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Writing and Fear

So, a few days ago, I asked you, my readers, what you'd like to see from me in this journal.  More than one person said fiction, and I did do an experimental piece for Friday.  But so far, I haven't gotten very many questions (though, of course, you can head over there any time and put in your exotic coins' worth). 

Today I thought I'd tackle one of the questions you did leave for me, and, since
[info]tigertoy  answered first, let's start with one of his.

[info]tigertoy asked, are there things I fear writing about? Or to be more precise, he asked, “Do stories you're afraid to tell ever get in the way of what you're trying to work on?”

And then #storycraft today started out by asking what people are afraid of when they rewrite.  Which pretty much cemented which of tigertoy's questions I'd tackle today.

Hmm……what does fear have to do with writing? There are online conversations I decline to post comments in due to the conviction that the people already posting to the thread will interpret what I say very differently than I mean it, and pointless unpleasantness will follow. But when it comes to fiction?

You know, I see the periodic flamewars (“racefail” and the like), and my first reaction is to despair that, as writers, we can ever address such issues in fiction in a way that won’t cause spitting contests. And even if we can, I don’t want to risk being at the center of a shitstorm like that, or to end up apologizing for trying my best and, inevitably, being imperfect.  And I decide to swear off the topic forever. So, I guess you could say that there’s some elements of fear when I’m in that mode of thought.

But when I start to write, there’s no room for that. My mind is juggling characters and world building and theme and mood and word choice and punctuation and…so much stuff. There’s far more than I’m aware of consciously—I know it because often on the first re-read, I see foreshadowing for things that took me by surprise as I wrote them.  While I'm writing, fear and all the other personal clutter falls away, albeit temporarily.

And then, from another perspective, I take a look at my own writing and wonder who I’m trying to kid when I say I’ll never touch a controversial topic like race with a ten foot pole.

For instance—what is Fireborn about, anyway? Sure, on one level it’s the story of a kid discovering who she is.

But it’s so much more. It’s a story about the obvious ways people are different from each other, that people look different and are shaped different, and how that shapes their interactions, how they see each other, what they think of each other, and so on. And isn’t that the essence of how we define race in our society?

Of course, Fireborn is also a story about the less obvious ways people are different, different in invisible ways until you see their talents or their actions. Being fireborn is one invisible difference—but so is how a character reacts to fear. When you meet someone who is different, what comes first, fear or curiosity? When you know someone, and then find out something new about them, what rules your behavior, fear or friendship?


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 28th, 2010 02:57 am (UTC)
In the second paragraph of the answer, something got garbled. " (I want to b And I decide..."

What you say about being concerned that if you mention race in a story, people will bludgeon you with their own agendas instead of paying attention to your story. This reminds me of a discussion I had with another writer, who told me that he likes to write furry stories because he feels characters who aren't quite human don't carry the baggage that humans do -- when you give a human character a description that includes skin color, national origin, religion, etc., that brings all the stereotypes that go with that description. Write a story about a white person, a black person, and a brown person and you're setting yourself up for a much worse flaming than if you write a story about a fox, a rabbit, and a squirrel. If furries don't appeal, the characters can be a Kzin, a Kdatlyno, and a Pierson's Puppeteer, or an elf, a dwarf, and a hobbit; the point is that the reader is more likely to read what the story says about what kind of people the characters are when they bypass the stereotypes attached to human groupings.
Jun. 28th, 2010 04:26 am (UTC)
Re the second paragraph--where the heck did that come from? Anyway, it's fixed now.

Yes, exactly. When "humans" have different shapes, the reader doesn't look at brown or white (or blue) skin the same way as if it was set in our world. It moves things further into metaphor, and further into universals.

Perhaps what the back of my brain is wondering is how much of the "stuff" we call racism in today's America is universal tendencies (ethnocentrism, fear of the other, and so on) and how much is the result of the specific history of race relations in our world.

And of course, all that is no good if the story isn't good! There's dozens of stories that could be told in such a setting, after all.
Jun. 28th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
I love the way you've described this.

And wow, I have had that Velvet Hammer song in my head all day, what a coincidence!
Jun. 28th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I'm still trying to figure out chords for that song! I'd love to perform it.

Feel free to jump over to the other post and leave me a few interesting questions.
Jul. 1st, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
This is interesting, thank you.

I'd be interested in knowing how you got the idea for Fireborn. Or would that be showing your hand too soon in how the story is developing?
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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