MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 9–Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells This Story?

Additional Parts In This Series

Part 0 | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 & 7.2 | Part 8 | Part 9 (you are here)

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(With thanks to the Hamilton musical for being so quotable!)

Gather ’round, my peeps, for today we are talking about narrative choice and authorial intent!  [I’m specifically going to focus on written/sole-created narratives. Just for ease of this post.]

Everything You Choose Is Deliberate

In fiction, the author is all-powerful. Each choice the author makes–in particular, conscious decisions–reflects on the author. Power carries responsibility. So. When you have complete and total power over the story you choose to tell, what are the responsibilities that come with that?

Equally important: what are an author’s responsibilities when it comes to choosing not to make specific decisions, include specific elements, and otherwise wield their power in a exclusionary way?

When I talk about exclusion, an authorial choice not to include specific elements in a story, this can be literally anything. It can be choosing not to include rape culture or scenes of sexual or domestic violence. It can be choosing not to have any swearing in the story. It can be choosing not to include potatoes.

Exclusionary choices are not inherently bad. They are, like inclusionary choices [what you DO put in a story], simply a spectrum of authorial deliberation. However, as an author, what you do not include is just as important as what you do include. An author must own the responsibility of their choices.

(We’re not going into external meddling–such as editors, executives, elder gods, etc. This focuses specifically on what the author created, and assumes that there is no external pressure to add/subtract/change specific elements.)

Sometimes these choices can arise from unexamined or unknown bias. Sometimes they arise from ignorance–whether to include or exclude specific elements or people from a narrative–and sometimes not.

Does the story include dragons? Fantastical elements? FTL drives? Superpowers? Does the story feature any queer, trans, disabled, POC, elderly people, minorities, women, or other demographics found everywhere in the world?

If you have dragons but no People of Color, what does that say about your choices? “Historical accuracy” is a false claim when it’s not actually historically accurate. Does a spacefaring worldship harbor only cishet white people? What does that say about your perspective?

Look at it this way. You choose a POV (point of view) character(s) for your story, just like you choose whether it’s written in first-, second-, or third-person (or maybe all of them!), and just like you choose which tense to use for the narrative. Those are deliberate decisions made in order to shape the story.

The content of that story is no less deliberate.

You have the power to choose what you write about, who you write about, and for whom you write. Your responsibility is in how you use that power.

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Making Choices: Who Lives and Who Dies

The novel has very strong thematic questions about power, responsibility, and what we owe each other and ourselves with our actions.

It’s also got a lot of action and drama. The plot focuses on authoritative powers who want to destroy things, and the protagonists are caught in this fight and must decide how it ends.

It would be so easy to make this book tragic. It would be so easy to kill everyone off for ‘dramatic effect’ in the ending; to have the characters die in order to succeed. Maybe that would be “edgy.” There is set-up that could allow for the resolution to go either way (victory and life, or victory and death). All I can say is: FUCK THAT NOISE.

There will be no queer tragedy in this book. Damaveil and his husband live and are happy; Rajosja and her wife live and are happy; Bane lives and is… getting there; it just takes a little longer before he is happy again. The non-binary characters live and are happy.

Do people die? Sure. Lots of them. Past and present. This is a dark book; a lot of terrible things happen. That does not mean it must end badly for all the queer and trans characters who exist within.

Death is not the default ending. 

screenshot-2017-01-17-11-26-35
unapologetic happy ending

 

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Making Choices: Who Tells the Story

 

So, when I wrote the first draft of this book (*cough*timeago*cough*) I did not actually know I was ace/aro. (Ace = asexual, which means I do not feel sexual attraction to other people. Aro = aromantic, which means I am not interested in romantic relationships with other people.) I had inklings about being a somewhat outlier circle on a Venn diagram mapping out human axises of sexuality, but it would be nearly two years after this draft was written before I encountered vocabulary for defining myself.

RoAnna Sylver has a tweet thread about ace/aro representation in media that is spot-on and utterly fantastic, and I urge you to read the whole thing.

screenshot-2017-01-17-10-41-29

Bane is asexual. When I picked up this draft in order to revise, that jumped out at me like a neon sign. (He’s also neuroatypical, which is also something I did not have words for, or consciously realize about myself, when I was writing.)

When I realized this, it made me so happy. And I knew him being ace was an element I would not change. Not for any reason.

I, as a reader and consumer of media, want to see more representation (positive!) on various axises; ace, aro, neuroatypical, queer, trans, non-binary… to name but a few. So I feel it my duty, as a writer, to do what I can to include characters that reflect the vast, amazing, kickass aspects of humanity. I will not always succeed, and not every story will contain every multitude of people. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. ^_^

A protagonist is one of the many lenses through which we experience story. A protagonist, often, has a large amount of page/screen time. Who you give this time, energy, and presence to in your work says something. You, as the author, choose what it is you’re saying.

Bane has flaws, and also a lot of goodness. He’s empathetic, compassionate, and strives to help people. He has strong friendships without needing romance or sexual relationships. He can save the world when others would ask him only to destroy it.

And he can have a happy ending.

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 So, creators, keep in mind your power and your responsibility. When you mess up, you will be called on it, and how you respond is equally a choice. You can do better if you want. You can try harder. Work better.

(I actually have an unfinished post that examines authorial power/responsibility in more detail, and will aim to finish that up and post–it might be more useful to people as a stand-alone article.)

I’d love to hear from you folks, too: what decisions do you make in your creative work? What do you choose to include or exclude?

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Coming up next… Merc has no idea, because they need to get back to the ‘fill in all the gaps from the revision outline’ drafting phase! xD So stay tuned…

leave a footprint in the snow

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