Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Breaking The Mould. Why Not?

Back in March, I wrote a blog post called On Non-White Characters and their Representation in Fiction. I read it again recently, while trawling back through old posts to look for ideas for new ones (you can blame two and a half weeks chained to the dining room table squashing quotes, definitions, and the workings of 17th century France into my head for that).

An idea promptly flew out of my screen and splattered quite magnificently all over my face.

In the post, I mentioned my most recent writerly abomination, Ikarus. Easily one of the most challenging stories I have ever attempted to write (except perhaps for that valiant attempt at a creation myth that is currently mouldering in my "golden oldies" folder), the story brought me up against a hundred and one stumbling blocks that I'd not previously encountered.

Needless to say, the first draft makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty paperclip. Not in the least because I'm scared of it.

No, no, it's not because the characters have achieved self-realisation and are currently laying siege to the fourth wall. It's because there are things in it that I am unsure of. Things that don't fit the conventional moulds of character and storytelling. Things I'm not sure will help the book in any way, were I ever to nudge it in the direction of an agent. Things that most of the readerly world seems to ignore, deplore, or, simply, consider a bore.

In short: I'm scared of my first draft because it's different.

I shouldn't be.

And nor should you.

First drafts are intimidating enough without containing issues or elements that the writer isn't sure about. After all, after sharks and hand grenades, there are very few things more terrifying than readers vocalising their hatred for your book. Especially when you knew full well you were taking a risk with presenting something outside the norm.

These sources of agony can be to do with the messages in your book: political, religious, or otherwise. They can be linked to views and actions of the characters in the book. Heck, most of the problems can stem from the characters themselves - one of the most pertinent today being their sexuality, although belonging to any unorthodox bracket can be just as hair-raising for the poor writer.

However, I don't think writers should be afraid of presenting things that aren't in line with the norm. Heck, it's not our job to do that. Some of the most acclaimed works in history were extremely controversial - just look at Banned Book Week, and you'll see how many of those books contain issues that are still alive and kicking in teeth today!

No one should ever be afraid of including an issue or viewpoint in their story. In fact, I'd say we ought to advocate it - issues need raising before they can be resolved, after all. Their presentation and handling is a delicate balance, but I think that unless people have the courage to step up and do so, then we'll all be stuck in a hole with no ladders and a shovel that's older than your grandmother's evil tomcat.

But this post isn't just about the big things - war and death and love and life and humanity in all its convoluted glory. This post is also about the little things. One of my biggest niggles in Ikarus, for example, was the presentation of my nineteen-year-old male narrator. He's not exactly your action hero type - heck, he's not even your conventional male narrator; awkward, nervy, embarrasingly effusive, and an arch-procrastinator, he's exactly the sort of character whose less typical - and, I will admit, more effeminate - personality is likely to draw fire in its deviation from the norm.

Hang on a second . . . Why should anyone be afraid to present a character, a story, or an idea that differs from the run-of-the-mill Sainsbury's Basics selection? Why should we ignore these people and viewpoints simply because they don't fit in with a norm? Why should we be afraid to do so?

Answer: we shouldn't. Why?

Because difference is important.

Because difference is true to the world we live in.

Because difference is good. And I believe the reading public know that. For every person who turns up their nose at your story for going into an area that does not agree with them, there will be another who will love it for doing so.

Because . . . why not?

~ Charley R


  1. Good Point - Which brings to light one reason I'm scared for my Phoenixes - with all the wome's lib about, I'm throwing a character into a society that's driven by roles, and she's a strong woman, and she has to adapt... But I'm not down playing / turning the hate on those roles...

    In fact I'd like people to think about how we view equality, and the way in we live and raise out families.

    Which is why I'd like to see some more 'role reversal' characters in my novel.

    But the thing is - surely I'm not the only one wondering about this - surely I'm not the only one who loves your geeky little protagonist - we're not.

    And that's the thing - you may feel your breaking the mold, but really, you're only stepping out of it to join the others, and sure there may be hate by those who are to comfortable to expan their views, but there are others out there, and eventually (especially in this day and age) they will find you.

    :} Cathryn

    1. I think you make a good point there, but I think there's something to be said about the treatment of womens' roles in novels and other 'outlandish' (wrong word, but I can't think of another right now) aspects of story. Most people are happy to see a message that promotes good ideals and such - and I think a series like your Phoenixes does that really well. The issues arise when you start to do things that don't ostensibly have such positive connotations - use of 'weak' characters, presenting controversial opinions and views on contentious issues.

      That said, you are right; it has all been done before, and one shouldn't be scared to step out of the conventional box and start flinging confetti with the rest of the 'unconventional' brigade!

  2. Yes! Breaking the mold is scary because, well, it was made by the great Fantasy Lord Tolkien and strengthened by his courtiers: Robert Jordan, Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert, and the like. It should be indestructible by now, and to just step on it like it was home to a bunch of cockroaches-- why? I mean, they were so successful before!

    But you aren't them. Your story isn't theirs, or else they would have told it by now.


    Sorry, I just wrote a blog post, and every time I didn't know what to write next, I got the urge to write that.


    Anyway, excellent post. I really want to read Ikarus now, though I'm sure I can wait until it's published.

    1. Heh heh, you know what, if you're that keen to get your claws on it, I'd be more than happy to offer you a post as beta-reader when Version 2.0 is all dusted up and sorted out. Too many plot holes to let anyone near the first draft.

      It has got a ninja in it. Well, he's not a ninja, but he likes appearing on the ceiling and scaring the heebie jeebies out of everyone. Also death, pants and homicide.

    2. Pants! I love it already. I feel the same way about Fathoming Egression, though-- I still need to get a decent title down.

  3. Well, that is so timely. The very POINT of my book is breaking the mold. As a matter of fact the very TITLE is "Different." The point of the story is that everyone has a story, and it's different from everyone else's. That no one should be ignored or made fun of because their story doesn't look like everyone else's. :) So, yeah! I agree!

    1. "No one should be ignored or made fun of because their story doesn't look like everyone else's."

      Congratulations Amanda - you summed up my post in one sentence, and a much more coherent sentence than any of mine at that. A cookie and a place on my World Domination council for you ;)