A picture of me dancing around the vaguely amused author David Anthony Durham, offered as a means to brighten your mood just before bringing it down again with my negativity.
Pet Peeves? Of the authorial/writerly sort, I assume?
(Yes, I know the topic to the right very clearly reads “Pet Peeves in Writing,” but I only saw this after I’d finished writing/shitting this post. I’m pretty sure the email I received just specified “Pet Peeves” as the topic, but it’s entirely possible that I purposely misread it so that I could be allowed to complain about authors. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which scenario is true.)
Oh, now you’ve done it. You’ve gone and given me—literally and figuratively—the worst topic you could’ve given me. Why is it the worst? Because now I feel justified going on a rant. That’s bad for me, but even worse for you: I’m just awful when I get this kind of podium. You’re gonna hate it.
I’d like to not get into it, but I’m powerless, perfectly powerless, to stop myself. But I will restrict myself to five.
What? Only five!
Yes, only five. Otherwise I might burst into flame.
Anyway, I hope you like swearing. Here goes:
1. When authors conflate their identities as “fated artists” in order to separate themselves from “normals.”
Ugh. I absolutely hate this. Is it not enough to be published; you have to go around constantly telling everyone how you were born to be a writer?
I mean, seriously: Fuck. Off.
A writer is not an extra-special sort of creature fated to the pure act of storytelling. No, he or she is merely a person who is compelled to sit down and write, and maybe thereafter edit and submit. Sure, perhaps some people are born with greater intelligence, or, I don’t know, “narrative drive,” but that’s not a direct path to Author.
What irks me immensely is how authors use this self-designation (knowingly or not) to separate themselves from all the shlubs who don’t write. “Oh, yeah, I was born to do this,” basically means, “Oh, yeah, and you weren’t, dipshit.” It’s the classic way for a self-conscious wannabe-artist motherfucker to legitimize herself or himself.
On that note…
2. When authors use semi-mystical terms to describe their process.
I bet you’ve heard an author say something stupid like this: “I didn’t intend to create the character of Klak-Tiku’Manis in Pegasus Kings of Unicorn Hill. My characters spoke through me and demanded his creation.”
Gag me with a goddamn spoon. Seriously.
You are not the Oracle of Delphi, Mr. or Ms. Author. Unless you literally believe yourself to be channeling some arcane/supernatural force when you write—in which case I’ll just shake my head in atheistic wonder—you are simply responding to your own still small voice in your head that all of us respond to without being entirely aware. Call these the urgings of the unconscious mind if you want, but don’t act as if you are being led by creations of your own, uh, creation.
But anyway, why do I hate this so much? Well, largely for the same reason that I hate the previous pet peeve: using semi-mystical terms is another way authors separate themselves from non-writers (or from other, less enlightened, authors).
At first, it may seem that saying your characters speak through you is a modest position: “I am but a humble vessel.” But I think that’s bullshit. Saying you’re a vessel is the same as saying you are communicating on a higher level than others—that you are the bearer of special knowledge—that some force is demanding that you, oh-so-special-you, need continue being a Writer.
Shut the hell up. You’re an embarrassment to people who do the hard work of writing without using stupid and falsely humble (not to mention irrational) explanations to prop themselves up.
3. When authors tell other folks how to write “properly.”
Okay, first off: advice is fine. If people seek it, by all means give it. Same goes for if you write a book and people buy it—clearly, they want what advice you have to offer.
The operative words above are, “seek,” “give,” and “offer.” Unless advice is sought after, don’t give it. If you have advice to offer, by all means offer it as opposed to throwing it in the other person’s face.
Yes. This is my impressed face. Your advice was THAT good.
A little story to illustrate why it drives me nuts when a person doesn’t understand these distinctions: I’ve got a very good writer friend, a person whose company I really enjoy (and still enjoy, regardless of this one hiccup). A couple years ago, she was still working on a book—a book she’d been working on for some years—while I had recently completed my first draft of No Return. This minor disparity did not stop her from often advising me about how to write more often and at greater length. She insisted that my writing would be better if I just let go of the inner critic and wrote, putting the editing off until later.
Now, I didn’t tell her how greatly this annoyed me because—well, what would’ve been the point? Perhaps she was right, and that my writing would improve dramatically if I switched up my approach. But… I had just finished my first novel, largely to my satisfaction (and eventual sale), while she still continued to struggle with hers. Though I wouldn’t usually let this fact influence my judgment of her (I mean, hey, I didn’t complete any of my writing projects for the first 25 years of my life! Who’m I to judge someone else for not being finished with something?), in this context it simply exacerbated my annoyance.
I mean, who was she to tell me my process wasn’t working as well as it could? And over and over again, ad nauseum!
Hopefully, it’s clear why that situation annoyed me, but there’s a deeper reason beyond the delivery (and the timing of the delivery) why such advice grinds my gears. It’s because giving the advice presumes that there is a proper way to write, when obviously—demonstrably—there isn’t. I know a great many people will say that it “works better this way,” but there are a great many people who produce wonderful (and mediocre and awful) work in another way entirely.
4. When (male; often fantasy) authors can’t write female characters.
Jesus. Seriously? Because a character has a vagina you’re writing skills fall out of your butt?
It’s a fucking person, for fuck’s sake—not an alien.
Writing a woman need not require any special contortions or anything. Okay, it might involve being aware of your own prejudices and how they infect your writing, but becoming aware of your own prejudices is all part of becoming an adult.
Oh— What? You can become an adult and still be a complete and utterly obvious bigot (and still get published)…?
5. When (male; often fantasy) authors can’t write female characters, and oh-by-the-way rape them over and over again in their fiction. (Yeah, this is an old pet peeve of many authors and readers, but it still happens all the time.)
Once more—and with real feeling, this time—seriously? What you are if you do this is a piece of shit mixed with bloody snot. What you are is a gross little manchild who can’t conceive of developing a female character without the trauma of rape in her past. You are an uncreative bigot, and you’ve probably got genital warts.
And don’t start with the realism shit, idiot. You’ve got dragons flying all over the place and people throwing purple thunderbolts, so clearly you’re not that interested in realism. No, what you are interested in is the realism of rape. You need to make sure you portray your society as actively, rapishly, rapetastic.
Oh, I don’t know, because you’ve utterly failed to look inside yourself and excise those ugly, misogynistic little bits? Because you’ve managed perfectly to internalize without interrogation the privilege you were born to? Because you’re just shit at life?
Yeah, those reasons.
Now, please don’t get me wrong; there are valid reasons to put a rape scene or several in a story. But a pattern of doing so without a compelling—and compassionate—reason marks you as venereal slime.
Okay, I’d better actually stop at five like I vowed to, because my clothes are beginning to smoke. Hopefully, I’ve not offended anyone too much with my language or my ridiculously strident pronouncements. I spoke with great certainty about people’s intentions, and obviously I can’t read those.
Still, I’m not wrong. (This is how a reasonable person thinks, right?)
See you next week, xox and all that!