Sunday, July 20, 2014

What's in a Gonad?

Title might need some explain since it's (okay, maybe a lot) odd. For the past week or so, after reading Lois Tilton's early July review of short magazines, I was thinking on what Miss Tilton had said about characters, specifically:

I notice in reading so many of these works that female characters sometimes seem only nominally women; change the gender of pronouns from "she" to "he" and there would be little real difference.

Which is interesting since some women complain that they don't see enough representation of their sex in speculative fiction. I remember reading one forum thread where a woman disliked how in the original Star Wars trilogy, the only female characters were Princess Leia and some sexy alien dancers. Why weren't there any female tie fighter pilots?  

Personally, I never really understood the issue. I don't get offended if I don't see a woman in the story. I don't even mind the oversexed females, assuming that they actually do something, rather than just being eye candy.

To me, the most important aspects of a character are a) they act on something (none of this sitting around and boo-whooing) b) they use their brain (YA has given rise to the "dumb as fuck" characters), and c) they have a personality and a history.

Nothing that I listed has anything to do with what the character has between their legs. The character should feel right at home in the story, rather than be shoe-horned in because the writer felt like he/she had a quota to keep up.

For me, I write whatever character walks onto the set, whether they be male or female, straight or gay. I do give more careful attention to nationality, because if I set a story in medieval Japan, the main character probably shouldn't be white. 

However, I thought about whether or not personalities are completely sexless. Because I like to think that a story about a woman character is more than her having a vagina, that her womaness shows through in her personality.

A nominal woman sounds uninteresting to me (as would a nominal male), like they're stock characters or something. I mean if you're going to write a character, then write a character. Not some walking generality. Because a bland character usually means a bland story, and I don't finish bland stories.

And thinking back to some of my favorite stories, I've noticed the characters feel distinctly male or female. (Unfortunately, I haven't encountered much in the way of transgendered characters.) The stories weren't even about gender issues; it was just the way the character talked or behaved--and not in a stereotypical fashion, but like real people.

So yes, I believe a character's sex is an important influence on personality. You might argue that the personality of a man and the personality of a woman are not that different, and whatever differences that exist are because of gender traits that society has placed on men and women. That's a tough one to say, especially when we're still trying to figure what is "man" and what is "woman" outside of gender roles. But I feel the difference has to be deeper than our genitalia. We do after all manufacture different amounts of hormones which must play a role.

Anyway... Thoughts?

(And if you haven't guessed the title, it's a rift on "What's in a name?")

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Editorial Requests: Vagueness vs. Specifics

Anyone who's been in the writing business for a time will be familiar the the old rewrite request; their story is close, but not quite there. Sometimes editors are really cool, and will tell you what part(s) of your story need fixing up. While others sort of don't. And I think that makes a huge difference between turning a rewrite request into either an acceptance or rejection.

In my experience, a vague or unclear request has never resulted in an acceptance. I understand editors want to give the writer some leeway and not dictate how the writer should write their story, but at the same time, writers aren't mind readers (Sorry, that's not a super ability you get when writing.) And it's often the case that I didn't interpret the editor's request the way they wanted it to be interpreted. Again, I'm not a mind reader! Also, interpretation is a frustrating process, more time-consuming than writing the damn thing, and when you receive the rejection, it honestly feels like a punishment for misinterpreting. Like this was your chance to save the story and in the editor's eyes, you failed. 

When an editor can pinpoint where the story needs improving, that helps to open the writer's eyes and go: "Oh, is that what needs redoing?" Because let's face it, writers are often blind to their stories own flaws. For example, Sam Bellotto Jr. of Perihelion SF made this request for Mapping in the Darkness:

I truly enjoyed this story, but it needs a much more satisfying ending (not necessarily a happy ending) than the throwaway "Creepy" comic book trope of "EEAagghh!"

Please consider coming up with a more inventive conclusion and resubmitting the story.

 Ah! Now I know what needs fixing. (And if you're curious about submitting to Perihelion, here's W1S1's interview with the editor.)

Another example, Brian Lewis of Spark: A Creative Anthology made this very detailed request for Spirit Flare:

More important to clarity of the story is much earlier mention of Spider Woman if you're going to mention the her at all, and perhaps at least a little snippet of the Hopi creation story and the Spider Grandmother's role in it. This is necessary to create a connection for those readers who don't know it—and most of Spark's readers won't know it.
         For example, the conversation about the spider-shaped scar on Kasa's grandmother's should be a perfect point to say something. Grandmother could even launch into a retelling of the story, Kasa could respond dismissively by rolling her eyes (because she's heard it a thousand times and because she believes primarily in the modern world), and that would add to the justification for Grandmother getting upset.
         Since the presence of Hopi ancestry and culture is, in fact, one of the things that set this story apart, I think bringing a couple more hints—but not overdoing it—of how that culture has continued into the future, even into space exploration, will really bring home the piece. (I even wonder if you missed an opportunity by not having Grandma refer to the pirates who left her with a scar as coyotes.)
         The take-away from this is that if you're going to mention Spider Woman at the end as part of Kasa's change of heart, there needs to be more to help the reader make a connection to Hopi culture and religion, and these are just a few suggestions on how you might accomplish that.

Holy crap, actual suggestions! That's great! Not to mention it shows that the editor has a genuine interest in your story succeeding.

So I guess this is one writer's request for editors to be conscientious when asking for rewrites. The more clear and specific you can be, the more likely the writer will meet or exceed the editor's needs for the story.