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

Euphemisms: The Politics of Words

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One of the first pieces of advice given to writers is to write from the heart, to write honestly. Most of us take it. Because it’s good advice. Honesty helps readers relate to the writer and to what is being written.

But, of course, just like anything else, words can be used to manipulate. Through the omission of facts, the selective use of facts, the use of emotive language and, perhaps the most insidious, through euphemisms.

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, a euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague expression for a harsh, blunt or offensive one”. Sometimes it’s to soften the blow as in the case of saying someone has passed away so that we don’t have to say that they died. More often these days, though, euphemisms are being used to protect the writer or speaker rather than the recipient of the words. Continue reading

The Cultural and Historical Context of Words

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Last week, Senator Fraser Anning of Katter’s Australian Party gave his maiden speech in the Australian Senate. In it, he called for a ban on Muslim immigration and a return to the White Australia policy (actually a collection of policies barring people of non-European descent from migrating to the country – the policies were effectively dismantled between 1949 and 1973 and officially legislated against in 1975). That was bad enough in itself. But he then went on to say that the “final solution to the immigration problem” was a plebiscite, a non-binding and hugely expensive opinion poll of the entire Australian voting population.

The speech was widely condemned for its racist overtones and blatant lies but the two words that reviled people the most were “final solution”. I read an article about his speech only hours after he had given it and before the outcry began in earnest. As soon as I saw that he had used those specific words, I was shocked. I am by no means a Holocaust expert but even just from watching a couple of documentaries years ago, I knew that “final solution” was the euphemism used by the Nazis to that they didn’t have to call it “our plan to kill six million Jewish people”. Thus, those two words, as innocent as they are when used separately, become something to be avoided as a pair regardless of what they are being used to describe. Continue reading

Twitter Writing Wisdom

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Every time I sit down to write a blog post, I aim for approximately 1,000 words. But as I posted my most recent tweet (as of writing this), I realised that writing advice doesn’t always have to be quite so lengthy. Here’s a selection of my Twitter ramblings (right back to when I started tweeting at the end of 2012) to do with writing. Hope you get something out of it. (I got an entire blog post out of it!) Continue reading

A Guide to Writing Drunk

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“I was drinking a case of 16-ounce tallboys a night, and there’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all.”
On Writing, Stephen King

One of the persistent stereotypes about writers is their fraught relationship with alcohol. For some, it’s absolutely accurate. But for most of us who write, we know it isn’t true. While there may be plenty of creatives who struggle with sobriety, it’s no greater in percentage terms than members of the general public experience. Still, why let that get in the way of giving it go?

Stephen King is the cautionary tale but what he did was alcoholic writing. Drunk writing is less intense, less destructive to life in general and a much more rare occurrence. Continue reading