This one might get a little rambly, there are a couple of topics I’m hoping to cover so bear with me.
Back in my GNVQ Media course at college we had a regular lesson called ‘Content’. I really enjoyed the lesson, initially because we got to watch movies and later, for the discussions we’d have afterwards. You see, after we’d watched the film we’d discuss what we thought the director was doing or trying to get us to think through their use of cinamatography, music and various other tools of the movie-makers art. It was about what feelings they were trying to encourage in their audience and what opinions they were attempting to get us to form of their characters and the situations they were in. As movie makers they have the benefit of visual and audio stimulus to influence the audience but, as writers we have the clarity of language at out disposal. A director can make you aware that a character is sad via lighting, music and facial expression but we can tell the reader the full depths of the characters sadness.
So, about content. What story are you trying to tell? What is the feel, the genre of your story? Comedy, tragedy, romance, any possible mix of a multitude of types of story are at the fingertips of your imagination but, deeper than what you say is how you say it. You have the capacity to influence the reader through your use of language and that brings with it a certain responcibility to the characters you are representing and that is were I wanted to go with this blog.
A couple of blogs ago I talked about the dangers of stereotypes because we, as human beings, are influenced by our life experiences and the opinions of others. If someone we respect voices an opinion we are more likely to consider and therefore adopt, that opinion. As writers e hope to gain a certain amount of respect, it’s how we will sell our works and therein lies our responcibility to fairly represent the world and it’s peoples.
‘But I’m writing a fairytale, a fantasy full of goblins, elves and other non-human entities!’
We can look at media history and see unfair representations of ethnic minorities that existed in times and properties and, even when they weren’t directly labelled as such, the influence was there. Florence Kate Upton invented the Golliwog as an affable protagonist in the late 19th century, Enid Blyton included one in Noddy as one of the main characters myriad friends but, as racial intolerances grew during the 20th century more were introduced as antagonists and the underlying message of tolerance became on of caution.
We’ve all hear the phrase ‘Token Black Guy’ (they always die in horror movies) or GBF (Gay Best Friend and, more often than not they’re ‘Fabulous’) and so often they are stereotypes played for laughs, caricatures rather than real developed characters. So, as I said in my previous blog on stereotypes, they’re a movie mechanic. Limited storytelling time pushes the director/writer of an ensemble piece to employ the stereotype to quickly familiarize the audience with the character but, in novels we have a much greater scope to develope believable characters and to be sensetive about those we do represent and representation is important. The world is a wonderful, diverse place full of rich personalities and cultures and there’s no reason not to include that in your works.
This is also a time when we can influence the use of language, phasing out established but masculine oriented terms in favour of gender-neutral ones is a gentle step toward gender-norming. You may, or may not want to use your work as a soapbox for social progressiveness but (I’m hoping) you certainly don’t want to enforce, even casually, any kind of intolerance or inequality which usually means the villains (rather than bad-guys) getting their comeuppance.
I think the main point I’m trying to make is, if you’re going to approach, even in passing, issues of race, gender, disability or equality or represent them in your work you should bare in mind the old addage ‘Writers write what they know’. Do your research, talk to people, gain their insight and experience and it can only benefit your work in the long run.
None of this should to limit your creativity, in fact it should encourage you to look harder at your characters and their motives, give them extra dimensions that you might not have considered before.