Political Writing: A Little Clarification

I want to clarify something. Maybe this is simply a way for me to think ‘out loud’, but …

As a patriotic American, I certainly recognize the legitimacy of the President-elect. Donald Trump will wind up being our next President. I will obviously show the proper respect to the office of the President so in that sense, he is ‘my President’.

But me, along with many others, can also rightfully claim that he is ‘not our President’, in the sense that, by his own words and statements in regard to his plans as President, Donald Trump does not even begin to represent our beliefs, our goals, or even seem to care about our basic rights to happiness, freedom, and human dignity.

It’s simple, perhaps, to look at my profile picture and assume that I’m simply a white cis guy who has no dog in the fight. But I may be white and I may be a guy, but I am not ‘cis’ or ‘straight’ or ‘heterosexual’ or whatever word you want to use.

So there, for those of you that might be wondering how people can say that Trump is ‘not their President’ and still be patriots who respect the republic of the United States, that’s how.

Looking at Character: He, She, or People? Characterization and Gender Identification

Hey there folks!

As I wait for the Amazon and Smashwords engines to chug forward in publishing my latest book, it would be a good time to get back in the swing of things and get a new Looking at Character article out.  This is one I’d been meaning to do for weeks now, inspired by some strangely coincidental input I’d received from multiple sources, all within a day or two of each other.  Let’s talk about characterization in light of gender, which is a way of asking ‘Is gender an elemental part of characterization?’

Maybe I should explain better.  Some people believe that a character should be identifiable as a gender simply through characterization.  A woman, for instance, should be recognizable as such without direct gender tags simply by how her actions and personality.  Others believe that this isn’t necessarily the case.  While a character might have identifiable gender traits outside of direct description, it isn’t always the case, the argument being that people are, at their core, people regardless of gender.  One could even expand these two opposing arguments to include ethnicity, sexuality, and other ‘intrinsic’ characteristics.

Which is right and which is wrong?

Gender politics aside (one could make a very strong case that the ‘gender is a base personality trait’ is sexist to both genders), I think the best approach to finding the answer is to talk to people.  Ask a man if he thinks that being a ‘man’ is more important than being a ‘human’ and the same with women.  I can tell you what I have discovered from asking everyone I know over the past few weeks.

No one wants to be stereotyped by their gender.  Well, most people don’t, at any rate.  Most people believe that who they are, their personality, is more important to their identity than their gender.  If that’s the case, why treat the characters in your writing any differently?

Obviously, there WILL be times when gender is important to plot and characterization.  There are gender issues, political, social, and physical, that can play a role in things and, yes, sometimes even be vital to a character’s overall personality.  However, these are not the norm and shouldn’t form a baseline of personality traits to add on to.  A person is a person first, then a man or woman.

I can’t claim to be an authority on this.  However, from both my writing instinct and my moral compass, treating a man or a woman as a person is simply the right way to characterize them.

This might be a divisive topic but I would also love to hear other takes on this.  Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your comments as long as you keep your tone and arguments civil and rational.

Until I can make an official post on my book publication or the next Starving Review, good luck and good writing!

Writing from another gender’s viewpoint, how hard is it really?

Looking at gender, issues surrounding it, and then looking at it again through the lens of creative endeavors is and may always be something of a hot-button topic.  For me, personally, it’s an unusual thing in that, while I rationally understand why people make such a fuss about it, emotionally it’s never seemed like a complicated thing to tackle.  It is just the simple notion that, differences aside, people are elementally people.

I think the place where many authors (and normal people, for that matter) trip up is that they don’t look at other-gendered characters (or people) in the right light.  Often times, they are classified in a surface-down fashion instead of a core-up fashion.  To clarify, let’s take a male author looking at a female character.  It’s certainly common enough for that author to think of the character’s make-up and actions in the story through the primary lens of ‘woman’ and that leads to difficulties.  Not only will the author be tempted to fill in gaps with female stereotypes or, just as bad, with the polar opposite of said stereotypes (which are ironically JUST as stereotypical), the character’s actions outside of those stereotypes will still feel stilted and unnatural.

A better approach, I feel, is to try to train the mind to think of all characters in terms of their core essence first.   In such a situation, the author from above views the female character he just created as a human (or elf or dragon or whatever) first and foremost.  He doesn’t find himself asking the awkwardly-phrased question of ‘what would a woman do here?’; he simply asks himself ‘what would a person do here?’.  The action becomes more natural, because they ARE more natural, not based off stereotypes or other gender concerns.

Obviously, there will still be situations where specific gender issues cannot be ignored.  Some of these are biological, of course, and some of these are societal.  Still, the above rule of thumb, I think, holds true.  There is still a core at the heart of every character and those cores must be the foremost consideration when it comes to the action of the book.

The simplest example of this is to take a female character placed in a modern setting.  When the scene has this woman exposed to sexist remarks from her co-workers, how does she react?  There is no set answer, there aren’t even a few.  The spectrum of reaction is going to be as broad as the human spectrum, even though it is also a specific gender issue.

To sum up, the ultimate point I want to be making here is that, underneath all of our differences, be it gender, ethnicity, or purely social, there is a core humanity and a core personality.  While those differences may add filters to that core, it makes each person no less ‘human’ than the other.  We can only get natural and meaningful action in our writing if we keep to that idea.

Not only that, but I think we could all approach the world in a better way if we applied that same principal to the world outside of our writings.