Character and Identity

Annie-Hall_bordered

 

Writers are all different, and they have a lot of different ways of describing/manifesting how characters in their work come into being.

Some of us are analytical: we use character sheets, balancing the strengths and weaknesses, outlining and pinpointing traits that we then use to (hopefully) further their plots. We “map” things. We rely on graphs and probabilities and numerical data. We know in advance that if “X” happens, the character(s) will do “Y” because “that’s who they are”.

Some of us are more “fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants” – we might create a basic character (he’s a roguish-type, but with aristocratic table manners/she’s pretty but with low self-esteem) and then – when a situation comes up – revisit those basic outlines, to add habits or quirks or secret talents, that further the plot or thematic stuff as we get deeper into things.

And some of us “claim” that we let the character tell us who they are, and then we just roll with that. (This is probably more of a metaphor, because really, it is our own brain, right?)

I’m definitely one of the last group: I write mostly in 1st-person singular, and it is (almost literally) the character telling me (and the reader, presumably) what happened, from their perspective, and why.

Because they know who they are. This is writing as exploration.

 

All this actually gives you a lot of insight into what kind of person the writer is.

The first group: well, I don’t want to cast aspersions, and there is nothing wrong with this approach, but I do think of them as the “authoritarian” writers: they believe that the facts they create in their heads really are facts. They believe in the binary. They believe that people/characters can be understood and charted.

And that’s a very human way to view the world, in reality as well as fiction.

The second group is fairly flexible: they think that people are variable, that people can change to a certain extent, and they allow for the possibility of those changes within their own stories. This is most of us, I think: we like the idea of possibility, although we are a bit less comfortable with the outcomes of that reality.

The third group feels more “reactive” – we grasp that we probably don’t know what other people think and feel unless they tell us, and we tend to trust, to a certain extent, the words people give us. If you (any “you”, including, obviously, the fictional “you”) say to me that at forty-five, you realized that your entire life has been a reaction against what your parent or guardian believed about you when you were five, but now you are free of that burden – I believe you.

If fictional character/real person tells me they are male, despite not having the external or physical characteristics of a “man”, I will believe them…and act/write accordingly.

If fictional character/real person tells me that they were a different person before someone they trusted completely betrayed them at the most intimate level – I will believe them, and operate or write the story to reflect that.

If a fictional character/real person tells me that oppression in their life occurred because of an accident of birth, even though I have never experienced that in my own life – I will believe them, and seek ways to illustrate that in language.

Gloriously, identity in fiction is up for grabs. My characters may believe they know who they are, what they are, and how they feel about those things, but as they move through their world, they can and often do discover deeper and more resonant aspects of their own condition – all of which are, quite obviously, generated from my own psyche.

But the fluidity that exists in me is real, and my ability to enter into the experiences and lives of others is part of my writing process.

And this must go double for real life.

You might have noticed that I draw the connection between fiction and life a lot on this blog.

Maybe you don’t think that’s pertinent, considering that I write fiction, and *fantasy fiction*, to boot, but I assure you, it is.

The truth about human beings lies not only in the hard reality of science, but in how we imagine worlds.

The truth in our minds is the truth in our bones. It is reactive truth in all three of the approaches I have outlined, but these are truths that are *reflective* truths, as well: they show our selves to ourselves, at our most internally basic.

Everything we write is a manifestation of our truer human-ness, and how we are in the world. And how we approach this communicative craft is the evidence of that reflection.

Brillat-Savarin said “Show me what you eat, and I will show you what you are.”

I say: “Show me how you write, and I will show you who you are.”

 

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On Writing Contests

Boston-magician

 

There’s a really interesting phenomenon on the internet when it comes to writers.

First, they form groups. Regularly and without fail, from the very beginning.

It used to be email bulletin board things. These were active conversations, and a lot of well-known editors and traditionally published writers were on them. You could ask them questions, get critiques on small bits of writing, and have in-jokes (mostly about what kinds of snacks writers prefer).

It was fun.

But there was no indie-publishing thing back then, and a whole lot fewer people were attempting to be writers, so it was pretty manageable.

Then came Facebook, and Facebook groups – and the ability to self-publish for next to nothing at all.

And the writing pool exploded. So did the Facebook groups (without most of the already-published writers and the actual, working editors) specifically for writers.

There are literally hundreds of them. Some are just for posting “BUY ME!” posts (which are useless because only writers frequent them, all of them sobbing “Buy my book, pleeeease!”), some are for exchanging writing tips and trying to figure out why their first chapter doesn’t “hook” anyone, and some are for learning how to market books as indie authors.

And then,  with all this, came the “Reader’s Choice” contests. There are dozens, every year, all run by well-meaning but essentially clueless folks, in a vain attempt to create some kind of legitimacy for themselves.

 

I knew, from the start, that this would do only two things: generate a lot of internet noise about “How honoured I am”, and create a proliferation of categories and levels, so the maximum number of people could have the maximum number of badges and awards to claim.

The trouble is that ninety per cent of these things are popularity contests.

The winners are not the best books. They are not even the most “popular” books.

The writers who “win” these are simply the ones with the most friends and relations willing to invest twelve seconds into clicking to a site and voting for their son’s sci-fi adventure or their best friend’s erotic romance…and then, while they are there, noticing that one really sweet-but-needy writer from the sponsoring group (you know: the one who periodically announces they cannot go on, that no one appreciates them, and thus, they are giving up writing FOREVER – or at least until enough people in the group implore them to keep going because surely massive success is just around the corner, because they are such a treasure…) and they vote those writers up, too, because no one wants to be seen as unsupportive.

There’s no way to know if any of the voters have actually read the book(s) they vote on, let alone even sampled the ones they choose to ignore.

It’s not about the writing.

It’s not about the craft, or the skills, or the sheer talent. It’s not even about dedication in the face of massive indifference.

The awards themselves are less worthwhile than the scam awards (the ones created purely for the creators to make some $$$).

Because they are purely vote-based (and anyone, or their dog, can vote) there is no minimum standard to measure the work by.

In fact, there’s no way to know whether there is anything resembling an actual “book” linked with the title, without buying and reading every single one. I have actually toyed with the idea of throwing a title out there (with maybe a few pages of unpalatable shite below it, to get it onto Amazon) just to see how many people would vote it up. Even one vote would prove my point.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t throw your hat in the ring on these things. If nothing else, one of those friends or relations of another writer might look at the title and consider buying it.

I’m saying that these “contests” do not validate your work. I’m saying that you should feel slightly soiled – not “honoured” – because all you’ve gotten is a click response – the same click-response we have for pictures of cats belonging to people we don’t know.

I’m saying that unless all you are in this for is ego-boo, you might better spend your time and energy on writing, rather than stressing about whether or not you can convince enough of your friends on Facebook to vote for your little orphan opus to make you feel loved.

Gone fishln’—-er, to JordanCon

These are last year’s pics. (I wasn’t there… sob) but I’m here this year and I’ll be posting later.

If you are anywhere near Atlanta today – you should so totally come and visit us.

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Pics courtesy Aaron-Michael Hall and Leslie Annis.

 

NEXT WEEK IS CALGARY COMIC EXPO!!!

I’ll be at BMO Booth 1606 (Fantasy World Builders) and we have COOKIES!

And books. We have books.

 

Medical “Miracles”

I want to talk to you all about universal health care.

This came across my feed:
http://time.com/2888403/u-s-health-care-ranked-worst-in-the-developed-world/

monkeys_22027_lg

Well, honestly, it’s Americans I want to talk to about it. Most of the rest of both the developed and developing world get it, even if they haven’t put the systems in place yet (but most of them are closer than you are, at least).

I know you’ve been sold a bill of goods about “socialized medicine”: the “death panels”, some faceless bureaucrat choosing your doctor, or some other faceless bureaucrat choosing where the doctor is allowed to practice, long wait times, surgical delays for months on end….I’ve heard all the scare stories you tell each other.

So I’m going to discuss – in detail – what has recently been happening to me.

After coming home to live in Canada after a longish while, I moved around quite a lot, and didn’t get around to finding a family doctor. But now I’m kind of settled a bit, and it began to dawn on me that this was something that at my age, I probably needed to attend to.

Almost as if by magic, I met a very nice MD who was just in the process of moving to Camrose and setting up practice. I really liked her: she was smart and funny, and her husband was relocating his brewery business here, which was why she was starting her medical career in a teeny Canadian city that is, as the polite description goes, “an hour and a half’s drive from anywhere you actually want to be.”

POINT ONE: She chose where to practice. Not only was she entirely free to decide what geographical location to practice in, but she had done sort of informal internships at both of the main clinics in town, to get a feel  for them before choosing which one to work at.

Note also that she was also free to set up a wholly independent office. The clinics just pool resources and specialties and equipment and so on, making them much more economical and efficient, both for the staff and the patients.

But I digress.

So we exchanged information and she told me to keep a look-out for the announcement in the local rag about which clinic she went with, and to sign on. It’s always good to do this right away, because good doctors get full patient loads really fast.

A month later, I saw the announcement, phoned the clinic and set up the “Meet and Greet”.

POINT TWO: you’ll notice that it was MY decision to choose her as my doctor. So far, not a single government or corporate person had had any knowledge of or interest in the process.

The “Meet and Greet” is important here, too: it’s a chance not only to get your medical history up to date, and get those baseline readings like height, weight, blood pressure, and so on, but it is also a chance for the doctor to give you an idea of what their approach to health is, and for you to see if you will feel comfortable having them as your physician.

No commitment – and even if you do commit, it’s not necessarily permanent. One friend of mine’s gone through three doctors since I’ve lived here, because he has a lot of challenges and needed a doctor who didn’t automatically decide all aches and pains are arthritis.

After we’d laughed about my weird and peripatetic life, and she’d told me about her graduation present (a trip to Australia, which she loved), we went over the important bits of business, she ordered a bunch of tests, and then I went off to the reception desk to schedule the next (real) appointment.

In amongst all this, a minor bit of elective surgery had been agreed on, and a consult with the clinic’s surgeon scheduled (because “No time like the present”).

 

The labs for the tests are not very far from my place, so I set up an appointment for those, and went along the next week for – I don’t know? Six things that they needed to do. Blood samples and that sort of thing. The government now knows about this, because I had to produce my Alberta Health card and some picture ID, so that my medical history is kept up to date and they don’t repeat unnecessary tests for no reason.

 

So today I went for the consult. It was scheduled for 10:20 am, but he was late (10:30), and he apologized.

“Some patients need longer explanations,” he said.

Imagine that? A doctor willing to take a little time to inform and reassure a patient. I wasn’t about to complain.

My stuff took no time at all. Although it is in a sense a cosmetic thing, he agreed that it had implications for my mental/emotional well-being if left untreated. There was paperwork to get through so they could schedule the day-surgery (probably happening next month), and then I was done.

 

What has any of this cost me?

Not one red cent.

 

Well, technically, I guess, it cost me the $5 or so that I have paid into via my taxes each year since I joined the workforce. That works out to about $600 or thereabouts in total.

And you might say that the surgical consult cost me $10 for the sushi lunch I decided to have because it was noon by the time I finished the paperwork and ran a couple of errands, so I decided to do that.

I think it was worth it.

And I think you’re worth it, too.

UPDATE: The surgery went just fine. It didn’t cost me one red cent, because it was a nice day and I walked home instead of taking a cab. I had to go back to the clinic so the doc could remove the stitches, and there will be a follow-up with the surgeon next month, to make sure everything is okay.

But no bills will come in the mail. Ever.