#NotAllWhiteDragons

So, I came across this exchange at Writing With Color’s Tumblr.*

This actually reminds me of something that came up at the end of the Medievalpoc panel last WisCon…about dragons really “being white”. It couldn’t have been more of a total non sequitur, especially in that context, but it’s one of those conversations that does have a time and place. (Although it certainly was not then or there, leading moderator N. K. Jemisin to wrap things up quite nicely, thank you.)

And it has to do with the fact that readers will assign race to fantasy characters, including elves, fairies, and yes, even dragons, apparently. Which I believe has to do with cultural associations**, the whole “Western Medieval=White” thing. Even further, the whole white default problem in U.S. culture leads to the imagined anthropomorphized versions of nonhuman characters as white to an alarmingly ubiquitous degree. (And yes, I have certainly seen “human version” fan art of characters from The Lion King as white, so Finding Nemo isn’t too surprising to me.)

I’ve had to have some rather painful personal conversations with white writers who are near and dear to me, explaining that if you leave descriptions vague or blank, the reader will read these characters as white, no matter what you intended, as a general rule. (If anyone needs a citation for that, read ALL of Playing In The Dark by Toni Morrison at least twice and wait a minimum of one week before asking me anything.)

The White Default is too strong in our culture, and too strong in the genre, to write neutrally into the current situation. Also, a very, very, very important note for white writers: your race does, can, and will affect how your readers engage with your work. Writers of color generally don’t need to be told this, sadly.

The problem is too many white writers seem to want facts, figures, quotas, and step-by-step instructions on how to avoid being called racist, rather than, you know, just writing realistic and complex characters of color (and no, this isn’t necessarily directed at the asker linked above; it’s based on my own correspondence and experiences). 

This is just… totally counterintuitive to me, because I always see these things couched in language that teems with desire to avoid something, general aversion, and trepidation. Which is also, you know. Depressing. One of my most fervent wishes is that these people would stop looking at writing racial diversity as “how do I avoid ‘punishment’” (which is a really messed up way to look at critiques in general and in this context actually quite horrible), and start looking at it like, “Wow, there are actually infinite possibilities out there!!" (Or even worse-those who claim writing more diverse characters into their fiction is "limiting" them…how on earth could that be MORE constraining than limiting yourself to everyone being white? It’s like someone who’s locked themselves into one room getting angry when I point out that there’s a whole house.)

That’s the thing, creative and artistic freedom comes with accountability for the choices you make. After all, freedom without accountability is tyranny; casting countless universes in your image and ONLY your image without any criticism allowed is tyranny. And that’s where we’re starting from. The only thing that can balance something so out of true is a big push from the opposite direction, which includes a healthy dose of criticism. After all, you can’t fix a problem you refuse to look at or acknowledge.

At the same time, I know that there are also writers of color who also struggle with avoiding stereotypes and harmful tropes in their work, with variable success. That’s the problem…racism is just so embedded in everything around us, it becomes a part of us. And that’s why it’s a constant process of unlearning, revision, and relearning. Speculative fiction is changing, and each and every one of us has the power to help shape what it’s becoming.

I think if WritingWithColor mods are willing to offer Colorful Critique Feedback Services, well, that’s a pretty damn invaluable resource. Do they speak for everyone? Of course not. Is everyone going to agree on whether your work is good or bad, harmful or uplifting, racist or not? Nope! No people or culture is a monolith. “but so-and-so said it was good!” isn’t going to count for diddly squat with such-and-such. Because, shock of all shocks, “people of color” are individual human beings with their own thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Some people will love it, others will be critical, and some will positively loathe it.

You want advice on how to write a ~diverse~ piece of Fantasy Fiction that no person of color can criticize, ever? My advice is: stop living in a fantasy world, and start writing one.

*I was going to reblog it, but I don’t want anyone else to feel obligated or implicated by my soapboxing.

** There are dragons, unicorns, fairies, elves, and other fantasy type creatures teeming throughout non-Western cultures, but that is a whole other Thing that does, in fact, involve conversations concerning the race/culture of the author, cultural appropriation, and ethical issues thereof.

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anonymous asked:

I've been debating this with my brother but can you give me the difference between Historical Fiction and Alternate History?

Historical Fiction:

  • The majority of the story has a setting that takes place in the past relative to when it was written (at least 25 years, but that’s a bit too close for some people).
  • Small details may be changed or added in historical fiction (such as creating a fictional member of a royal lineage) as long as this change does not create a major change that will affect the future (such as the outcome of a major war).

Alternate History:

  • One or more real historical events are changed to create an “alternate world”. This can fit as a sub-genre into sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, and a few others depending on what makes it alternate and when the majority of the story is set.
  • This change may happen before or during the story. There is no limit as to how many years ago the change had to happen. Some stories take place just a few years after the change while others take place centuries.
10

Realism Vs Absurdity: TEH, managing audience expectations

Anderson relates his theory of the fall, Lestrade responds to it with derision.  Here we have an unrealistic story being met in a realistic manner: with skepticism.  This is a statement about the audience: things in the show can be absurd but not this absurd.  Suspension of disbelief has its limits.  The audience have their limits.

Our first glimpse of Sherlock is the opposite of this: a realistic scenario is met with an unrealistic reaction.  Sherlock is about to be clubbed by his captor.  He hasn’t slept in days and has been sustaining a brutal beating.  Once Mycroft tells him he is to go, ‘back to Baker St’, he smiles his biggest, happiest smile of the whole show.  He looks genuinely happy and at peace.  Here we have realism butting up against absurdity.  Being tortured is a real and harrowing experience.  Sherlock’s reaction, in that context, is 100% unrealistic.  It is absurd to think that he could manage a smile of any kind at this point, let alone this one.  This scenario has the opposite effect of Anderson’s story: there’s a limit to the realism of this show.  Our protagonist can be tortured and he can still smile like he’s relaxed and happy.  This serves to limit realism, Anderson’s story (and Lestrade’s reaction) limits absurdity.

The first scenario is about the limits of the audience: we will not accept something too absurd.  The second one is about the limits of the writers: they will not give us something too realistic.

Two more stories about the fall are met with skepticism.  The last one is, ‘the real one’, and it’s from Sherlock, himself, and still, Anderson, representing the viewer, is not entirely sold on it.  This reinforces and acknowleges audience expectations of a plausible explanation.  And yet, Sherlock, representing Moftiss, will only go as far as to give us a more reasonable explanation.  More reasonable than the other two unreasonable ones.  And one that we know may also not be true.  Again this is the writers saying, ‘there’s only so far we will go with realism because it’s not that kind of show.  Realism is not our thing’.

Finally, we have John, himself, the ultimate representative of audience expectations of an explanation.  We want answers on his behalf, he is our proxy: the reason for our emotional investment.  He asks a realistic question and is met with an absurd answer from Sherlock.  John is being the audience and Sherlock is being the show.  We may want realistic explanations but the show will not and, by its nature, cannot provide them.

With Sherlock’s answer we are reminded of everything that is absurd about Sherlock, the show: a lot of his deductions, his Bondesque style of a lot of his antics ("it was all very James Bond"), the fact that some deductions take him seconds and some much easier ones take him minutes.  There are a lot of ways that this show is not a drama.  It is a show where implausible things happen all the time.  A show of fairy tale villains who literally tell you that they’re fairly tale villains.  It is a show where you get taken, without explanation, to Buckingham Palace by helicopter or naked.

In TEH we see Gatiss playing with the audience, oscillating between the limits of the realistic and the absurd to curve our expectations.  We are not going to get a psychological drama’s version of a reconciliation, the show’s genre and tone simply do not allow for that.

This whole episode is about that dialogue between the audience and the show with regards to its scope.  The drama of the fall scene may have left the audience craving a more in depth, more emotional, more logical explanation but the show must restate its identify, here.  It may have dramatic moments but it is not a psychological drama.

TEH is a friendly invitation to reenter the world of Sherlock and to remember and accept its tone and genre.  A reminder that it’s a show full of ridiculous adventures and stylish villains.  A promise to continue to walk the fine line between the realistic and the absurd.

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