as women, are often so focused on the men in our lives that we know little about ourselves or other women. <<

Genderspace is useful for some people. Men have established manhavens like bars and gentlemen's clubs, often because they feel henpecked at home or want a place where they don't feel ... hm, morally watched. Women have established things like quilting bees, usually for bonding with other women or expressing creativity that doesn't get out otherwise. There are genderspace spiritual activities too. Some people need that more than others. I think it depends a lot on how much agency you have in your everyday life. People with less influence, privacy, or equality are more likely to want the refuge.

>> And example of this is that I just learned about Catherine Lee Bates, the woman who wrote "America the Beautiful". She was also, apparently, a lesbian, who lived with the same female partner for 25 years. How could I not know this? <<

Because society rarely talks about lesbians outside of girl/girl pr0n. Also, people have often hidden their sexuality, or at least not trumpeted it.

>> This fact was pointed out to me on FB by Z Budapest yesterday, and Kat Robb, another lesbian who blogs on Wordpress this morning. Notice, the women who thought to bring this up to me were both women not focused on men. <<

Z is pretty cool. I know her from the Pagan field.

>> This is also why most of us know so much about Christianity whether we are Christian or not. <<

Exactly. It's a dominant paradigm that permeates the culture. You have to know about it if you want to, for instance, stop them from destroying your access to health care.
lady_ravenlocke From: lady_ravenlocke Date: February 5th, 2014 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, very much, for posting this. I haven't read the essay yet, although I have it marked to read later. But looking over your thoughts on the matter have helped me make peace with a few things that have had me paralyzed at the keyboard for the last little while, mostly with regards to representation.

Trying to nudge myself out of a mental block, I was reading through some prompts and such on a Tumblr feed I follow, and something I was finding in a lot of the advice essentially felt like (I won't say this is what they said, but it was the message that I took away from it), "You must include diversity always always always. You must absolutely have people of all walks of life in every story."

Which was terrifying, frankly. So it's nice to see somebody saying, "No, you don't have to. You can, but you don't have to."

So thank you for that.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 5th, 2014 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

>> But looking over your thoughts on the matter have helped me make peace with a few things that have had me paralyzed at the keyboard for the last little while, mostly with regards to representation. <<

I'm glad I could help!

Nobody should ever have to be paralyzed at a keyboard. That sucks. Writing advice that tends to cause that is bad advice, or at least poorly phrased. Good advice helps people make more stuff.

>> "You must include diversity always always always. You must absolutely have people of all walks of life in every story." <<

That sucks. Not only does it make for daunting advice, it also makes for bad writing. You do not put every spice in the kitchen into one dish. You do not cram every theme or motif in human history into one book, unless it is the Aarne-Thompson index.

Look at my writing, I'm a great example of this. I write a ton of different fields and formats. Some of my pieces have multiple themes and motifs, while others have a more narrow focus. If you look at all of it, though, I ramble across a lot of widespread representation. I have characters who are queer and straight, good and evil, many sexes and genders, many species, multiple political systems, and so forth. I've got places where all the characters are fair-skinned, or all brown, or a mix. Mostly I do this by fixating on the story and/or characterization. I was kind of surprised to discover that's not how most people write identity fic, but whatever.

Then if I see an article that goes, "X is not being written" or "X is being misrepresented," I can check my stock. Do I have any good X? If not, I can make some. Here's your X, next problem please.

Of course, there are some things I haven't written, or won't write because I dislike them. I have some heavy favorites that I write very often. That's okay too.

>> Which was terrifying, frankly. So it's nice to see somebody saying, "No, you don't have to. You can, but you don't have to." <<

*bow, flourish* Happy to be of service.
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