Controversy in Writing

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Without having any real evidence to back up the theory, I have always thought that writers could be divided up into two categories: those who court controversy and those who avoid it. (I later realised there was a third category – writers who are controversial without realising it – and you can read a bit about that here.)

I also figured out a long time ago that getting involved in any type of controversy tends to leave me upset in greater proportion to any change I may be able to effect in advocating for one side or another. So I generally try to stay quiet unless I feel very strongly. And even then, I moderate myself and think long and hard about how to phrase what I want to say in order to avoid reactions from trolls and people who never change their mind about anything even in the face of overwhelmingly logical arguments. After all, the vitriol of stupid people can be vicious and my greatest ambition is an easy life.

Besides, how much controversy is there in writing really? Continue reading

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How Much Lived Experience Do You Need to Create Diverse Characters?

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“There’s a quote from Julius Caesar at the start of Area 7. I made it up. It says fiction on the back. A lot of the books – I stopped it in Scarecrow for the sake of pace – have the prologue at the start. Advantage Press doesn’t exist. W.M. Lawry & Co. He was a cricket guy. There are gags in there if you look closely enough. But it says fiction on the back.”

Matthew Reilly in Literati: Australian Contemporary Literary Figures Discuss Fear, Frustrations and Fame by James Phelan

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Truth in fiction seems to be a big debate topic these days, at least some truths. Nobody seems to mind when Matthew Reilly makes things up in his books or when George Lucas writes about an epic resistance and the religion at the heart of it a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But when a writer wants to explore a real race or a real culture or a real disability that they have no lived experience of in a piece of fiction, it seems to be more and more of a problem. Verisimilitude, or the ring of truth, apparently isn’t good enough anymore. Some writers of those races or cultures or with those disabilities don’t want you to read a piece of fiction informed by imagination and (hopefully) a decent chunk of research. They instead want you to read their piece of writing about the same topic (whether fictional or not) so that you can read “the truth” or at least a piece of writing informed by their truth. Continue reading

Co-opting Real-life People to Be Characters in Your Fiction

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While many authors love the freedom that creating a brand new and completely fictional character offers, others want to tell stories that involve people who exist or have existed in real life. It can be a powerful motivation for readers to want to read it but it can also be a minefield if it’s done badly. Here are a few things to think about to help you get it right.

Prepare to Do a Lot of Research
If you’re choosing to use a real-life person as a character, then you’ll have to know them inside and out, as much as is possible at least. And that means research. A lot of it. An awful lot of it to get the details right. Continue reading

The Continuing Controversy of Same-Sex Relationships in Fiction

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I have a theory that there are two types of writers: those who court controversy and those who avoid it. Controversy can mean many things these days but I was a little surprised to realise that same-sex relationships in fiction are still classified this way. And it has forced me to rethink the number of categories writers can be separated into and add a third: those who are controversial without realising it.

When KK Ness released her debut novel, Messenger, Book 1 in The Shifter War series, I was one of the first in line to read it. I’d followed with anticipation her writing journey through her blog ever since she did me the favour of reading a draft of one of my yet-to-be-published novels and offering some very useful advice. It was even more appreciated since we’d never met before and still haven’t to this day.

You can read my 4-star review of Messenger here. For the purposes of this discussion, this extract was my comment on the way the book had been categorised on Amazon:

“I was a little concerned when I was buying it that its main classifications seemed to be ‘gay fiction’, ‘gay & lesbian fiction’ and ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender fiction’ when the blurb clearly described a story that easily falls into the fantasy genre. Maybe my concern was because so much fiction classified in that way turns out to be erotic fiction. But it’s only because the main character and his love interest are both male. In fact, it was so subtle that I wondered if the ‘gay fiction’ classification might put off some conservative readers when it really shouldn’t. More a marketing consideration than anything to do with the story itself.” Continue reading

The Moral of the Story

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In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest in US history, I was listening to a segment on the radio about research into gun owners in Australia. Rather than reinforcing the idea that weapons were more likely in rural areas where they are necessarily used for farming and predator control purposes, it found that a small number of urban gun enthusiasts and sports shooters were amassing huge arsenals. One owner had 283 guns. All legal, of course, otherwise the researchers would never have known about them.

There are plenty of illegal guns in Australia as well, estimated at about 10,000, but the strict gun control laws in this country mean that gun ownership is seen as unusual, abnormal even. We don’t have the gun culture that the US has, I suspect partly because of the different ways in which the countries established their independence from their shared colonial master.

The reason this segment on the radio resonated with me is because the main character in my debut novel is a small weapons engineer, a gun designer with a large arsenal of her own, although primarily comprised of historically significant pieces worth a lot of money. In the as-yet incomplete sequel, the novel begins with the opening night of an exhibition of her collection at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Continue reading

The Fiction Versus Non-Fiction Debate: Is One Better Than the Other?

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I recently spent time with a group of friends I see roughly four or five times a year and one of them asked me how my writing was going, knowing that I was doing it full-time. Well, I told her. Did I have a daily routine? she asked. Just to sit down and start, I replied. And when would my next book be out? In a few months. Non-fiction, I clarified. My next novel would be published in about a year’s time. Oh, she said with a hint of disappointment and then moved onto conversation with someone else.

That “Oh” gave me pause. Everyone else I’ve ever discussed my writing with (which isn’t too many people as I find it a little self-indulgent and difficult to do justice to when I’m the one talking) has had the exact same response, which is admiration – admiration at the fact that I’ve written and published books. After all, so many people talk about it and never get around to doing it but continue talking about it until anyone hearing them talk about it wants to beat them over the head with their non-existent book.

I also found it a little strange because I’ve always thought of non-fiction as a slightly higher, slightly more respectable calling than fiction (not my non-fiction, though, just the non-fiction of others) because it requires knowing what you are writing about (or it should) whereas in fiction you can just make up any old thing. Still, they both require effort and commitment over a reasonably lengthy period of time. Why would one let alone the lesser other (whichever you happen to think it is) elicit an “Oh”? Continue reading

Project October 2017: Week Five

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Yes, it’s that time of year again when I go on a partial hiatus to do a really intensive month of writing. Normal posts will resume in November but, in the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy an insight into this year’s Project October.

Week Five: Abandonment or Accomplishment
It’s strange to say it but I think this Project October has resulted in both abandonment and accomplishment. No, I didn’t write a single word and ended up abandoning my plans to finish Trine but I’ve got some fairly well-developed plans for another book and a list of women wanting to participate, to have their stories told. Continue reading