Thinks / January 10, 2019 Writing the Other

Full disclosure: I am a straight white cisgender male and I am likely going to step in a big pile of poo over the next 12 months, but I’m just gonna keep on walkin’.

The Anti-Anti-Anti-Christs is an experimental fiction project where the reader defines the cast and watches the action play out. The hero can be John Doe, or it can be Jane Doe, or it can be Takeshi Doe or really anything you like. And that’s before you assign pronouns, which change things even more.

Why do this? Well, part of it is thanks to Geena Davis, who likes to say “If she can see it, she can be it” — talking primarily about girls in media, but I’m expanding the scope a little. One of my goals is to make a story where, if you feel like there aren’t enough [you] represented in media, then you can make it happen. Just define and go.

But that leads to a tricky situation, because (as mentioned) I’m a SWCM, and what the hell do I know about [you]? Can/should I be writing about [you]? How can a character conceived as [A] exist as [B] or [C] with any kind of truth to it?

The answer took a lot of unpacking of my (and my hero’s) privilege, and contemplation of my real intentions with this work. The result has two parts to it: first, the acknowledgement that this is popcorn fiction, so I won’t even try to address complex societal issues in it. It’s a story about wildly unrealistic things, being done by wildly exaggerated people. This admission is a bit of an absolution, but still not enough.

The second part was actual hard work: I had to create a character whose only solid anchors are that they live in North America, are in a long-term relationship, and earn enough at their job to be able to buy an apartment of some kind. Beyond that, every socio-pertinent detail is carefully stripped away; there are definitely a ton of privileges left lurking about, but only the ones that were necessary to the story.

But that still only gets us partway: if your story stars a black woman, I can’t synthesize the life experience that formed who she is, just like I can’t understand what it’s like to be a gay man, or a transgender woman, or a half-Japanese immigrant from Australia. First of all, I’d have no idea how to start… but even just on a practical level, it’d be absolute hell to program that much variation into this sucker.

Which means the missing piece in this experiment is you. You define your hero, their lover, their partner and their nemesis. It’s a leap of faith (and/or added labour for you) but if I did my job right, when the hero decides to risk everything to save innocent lives… the reasoning should be drawn from your experiences. You’ve got to imprint your life and imagination onto these characters to make them real.

I’m not writing the Other, I’m just suggesting their trajectory. I’m hoping I’ve made this just enough of a blank slate that you really can create your own story out of it. I’m really curious to hear how it works for you… and if it doesn’t, why? Drop me a line or leave a comment, either way.