In 2016, Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk about Kevin, Big Brother and The Mandibles, delivered the keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival. The topic was supposed to be “Community and Belonging” but she opened her address by admitting she would not be sticking to the proposed subject. Instead, she would be delivering her thoughts on “Fiction and Identity Politics”.
To boil it down to the most simple premise, her thoughts were that she shouldn’t be restricted from writing about cultural identities other than her own and that if she were, all her characters would be “an ageing five-foot-two smartass” and she would have “to set every novel in North Carolina”.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied was in the audience listening to Shriver’s speech. An Australian born in Khartoum to parents of Sudanese and Egyptian backgrounds, she is a mechanical engineer, activist and founder of Youth Without Borders and last year released her memoir, although she is not a fiction writer. After twenty minutes of listening to the speech, she walked out, unable to listen to what she called “a poisoned package wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension”, continuing, “The reality is that those from marginalised groups, even today, do not get the luxury of defining their own place in a norm that is profoundly white, straight and, often, patriarchal.” You can read her full response here.Continue reading
“Story is about archetypes, not stereotypes.”
Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
Robert McKee was talking about his book but his assertion holds true for stories in general. Archetypes good, stereotypes bad. But there’s also a third option: completely original types of characters.
Most writers just write without consciously deciding which types of characters they will use, although I suppose we all hope that our characters will be completely original types, even if it almost never happens, or at the very least archetypes.
But being able to recognise them when you move into the review, revision and rewrite phase is crucial to whether you will have characters that readers can relate to, characters readers will wonder where they’ve seen them before or characters who will blow readers’ minds with their originality.Continue reading
I’ve written previously about anti-heroes and villains and how they seem to be the characters of choice these days, at least the characters that seem to resonate most with readers searching for complexity. So, of course, growing numbers of people are attempting to cash in on that. The problem is that we are being flooded with ridiculous caricatures that are no more scary than me in the morning before I’ve brushed my hair and had some caffeine. Every James Bond villain ever may have something to answer for this.
When we examine the more successful and enduring villains, such as Dracula and Frankenstein (or his monster – depends on which of them you think was the bigger baddie), and some of the more recent but no less memorable, such as Dexter Morgan and Hannibal Lecter, we find people and creatures who scare us but who also exhibit vulnerability, meaning that in some capacity they are scared themselves. They’re at the darker end of the light and dark scale but they’re more deep grey than black. And regardless of their villainy, there’s also something attractive about them, something tempting about them, something that draws you in, even when you know you’re probably going to end up dead if you don’t resist.
If you’re planning to give it a go, here’s a few things to consider to make sure you have readers crying in terror instead of with laughter.Continue reading
For months now, the top of my ideas board has been occupied by the following yet to be explored (until now) idea for a blog post:
“Taking inspiration from the things you see around you every day (myself as murder victim or suspect – what could the police tell about me from my house?)”
For some reason, I kept focusing on the bits and pieces tacked to my refrigerator including photographs of and drawings by various nieces and nephews. And, of course, what these things say about me is that even though I’m single, I am part of an extended (and still growing) family and I am loved. But recently something happened that made me realise I’m too close to the subject matter. Not able to see the forest for the trees.
Because being an aunt is not my defining characteristic and upon entering my house in the event of my unnatural death or to arrest me for someone else’s, the fridge is not the first thing the police would notice.
Okay, so I couldn’t talk you out of making your main character a writer. But maybe I can talk you out of making your writer character a bad stereotype. So do me a favour and avoid the following character traits seen so often in clichéd fictional versions of ourselves.Continue reading
There are so many office stereotypes that after I started writing this I realised I would have to make it at least a two parter. So here is Part 1. See if you can identify yourself. Because while some stereotypes are to be avoided, others can be worn as a badge of honour.