Past Conflicts as Backstory

A common thing in book series is when there was some kind of serious conflict in the past which is affecting present-day events. Sometimes this conflict is only ever revealed as backstory: the reader is given some basic details of what happened, but never actually sees it on the page. Other times it might be revealed via a flashback: cutting to a scene in the past that shows the reader exactly what happened. But then there’s times that the backstory was revealed in the main narrative, but in a previous book.

How this works out depends a lot on the type of series you’re reading. I’ve read a lot of book series where there is an overarching plotline that spans the entire series. The Wheel of Time is a good example of this; while each book has its own beginning and end point, there’s no complete resolution until the very end. If you picked up a random book in the middle, you’d be lost about a lot of what is going on. Whereas a series like The Dresden Files has a different style, and every book is more self-contained. Events from one book can influence events in a later book, but the stories are able to stand alone. I haven’t yet read a book in the Dresden series that wouldn’t have made sense without the other books.

Sometimes, the difference between these styles can get a bit blurred. For example, I’m currently reading Guilty Pleasures, an Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel by Laurell K. Hamilton. I picked it up mostly at random without knowing where it fell in the series. While reading it, I’ve learned that there is a lot of backstory for Anita, from the cross-shaped burn scar on her arm, to her past missions slaying vampires with a flamethrower-wielding mercenary, to the hints of a romantic past between her and the vampire Jean-Claude. Not having read any other books in the series, I just assumed that some of these events were things from a previous book. Except that I found out this is Book #1 of the series. Meaning that the backstory in this case had enough depth and detail to it that I believed it was something that actually happened. It’s definitely a good compliment to the author, and I’m sure she had worked a lot of Anita’s background out in advance before writing the first book.

A good example of this is also when a new villain is introduced. In the case of Guilty Pleasures, a vampire named Valentine is introduced early in the book, and we find out he tried to kill Anita several years earlier. She threw holy water in his face, leaving him permanently scarred. The author went into a bit of detail about those events, not quite giving a full flashback, but painting enough of a picture that the animosity between the two characters is quite clear. It worked well, and the story of that past conflict is interesting enough that I almost hope it gets revealed in a prequel story one day.

It’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my own writing. How to manage a series is an issue I’ve been studying for some time, and I’ve blogged about it before. There’s always a question of how much backstory to reveal, and how much turns into long-winded exposition. The balance between the two seems to vary, based on how important the details are and how much you can “show” them instead of “telling” them.

I’m going to keep this in mind as I continue reading this novel, so I can see how the past conflict influences the events to come. I expect Anita is about to get into a lot of trouble with this vampire from her past, and it’ll be interesting to see if the current conflicts are stronger and more compelling based on what I’ve learned of their history together.

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Time and Combat

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way combat is depicted in some books. It’s a common thing to see in most of the books I read. From the huge, epic-scale wars in books like The Wheel of Time, to the wizard-vs-wizard slugfests I’ve been reading recently in The Dresden Files, there’s a lot of battles, big and small. Some of them are dramatic and tense. Some are long and drawn out. Some make me worry about the fate of the protagonist, while other times I’m confident that things will turn out okay. But regardless of the circumstances, the depiction of time during battles can be a tricky thing.

Sometimes I’ll be reading a book when an enemy starts charging forward, then it takes a couple of pages before they actually swing their sword or cast their spell, while the narrator describes every motion in great detail. Other times someone will fire off several gunshots or fireballs in a single sentence, dropping multiple foes at once. It’s almost as if the writing can sometimes move into bullet time, allowing the narrator to paint a detailed picture of the danger that is coming or the style and deadly grace of an opponent. When it’s well-done, it makes me appreciate the precision, speed, and skill of the combatants, whether it be their skill with weapons or their powerful magic. Other times, however, I find myself wondering, “How long does it take someone to pull the trigger?”

This gets more complicated when there’s multiple combatants involved, and each one needs some time in the spotlight. Though Jim Butcher handles that pretty effectively in The Dresden Files. When he writes a battle scene from Harry Dresden’s point of view, Harry usually starts off throwing spells around and kicking some serious magical ass. But then he either runs out of juice (draining his magical energies for his spells), or he gets injured, or in some other way he is briefly sidelined. This allows Harry to observe the action and the carnage, narrating it to the reader, with a reasonable excuse about why he’s taking so long to get up and help his allies. Though it does get to be a little predictable after I’ve seen the same storytelling tactic used multiple times across multiple books.

Another factor that seems to affect how time is portrayed and perceived in a book is how “close” the narration is. In a series like The Dresden Files, everything is being told in the main character’s voice, so the action is told from where he’s standing (or sometimes, where he’s lying on the ground, bleeding). In other stories, however, it’s easier to “zoom out” and narrate a battled from the third person perspective, telling the reader what’s happening across the battlefield all at once. Then, the story can “zoom in” and focus on a specific character and the blow-by-blow duel they’re having with an individual opponent. This seems to be a more effective technique if you want to describe things going on in multiple places at the same time, since the narration could describe events on one side of the battlefield, then the other, even though they’re taking place simultaneously. The reader can innately understand that the narration shifted a few moments back in time to catch us up on what’s happening elsewhere.

This is something I’ll definitely be studying more closely as I continue reading more urban fantasy books. There’s not a lot of “battles” so-to-speak in Manifestation (there’s some fights and action, but nothing on the scale of a massive armed conflict). The later books I’m working on in the series, however, step up the game quite a bit. And the more I read about how fantasy battles are depicted, the more action-packed and intense I can make those future battles. And hopefully, the passage of time during the fights won’t get confusing.

Unless I start writing romance novels, then I don’t have to worry about it.

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Schedule Funk

All of my writing projects have been suffering lately. I’ve only been writing blog posts about twice a month (this is number two). I’ve only managed to work on revisions a couple of times, maybe once a week. I haven’t written any new stories or anything in awhile. And in general, I’m struggling to get back into some kind of regular routine.

I work best when I’m in a set routine. Getting up at a certain time. Writing blog posts certain days of the week. Setting goals on my writing or revisions and not going to bed until they’ve been achieved. Those sorts of habits work well for me . . . when I’m not in a funk. Finishing school, changing jobs, and struggling through “life” has led to quite a funk, and not the psychedelic kind. I have to figure out a way out of this funk and back into a regular schedule.

I can try to get some outside influences to keep me in line (read: friends to nag me until I work), but a lot of my friends are in their own funks, so that seems to be counter-productive. So for starters, I’m going to focus on a small goal. Getting back to three blog posts a week, like I used to do. Blogging about writing is a good way to get me thinking about writing, which in turn can get me in the mood to write. So this could be a good solution to getting through my current funk.

Though a little regular nagging certainly helps too.

Character Gender and Binary Norms

One of the most common questions I get, as a male writer, is “How do you write female characters?” Sometimes it’s asked as a compliment, by someone who thinks I write very believable female characters. Other times it’s asked with the implication that I don’t know what I’m doing and that my characters aren’t realistic. And sometimes it’s another writer who wants to write their own characters more effectively even if they’re a different gender.

My usual answer is that I focus on writing each character as an individual, rather than as a representation of their gender (or for that matter, their race, religion, or sexual orientation). If I tried to write a character to be what I think is a realistic, acceptable portrayal of a Caucasian/Italian teenage lesbian woman, I’d end up with a walking stereotype. But if I write Gabby Palladino, she is an individual, and if there are aspects of her that don’t fit with someone’s expectations, well, that’s life. Not everyone fits within the norm.

Which got me to thinking about how different a lot of my characters are when it comes to where they “fit” when it comes to masculinity/femininity, sexuality, their gender portrayal, and so on. And I realized that each of my main female leads is completely different, so much so that the question “How do you write female characters?” becomes completely irrelevant.

During the course of Manifestation and its upcoming sequel Contamination, there are five main female characters who get significant “screen time”: Gabby Palladino, Tock Zipporah, Dr. Patricia Caldwell, Maelyssa Southeby, and Minori Tsujino. And looking at them, I find it impossible to pin down a single common trait that all five share that could be used to define what makes them female.

Gabby is a feminine, shy, gentle person. She’s a lesbian. She wears feminine-style clothes, skirts, and so on. And she has conservative attitudes towards sex.

Tock is much more masculine, plus she’s a loudmouth and someone who doesn’t take shit from anyone. She’s bisexual. She dresses in practical clothes, jeans, flannel shirts. And she views sex as no big deal; if it feels good, do it.

Dr. Caldwell is classy and professional. She wears business-style clothes, but opts for skirt-suits rather than pants-suits to add a touch of femininity. She has no time for romance because she is a career-minded woman.

Mae is a punk rock skater girl. She wears cut-off denim, heavy metal t-shirts, dark makeup, and lots of (stolen) jewelry. She’s straight, but she hasn’t ever dated and she doesn’t really know much about sex.

Minori is a highly religious, spiritual, pure person. She dresses in conservative, simple, modest clothes. She’s asexual. She believes premarital sex is a sin.

These characters have almost nothing in common. Their personal styles, the way they portray their gender, their views towards sex and relationships, all of it is unique to each individual. And I didn’t make them like this on purpose. Each character simply developed with their own unique traits.

So maybe next time someone asks me, “How do you write female characters?” I should ask them, “Which kind of female characters?” Because no two are alike. Just like no two real people are quite alike. I don’t know what traits people are looking for in a “female character” that they think will define whether that character is believable or not. Or what it is that they think makes me, as a male, incapable of writing a female. Because it doesn’t matter if I write characters who fit into people’s normal perceptions of masculine or feminine traits. What matters is whether people like Gabby, Tock, and the others for who they are. None of them are defined by their gender. And I hope readers will look at them all with an open mind.

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To Celebrate or Wait

Almost every day on Twitter, I see people getting into arguments about LGBT issues. Most of the time, I see these arguments because I follow a lot of LGBT activists who tweet a lot of support and positive messages. These people then get harassed by trolls, and I’m pretty likely to stumble across the argument. It usually ends with me silently blocking the troll and going about my business, because I don’t want to get involved in the argument itself.

Sometimes, however, I read certain trending hashtags, like tonight’s #SCOTUSMarriage tweets. I scrolled through those tweets for awhile, favoriting and retweeting some of the tweets with uplifting and celebratory messages, and blocking anyone who had anything bad to say about marriage equality. Though while I was on my blocking tirade, even though I didn’t engage any of the trolls, I noticed a couple of patterns.

Probably 90% of the people I blocked tonight had either an American flag in their avatar or Twitter banner, or something in their bio that declared them as Christian, Conservative, or a “Patriot.” And it got me thinking about group mindsets, the way they foster negative attitudes under the guise of morals, and how those attitudes are still a source for a lot of very real danger and discrimination against a lot of people.

I’ve written before about how organizations can “normalize” certain immoral behavior, making it seem as if it’s perfectly acceptable. One point I made was that “When a group disguises discrimination behind their “ideals” and their “mission,” it makes it far too easy to convince people that this sort of thing is “normal.”” In other words, if a group, such as a church or political party, claims that they’re following a mission to bring God’s morals to America or to protect the nation from destructive influences, they can end up doing a great deal of harm while hiding behind those missions. People will continue to support these groups because the mission sounds like such a good cause.

Think about it. If someone asked you if you would support a movement to help make the country a better, more moral place, you’d say yes, right? If someone asked you if you would want to protect our nation and its people from harmful influences, you’d also say yes. Words like “protect” and “moral” and “our nation” are meant to stir up all of these unifying, patriotic feelings. They give people a sense that they’re in the right, that they’re pursuing a good, justifiable course of actions.

Except that the alleged “threats” that are supposedly “harming” our nation and its people are really nothing more than different ideas, diverse viewpoints, and much-needed changes to our laws and government. Someone who looks at an issue like the fight for marriage equality, and does so from a neutral standpoint, using critical thinking and careful analysis, should certainly see that the SCOTUS decision is the morally right one. People deserve equal rights to marry whoever they want to, and those rights are protected under the 14th Amendment. The ruling simply confirms this under the law.

And any time I see someone fighting against marriage equality, they always claim to be defending something that isn’t actually being harmed. Some Christians claim the ruling is a violation of their religious rights, even though it has no impact on them or their lives. Some Conservatives claim this will harm the integrity of the nation, though they don’t have any evidence whatsoever to support the idea of this supposed “harm.” But because these people see themselves as defending something that is important to them, they will never listen to reason. They don’t think of themselves as bigots, or homophobes, or people who are attacking the rights of others. They think of themselves as good, moral people who are defending their point of view.

And that’s really sad. Because no one should confuse defending themselves with attacking someone else. It seems like a lot of these people could become the good, moral people they are trying to be, if they just opened their eyes and understood that their actions are harming others.

It’s like a parent who punishes their child for rebellion by enforcing stricter and stricter rules. The parent may think they’re doing what’s right, by trying to protect their child from harm. But as a result, they don’t see the harm they’re doing by taking away a human being’s freedom for self-determination. Even more so if the “harm” is completely imagined, such as if a parent wants their child to go to college, but the child wants the freedom of becoming an artist and traveling the world. In their focus on the things they think of as important–financial stability, a career, and an academic education–the parent isn’t seeing the things that their child finds important–creativity, diverse experiences, and personal growth.

And the thing is, those closed-minded ideas are still out there. The ruling in favor of marriage equality is a great step forward, but there’s a lot of issues that still need to be tackled. Things like more diversity in books, movies, and other media. Violence against racial minorities and people from nonbinary genders and orientations. Discrimination and judgment against people who don’t fit the norm that most of society expects.

The Supreme Court may have given everyone the right to marry, but there are still a lot of places where transgender individuals don’t have the right to use a public restroom. And there’s still a lot of people who have to hide who they are, for fear of being attacked by “good moral Christians” and “proud patriotic Americans” who see anything outside of their binary, heteronormative world as a threat to their lifestyles.

And I don’t know what to do about that.

And it scares me.

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Writing Routines

I’ve blogged from time to time about my writing schedule, the routines I try to set for myself, and my attempts at self-imposed deadlines. I try to get myself into a regular habit, where I work on my writing every day, making continuous progress. The problem is, my schedule with work, school, and life in general lately has been very erratic. It makes it hard to get settled into a regular writing routine.

Most of the time, I don’t even realize how much time has passed until I look at my calendar. I use a system I adopted from other writers online, where I earn a sticker every day that I write. According to my calendar, I’ve only written five blog posts and only revised four chapters of Contamination during the month of June. That’s only nine stickers. This is unacceptable. But every time I try to get myself into a more regular schedule, something falls apart.

It’s possible that I need to try some new habit-forming techniques. My daily to-do lists and my calendar aren’t quite cutting it. But one way or the other, I need to get myself into a regular routine. One where I make steady progress at getting these revisions done. I’ve got what I think is a pretty good story here, but none of you get to read it until I finish the revisions.

If anyone has any suggestions on ways to develop a more regular writing habit, please let me know. What works for you?

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Magic In Your Face

Recently I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It’s an excellent urban fantasy series with a wise-cracking wizard protagonist who fights against vampires, werewolves, evil necromancers, faerie queens, and anyone else that decides they want to make his life miserable. Harry Dresden is the only “professional wizard” living in Chicago–he has an ad in the yellow pages, offering his services as a magical private investigator. Sometimes he investigates supernatural murders that the police can’t handle alone, other times he clears the name of the Faerie Queen of the Winter Court by proving she didn’t assassinate the mystical Summer Knight of the Summer Court. Think Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter.

I’m on the 8th book in the series, plus I’ve read a few of the separate graphic novels. And while I love the series as a whole, there’s one issue that I keep having a problem with.

Like most urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files gives us a modern day world where magic, faeries, vampires, goblins, ghouls, and every other supernatural thing you can imagine are all real. They’re just hidden from “normal people” (muggles) and no one accepts that there’s this entire hidden world out there beyond their perception. Over and over again throughout the course of the series, Harry encounters people who try to deny what they’ve seen. They try to rationalize the supernatural and magical things they experience by explaining them away as hallucinations, by convincing themselves they didn’t see what they thought they saw, or by flat-out denying everything.

There’s a certain extent to which this is understandable, on a case-by-case basis. Someone might be attacked by a ghoul, but convince themselves it was just a maniac wearing a mask. They might see a wizard blast an enemy with a dazzling burst of arcane force, but convince themselves that it was just a gun, a flamethrower, or something else technological. I could see an individual person rationalizing things for themselves so that they don’t come off seeming like they’re crazy. Even in my book, Manifestation, there’s a brief period where the main characters’ parents go through denial about what they’ve seen, saying “We don’t know what it really was.” So I can understand it on an individual basis.

The problem is when it goes on for so long that I no longer believe it’s possible to keep the magic hidden.

Harry Dresden has battled a werewolf (actually a loup garou, but that gets complicated) in front of witnesses at the Chicago Police Department, he’s gotten into magical battles in the city streets in broad daylight, he’s been chased through a hotel by a giant snake demon, and he once even used magic to reanimated a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a giant zombie that he rode through the streets of Chicago’s suburbs while it crushed and ate smaller, human zombies in a battle against a group of necromancers with nigh-godlike-powers.

Eventually these huge public spectacles reach the point where I’m convinced there must be witnesses, and those witnesses can’t all be in denial or considered crazy. Sooner or later, magic has to come out of the shadows and be seen as something real, something that exists, and something that cannot be denied.

I see the same thing happening in any modern setting where magic or supernatural forces are real, from Harry Potter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to just about any vampire or werewolf movie ever made. While it might be realistic to keep things hidden and secret on a small-scale basis, these stories always up the stakes to the point where huge magical battles are taking place in front of hundreds of witnesses, where wizards on broomsticks and flying cars are soaring over the rooftops of major cities, and where there should be thousands of people grabbing their iPhones and snapping pictures of the mystical events taking place right in front of them. Once things reach a certain scale, when the magic is right out there in everyone’s faces, the idea that it can remain hidden just gets unrealistic.

I shrug it off when I’m reading a book like The Dresden Files, because it’s a good series and I can accept that this is the world the author wants to present to me. But sometimes I wish there would be a book where people are forced to accept that magic is real, where they can’t deny it anymore, and where the existence of magic starts to change the entire world. That’s one of the reasons I started writing the Arcana Revived series. Unlike other urban fantasy series, my world starts off as one where magic actually doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as wizards, vampires, faeries, or anything else supernatural. At least, not before the story begins. Then little by little, the magic starts coming back (I didn’t choose the name Arcana Revived just because it sounds cool) and people are forced to deal with it, because it can’t be hidden and it’s not going anywhere. By the end of the second book in particular, magic is starting to change the entire world, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.

I find it more realistic, more fun, and a source of better conflict. After all, how would society react if people all around them suddenly started developing magical powers, and no one knew how to control them? That’s a question I find pretty interesting. And it’ll take me about six books to answer it.

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Review of Breadcrumb Trail by Adam Dreece

Dreece-YellowHoods02CoverI just finished reading Breadcrumb Trail, the second book of The Yellow Hoods by Adam Dreece. It was a fun story, with entertaining characters, and some pretty interesting steampunk-style gadgets and inventions along the way.

The story centers around a group of young teens who call themselves “The Yellow Hoods.” They’re all bright, resourceful kids who can handle themselves in a fight, racing through the woods on sail-powered carts and using electric shock sticks to duel against sword-wielding soldiers. The Hoods get drawn into a conflict between two secret groups of inventors that are manipulating events from behind the scenes, plus there’s a war brewing in the south, a group of dangerous red-hooded outlaws kidnapping children, and a conspiracy to steal the secret plans to the world’s first steam engine.

The writing style is upbeat and fun, with a sense of swashbuckling adventure behind a lot of the action scenes. There’s also a lot of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to fairy tales and fables, from Tee’s grandfather putting on a red coat and handing out toys during Winter Solstice, to the home of the Ginger Lady and her kids, Hans, Saul, and Gretel. Add in a few puns here and there, and the story gives you plenty of chuckles during the more lighthearted moments, though there’s definitely a dark side to some of the conflicts.

The pacing of the story could use a little work, with some of the chapters feeling too short, or some conflicts being resolved before there had been enough tension built up. There were some moments that felt like they were building up towards some good dramatic tension, but some of the impact of that tension can be lost when a chapter ends without hitting the right “cliffhanger moment.” This didn’t take away from the fun of the story, but it did lead to most of the story having a more casual pace, rather than the high-energy, action-packed pace it achieves at certain points.

All in all, the book was fun, entertaining, and intriguing. The inventions and gadgets show a lot of style, from electric shock gloves to compressed air cannons to a rocket-powered whirly-bird. And Tee and her friends are characters you really end up rooting for.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

I just graduated from Rowan University with my Master of Arts degree in Writing. I’ve been in school since Spring of 2012, after going back finally after a long leave of absence. Being in school for so long meant that I always had deadlines and structure imposed upon me by the school. This was especially handy when working on the sequels to Manifestation, two of which were written as part of my school projects (I got A’s on both).

I’ve been trying for awhile to work on revisions for Contamination, the second volume of Arcana Revived. Since this one wasn’t something I was working on for school, there have been times that I had to find the balance between working on revisions on my own time and working on school work. Since the school work had deadlines imposed upon me by my teachers, it usually got the higher priority. Now that school is over, I’m putting Contamination above everything else.

The problem is, now I’m the only one creating my deadlines.

I just missed a self-imposed deadline last week. I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through my third draft of Contamination. I have some notes and feedback from critique partners, and I’m going to be getting more feedback from my Rowan classmates, since we’re keeping in touch and we will be continuing to work together on our writing projects as time goes on. But none of them can force me to stick to a deadline. I’ve got to handle that on my own.

Working through depression makes meeting a deadline a lot harder. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and it’s been particularly bad over the last few weeks. Part of the problem is that I’ve left school and as a result I’ve left the structure of my class schedule. I’m also only employed part time at the moment while I look for a more permanent position somewhere in the publishing field. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time at home, alone, with nothing but my thoughts, my writing, a stack of books, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy.

All in all, it’s been a struggle to meet my personal goals. I’m pretty sure it’ll improve once I’m back in a regular work schedule. When I’m home alone everyday, there’s an extreme lack of structure to my daily routine. This makes it easy to lose track of time and end up spending twelve hours straight trying to restore the Light of Aether to the Luminoth homeworld.But when I have a regular work schedule, it’s a lot easier to work my writing and revising schedule around it, such as by setting aside a couple of hours after I get home from work each night. I need that routine, and once I get into the groove again, my writing and revising process will improve greatly (and hopefully so will my blogging schedule, since I really need to get back into a three day a week blogging routine).

In the meantime, I’m going to keep plugging away as best I can. And if you’re a fan of my first book, I promise I’ll have the second one on its way before long.

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Gal or Fella

There’s a lot of discussion going on lately about LGBT diversity in books and other forms of media. Even with all the ways we’ve made things better over the last few years, there is still a long way to go. It’s important for people, from children to adults, to have strong role models they can relate to, no matter if they are straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or anything else in between. But there are a lot of barriers to achieving that level of diversity, and those barriers exist even in independent works.

It’s one thing when big companies, such as Disney, fail to include LGBT representation in their works. While it would be a huge victory if a company like Disney were to include a nonbinary protagonist in one of their family-friendly animated movies, the fact is that there are tons of producers, corporate managers, and other “gatekeepers” we need to get past in order to make it happen. These gatekeepers continue to operate under the flawed assumption that non-heternormative characters are too “risky” or not “appropriate.” Whatever excuses they make (potential backlash from conservative audiences, reduced sales, etc), the fact is that they refuse to allow greater diversity into the works their companies produce. This means that even if an individual writer were to create a script that included more diversity, there are far too many people at the corporate level who can either force the writer to change the script to be more “traditional,” or simply refuse to produce the script all together.

Independent works don’t have these types of gatekeepers. Whether it be an independently produced film, a self-published novel, or an online comic strip, independent works can be made however the creator wants to make them. However, that doesn’t mean these independent creators won’t face other obstacles along the way.

An example I’ve seen dealing with this issue over and over again recently is The Order of the Stick, written and drawn by Rich Burlew. Rich has been writing The Order of the Stick for over ten years and has published eight graphic novels based on his online work. Recently, he’s been working towards greater inclusion and diversity in his comic, such as by creating a new character who is a lesbian airship captain. He is on the record stating that he feels it is his personal responsibility as an artist to be more inclusive, and that he regrets not showing greater diversity when his comic first started. For example, when the comic first began, there was only one female main character out of a cast of six, and she was often portrayed in an over-sexualized manner. According to posts he has made on the site’s forums (which are indexed here), he is now doing what he can to correct mistakes from his earlier writings and to use his comic to deliver a positive social message. One of his more noteworthy posts on the matter states:

I have the social privilege that allows me to be heard and now I have the commercial success to weather the consequences thereof, so therefore I have a responsibility to say something. To do otherwise would be self-serving cowardice.

Unfortunately, Rich suffers a great deal of backlash from people who seem more closed-minded and resistant to the idea of diversity in the comic. Many of these people veil their protests as complaints about the “quality of the writing” or what they feel is “hamfistedly shoving a message at us.” Yet either way, these people are saying that they believe Rich should not be including as much diversity in his writing, regardless of the reasons they give for their protests.

The most recent example of these protests came after The Order of the Stick #983, “A Healer’s Reason.” In this comic, one of the main characters, Durkon Thundershield, is going through an internal struggle between his real self and an evil vampiric spirit that has taken over his body (vampires in The Order of the Stick are similar to those in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in that when a vampire is formed, a new spirit takes over the “shell” of the victim’s dead body). The vampiric spirit is searching through Durkon’s memories, and comes across a memory of Durkon talking to his mother before he decided to become a priest. At one point in the dialogue, his mother says, “All I really want is fer ye ta grow up an’ find a nice gal or fella ta settle down with.”

To me, this is a sweet line that shows us that Durkon’s mother is someone who is supportive and loves him no matter what his sexual orientation might be. I think it sets a good example of how parents should be with their children, and that we need to see this kind of message more often. Personally, I applaud Rich for writing it this way.

Protests against this line of dialogue started on the forums, with people saying things like,:

“That felt really kinda forced. I mean is there any mother who would actually say that to their own little-kid son? In casual conversation?”

“. . . it didn’t feel REAL because it was too directly connected to what’s going on in our own world.”

“What sucks about this gal/fella thing is that it feels like Giant was intimidated by the SJW community enough to put an out of character remark, just in case someone takes offence from a sentence that they shouldn’t. “

“This was definitely an awkward word choice that clumsily promoted a social agenda on Rich’s part.”

“I disapprove of the [author] teaching things to my face, if he really wanna do it he’d better do it subtly. The subject doesn’t matter. “

You’ll notice a lot of lines on the posts I linked that have been {scrubbed}. This means that the person in question said something particularly offensive or in some way violating the forum’s code of conduct, such as bringing real-world politics into the debate about the fictional comic world. I also picked out what I felt were some of the more directly offensive and/or argumentative lines from the discussion, so it’s worth noting that a lot of the forumgoers had much more supportive, open-minded, or neutral viewpoints than those expressed above. But enough people were against the idea of a mother suggesting her son find “a nice gal or fella” that it led to a debate which spanned approximately 1000 posts before the comic’s author locked it down and put a stop to it.

What’s interesting, if you take the time to read through the entire discussion, is how the people protesting the inclusive line go a long way to say they’re (supposedly) not protesting inclusiveness itself. Instead, they claim they’re defending art and story and good writing, and claiming that when the author “forces” his message on them, he’s hurting his work. But after reading through all of these arguments, I’ve come to a conclusion: the people protesting the inclusive lines are trying to normalize their prejudiced behavior. In other words, they don’t want to admit that they have biases, so they hide behind arguments that “the wording felt awkward” or that “a good story is more important than a moral lesson” and so on.

Which means that an indie creator faces two different obstacles: One, dealing with the backlash they’ll get from people who don’t approve of their attempts to show greater diversity; and Two, the way some people will try to separate the art itself from the politics, moral messages, and values that the art portrays. Quite a few people in that message thread stated that they feel a “good story” should be one that is entertaining and appealing to the audience and that anything that detracts from that is a bad thing. Yet these people, aside from any biases and bigotry they might show, fail to realize that art has always existed as a form of social commentary and a way to spread important political and moral messages.

Painters like Pablo Picasso have used their art to protest against wars and violence. Singers and musicians have done the same thing with their music. And even comic books have been used to spread political messages. I think that many people would agree that the most memorable and significant works of art, books, songs, movies, and so on have always been those that have some deeper meaning and teach us something about the world around us. And yes, you can show that deeper meaning even if you’re telling a story about magic and wizards and dragons and vampires.

And if people try to tell you it seems forced . . . well, maybe they’re the ones who need to rethink the meaning of the stories they read.

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