My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, December 30, 2019

25 Jackwads Who Show Up On Every Post About How to Write Something Oft Problematically Portrayed

Whether it's how to portray an asexual or trans character with some humanity and nuance, what gustatory adjectives people of color are getting tired of reading every time their physical features are described, how tired readers are of having sexual assault be the backstory of so many "strong female characters," or an indigenous culture that is tired of being reduced to a handful of tired tropes and clichés about archaic melee weapons and broken English, you can't post advice on how to be a better writer of certain groups without the usual suspects showing up to put their jackwaddery on breathtaking display.

For me, of course, this happens on my Facebook page, but you can watch such jackwad reactions unfold on Reddit or Tumblr or anywhere someone might have the brazen nerve to write up a list of suggestions for how writers could be a little more sensitive about what they're writing.

This is just an example of what I'm talking about.
It's not comprehensive, and a couple of people have even
said they think it misses some things.
But the important thing is they want to add nuance to it for
EVEN BETTER representation.
Of course, these jackwads are telling on themselves when they holler like this.

You notice they don't say it's BAD advice or that it's inaccurate. They do not simply quietly ignore it. They leverage their social power to make sure, in a very public way, that they mock the very IDEA of more positively representing another group.

Most people who see advice on how to better portray a demographic would delight in tucking that advice into their pockets and use it to write a better character. But these folks don't want to write a better character. They want to write the same old trope-laden-cliché bullshit again and again without thinking too hard about it, and without having to hear a peep from the folks who don't like seeing negative schlocky portrayals over and over again. And the reason the same couple dozen or so arguments show up over and over again like clones of the thousands before is that this is a script of a power dynamic. They may not be the "Capital B" Bigots of the highest order with transparent and naked bigotry but they aren't willing to expend the effort to unpack how representation matters and tropey portrayals contribute to cultural misconceptions and legitimately harm people's lives. Whether they are just dedicated SQuiDs or genuine asshole bigots who know better than to say the quiet part out loud, they are jackwads who immediately begin to defend their right (and to hear them speak of it, practically their OBLIGATION) to portray people with the worst sort of writing.

  1. That's not really a thing.//No one really thinks that.//What a load.//BS. It's difficult to imagine a less logical position (particularly from someone who most likely holds themselves in quite high esteem for being a "rationalist") than to look at a post by a person with a zillion jubilant replies of "THANK YOU" and to then assert that "no one" thinks that, it isn't real, or it is somehow being faked. Logically that statement was wrong with one person and became absurd with dozens and hundreds. Such replies really are the most basic (and I do mean BASIC) response by those with social power when they encounter something they don't want to exist. They simply deny that it does.
  2. Who cares? Isn't it a little obvious who cares? Do you really need help with this one? I mean there's the post and all its replies. You have usernames and everything. I know what you really mean WHO CARES THAT I THINK MATTERS (and you probably want to unpack how assholish that is of you), but if the people tired of seeing folks like them portrayed badly, their family and friends, folks who care about good representation, writers interested in not being cliché wranglers, [*inhales deeply*] and discerning readers are not enough to make YOU care, see above about unpacking your assholery.
  3. This is censorship. It takes a special kind of entitlement to believe that a post handing you advice on how to voluntarily write a better character IF YOU SO CHOOSE is somehow censoring you. You know you can just go right on writing your shitty portrayals, right? No one's going to stop you. It might not even stop your book deal, and if you're willing to stay off the internet, you may not ever have to have your tender fee-fees even wibble. Or are you using that special meaning of "censorship" so common among the powerful where it means "I have had my attention drawn to something I do that someone doesn't like, and I'm going to blame them for having the audacity to mention it." (Because you might want to consider how pathologically ABUSIVE that is....just in general.)
  4. Don't tell me how to write. Oh you mean you're not interested in writing better characters? You don't want more nuanced, human, and authentic portrayals of groups other than what you consider "default human" (probably white, probably male, probably cis and het)? You are content to use clichés and tropes and be kind of a lackluster mediocre writer? Strange corner of the internet to be hanging out if you don't like writing advice. Very strange indeed.
  5. Why so political (all of a sudden)? Calling the request for good media representation "politics" tends to reveal that one is probably white, cis, het, and usually male, just so you know. People tend to think of politics as this avoidable esoteric category of activity that doesn't affect every aspect of their lives when they aren't in the groups who have a strong vested, possibly life-or-death interest in political outcomes. These are lifelong struggles for some folks, and the fact that people these issues don't affect relegate them merely to the realm of "politics" is intended to be an insult. (As if the higher virtue is to be apolitical––a decidedly privileged perspective.) It's probably also not "all of a sudden."  You are just noticing it for the first time. Possibly because a lifetime of effort spent carefully consuming media in which you never had to notice it before (or could ignore allegories all damn day) is beginning to fall apart.
  6. Why are we pandering? I know you mean that word to be "bad" but consider that you're saying you don't want to gratify or indulge someone who simply wants to see a better representation of folks like them in your medium. ("You could write people like me better. Here let me give you a very simple primer on how." "NO! I shan't pander to your desire for....moving and nuanced portrayals. I want only to be a cheap hack of a writer who trades in overdone tropes and bigotry.") We "pander" because that's what good writers do. We care about getting a portrayal that isn't a caricature. If you want to be a shitty writer, go sit in the corner and never let anyone tell you how you could better describe humanity.
  7. Maybe I just won't write them at all! I suspect the folks in question would absolutely like no representation better than bad representation. However, since I know you'll be right back here with big tears after you get your first reviews that NOW everybody's upset that your writing is homogenous and has no diversity, maybe you should recognize how spectacularly, breathtakingly petulant it is to respond to some macro with a couple dozen bullet points worth of advice by taking your ball and going home.
  8. You need a REASON to make the character like this at all. Oops. You just told on yourself. (Again.) You have now admitted that you have a "default human" in your head. So strip away all the characteristics for which one would need a "reason" (race, some gender other than cis, maybe sexuality), and what have you got? Is it a straight white dude? Does everything else need "a really good literary reason"? So I ask you: what is the "reason" for having a straight white guy? Why do you need a "reason" to have a member of humanity represent the vast and varied diversity that humanity has to offer? 
  9. I don't mind X, but it shouldn't be the person's whole character development. It's sort of funny (not really) the way 8 and 9 move in pairs like the Sith. Make a character incidentally from a group and you had no "reason." Make their identity in that group part of the story and "you're making it all about THAT." It's almost as if—bear with me here—there's something else going on. It's ALMOST as if—bear with me—they can't win. Only some absolutely perfect (to them) representation that is neither too trivial nor too vital can ever count. Besides…..it is painfully apparent that status quo warriors demanding a marginalized identity not be part of character development have had few or zero friends from these groups. These folks may have other things going on, but the world around them is going to force them to make that decision over and over and over and it absolutely becomes part of their character. JFC, get a non-token friend or something.
  10. No wonder no one bothers. So many rules! It's just sooooo hard not to offend someone. Most of these posts are a half dozen to a dozen things literally listed in bullet points. They are a handful of pitfalls to avoid. It's time to pull up your big kid pants and fortify. You learned all the Pokemon in a weekend and the rules for Blitzball so you could get ALL the Ultimate weapons; you can piece this together and stop conflating your unwillingness to be a better person with the difficulty of actually learning how to do so.
  11. It's what sells, cupcake. Get over it. Is it, though? The outrageous success of things like The Ancillary trilogy, The Broken Earth trilogy, The Inheritance trilogy, The Handmaid's Tale or movies like Wonder Woman or Black Panther, and even better representation in once-lilly-white franchises like Star Wars seem to.....challenge this assertion. Positive representation sells well if for no other reason than it will be GOBBLED up by the folks who get to see themselves represented accurately for a change.
  12. That's why I write SF/F. Yeah, no one is actually fooled by this, and SF/F readers are not exactly slow on the metaphor uptake. If you are othering a race in science fiction or fantasy, particularly in EXACTLY the way that some actual group in our society is othered, your cunning dodge will not be as cunning or as dodgy as you think.
  13. How about I just write a good character? How about you DO? Here's a list of ways to do exactly that and avoid writing a shitty cliché. That's what you meant, right? Because literally that's what the post is trying to help you do. Isn't it funny (not really) the way people walk past thousands of generic writing advice posts/articles/pages about how to portray a character with absolutely nothing to say, but suddenly have a great and abiding concern for the quality of portrayals when the discussion shifts to good representation.
  14. That's just how it is. Stereotypes are based on truth. (Sanitizing this horrible thing is bad.) Think really hard about this one––how do you know that? You're looking at a post or macro or something by someone who is straight up telling you this isn't true (or this has some nuance that we'd like acknowledged), and it probably has a zillion responses from other people in that group saying "Yes, thank you" or "YES!" or something like that. So what exactly are you basing your belief on? 
  15. This is just how we talk about it. This is how WHO talks about it? Other people who are not in this group? White people describe a lot of other folks using food descriptors (almond eyes, mocha skin, olive complexion) and are told repeatedly that it's fetishizing and would they please stop doing it. "But other people do it," they whine. No, other WHITE people do it, continue to do it, and don't really stop. And maybe that's the problem that is being addressed? 
  16. This PC garbage is just a trend. If by "trend" you mean that people have been screaming about this for their entire lives and you have recently had to be exposed to it because the advent of social media democratizes voices and prevents you from living in a curated world that is sanitized from the reactions to bad portrayals, then...sure. "Trend."
  17. It's historically accurate. You see this a lot when people want to have no people of color in their vaguely European-based (ish) fantasy stories or they want to subject the women to all sorts of sexual assault. First of all, it's probably not as accurate as you think. I don't know what history you're writing, but even a casual look at primary sources is probably going to alter what you THINK is true about history, probably from reading too many stories like the one you want to write. The time of lily-white Europe where no one came up from Africa to trade or maybe settle simply doesn't exist. Further, you're standing there with a straight face talking about a land with dragons and magic and potatoes (look it up), but saying you want to be "historically accurate" about the sexual violence and racism? 
  18. What is appropriative about X? Appropriation probably could be (and has been....and will be again) its entire own post, and it is, at best, a super complicated issue where you're never going to get a monolith of agreement from any given group. But if someone is taking the time to tell you something makes them uncomfortable because they think you are appropriating their culture, you can't just Jedi mind trick them by saying "No no. It's appreciation." It's not that you can't include whatever the hell is anyway. The book police won't come and arrest you. You'll just have to deal with angry reviews and think pieces called: "We need to talk about [that shitty appropriative aspect of your novel]." What you really want, and what you need to come out and be honest and open about, is that you never want to have to hear about it and you think pretending you don't understand will work. But if you can wrap your head around "stolen valor" or your friend getting an A for copying your homework, you already GROK it. You just don't WANT to grok it. 
  19. Just because you don't like it, doesn't mean everybody else doesn't. Well, I can think of at least one group that isn't covered by "everybody." And if you want to cater to people ("pander," you might even say) who like their representation full of clichés and dehumanization, you may want to consider that you are facilitating OTHER jackwads who mostly just want to spend less (no) time examining their prejudice and bigotry.
  20. This is just forced diversity. Yes. The post in question reached through the Internet and jammed an assault rifle through your monitor and up your nose. You no longer have free will to ignore it, use your scroll wheel, write what you want, or just go on about your day with a smile and a Coke. You must now add well-represented characters to your book (you poor lamb). Your decision to be a better writer and human has been taken from you. What HAS the world come to?
  21. They should learn to be less fragile. Like not freaking out at a post suggesting that they could be doing better? Or do you mean even MORE "less fragile" than that? I'm not sure you know what "fragility" means, but standing up to the power structures of people with social power, "the way it's always been done," and the sheer unadulterated jackwadery of internet anonymity to say "you are doing this wrong, and I'd like you to do better" isn't actually "fragile." Have you seen the comments on these posts and how much abuse these people take for having suggested they and theirs could be written better? These people are fucking getting the "Daaaaaaamn" nod of respect from Karna and Atalanta. 
  22. You're the real bigot to even bring this up. No, that's not how this works. That's not how any of this works. A world sequestered from the very mention of groups and their concerns only benefits people who don't ever want to THINK about the impact of their portrayals or feel bad if their representation is bad. (And it is.......bad I mean.)
  23. It's just a story. Of all the people in the world, a writer should know better. A writer should know that there's no goddamned thing as "just a story." Media representation has everything in the world to do with how folks are perceived. Lest we forget that every pinnacle of human achievement and every atrocity we commit to the dungeons labeled "Dark History" all began with the justification....of a story.
  24. How about I write what I want? You already CAN write what you want, jackwad. That's the whole point. No one's going to stop you. They're just going to talk about it (and you) when you're done, so if you don't give a shit what they say, do whatever you fuck you want. All someone has done here is have the audacity to wish for better representation and provide you with a primer on how to do that. If the idea that you could take five minutes out of your schedule to learn how to write a better character is so anathema that you have to get in their face for doing so, and make sure they know you absolutely won't even consider their advice, you might want to get back to unpacking that assholery. (And mediocre writing, TBH). 
  25. If you want to see that, why don't you write it yourself! Well, first of all, they do. And in case anyone is keeping score, the same jackwads suddenly get fifty thousand shades of sensitive to where and when and how their group is portrayed in such work. But also they have more hoops and hurdles to go through to get such a work published. Because gatekeepers will turn around and say all this same bullshit. And while "write your own book" has been the response of many to the suggestion that they're getting something wrong, it's never EVER been a particularly good look coming from someone with power sneering at someone without.

So remember the other day when you were asking me the definition of irony......


  1. Brilliant post, as usual. I do have to say (and this is coming from a cis, white, female writer), the bit about it being hard not to offend someone can be paralysing for a while. I spent months not describing anyone's skin tone in my novel because I didn't want to offend people, but one of my characters was Black, except no one knew it but me.

    Then George Floyd happened, I realised I had to do better and "I was afraid I'd offend someone" was a piss-poor excuse not to unequivocally let readers be represented in my work. Fear sucks, is the takeaway lesson, but we must get over it. And, if we inadvertenly offend someone, we learn from it, genuinely apologise, and do better next time.