The Elephant in the Room: Why?

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kentagions
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The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby kentagions » Mon Oct 03, 2016 9:56 am

For those who don't know the idiom (Sometimes a gorilla), it represents a giant problem that everyone can see, but no one is willing to discuss. Whether it's the fact that the Emperor is naked or your brother's new girlfriend is an evil sorceress from Ikthar, it is a subject that remains unbroached. Most of the time we don't speak of the elephant due to social patterns that prevent us from harming others.

Today's elephant is the question, 'Why?" In a critique, you will never be asked this question. As an example, I critiqued a story for a friend (white female, Midwesterner, untraveled) who wrote about a ten year old Congolese boy and one of his exploits. In my critique, I asked about milieu, things that one could research, but hadn't been researched. I asked the milieu questions to get the author to understand that she didn't know anything about a boy growing up in the Congo and it showed. The story could be strengthened with some well-researched details. I did not ask, 'Why a boy in the Congo?'

One job of an author is to ask why of oneself and of one's manuscript. Take conscious control of everything in the story and have a reason why each element is there.

Why? Because nobody is going to ask.

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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby LDWriter2 » Mon Oct 03, 2016 5:15 pm

Why?

You may have a point about not asking that, but at the same time when it comes to writing, I think, one of the basic answers will be something like "That is what the story called for" or "I felt the story should be that way". So unless it is an attempt to get the writer to think deeper, you know the answer already.


Of course sometimes these days the answer could be something along the lines of "I want diversity" or "everyone says I should reach outward"
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kentagions
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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby kentagions » Mon Oct 03, 2016 9:59 pm

Hi LD,
The point of the post is definitely to get writers to think deeper about why they include certain characters and other elements in their stories. I don't believe, 'Just because,' is an adequate answer when we're trying to win the planet's most lucrative Science Fiction and Fantasy prize for amateurs.

Of course, as you say, '"That is what the story called for,"' can always be an answer, but wouldn't a better answer be more specific? Does taking the time to ponder why a story should be told with specific characters and within a certain milieu help clarify the story?

amoskalik
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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby amoskalik » Tue Oct 04, 2016 5:25 am

Thinking deeper is always a good, however the creative process can be a delicate thing and we don't want to stifle it prematurely with critical questions. So the question is when should these questions be asked by the writer?

Certainly before we send the story out for critique, maybe even before we write the first draft, but I would argue, not as soon as the notion "my main character is a Congolese boy" pops into our head. We should run with it and see where it takes us before we get all analytical on it. This is why having a writing process is important. Both creative room and analytical rigor must be given their due at appropriate times.
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Ishmael
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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby Ishmael » Tue Oct 04, 2016 7:38 am

My MC is Congolese + I haven't researched the Congo = Problem

Because the Congo isn't hard to research and some of your readers are going to know you haven't bothered to get your facts straight. The more you develop your character and plot without researching the more you risk entrenching an error.

Unless of course it's an alternative Congo and you make that fact clear. Then you can do all sorts of interesting things with facts. Of course pedants like me may very well wonder whether you actually knew you were twisting them.

My MC is from my totally imaginary world + I made up all the facts = Not a problem as long as you're consistent and adequately complete.

So if you hate doing research you have to stay away from real world settings and history unless you want your lack of knowledge exposed.

Unless you're confident your readers know even less than you do. wotf011
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amoskalik
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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby amoskalik » Tue Oct 04, 2016 10:55 am

Which I guess gets back to Kent's original question. Why write about the Congo if you know nothing about it and don't want to research it? I admit I don't have an answer to that one. Maybe it was a writing prompt?

I usually use research as a source of inspiration, so I'd be more likely to pick somewhere like the Congo because I was researching it and then change all the place names to fictional ones for extra safety.
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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby LDWriter2 » Tue Oct 04, 2016 9:18 pm

Ishmael's post reminded me.

Research is important whatever the reason you use a character. I have a character who is India at least a hundred years ago. I searched out what she might have eaten, what type of leader a village would have, and a little about their worship. And some names too.


Why India? I am not completely sure. I wanted something different than my first thought-a small mountain town in 1800s USA. All of the talk about diversity and other cultures influenced me. An aside here but I my original comment might be considered political in an odd way so I will just condense it. I usually reject such commentary on telling us how to write but there is a real point at times. So I let myself be slightly influenced. That is why here.


In a Urban Fantasy series, whose second book is on preorder, the MC is a girl. The story called for one. I think I was influenced by all of the UF books out now with female heroes, that I have read. If a bunch, I had read, had cats for heroes I probably would have done one with a cat.
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Ishmael
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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby Ishmael » Wed Oct 05, 2016 4:07 am

kentagions wrote:Why? Because nobody is going to ask.


LDWriter2 wrote:An aside here but I my original comment might be considered political in an odd way so I will just condense it. I usually reject such commentary on telling us how to write but there is a real point at times. So I let myself be slightly influenced. That is why here.
#
If a bunch I had read had cats for heroes I probably would have done one with a cat.


The proposition that one can only legitimately write from experience and that to write from research is cultural appropriation is fallacious. If pursued to logical extremes it would abolish most fiction and leave us with thinly disguised autobiography. If I write from a combination of research and imagination and I write badly then my work won't sell. If someone with relevant experience writes well their work will sell. It's as simple as that. The market does not require advance censorship; readers are quite capable of deciding for themselves what they like and don't like.
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amoskalik
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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby amoskalik » Wed Oct 05, 2016 5:08 am

Ishmael wrote:
The proposition that one can only legitimately write from experience and that to write from research is cultural appropriation is fallacious. If pursued to logical extremes it would abolish most fiction and leave us with thinly disguised autobiography. If I write from a combination of research and imagination and I write badly then my work won't sell. If someone with relevant experience writes well their work will sell. It's as simple as that. The market does not require advance censorship; readers are quite capable of deciding for themselves what they like and don't like.


Well said. I can certainly think of numerous works that have had high cultural impact where the author strayed far from his/her demographic. We shouldn't be frightened away from writing a good story because it calls for elements outside our experience, but we should also do our best to fill in those gaps with research and know that our best will often fall short.
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Muri McCage
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Re: The Elephant in the Room: Why?

Postby Muri McCage » Wed Oct 05, 2016 4:13 pm

I read a quote recently that said instead of writing what you know, as we're so often told, write about what interests you. That struck me as a real writer's writing notion.

To me one of the best things about writing fiction is delving deeply into ideas, places, peoples, etc. that intrigue me. The more interested I am in a subject the more I'll get out of writing about it and hopefully the better the end result will be. However, I'm interested in an awful lot of things. Sometimes I think I know more than I do about something, and find myself fact checking my memory. It's amazing what tiny details can trip a writer up.

It's a fine line between writing about stuff that fascinates you and stuff you know nothing about. I think maybe the more experience a person has as a writer, the more instinctive knowing how much detail and what kind is needed to provide just enough authenticity to enhance a piece of fiction becomes. Evocative spare style can be more satisfying for a reader than large amounts of info. That is of course my personal preference and tends to be my style, which may explain why I so rarely place these days.

I think if a writer chooses a setting they can't adequately evoke, then the question "Why?" is not out of line, if presented with kindness and genuine interest. It could very well gently lead them to a realization that serious research is still needed or even that they're in over their head, at least in their current stage of the writing life. If pointing out the elephant in the room saves them from ridicule somewhere down the road, then seeing the suddenly visible elephant does them a favor.
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