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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » The Logic of the Fantasy/Scifi Universe (Page 1)

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Author Topic: The Logic of the Fantasy/Scifi Universe
Denevius
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I'll just start another thread, but I'm basically responding to LDWriter's comment.

[/QUOTE] There is an--for want of a better term--inclusive cult that demands we all include everyone--except for perhaps those that disagree with them. [/QUOTE]

LDWRiter, I can only look at examples of books I read to best respond to this.

As Phil notes:

quote:
I will write the stories I want to write and people them with the characters I set out to create for the purposes of my narrative.
This is what writers are *supposed* to do, but legitimate criticisms of inclusiveness, or lack there of, are warranted, in my opinion.

I enjoyed "The Hunger Games", but it does have the fault of many popular novels: a lack of inclusiveness. "The Hunger Games" takes place in a future America recovering from an old, undefined war.

America as we know it today is currently a very multicultural society.

So how is it that in "The Hunger Games", the only character with dark skin is Rue and her family? Katniss is said to have a yellow tone, but I don't think anyone would draw the conclusion that she's Asian. And she's definitely not played by an Asian actress in the movies.

So though Suzanne Collins can write anything she pleases, a legitimate criticism is how is it that in the future America of her imagination, there are no Mexicans, no Native Americans, no Indians, no Middle Easterns, no Asians, and one black family, when all of these groups are a part of the social fabric of America today? What happened to them in her universe?

I suppose one can ask, "Well, why does one of the central characters, say Gale or Peeta, have to be something other than white?" They don't, but it is, or should be noticeable, that in three books, the only character who we are sure isn't white is Rue, and that's only in book 1. This is simply odd for a book based on the multicultural/multi-racial country like America.

Korea is very homogeneous, so it makes sense that a future Korea is going to also be homogeneous. It doesn't *have* to be, but logically speaking, it could be. But it's hard to make a logical argument as to why so many different groups are missing from the universe of "The Hunger Games".

"The Golden Compass" is written in basically the same manner. This is an alternate-reality England, yes. But Europe has had close dealings with India, Africa, and the Middle East for centuries. There are large pockets of each of these groups in England. Yet when you read the series, there is once again the propensity to have all of the *central* characters be white.

You write what you want to write, but, logically speaking, how is it that a book that takes place in a multicultural/multi-racial country like England would have all central characters of the same race?

"Game of Thrones" takes place in an alternate-reality of the Middle Ages of Europe, but it could have easily added a central character of a different race. I only read to book 3, so I can only comment upon those. But the Targaryens were foreign invaders, to my memory, who conquered Westeros with the use of dragons. Sure, I guess one can ask, "Well, why force a non-white character in the role of Danny and her brother in the narrative?"

But the thing is that most of the world is non-white, so it's not an irrational request. It's not that much of a stretch to have, in your alternate reality of the Middle Ages, a central character who is Arabian. Europe and the Moors were in contact for millennium. And while there is the Horse Lord Danny marries, he's not the central character that narrative is about. He's a periphery character, a flat character, and really, a minor character. There are some dark skinned lords Danny meets in her desert wanderings, but they're all also periphery characters. "Game of Thrones" chapters are broken up by the character they follow, of which there are many in the first three books. But all of these characters basically have the same complexion.

"Inclusiveness" is spoken as if it's a dirty word, but really, it's a critique of how a novel manages to populate its world with characters that don't seem to reflect the diversity of our actual reality. I wouldn't call it a plot hole, but it's a deficiency born from the fact that writers, writing what they know, seldom know enough about the other to employ them in their fiction.

A response to this might be, "Yes, but if I do that, if I try and write a character ouside of my ethnicity, I'll get criticisms for not doing the character 'right'."

Yes, there's a risk in that, but like all aspects of writing, listen to the critique and figure out how to write that character more realistically. Paolo Bacigalupi grew up in Colorado, but has written white, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese characters, and he's won multiple awards for his work.

Saying that writing outside of one's race will draw criticisms isn't exactly the strongest argument.Octavia Butler wrote diverse worlds. Walter Mosley wrote an interesting speculative fiction book called, "Blue Light" which also had a diverse cast of *central* character. Not periphery characters, but characters who had active roles in the unfolding of the main plot.

Of course, all books don't have to be inclusive. Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" is, from my memory, cast strictly by Jews. But the premise of the book is one of exclusion, a Jewish State that's been set up in Alaska.

Salman Rushdie mostly almost exclusively writes Indian characters, but his most popular books take place in India. However, he does have central characters who are Hindi and Muslim, a diversity we may shrug at, but in India I'm sure they don't.

The question is, logically speaking, why are you populating your world the way you are? How are so many future and fantasy fiction worlds existing without the diversity of our current world? Okay, so your main character, the one you're most intimate with, looks most like you. But does his/her best friend have to? His/her mate? The people important to them in their lives? This isn't to force a writer, but to seriously question the narrowness of their view in a world that's awful big.

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Natej11
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I can think of 2 reasons off the top of my head:

1. It's easier. Way, way easier to keep all characters the same culturally and racially, and if you do introduce new cultures and races (in a fantasy or sci-fi setting) to make them mostly the same aside from a few easily remembered quirks.

2. If you don't mention race, you can't be accused of racism. Cynical as it sounds, these days race is too touchy a subject to, well, touch. Individually you can get away with characters of another race, ethnicity, nationality, etc, but any mention could potentially draw you into a boondoggle you may not want to get into. Unless of course you can play it for publicity like J.K. Rowling or Phillip Pullman.

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Grumpy old guy
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For me, I think we write what we know. I know what it is to be white. Any attempt by me to 'include' ethnic diversity would entail me doing research into different cultures and ask 'pointed' questions about subjects that may or may not be taboo. All in all, it's too hard for li'l ol' white moi to make that cognitive leap.

Having said that, in Jack Rayne, because Earth's population has almost been wiped out the exigencies of species survival demand that race be one of the things deliberately engineered out of existence through prescribed mixed marriage. Just think of the song, can't remember it's name.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Reading in U.S. America statistically appeals more to females than males by a 20 point lead, of all females 60%, and males 40%. "Whites" lead reading statistics averaging 50% of whites read. Blacks, hispanics, other nonwhites read in the 25% range of each population group.

Considering that each minority population group comprises roughly 10-14% of total population, blacks for example, roughly 45 million population, 25% readership amounts to 11.25 million. On the other hand, white population of 60% of total populace at roughly 225 million and 50% readership, 113 million readers. Ten times as large an audience.

Publishing statistics, content, agonists' ethnicities and identities and life complications, and sales generally reflect those marketplace consumer divisions.

Accusations of cultural misrepresentation, racism for example, are generally another issue besides bigotry. Cultural malappropriation represents entire culture groups in a negative light and "borrows" culture group identity icons and uses them as warped representations.

The "Noble Savage" legend, for example, portrays Native peoples as wise and respectful and stewards of nature. On the other hand, the savage Native is portrayed as a heathen and brutal malcontent.

The same conclusion of what constitutes a "strong female character" applies to respectful cultural appropriation; that is, unique, individual, specific characters with agency, be they central agonists, antagonists, villains, nemeses, secondary characters, or backdrop extras. So that no culture group is singled out as a generalized stereotype.

A pure vanilla patriarch character cast is safe for appealing to a patriarchal white readership, since many patriarchal whites live in patriarchal white enclaves. An ethnically diverse cast, though, has attendant risks and potential depth appeals.

Inferrably, maybe reasonably, a blending of ethnicities at a future time may result in a single ethnicity or at least a singular similar complexion for a closed culture. That's the trend seen in history. Recessives notwithstanding. Alternatively, since evolution follows environmental adapations, one biome region's populace may develop similar complexions and another different ones. The appearances of diverse ethnicities are exactly that: environmental adaptations.

Myself, I favor casts and complications and complexions of a more wordly diversity, since I am a worldly misfit castaway coexisting out and about along the peripheries of closeknit enclaves, a perennial outsider.

[ June 27, 2014, 05:03 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I might add that my own approach in Jack Rayne was to write a back-story, which encapsulates the milieu, where the aliens are first defeated by provincial Chinese civilians backed by the Provincial PLA Commander and troops at his disposal; which is why all military ranks in the story are based on the PLA. An homage to bravery.

I only took this approach because it suited my narrative tale to have the first successful human battle against the aliens in China. It was narrative imperatives that drove the choice, not some perceived need to kow-tow or pander to strident calls to be more inclusive of minorities--although I'd hardly call the population of China a minority.

Phil.

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MattLeo
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Well,this boils down to "write what you know." Lousy writing advice in general, but safe in this case.

I actually think there's nothing wrong with whitewashing a story world because you don't know how to write people who are different from you yet. That reflects your current limitations as a writer, not necessarily as a human being. But over time you should start taking baby steps out of that safe zone. Maybe introduce characters you simply *inform* readers are different, and over time learn about what such characters would really be like.

Tony Hillerman took a route like that. His first breakthrough Navajo character was Joe Leaphorn, a detective who was raised in an assimilationist school and so was ignorant about a lot of thing a Navajo would know. That helped explain a lot of things that Hillerman himself didn't know. He did commit the mistake making Leaphorn a natural tracker despite being alienated from his ancestral culture, as if that skill was something that came free with Indian genes. But overall Leaphorn was a success, and not an embarrassment.

In 1980, after ten years writing about this not very Navaho Navaho, Hillerman introduced Jim Chee, a more complex and authentically Navaho character, and Chee quickly became the focus of the series. That's the fruit of research and practice.

You can also expand your expressive palette by writing about people who think differently from you.

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Grumpy old guy
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I completely agree with you, MattLeo.

Phil.

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Denevius
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quote:
I actually think there's nothing wrong with whitewashing a story world because you don't know how to write people who are different from you yet. That reflects your current limitations as a writer, not necessarily as a human being. But over time you should start taking baby steps out of that safe zone.
Some can believe that the publishing industry is forcing them to diversify their writing. As I research markets to send my novel in case the ones I've chosen don't work out, I admit that I don't see much evidence of that in the writers' guidelines of this forced inclusion.

But let's say for now it's true. Instead of seeing it as your hand being forced, see it as the publishing industry challenging you. If you live in a country which is diverse (which, to be honest, doesn't include a *lot* of countries), then step outside of your bubble. It makes good business sense, in my opinion, because now your book can be marketed to different groups. When writing a story, you're trying to get readers to suspend disbelief in your fictional world. This becomes easier for non-white people if they're reading a story that takes place 300 years in the future and there's actually an abundance of non-white people.

As would probably be the case 300 years for now if humans don't destroy the planet or something. Gene Roddenberry understood this. I've been watching the old Star Treks recently on Netflix, and even beyond the main casts, the diversity of periphery characters is overwhelming in the original Star Trek. That came out in the 60s, no less. I wonder where Hollywood even found all these Indian, Asian, and black actors in the 60s.

But unless your future world has undergone some racial war that has eliminated most of the non-white population, their lack becomes noticeable to non-white readers.

quote:
It's easier. Way, way easier to keep all characters the same culturally and racially, and if you do introduce new cultures and races (in a fantasy or sci-fi setting) to make them mostly the same aside from a few easily remembered quirks.
It's definitely easier. And let's face it, Rue was dark skinned, but there was nothing especially culturally ethnic about her. Cultures die hard. We know we're 75 years from the war fought between the Capital and the Districts, which set up the Hunger Games. But we don't really know how long its been since the collapse of civilization that led to the Capitol and the Districts. However, if Rue was meant to be black, or Mexican, or Indian, as all we really know is her skin is dark, and that can be a lot of races, then there could have been some culturally significant aspect to her family that survived.

To avoid this problem of having a character diverse only in appearance, as a writer, it does require you to break bread with those who look different from you in order to appropriate something culturally unique about them. I don't consider appropriation bad, for what are artists if not thieves, stealing narratives from life around us. Most of my best characters are based upon people I personally know. I think that goes for a lot of writers, or artists in general when constructing their art.

quote:
Having said that, in Jack Rayne, because Earth's population has almost been wiped out the exigencies of species survival demand that race be one of the things deliberately engineered out of existence through prescribed mixed marriage.
If it makes sense for the narrative, go for it. In Ursula K. LeGuinn's "The Dispossessed", a group of people set up a communist colony on the moon. I'm sure this was a very select group of people who basically all looked the same.

But in the Jack Rayne example, if the mode that was chosen is white after forced mixed marriages, this will draw attention to itself, because there's a billion Chinese people and a billion Indians. I would think that if the human race is almost wiped out, just from sheer current population numbers of Earth, non-white would probably be the physical mode that wins out in mixed marriages.

Yes, its difficult, and I can understand why a white writer would have white characteristics win out in this scenario. But for non-white readers, it makes it that much harder to suspend disbelief when you look at real population levels (isn't Europe an aging country with low birth rates? Won't minorities be the majority in America in two or three decades?), but then you get a story where the result of mixed marriages after a global catastrophe has left a decidedly white population.

In "Hunger Games", Peeta has blue eyes. But isn't blue eyes a recessive trait?

quote:
A 2002 study found that the prevalence of blue eye color among the white population in the United States to be 33.8% for those born from 1936 through 1951 compared with 57.4 percent for those born from 1899 through 1905.[13] As of 2006, one out of every six people, or 16.6% of the total population, and 22.3% of whites, has blue eyes. Blue eyes are continuing to become less common among American children.[44]
-Wikipedia

It becomes even stranger when you have a futuristic story that takes place lets say a 1000 years in the future, where humans have long since left Earth, where the culture of your universe is different from known Earth cultures, yet the majority of your central characters all look basically like you.

quote:
Reading in U.S. America statistically appeals more to females than males by a 20 point lead, of all females 60%, and males 40%. "Whites" lead reading statistics averaging 50% of whites read. Blacks, hispanics, other nonwhites read in the 25% range of each population group...

A pure vanilla patriarch character cast is safe for appealing to a patriarchal white readership, since many patriarchal whites live in patriarchal white enclaves. An ethnically diverse cast, though, has attendant risks and potential depth appeals.

Again, no doubt. But I think most of this angst towards "forced inclusion" is directed to visual media. Basically, television and movies, where the audience is extremely diverse. So we're left with one or two options: to challenge those writing the source material, the authors populating their world with those who are most similar to them. Or, once the work is adapted, adding diversity since everyone wants to suspend disbelief, but that's more difficult when you're a teen watching 'Gattaca' and wondering to yourself, "What in the world happened in this future that almost everyone is white?" Or you're watching 'Lord of the Rings' and you think, "Elves, hobbits, and dwarves don't even exist. Really, not one of these conjured races could have been dark skinned? But wait, the bad guys, the orcs, are."

Or Hollywood could start adapting some of the many works from Octavia Butler. Or the publishing industry could make a point of exploring more titles heavy in diversity, particularly since so many books seem to be templates for future movies.

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MattLeo
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I don't see any evidence of the publishing industry forcing anyone to diversify their story cast either. Let's face it, most books that get published are too obscure to be controversial over not being inclusive enough, but even the blockbusters aren't particularly inclusive.

What I *have* seen a lot of recently are social critics calling for more substantial female characters, and press and social media picking that call up and beating the drum. But the reason this question is in the air isn't that the culture is changing. It's in the air because the culture already *has* changed. The particular issue has reached a sweet spot where it sounds avante garde but is in fact perfectly safe and non-controversial. When you get to the bottom of most arguments over this, there usually isn't a substantive disagreement. Someone's been provoked by a ridiculous straw argument.

Now the question of minorities is more interesting, because it gets, not just to the duties, but one of the pleasures of writing: the challenge creating credible characters who are different from you.

For men this naturally includes writing female characters. But guess what? It's a challenge for women to write credible male characters. So ladies, listen up: we guys don't just sit around burping, scratching our bellies and lying about getting you into the sack. And yes, I have read MSS where I've needed that notation. It's easy to fix, though: just share and learn. So there's no reason to hide in your comfort zone to avoid hurt feelings, unless those feelings are your own.

Same goes for writing minority characters. There's no reason to hide in your safe zone because the bar for success is actually quite low. You do some research and try to write a character who a reader from that group will recognize both as an individual and a member of that group. It doesn't have to be perfectly accurate, because you can learn from feedback. And the character doesn't have to be a paragon either. Look at the Jewish actors who want to play Shylock. A vivid, unique, credible villain isn't an insult to the group. A villainous stereotype is an insult; a paragon stereotype is just patronizing.

But why stop there? We're spec fiction writers. So show me a strong, credible, interesting aliens, fairies or vampires. Those are pretty rare. These characters are often badly written by lazy writers who get away with it, the way they used to get away with badly written female characters, or stock minorities.

[ June 28, 2014, 01:42 AM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Two cases that I know about that could factor into the discussion of reader and/or book buyer response to people writing outside of the "white" mode:

1--Barbara Hambly has a mystery series with a free black man living in antebellum New Orleans as the sleuth. She has gotten quite a lot of flack for presuming as a white woman to write about a black man during slavery times. I'm glad she continues to write the series in spite of that.

2--I have a friend who is an editor for a book publisher that publishes diverse (as in generally non-white) YA fiction. Lately, they have been getting "we don't want that kind of stuff in our store/library" noises from book buyers.

I find both situations very sad and frustrating.

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Denevius
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I never heard of Barbara Hambly, but I just bought one of her books, "A Free Man of Color". It has four stars from 92 reviews on Amazon, and a 3.98 from 1,624 reviews on Goodreads, which is pretty good for that site. I see she publishes vampire fiction also.

I always think vampire literature is interesting as it's done to death but refuses to die.

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Robert Nowall
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I'm vaguely offended by the notion that I must do something when I write, in this case make my cast of characters diverse in some way relating to skin color and ethnic origin. The skin complexions of my characters depends on the story, and how it suits me to write it.

Besides, when one deals with robots and aliens on a regular basis, what's a little difference in skin color shades between friends?

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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A FREE MAN OF COLOR is the first in the Benjamin January series, Denevius. I'd be interested to know what you think of it. I think she does a great job of helping the reader experience another world.

As for vampire lit, it is "undead," after all. [Smile]

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jerich100
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Who says The Hunger Games is future America? Is America mentioned in the Hunger Games? Does the author pick people's races or is it the people who make movies? When people read books can't they decide whatever race they want for the characters?

I would think it disturbing for the author to be forced to specify the race of each character. Doesn't the modern iconic mantra about "description" dictate that we describe only what is relevant to the story? Is the race of every character relevant for every story?

I don't tell in my stories what religion each person is. I don't discuss their going to church. Does that make my stories anti-religious?

How much more backwards would it be for the author to have to specify the race of each person? Besides, isn't that "telling"? Why not instead, describe the person in such a way that some people--the people who want to--will think, 'Wow, Nikki is Japanese." Wouldn't that be much more sophisticated, artistic, and professional?

Children of all races grow up loving each other until someone starts making comments. Stop it, people. If you don't, I'm going to make up a new race called, "People who wear glasses" and appoint them superior above all others. Then you'll be sorry. Muuuahaahhhaaaaahhaaa!!!

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Denevius
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quote:
Who says The Hunger Games is future America?
It specifically says so in the book, actually. I don't know about the movies, as I haven't seen them.

quote:
The series takes place at an unspecified point in the future. By this time, following mass death and destruction the nation of Panem rules North America in place of the United States, Mexico and Canada governments, which failed to survive.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Panem's seat of power is a superficially utopian city called the Capitol located in the Rocky Mountains...

The nation consists of the wealthy Capitol and twelve surrounding, poorer districts united under the Capitol's control. District 12, where the book begins, is located in the coal-rich region that was formerly known as Appalachia...

Appalachia is a cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.[1] [5]

- Wikipedia
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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
A FREE MAN OF COLOR is the first in the Benjamin January series, Denevius. I'd be interested to know what you think of it. I think she does a great job of helping the reader experience another world.

At first I thought the same -- loved the first book. Then after a few volumes it took up a tendency to preach the evils of slavery when the opportunity arose, and (having read 7 of the series so far) I began looking forward with less enthusiasm; one-liners, but they'd blow me right out of the narrative, because it never sounded like something the people then and there would say or think. -- I'd wonder if it was in response to the flack you mentioned, but she's done the same occasionally WRT feminist postures in other works, so I think it's more her than external forces.

[And as she said to my face, she doesn't want her books in libraries anyway; she counts library copies as multiple lost sales.]

I do think it would make a good TV series. At this point my fave character in the series is Abishag Shaw, for whom my brain has irretrievably cast William Sanderson.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by jerich100:
Who says The Hunger Games is future America?

The author. It's on her website.

quote:
I would think it disturbing for the author to be forced to specify the race of each character. Doesn't the modern iconic mantra about "description" dictate that we describe only what is relevant to the story? Is the race of every character relevant for every story?

You are asking straw questions. Of course the race of every character isn't relevant for *every* story. But it may be relevant to some stories. And even if race is not an issue for characters, it may be in the story world. Panem is the remains of Mexico, US and Canada. By 2042 non-Hispanic whites will be a minority in the US. If you combined the three countries they'd be a minority today. So to the reader who is aware of the demographic trends in North America, the absence of Latinos strongly suggests a genocide at some point between now and then. This may well suit Collins' purposes, although I think we are meant to think that the story is *not* set in the near future.

The lesson if you *do* want to set your story in, say, North America 2100 CE, you'd better scatter some Hispanic names around, or accept that readers will think you've killed off most of the continent's inhabitants. It's a consequence of your near-future setting. If you set your story ten thousand years in the future, or on a different planet, you don't have that problem.

As for descriptions only being provided when "relevant", I hope you don't take take that as a rule in your writing. I used to think that way, but I've discovered that some readers need descriptions, and most benefit from them -- if you don't go overboard. They trick is not to over-determine the character's appearance. A few spare hints is all you need to encourage readers create their own picture.

quote:
I don't tell in my stories what religion each person is. I don't discuss their going to church. Does that make my stories anti-religious?

Obviously not, but that is in part because religion is semi-taboo in science fiction. And because it is taboo, it can be quite useful to break that taboo for effect. So I have done all these things you don't do, but I do it because it's an easy to understand marker of cultural differences. When I have a character from a frontier planet read her bible, it makes the other characters uncomfortable because unlike her they come from the stock "post-religious" future of science fiction.

quote:
How much more backwards would it be for the author to have to specify the race of each person? Besides, isn't that "telling"? Why not instead, describe the person in such a way that some people--the people who want to--will think, 'Wow, Nikki is Japanese." Wouldn't that be much more sophisticated, artistic, and professional?

Well, no. Not necessarily. For one thing "show not tell" is about the mindlessly habitual use of diegesis. It doesn't mean you have to replace "blue" in "the robin's egg was blue" with a description of the physiological sensations of "blueness".

For another, readers are not so sophisticated about the similarities and differences in Asian cultures as you apparently think. I've had people "correct" a manuscript in which a Chinese boy is forced by his guardian to practice calligraphy because supposedly it was the Japanese who do calligraphy, not the Chinese (both cultures practice calligraphy, although it's even more important in China than Japan). People assume that the Chinese are culturally averse to open displays of disagreement because the Japanese are. They're not, and the businessman going to China expecting to be handled with kid gloves is in for a rude surprise. People assume that Chinese people put a great store in formality like the Japanese -- they don't. At least not those from the post cultural revolution PRC, who in my experience affect a kind of immediate chummy familiarity that's very similar to post 1960s Americans.

Is it a big bother to learn about this stuff and keep track of it? Yep. But those are colors for your palette, and until you master them you're limiting yourself to painting with black.

quote:
Children of all races grow up loving each other until someone starts making comments. Stop it, people.
I think this is misguided. Children love each other with a childish love. Adults should still do that, but they should also understand the differences between cultures and respect them.

I once knew a guy from a West African society where saying "no" was considered disrespectful. So if you asked him whether you could borrow his car this , he wouldn't say, "No, I need it," he'd say, "No, it's in the repair shop," even though you'd seen him drive up in the car and he knew you'd seen him. The childish response is, "what a liar!". The adult response is, "Obviously he knows I know his car isn't in his shop; this must be their way of saying 'no'."

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
I'm vaguely offended by the notion that I must do something when I write, in this case make my cast of characters diverse in some way relating to skin color and ethnic origin.

I'm quite offended by this notion; I'm even more offended by the oft-repeated concept that I'm unable to know enough about these characters to write suitably about them, or worse, that if I don't represent the non[whatevers] in the prescribed PC fashion, I've committed 'racism' and 'cultural appropriation'. So am I required to or forbidden to? Make up my mind!!

This is a huge ongoing ... I won't say discussion, more like an extended put-down session on Another Site[TM]; it's become a way to guilt-trip people, and it's long since stopped being about representing characters fairly as who they are, whatever that may be. It's to where I've flung up my hands and stomped off muttering, "You can't fix stupid."

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extrinsic
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Freedom of choice is an inherent and innate right, duty too, that everyone in an empowered society has. Choose to be a writer, audience considerations are one of many choices and with manifold choices and selections.

A duty is to choose one's own aesthetic according to one's ambitions. Choose to write white patriarchal prose, a choice that targets a large audience, expect pushback from others, expect praise from the choir, the congregation, and the clergy. Choose otherwise, expect audience role reversals. Different sources of pushback and praise audiences. Use the pushback, though, to generate word-of-mouth buzz, Buzz, BUZZ.

Anyway, the number of publishing outlet choices available now, most anyone can enjoy an audience suited to the aesthetic choices made, conventional publishing giants' choices for whatever reasons notwithstanding nor in the way. Choose Random House, for example, which doesn't accept unagented, unsolicited manuscripts, choose automatic rejection. Choose agent representation instead for slightly improved opportunities. Write a breakout narrative in the first place, enhance opportunities more so. Choose self-publishing, a choice that is open to most anyone, and as such cluttered with mediocrity and ample competition for readers, hope to generate buzz, which is the only marketing method that works.

In other words, either way, build buzz so that audiences sit up and take notice. If that's writing from an educated, privileged Caucasian woman about ethnic issues in antebellum New Orleans, that's to an audience that receives it as packaged for that audience. Pushback by others who take exception to the product generates buzz. Not much else meaningfully matters.

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Denevius
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quote:
I won't say discussion, more like an extended put-down session on Another Site[TM]; it's become a way to guilt-trip people, and it's long since stopped being about representing characters fairly as who they are, whatever that may be.
If you're writing round, complicated characters with the ability to surprise the reader, then you'll probably be fine.

You step into troubled waters, though, if you write a character from a different race, or a female character, or a character of a different sexual orientation, and they're flat, uncomplicated, and not dynamic.

Too often what I think people giving criticisms perceive the author doing is basically writing not from a place of intimacy. For example, if you genuinely haven't broken bread with someone with a background of, say, Honey Boo Boo, then you'll end up writing what you've seen on television, or what you've observed from a distance. This is probably going to be a flat character full of stereotypes that would be bound to offend anyone from that background and who realizes that there's more to them than what's depicted on a reality television show.

I include Indian characters in my fiction because for seven years, I worked closely with them, I went out with them, I attended their marriages, I was involved with an Indian girl, and one of the best friends I've had was Indian. So I feel somewhat safe in how I depict them in my fiction.

Writing what you know is the common writer's advice, but it probably shouldn't be a license for a writer to feel that they can stay in their personal bubble as they craft fiction. "The Hunger Games" was an exciting book, but Suzanne Collins depicting the world in a more logical way based on current reality would have added an additional dimension to the book, for the better. Again, having Peeta or Gale be non-white isn't to fulfill some quota, it's to acknowledge that a fictional future world based on America will probably have white people as a minority. Unless current trends as we know them has been altered in the story, and there's no mention of that in the narrative or in related texts about the series.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
I'm quite offended by this notion; I'm even more offended by the oft-repeated concept that I'm unable to know enough about these characters to write suitably about them, or worse, that if I don't represent the non[whatevers] in the prescribed PC fashion, I've committed 'racism' and 'cultural appropriation'.

You missed one: if you portray the non[whatevers] as paragons, you're patronizing them.

Personally, I don't give a fig about what somebody who doesn't write thinks writers should do. They have no idea what they're talking about. As for people who claim to write, I have a simple response:show me yours. If it's even close to doing what you think writers should do, then maybe I'll give your demands some serious thought.

I actually think that among people serious about writing there's a lot less real disagreement than you'd imagine from the heated discussions this topic encourages.

So let me propose this as a reasonable consensus position:

(1) It is good to be able to write fully developed minority characters who are both recognizably individual and recognizably part of the group to readers in that group. Writers who do the work to make this happen deserve praise.

(2) Where the author specifies that a character belongs to a group, the author should do the research to make that specification credible. If you make the character an heroic Navajo shaman,you should learn about Navajo religion and rituals, or make him something else. If you make a character a Wahabbist terrorist, you should read some Wahabbist terrorist screeds so you know how they actually think. You should be prepared to back up anything you claim about any group, even groups you made up.

(3) Important characters should be individuals first, members of the group second. Bigotry is denying members of a group either their individuality on one hand, or their identity on the other. Even minority villains can be OK as long as they are credible individuals. Even minority heroes can be bad if they convey the condescending attitude that minorities can't bear to see one of their number who isn't perfect.

(4) The presence or absence of token minority characters should be governed by what the readers will take away from that presence or absence. If the readers take away something the author does't want them to, then that's a problem that needs attention. If the presence of token minorities makes no difference, then putting them in won't accomplish anything.

(5) Sod the agendas of non-writers! Sod them left, right and center! It's one thing to complain about an author's positive misdeeds (using stale stereotypes in place of research), it's another to demand he does anyone's work but his own. If you think the world needs more of some kind of story, write one yourself and show us what we're missing.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
(1) It is good to be able to write fully developed minority characters who are both recognizably individual and recognizably part of the group to readers in that group. Writers who do the work to make this happen deserve praise.

Well, here's another problem: This kinda assumes that the group is uniform -- that everyone within the group is recognisably a member of that group. And I dislike the Star Trek school of character typing.

But yeah, sod the bloody agendas, including those of writers.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Factoid about all of this:

From what I've heard, the question of strong female characters (or even just realistic female characters) has recently caused quite a schism/controversy/brouhaha among SF and Fantasy writers (as in the SFWA organization).

So it isn't just readers.

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Grumpy old guy
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I wonder why? I ask that because everything I've read in this thread strikes me as a lot of nonsense either railing against the conspiracy of darkness or the army of light; whatever those metaphors might mean to each individuals arguments. If you've got a story to tell, tell it.

Phil.

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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
From what I've heard, the question of strong female characters (or even just realistic female characters) has recently caused quite a schism/controversy/brouhaha among SF and Fantasy writers (as in the SFWA organization).

That seems to be the least of the SFWA's worries, although I wouldn't be surprised if that's the worry it chooses to preoccupy itself with.
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Denevius
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quote:
But yeah, sod the bloody agendas, including those of writers.
I'm unsure why accuracy is an agenda. When you're creating a future world, you base space travel on what currently exists, and assume where it can go; you base artificial intelligence on where it currently is, and assume where it will go; you base the environments of other planets by what we know, and assume how man will exist in them.

Yet after you've taken the time to create this future universe, you shrug and decide that nine out of every ten people introduced in the narrative will be (in most cases in published scifi, white) like you, the author?

What about applying population levels as they currently exist to the future is an agenda?

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
I'm unsure why accuracy is an agenda.

It's not. But arguing over politics is easier than writing fiction because you always know what to say next.

Let's get our head out of the story world for a moment and consider what accuracy accomplishes for us. Accuracy is a means, not an end, and the end is credibility. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and that's because fiction attempts to be credible. Reality doesn't care if you believe it or not.

Credibility puts authors on the horns of a dilemma because readers won't agree with each other about what is believable. I grew up in a dense urban "melting pot" neighborhood so when I read a story set in North American circa 2100 and it's populated with nothing but Browns and Smiths, I naturally wonder what happened to everyone else. But there are still in the US a large plurality of people, maybe even a majority of your readers, who grew up in places where everyone was named 'Johnson', or 'Miller', or 'Davis'. When they see all the Rodriguezes and Gonzaleses running around in your story, they're going to wonder what happened to all the descendants of all the people they know.

Now it so happens that the demographic data supports *my* view of what a normal North American names will sound like in 2100. But that doesn't matter; what matters is credibility. You pretty much can't avoid irritating someone no matter how you handle this.

What I think is the Estevez running the Galveston spaceport in 2100 will have more in common with his colleague Johnson than either of them will have with their great-grandfathers in the paternal line from 2014. In fact Estevez may be Johnson's cousin on the maternal side. This is exactly what happened with the great German demographic shift. In the 1800s Americans were worried about German immigration, and their fears were realized. The Germans took over, but nobody noticed because they changed their names from "Schmidt" to "Smith" or "Mueller" to "Miller". There are more Americans of German descent than any other ethnicity *by far*. They're just thoroughly assimilated and intermarried.

That is the accurate picture, but partisans on either side of the "diversity in fiction" debate aren't going to like it.

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extrinsic
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Several writing principles suggest, imply, guide, and offer individual solutions, or individual satisfactions anyway, to the identity crises of character identity matrices.

Individuality, as MattLeo notes.

Causality. If a narrative contains a person, say, a heavyset person of large proportions, those proportions (or other identity marker) ought should as a best practice be antagonal, causal, and tensional. Otherwise, the heavyset character motif is a cheap emotional appeal ploy: for humor, for disgust, for pity, at the expense of all heavyset people. Though an appeal no less for its cheapness at the expense of others' hurt feelings.

This is also Chekhov's Gun applied to any and all motifs as well as firearms. If a heavyset person appears in a first act, the heavyset person best have agency in a final act. Or contrarily, if a heavyset person influences an outcome--agency--the heavyset person best appear in an earlier act, so that the heavyset person's agency is pre-positioned or foreshadowed as influential.

Diversity for diversity's sake, purely, has no purpose antagonal, causal, tensional, no function, is coincidence, unnatural, and challenges willing suspension of disbelief, overlooks exoticness appeals, and disrupts participation mystique--the magical reader illusion of reality imitation immersion that is the highest ideal of popular prose writing.

I can imagine a narrative that contravenes all the advice, guidance, suggestion, imperative, writing principle, whatever, by any and every consensus position, any individual opinion, and yet appeal to a broad and deep audience.

Go ahead, put a heavyset character as the influenceless, agencyless paragon, central character of a work, say as the wise hermit everyone asks about but no one cares for, nor even "on stage," glorify bigotry, disparage nobleness, grandly exemplify what it means to be praise-ably wicked, ignore Chekhov's Gun, put disposable characters in the way for an immediate to the moment's exigent conveniences, malappropriate culture markers, tell all the action, show nothing, write dispassionately, create white room settings, portray no events to speak of, leave all wants and problems and complications open and ongoing, unended, satisfy nothing, no outcomes, ad infinitum. This too would be a rhetoric.

By the way, many narratives, some critically praised, do exactly this. Joyce, Chekhov, Brecht, Samuel Beckett, David Foster Wallace, to name a few writers who have done the above and been praised for contravening normative expectations.

Everything and anything under the sun or otherwise will have its day in the sun or the night or enjoy the guilty pleasures of private, personal indulgence in covert, locked rooms of the forbidden fruits of free will.

Not two sides, several billion individual sides, no two of which are in absolute agreement. Do what you will writing-wise; prose allows anything. How many can you reach with your side's viewpoint position? The best that's been done to date is in the half billion range.

[ June 30, 2014, 04:26 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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For me, it all boils down to this: I write whatever the heck I want to write and whoever likes it reads it. If I brown someone off they're free to hang me from the gibbet of my own literary construction or to burn me in effigy. But, apart from that, they can sod off and push their own barrow somewhere else.

Phil.

PS. Accuracy be damned! I never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

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Denevius
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quote:
PS. Accuracy be damned!
I suppose this will come off as facetious, but this is an interesting statement in comparison to this quoted from May 30th, exactly a month ago.

quote:
For me, milieu means the society within which your story is set and, by society, I mean every aspect of the cultural, economic, theological and sociological elements of that society and how they interact and clash. Our milieu is the entire world around us that we inhabit and experience...

Just how much effort do you put into creating the milieu of your story? Is it a rough sketch (if that) to get you started and you’ll work it all out as you go, or is it a methodical exercise in world creation similar to JRR Tolkein, it took him 40 years to create the world of Middle Earth, or is it somewhere in-between?...

Personally, I have found that creating the milieu my characters inhabit is not enough, I have to explain, at least to myself, how that milieu came into existence.

This is excerpts from your post, but if you feel they're taking out of context to redefine their meaning, please correct me.

Just imagine this, though. Suzanne Collins sitting down to construct the milieu of "The Hunger Games". She pictures a setting: the Rocky Mountains, which stretch from Canada, through America, down to New Mexico. She puts the narratives date some 200 years in the future. She pictures the governments of three countries, Canada, America, and Mexico, collapsing, and from this wreckage, she images Panem rising from the ashes.

And as she's going through the painstaking task of creating this milieu, of taking notes, of rewrites, of asking questions about the area, of taking advice from friends and colleagues.

As she goes through the exercise of writing, is it to be understood that it never enters her head that *maybe* if Mexico is part of Panem, that there should be Mexicans in either the Capitol or one of the 13 Districts. That perhaps this is an important aspect of world building in her narrative? That if three countries fall and become one, that perhaps the darker representatives of that country should be featured somewhere, some how? It's an entire country who have millions of its citizens currently in America.

When Suzzane Collins wrote "Hunger Games", she was already a professional writer. Just some research would have filled in details to bring Mexican culture into the narrative. I can't believe she didn't have the time. This is what world building is. "Lord of the Rings", to my understanding, was heavily researched by J.R.R. Tolkien, researched from culture and history from real life.

This is what writing is.

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Grumpy old guy
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No, Denevius, the quote is accurate and not out of context. But what I'm struggling to understand is, what context? I can, as a writer, create any damn milieu I like and how accurately it mimics real life is my (the writers) decision. If anyone doesn't agree with my decisions and doesn't like what I've written based on those decisions then, well, not to put to fine a point on it, sod off and write the story you want to read. And, if in the process of writing my antithesis of the PC novel I make 47 trillion dollars, who's the fool then?

But, here I'll take issue with your assertions on JRR's world building. He built the entirety of his creation solely as a context within which to explore Elvish language. You can say whatever you wish, but they were explicitly his words. Middle Earth was an afterthought and the War of the Ring simply a footnote in the struggle against the enemy, Morgoth after he poisoned the Two Trees in Valinor.

And, as a footnote to another thread on strong female characters, they don't get much stronger than Galadriel. At the time Frodo met her she was roughly, (and I say this because there was a time when the Two Trees were in bloom where time was measured only in the intervals when the light of both trees intermingled), 25,000 years old, but that could easily be 25 or 250 million years old; only Tolkein really knows. The problem with Middle earth is it is a stagnant society. Nothing changes, nothing 'grows'. It's all as it was when men strode forth upon the land, carried there from the wreck of Numenor.

Phil.

[ July 01, 2014, 07:54 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Robert Nowall
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You could look at Middle-Earth as a vehicle for Tolkien's exploration of his private language, which is the reason why he developed it, but he did research many other details (rising of the moon, how to skin a rabbit), the better to invoke his world in the reader's mind. Though he did get some things wrong (spiders don't sting, they bite.)
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Grumpy old guy
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Robert, that is true. But that was for his 'story' not his 'world'. ERB did the same thing for Barsoom. As far as I know, he was the first 'modern' writer to attempt to 'create' a unique world. Banths, Callots and Zanths etc were all uniquely Barsoomian creatures and time measurements; there are no horses or minutes on ERB's Barsoom.

Btw, I'm not sure I remember correctly, but I think 'sting' refers to Bilbo's 'letter-opener' and not what the spiders were doing.

Phil.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:

Btw, I'm not sure I remember correctly, but I think 'sting' refers to Bilbo's 'letter-opener' and not what the spiders were doing.

Phil.

Bilbo's and later Frodo's sword is called Sting. But Shelob also stung Frodo and attempted to sting Sam.

In fact, if I remember correctly, Bilbo named Sting after his encounter with the spiders in Mirkwood.

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Robert Nowall
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One theory traces that mistake to an experience Tolkien had as a child in Bloemfontein, where, it was said, he was stung by a spider. Only it may not have been a spider, it may have been a scorpion the locals called a spider.
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Robert Nowall
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quote:
But that was for his 'story' not his 'world'.
It's part and parcel of the same thing. Tolkien didn't need to research how to construct a language; he was already an expert in how languages work.

But other details, well, any one of them could trip up the unwary-but-knowledgable reader. Details are part of the world, not the story.

(I remember a couple of other errors. Pearls were found at the Mines of Moria---a location well away from the ocean. And Bilbo serves tomatoes to the party of Dwarves, at a time of year where they wouldn't've been ripe. (These might have been ones taken care of in after-the-publication revisions Tolkien (and his successors) carried out.))

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Robert Nowall
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Oh, yeah. There's also the error when Gimli says he hewed "naught but wood" since Moria, forgetting the vigorous exercise at Parth Galen. That is an error of story.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
I remember a couple of other errors. Pearls were found at the Mines of Moria---a location well away from the ocean.

Be careful! There are such things as freshwater pearls.

While pearls are most often found in certain species of oysters, any bivalve can sometimes produce them, including the freshwater "pearl mussel". And there are a few, rare, obligate subterranean bivalve species found in cave-y places like the karst terrain of Slovenia or Bosnia.

So the existence of cave-pearls is far from impossible. In fact I suspect that somewhere in the deep places of the world there is such a thing, although humans may never find it.

Since there clearly is water in Moria, there may well be aquatic life there, either surviving on nutrients washed down from surface waters or on some kind of geothermal or geochemical energy. In fact ... we know that life on Middle Earth predated the creation of the Sun. There were trees that grew in perpetual darkness! Life must have flourished on some other vital principle, and so elaborate ecosystems may have flourished in the deep places of the world for many years.

The notion that Tolkien created Middle Earth first and then set his stories in it is an oversimplification in my opinion. It's clear his concept of Middle Earth and its history grew with the stories he wrote in it, which is only natural.

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Robert Nowall
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Also pearls are listed in a list of precious mineral jewels, making it likely something chosen for its poetic sound rather than a hard appreciation of mineralogy.

Water in Moria was evidently found at a deeper level than the mines---when Pippin throws a stone in the well, it takes a long time to land---as do Gandalf and the Balrog. Perhaps that deep cave pearls were found---but it's deeper than the mine.

All a point in favor of working out details for the world and not the story---one detail could spin off any number of problems for the writer later on. Some of the posthumous Tolkien publications have lengthy explanations and explorations for elements of Middle-Earth, and some of them fail because of a short-but-published reference.

To move away from Middle-Earth...there's a story about Niven and Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye, where one world was a cold world, something that momentarily escaped one of them while writing. (I forget which.) One of them put a paragraph about someone sweating and looking at a female character, expressing something that implied a very hot world. So Niven-and-Pournelle changed the world, the ecology, the orbit, the history, everything---just to save the good line.

*****

Edited 'cause I dug out my old (thirty-nine years old) copy of The Mote in God's Eye and found the line---it's on page 17 of the old Pocket Books paperback. It reads: "Perspiration dripped steadily down his ribs and he thought, She doesn't sweat. She was carved from ice by the finest sculptor that ever lived." [Italics in the original.]

[ July 02, 2014, 05:06 AM: Message edited by: Robert Nowall ]

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Denevius
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quote:
Diversity for diversity's sake, purely, has no purpose antagonal, causal, tensional, no function, is coincidence, unnatural, and challenges willing suspension of disbelief, overlooks exoticness appeals, and disrupts participation mystique--the magical reader illusion of reality imitation immersion that is the highest ideal of popular prose writing.
I agree with this to an extent. The truth of the matter is that America is a multicultural, multiracial country. Not having a diverse cast in ones story is in direct opposition to the reality of America, and many Western countries. I'll go so far as to say it's like writing a story in Korea without Koreans. It should be impossible to imagine this, though the reality is that the story could be written. Expats, like every other foreign group in a native country, tend to clump together, and tend to stick together. I can definitely imagine a short story that takes place in a more isolated area, say a camping trip, or the night of a party, featuring only expats, even though it's in Korea.

And I can easily imagine a story that has only major expat characters, and Korean people are entirely descriptive, like a bus, or building. This is because fiction is usually about some type of change, and in expat communities, it's often another expat that creates this character change. One of the complaints of Koreans mirrors Americas complaints about foreigners. You'll have expats who have married a Korean, who have kids who are Korean, and who have been living here for five years or more, who know almost no Korean. Beyond their Korean wife, these people tend to only have other foreign friends, so the necessity to learn the language isn't there.

In the expat community, you tend to find one of two types of people: those who stick almost exclusively to expats, so all of the most important moments of their lives in Korea for the one or two years they tend to be here are wrapped around another expat (and this is the vast majority of them here); or those who you seldom see around at expat events, who have mastered some Korean, and whose most important moments in Korea have Koreans in them.

So yes, a story in Korea can very well have almost no Korean characters. But isn't this a travesty? It may not be an expat's duty to include Korean characters, but it certainly seems like a failing not to.

I would say the same for America. Yes, you don't have to have a diverse cast in your scifi, fantasy, or speculative fiction story. But it seems like a failing to live in a society quite so diverse, but to only represent a small percentage of that diversity in your world building. Now, I'm not naive, and I am aware that many people's experiences in America is exclusive. You'll have immigrants live in the country for years never learning the language. You'll have communities, almost all Asian, all Black, all Mexican, all White. If you simply observe groups of people out at the mall, or restaurants, or the movies, you'll see that the groups are homogeneous.

So okay, this is reality, but I don't think we should try and rationalize it. Suzanne Collins didn't include Mexicans, or Asians, or Indians, in "Hunger Games" not because it didn't have a place in the narrative. Again, how could a story taking place in America combining three countries, one of which is Mexico, rationally claim that there was no space for non-white people besides Rue?

But I'm willing to guess that Suzanne Collins probably lives in an exclusive bubble. It's not that she doesn't interact with non-white people. It's more that all of the most important moments in her life don't include non-white individuals. Because the alternative to this would be depressing: that she has a diverse range of individuals intimately in her life, but decided to stick to white as some type of default color in her prose. Like bandaids that are "flesh colored", but they only fit the flesh of one color.

And this is where I disagree with the idea that diversity for diversity sake is distracting, or breaks the illusion. Applying a bandaid to dark skin and calling it flesh colored is extremely noticeable; having a cast of all whites as if they're the everyman that all non-whites are supposed to simply accept as representatives of themselves is noticeable, and distracting as one tries to submerge in the fictional world.

I read an interesting article on Cracked.com that made a similar point about the movie "Noah", which featured an all white cast.

quote:
What's different in this specific case, however, is that when Noah co-writer Ari Handel was asked in a recent interview why they chose not to cast anyone of color, he said this:

"What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn't matter. They're supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Benetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise."

He went on further: "You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, 'Let's make that not a factor, because we're trying to deal with everyman.'" And that, you see, is why no one was distracted by the all-white cast, and why no one asked him that question just now. There's also the subtle implication that non-white audiences are perfectly capable of relating to the white everyman, while white audiences will obviously freak out at the slightest hint of diversity.


Read more: http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/4-bad-excuses-awful-stereotypes-in-recent-pop-culture/#ixzz36S8TEYUm


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Denevius
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Speaking of heavyset people, they are curiously absent in fiction considering half of America's population is overweight. But I think in sci/fantasy fiction, they're properly neglected. Both of these universe genres tend to be really competitive physically, and the role of a heavyset person would have to be sedentary. But then, Tolkein had his overweight dwarves. It's a question, though, of how Bombur could be quite so fat considering all the walking characters generally did in Tolkein's Middle Earth. It's one thing to be big-boned, but it's another to have rolls of fat, as Bombur's character is described.

In "Hunger Games", there wouldn't be much of a logical reason for overweight people to feature in the narrative. First of all, the districts are starving. Secondly, the Capital is filled with extreme body modification. Sure, as a metaphor, the President could have been fat, similar to what Frank Herbert does with the Duke in "Dune". But the fat evil lord is a cliche image, and somewhat offensive. Not that it can't be done, but it would need to be subverted somehow to make it fresh and original.

Funny enough, to turn to good examples of an overweight person being used in an interesting and realistic manner in fantasy is "Game of Thrones". Here, you're introduced to two notable overweight characters: King Robert Baratheon,and Samwell Tarly.

With King Robert, it makes sense that he's overweight, as muscle turns to fat, and he has been sitting on the Iron Throne, drinking and womanizing, for years. Samwell, being a coward in a warrior's universe, turned to books, which also makes sense, and makes him useful to the other characters.

And I'm sure it doesn't hurt that George R.R. Martin is overweight, so added overweight characters.

I've never written fat characters in a story. There's no narrative I've written where an overweight person would reasonably fit in. However, I have written characters who I describe as 'thick', simply because 'thick' has different cultural connotations depending on who you ask.

I had a young female character who enticed all men who looked at her, I described her as thick, and I got one or two critiques that mentioned that I used the wrong word.

But just a fat character? If I'd lived in Japan rather than Korea, I could have probably done it. I saw sumo wrestling in Japan and know that there's a compelling argument for overweight warriors. These guys won't be running and dodging any time soon, but they're lightning quick in close combat.

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Grumpy old guy
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Denevius, if you're looking for diversity try The Horseclans series written by Robert Adams. It even has Queebekians in it. (I think that's how he spelt it.)

Phil.

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Denevius
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quote:
Denevius, if you're looking for diversity
It's question, though, of why diversity in fiction has to be "looked for" in a country like America. It seems like it would be there naturally and in abundance simply by the nature of the country.
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Robert Nowall
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"Thick" in a description suggests problems with mental processes to me, but I'd have to see the content to know for sure.

Denevius, you bring up a couple good examples of "diversity within fat." There's a difference between, say, Mr. Creosote fat, and the guy / girl who's just put on a few pounds, with considerable room for variation between them.

Also standards have changed over the centuries in the Western world...evidently the Renaissance period and beyond thought women beautiful when they were a little, er, heftier than what's preferred now.

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Grumpy old guy
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Robert, I think you're referring to Rubenesque. Denevius, to be brutally honest I'm wondering what all the fuss is about? So, there isn't enough diversity in ethnicity and culture to satisfy your wants? Fine, do something about it and write stories with what you consider to be the appropriate ethnic mix and be done with it.

But, why should I care, or bother to pander to your desires. I'll write the stories I want to write and we'll let the readers decide what they want to read.

"It isn't fair and it isn't right!" But, who really cares? Frankly, I don't. And if that makes me a bad person in your eyes, I really couldn't give a toss.

Now, having 'wound you up', no doubt, think about what I'm saying: You want us to change the world, to become the avant-garde of fantasy/sci-fi and lead the way in setting all of writing wrongs right. Really? 'Cos that's essentially what you're asking and my response is simply, "What's in it for me?"

Phil.
Opinions sold for a dollar each and one world wrong righted for two.

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Robert Nowall
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Yup, "Rubenesque" is the term I had in mind. I do admit a certain doubt over the subject...after all, what do works of art made for commissions say about standards of the culture?
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:

But, who really cares? Frankly, I don't. And if that makes me a bad person in your eyes, I really couldn't give a toss.

That's really not the point. The question isn't whether you're a bad person, it's whether you're a bad writer.

Diversity is very similar to the issue of scientific accuracy in sci-fi. Some readers don't care if you have canals on Mars or cavemen riding dinosaurs in your stories. Others are sticklers for accuracy.

It's largely a function of scientific awareness. I'm sensitive to landscape. When Captain Picard lands some planet, I'm not seeing trees, bushes and grass, I'm seeing canyon live oak, California sagebrush, and bone-dry fescue. There's really only one landscape on Earth that looks like that, and it's all found within two hundred miles of Los Angeles. Seeing a planet hundreds of light years from Earth that looks like Southern Cal is jarring; seeing it repeatedly is unintentionally funny. But I can live with that because they have a good reason not to travel to Tibet or Costa Rica for exterior shots: budget. It's either a location shoot in LA county or back to fiberglass rocks and dry ice mist.

Anthropological and sociological accuracy is exactly the same kind of issue, it just affects different people depending on their awareness. Naturally, if you set your story in Middle Earth, Hyperborea or Westeros, nobody can say you're wrong about the ethnic makeup of your characters. But if you set your story on Earth, either in the recent past, present or near future, people will notice inaccuracies in your depiction of all kinds of things, including ethnicity, depending on their awareness.

Example: A story set in near-future post-Apocalypse LA needs to have Latinos, or I'll think you're just a lazy and ignorant writer. Set the same story in Fargo North Dakota and the question never arises.

Example: Set your story in 1950 America, then nobody will an eye at the absence of women in positions of responsibility. Set the same story in 2050 and there'll have to be women in leadership positions or you'll look stupid.

Of course you can do anything you want if you *explain it*, and the explanation has relevance to the rest of your story. Set your post-Apocalypse LA story in a gated neonazi enclave, and the absence of Latinos makes perfect sense: they're Untermenschen. Maybe in the future there's been a civil war between men and women, after which they live in different cities, reproducing exclusively through cloning. It makes sense that there are no women astronauts in your space force; they're all on the other side.

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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
depending on their awareness

That's the whole point, right up there. And, I'm sorry to say, most people are blissfully unaware of any issues of ethnicity in the stories they read. They're reading for entertainment, not social or anthropological commentary. If it were such a big issue amongst readers then that would translate into book sales--or the lack of them for non-inclusive authors. But do we see that? No. We simply see writers navel-gazing and proposing views that the majority of the planet don't care about.

Phil.
Throwing petrol on the fire.

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MAP
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Here is some more fuel to the fire. [Smile]

Grumpy Old Guy;

quote:
And, I'm sorry to say, most people are blissfully unaware of any issues of ethnicity in the stories they read.
Not most people, you mean most white people don't care. I'm fairly sure most people of color do care.

I remember watching the movie Boomerang when I was young, and I spent half the movie wondering where all the white people were. I bet people of color wonder about that in 90 % of movies and books they watch and read.

If you don't think it is important to be inclusive than don't worry about it. But I agree with Denevius that it is unrealistic to have stories about present day Earth or a futuristic Earth and not think about diversity. Just my opinion.

Denevius, I think your stereotyping heavy or overweight people by saying that they are lazy and don't move much. I'm not sure how big you are thinking about when you talk about overweight, but genetics plays a huge role in body type. I know a lot of people who are a little overweight who are a lot more physically fit than some thin people.

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Denevius
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quote:
Throwing petrol on the fire.
I don't think your response is throwing petrol on the fire, Phil. I do think that your responses are not up to snuff to your usual thoughtful commentary. Obviously you don't agree, or don't think this is worth the time to worry about, but to brush it off and say "most people don't really care" is wrong. At the very least accept the fact that most non-whites do care, which is close to 50% of the population in America.

The problem, though, is publicly saying you care brings up accusations of complaining, or tying to force people to fill a quota. The status quo doesn't want to lose its privileged status, and no argument is going to sway that.

quote:
I remember watching the movie Boomerang when I was young, and I spent half the movie wondering where all the white people were. I bet people of color wonder about that in 90 % of movies and books they watch and read.
There were white people in "Boomerang". One of the earliest jokes of the movie had Eddie Murphy and his three friends shopping for suits, being followed by a white attendant, and on their way out, Murphy screams, "Ah", the white guy jumps, and he makes a witticism about it which I can't quite recall now.

Most black movies will feature white people somewhere, even if they aren't central characters, simply because any alternative is completely unrealistic. Even in all black neighborhoods, there's a better than average chance that the corner store will be run by someone from Korea, or the local Dunkin Donuts will have an Indian worker behind the counter. But you'll find movies filled *only* with white characters, like "Noah". Or, to my memory, "Fargo". I'm pretty sure "Clerks" didn't feature anything except a white cast. And, really, I could name a quite a few movies that have only white characters. Where a non-white face simply doesn't show up in any capacity.

In "Boomerang", though, all of the central characters, to my memory, were black. But that's not much different from "Lost in Translation", a movie that takes place in Tokyo, but all of the central characters are white. There is not one Japanese person of consequence in the movie, and the role the Japanese take in the movie are basically set props. They're there as a backdrop to this offbeat romantic copy between two white people.

However, this is realistic. These movies took place in more or less modern times where, as I mentioned above, most groups, even in America, are still quite homogeneous. Those people who create character change in their lives usually look like them.

quote:
Denevius, I think your stereotyping heavy or overweight people by saying that they are lazy and don't move much.
That's interesting, as I specifically didn't say that. What I said is that in the right circumstances, such as sumo wrestlers, you'll have an overweight person who proves to be a very adept and fast fighter:

quote:
If I'd lived in Japan rather than Korea, I could have probably done it. I saw sumo wrestling in Japan and know that there's a compelling argument for overweight warriors. These guys won't be running and dodging any time soon, but they're lightning quick in close combat.
This is from my comment on overweight characters. My point, though, was that overweight characters would be difficult to write in a lot of scifi/fantasy novels because usually, these stories require people in fit, physical condition to survive.

It's hard to see Decker from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" as overweight. It's hard to see Katniss as overweight. Of course, Harry Potter could have been overweight, since that's just magic and studying. And to be honest, it might have made more sense. I only read the first book, of course, but I don't recall Harry engaging in too much exercise or physical combat.

quote:
I'm not sure how big you are thinking about when you talk about overweight, but genetics plays a huge role in body type. I know a lot of people who are a little overweight who are a lot more physically fit than some thin people.
We're using the term general"overweight", but we haven't given concrete descriptions, so perhaps that's why there's disagreement. When Extrinsic mentioned an "overweight" character, I figured he meant obese, like Bombur in "Lord of the Rings".

EDITED TO ADD: most people aren't aware that Oskar from "Let the Right One In" is a plump child in the book. If you watch the movie, you might wonder why he keeps getting called "Piggy" by the bullies. Well, that's why. He's a plump little kid.

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