We all know what it feels like to be restricted by literary conventions, but we all have this tiny voice inside our heads that screams out things like, “Why can’t we do this! Why do we have to do this! Can’t I just write like I want?”
I’ve recently gotten a bit of a question and a request about how to deal with writing marginalized characters outside of your identity while still balancing respect with the feeling that you may or may not have to hand-hold the broader audience.
Kwame Appiah’s 2017 presidential address for the Modern Language Association, “Boundaries of Culture” tackles several ideas that have seeped into literary theory and literary studies and, therefore, shape the way we are encouraged to read.
If you have studied literary theory, I know you find yourself looking at a work with a critical eye sometimes, and I know that critical eye can take away from the way you want to simply just enjoy the work rather than rake it over for hints and flaws and threads to unravel. I do it all the time, and I’m not just talking out of my ass, here. But even though Appiah seems to be having birthing pains to his thoughts throughout this entire address, his points about criticism are easily applied and incredibly relevant. (Sorry if you’re reading this professor :P)
Selene, should I adopt a pen name? And if I don’t, how do I worry less about what people will say about my work and just CREATE IT? –Sarah Rose
I think that it’s entirely obvious that I’m a super massive fan of pen names, but instead of telling you what you should do, I’ll just give you some thoughts that I have on the matter along with some articles that list pros and cons. But instead of being like every single other article on pen names, I’m going to go into some of the current uses and talk about issues surrounding pen names.
Monday, I’ll post a fairly lengthy article about pen names!
With any luck, I’ll post an article the next Monday on the 2017 MLA Presidential Address “Boundaries of Culture” by Kwame Appiah complete with full (probably still biased) summary since this article isn’t available anywhere without payment, but if I can somehow upload a link to a Google Drive, I’ll do that.
The next article after that will either be a guest article or a shared article if I can’t manage to finish the article on Writing Marginalized Characters.
By Alexi Scheiber (@AlexidoesArt on twitter, instagram, and tumblr)
Selene was kind enough to let me write a guest article! I study animation, and representation is a constant topic that I grapple with in my writing and filmmaking. I talk a lot about these issues with Selene, but this was one I’ve been thinking about expressing myself for awhile, and the catalyst that made me want to intrude on my friend’s writing blog was the new trailer for Heathers, 2018.
I’ve been struggling with my work, and I’ll be the first to admit that. However, I know I’m not the only person that struggles with finding worth in what I write. This isn’t a rehash of “Is It Worth It?” but, rather, a look into what I find is the essence of any story, which ultimately allowed me to have a breakthrough after three stagnant months with my work.
Personal growth and personal fulfillment.
This might as well have a subtitle that says “A Reflection on Ready Player One” or “Ready Player Don’t.” I’ve been trying to find the words for weeks and weeks to write a post, but really, I’ve had no inspiration other than to be completely utterly incensed by the dreadful mediocrity that is a bestseller and, now, a movie. It’s not just confined to this one work, by any means, but I feel like this travesty of 385 pages is exemplary of the exact problem that plagues the writing field.
I ended up agonizing over whether or not something I’d written was through the lens of sexual objectification rather than a loving exchange between two characters. I ended up getting a few sensitivity reads, but I didn’t exactly trust their judgment because I thought there was something so inherently wrong about what I’d done that it couldn’t be right. When one of my friends asked me what exactly was bothering me, I couldn’t tell her and went around the issue over and over again because I didn’t know what it was. Something was off. Eventually, knowing me like she and my partner do, they guided me into explaining that I was afraid of emulating the male gaze, which for those of you who aren’t sure what that is, it’s essentially presenting women as objects for consumption by a typically male audience.
I had a miniature existential crisis because, for all my talk and writing, I was still afraid that after over 500k words of sapphic writing, I was still trying to make my female characters appealing for men (which might I say, I would rather die than do. )
So why do I question myself? Because of the media with which I have grown, certainly.
I think that violence has become a way of life for almost all young people, whether it’s physical violence or violence of hatred (which can also be physical, but I also mean the mental strain on minorities). It seems that now, of all times in my life at least, there’s more violence than ever. Recognizing that aspect of daily life and inserting it into YA fiction makes it more widely available to provide escapist and cathartic outlets.