Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On Being a Perfect Stranger

A recent article by Jimmy Akin about serious theological errors in Bram Stoker's Dracula made me think about the responsibilities the writer of fiction has when dealing with faith communities not one's own. Obviously, we do not want to deliberately slander or malign someone else's faith by repeating things we know to be false.

However, it is not enough to merely avoid deliberate slander. As Jimmy Akin demonstrates so ably, it is possible for a well-meaning writer who knows a little about another religion's practices and beliefs, but doesn't really understand them or the theology that underlies them, to produce scenes that are profoundly offensive to members of that faith. It is a perfect example of the old adage "a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing."

How then can we as writers avoid such gaffes? Obviously extensive, careful research is essential -- but because we are not members of the faith community in question, we may well lack the knowledge necessary to distinguish authoritative sources from those that are perpetuating misconceptions or outright falsehoods. Even when working with authoritative sources, we may miss nuances, or get the sense of a term wrong when trying to understand it from context -- and it can easily come back to bite us in a story.

Often it comes down to being able to ask someone who has first-hand knowledge about the faith in question. Even then, one often may not know what questions to ask, since certain kinds of misunderstandings are often invisible because they deal with things assumed to be universal, when they are in fact peculiar to one's own religious background. If one's expert is willing, having them actually vet the entire manuscript with an eye to such blunders might be the best solution, although this is often more easily obtained with a short story than a novel.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Congratulations, Your Excellency, You've Been Redshirted

For those who aren't familiar with the science fiction community, "redshirting" is the practice of giving the names of friends or associates to minor characters who are subsequently killed, often in absurd or memorable ways. Sometimes big-name writers will actually auction off the opportunity to have one's name mentioned in this fashion, and donate the proceeds to charity. The term comes from the original Star Trek series, in which the security personnel wore distinctive red shirts, and one could often recognize at first appearance the character who is going to be killed off solely to demonstrate to the viewer that This Is A Very Deadly Place.

I'm doing some planning for another of the stories of Eigun Eiderveyen, which is taking place at a meeting of Catholic bishops. There's an assassin among them, and after a series of murders of people of lesser rank, at least one bishop will be picked off before the assassin is identified and caught. Suddenly I realized that I had a perfect opportunity to redshirt the notorious Marcel Lefebvre, Rad-Trad extraordinaire. And since he can easily be considered a schismatic, the method of murder quickly became gruesomely obvious.

Now I just need time to actually write it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Who Can It Be Now?

I'd gone back to Cloak and Shadow, hoping to get some work done on it, and I'm becoming steadily aware that there's someone missing in it. I roughly know the sort of person I'm missing, but I still don't really have a sense of who this is yet.

And for me, it's very tricky to consciously think in terms of "OK, I need a character with these traits for this slot," because there's a constant danger that in doing so, I can end up killing the story. If the story becomes a made thing, instead of living in my mind, it just shrivels up and dies. It no longer matters, because it's not about people I care about any more, but just little wooden puppets to be moved from plot point to plot point. So what.

This issue has been a major sore point with several workshops I've been in. They couldn't understand why I couldn't look at a story in terms of structural elements like a machine that could be taken apart and reassembled at will, and would actually get angry with me and accuse me of willful unprofessionalism when I tried to explain that trying to do so kills stories for me, and that I had to protect my stories from being destroyed by this whole slot-based, mechanical plotting system they were trying to impose upon me.

For me, there has to be a world and people that exist for themselves, and only then can I tell stories about them. If I try to reduce them to just a collection of sets and hired actors playing roles, the story dies. I might be able to trudge through cranking out a story as an assignment, but it would be a hateful chore, and would probably end up looking like I did it as an assignment rather than something from the heart.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm Still Here

No, I haven't disappeared from the face of the earth,
nor have I given up on writing. It's just that I have
so many things to deal with that I simply haven't had
any spare time to speak of.

We've had another spate of thieves over Thanksgiving
weekend. This time they broke into our house, which
inflicted further mental strain.

And of course there's the constant drain of article
assignments, book shipping and being expected to be an
unpaid maid around this house, but keep it clean to
professional maid standards, for no pay.

Like I have time just lying around in piles waiting
for me to pick it up.

So writing is bits and slivers, a sentence here and a
sentence there while standing in various lines waiting
to do things. Maybe even a whole page into the Palm
Pilot while I'm at the laundromat or some other place
that keeps me for any length of time.

I just wish I could start having real, unbroken
writing time again. I've got more ideas than I ever
had, but less time to write.

At this rate I'm never going to be able to get
anything published, and I'll be writing work-for-hire
nonfiction for the rest of my life.