Wish You Weren’t Here: Stereotypes in Fiction

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Have you ever started reading a book and thought to yourself, “I know this character from somewhere else.” The reason might be because stereotypes exist in spades throughout fiction of all genres. The worst of the worst seem to occur in threes. Here are the stereotypical females, males, teenagers and children.

Just a word about where they come from: history. And since historical writing was dominated by men, most stereotypes are how men perceived (and to some degree still do perceive) themselves, the people in their lives and even people they didn’t know well or at all. Of course, that means they’re not very complex or even accurate but they persist in writing today. They’re best to be avoided unless you can make them unbelievably original. Continue reading

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It’s a Fine Line between Pleasure and Pain: Dedicating Your Book

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All writers devote an enormous amount of time, effort and passion towards writing their books. And while finally holding a completed book in your hands is right up there, one of the other most emotional moments usually comes just before the end of the process: deciding on a dedication.

They aren’t compulsory but they appear in almost every book. As a way of showing our loved ones, our peers, our mentors, our inspirations just how much they mean to us. In recognition of a particular period in our lives. As an inside joke. Continue reading

The Rise and Rise of the Unreliable Narrator

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Whenever I meet new people in real life, I always start out with the assumption that they’re perfectly pleasant individuals. Even when I might have heard other people’s opinions about them, I figure it’s only fair to give them the benefit of a clean slate and it’s only right that I should form my own judgement based on my experience with them, not simply perpetuate someone else’s adoration or resentment, which might be completely prejudiced.

I’m the same when I pick up a book and start reading. I don’t read reviews beforehand so that I can avoid being consciously or subconsciously influenced and I begin with the assumption that the person telling the tale is telling it truthfully (not factually, because that’s a different thing, but truthfully, which means honestly to the best of their recollection). After all, why wouldn’t they? The narrators are fictional characters and will never need to worry about any reader’s judgement.

Of course, in both cases, there are plenty of instances of people who don’t always disclose the absolute truth or the complete story. Sometimes they’re frustrating as hell (in the case of real people, especially when you figure out you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes), sometimes they’re exactly what’s needed (more likely in the case of a fictional character only). In the real world, we would call them liars but in the fictional world, they’re known as unreliable narrators.

Wayne C Booth, an American literary critic, coined the term “unreliable narrator” in his 1961 book, The Rhetoric of Fiction. His obituary in the New York Times explained that he felt “literature was not so much words on paper as it was a complex ethical act” and his “lifelong study of the art of rhetoric illuminated the means by which authors seduce, cajole and more than occasionally lie to their readers in the service of narrative”. A pretty good description of what it is the unreliable narrator does. Continue reading

Book Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

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Jason Mott is primarily known as a poet and that helps make sense of this book because just like a lot of poetry, it’s beautifully written but it’s not really clear what it all means.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave are in their seventies and have lived most of their adult lives with the trauma of their son drowning when he was just eight years old. And then one day, one ordinary day, an FBI agent shows up on their doorstep with Jacob Hargrave. He hasn’t aged a day since he died and much to everybody’s confusion, he’s very much alive. And he isn’t the only one. The Returned are turning up everywhere. Continue reading