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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Writerly Non-Sex Kinks M-Type Thing

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet

"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Writerly Non-Sex Kinks M-Type Thing

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art not war
Taken from Oshun ...

Name five ‘non-sexual kinks’ you have as a reader/writer: that is, five writing techniques, themes, settings, or character types that really draw you into a story. (If they are different for you as a reader than as a writer, please name both!)

1. I love characters that I loathe and yet empathize with. I remember once reading a Joyce Carol Oates' novel (I forget the title because her titles tend to be ridiculously unmemorable to me) where I found myself simultaneously nauseated by the PoV character and yet far enough into his headspace to understand his reasoning and motivation. It left me feeling a little greasy and quite disturbed, as when this happens, it is always a reminder of how a slight change in circumstance could eradicate what we believe is best about ourselves and leave us someone we would loathe in our current circumstances. It is also a reminder that almost everyone finds a way to live with themselves. This has long been my approach as a writer: Every character, no matter how heinous his or her deeds, has to be able to fall asleep at night. Eventually, at least. This is very often a starting place for me when writing a character.

2. Imagery, metaphor, and precision in language. I love a writer who wields these in such a way that an otherwise nice but ordinary scene comes to life in a new way or where new connections are made between perception and meaning. I love writing where I savor the words like wine. (Not a particularly great metaphor!) I try to be that writer too; I often play a game with myself where I look at a person or a place and ask myself, "If I had to describe this, how would I do it?" I love writing where the writer chooses a word where I find myself thinking that there is no better possible word to communicate what she or he is trying to say. I have a theory that I call the language layer cake about the varying layers of meaning to a word; when a word hits spot on for all these layers, I am usually reduced to a happy sighing pile of joy.

3. Flashback. I sometimes worry that I overuse this in my stories, but I can't help myself; it's how I write and always have! My stories tend to snake back and forth between present and past, with past events (hopefully) illuminating present circumstances. I suppose this clicks for me as a reader too; I remember reading novels as a teenager and getting excited whenever I'd see a long block of italic text, thinking, "Yay FLASHBACK!!!!" (Interestingly, having heard from my once-upon-a-time-typesetter/printer-turned-computer-geek father for years and years that overuse of italics is a no-no because italics are harder to read than normal text, I dislike using italics for flashbacks. It is, indeed, wearying on the eyes to read more than a few lines of it. Also, I trust my readers to be smart enough to make that leap with me. So I guess that is an anti-kink that was once a kink when I was a teenager, because it signaled a flashback coming on. Flashbacks sans italics I still love.)

4. Complex situations. This sounds kind of dumb, and I'm having a hard time pinning down how exactly to say what I mean. I suppose I would sum it up by saying that I love to read and try to write stories where it is clear that no situation has a single interpretation and where every character would tell it a little differently. In Silmfic, it is a favorite tactic of mine to take a situation we all think we know well and tell it from the PoV of a character whose viewpoint very obviously wasn't the one represented in the texts. Just like complex characterization, I like the sense of discomfort that this provokes; the reminder that a situation that seems so clearly "right" or "wrong" to me seems so clearly the opposite to someone else. As an idealistic person, I rely on the strength of my convictions, and I like fiction that challenges the unshakeable basis of perceived rightness. In Silmfic specifically, I love stories that play on the idea that Tolkien developed throughout his writings of his tales having their origins in the oral and historical traditions of the societies that he represents and present how familiar texts might be seen from a different perspective.

5. Women without swords. This one has developed over the years (The Work of Small Hands being my first conscious attempt to do this) but has become an approach to writing women that I really enjoy: How women shape their worlds using the means allowed to them within sexist or misogynist societies that do not involve stepping into typically masculine roles. Too often lately, it seems the need to include more women in fiction involves plopping a gal in armor and handing her a sword and assuming that this makes her a strong, powerful, and admirable character. But this really isn't how it works in the real world the vast majority of the time. Since becoming a teacher--and I am presently the only woman teacher in my school--at a school dominated by very physically imposing men, I have realized the strength and power that I can wield that makes me effective with my students where my male colleagues are not. Women often face obstacles because of being women as well, and one cannot simply hack away those obstacles with a sword. Stories that represent those struggles realistically--not stories that erase those struggles as though that erases sexism and misogyny--very much appeal to me.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • Women without swords!

    I grew up in an environment of strong, opinionated, capable, and powerful women, who did not from a distance appear to be breaking boundaries. (Although my mother was the carpenter, electrician and plumber in our household, my dad did not know how to hold a hammer.) So I do understand how women shaped their environment in a world in which they not have the rights and resources we have today. I wish the word "kick ass" were not so widely used. But my mother and my grandmothers were formidable women. And its a class question too--men turned over their paychecks to the wife and mother of his kids! None of this middle-class stuff where the wife knows nothing about the family finances either! (My dad got an allowance and it wasn't much!)

    It is much too cheap and easy to take a quasi-medieval world and put a sword or a bow in a female character's hand and say, 'Whew! Done and done! strong woman accomplished.' Not actually. Give me more--her fight was harder and her victories more meaningful.

    Plus, ducking flying tomatoes from Tumblr here, if and when she existed, she looked a lot more like Brienne of Tarth from Games of Thrones, than Peter Jackson's Tauriel. In fact, Gwendoline Christie is rather too pretty for book Brienne. Yet, I love that character, because she is not prettified. I liked Tauriel in the Hobbit film a lot more than I thought I would, but she still seems a bit too Disneyfied for my taste.

    There are a ton of powerful women to look at in history--people have seen my short list before (which tends to be politcal, others know more about women in science)--and its not so difficult to imagine the oceans of less well-known women and their reality. Again it requires more thought to build a realistic woman character who meets challenges with purpose and determination than to simply put weapon in her hand.

    I also come from the generation of feminists who fought for the right of women to do men's physical work--in auto plants, steel mills, coal mines, and the construction trades, etc. We won those legal battles and that is very important. However, all of my closest friends, political activists, who sought employment in those areas ended up hurt to a woman. Not every woman has the upper body strength of a man. (I would not recommend performance enhancing or body-building drugs either!) But it was important to win those battles to give women those choices and to get the laws on the books which defended women's right to work in a myriad of jobs which had been sealed off from them historically.

    Women had and have the tools and/or can develop them, which allow them to have an effect upon their world that do not require superior size or strength. Women and property questions, how babies are made and, therefore, the need to determine paternity, is fairly recent on this planet, although it looms large looking back at recorded history. I just wish writers would put some serious thought into women characters.
    • I wish the word "kick ass" were not so widely used.

      I prefer "badass" myself. ;) All kidding aside, I can hold my own physically, especially "for a girl"--I have picked up and physically relocated students much larger than me during fights--but I do not see that as the source of my strength.

      In theory, I have no problem with a woman in a warrior/fighting role--I likewise adore Brienne's character, one of the only characters whose book chapters I actually look forward to, and she is marvelous on the show as well--but this rings very true to me:

      It is much too cheap and easy to take a quasi-medieval world and put a sword or a bow in a female character's hand and say, 'Whew! Done and done! strong woman accomplished.'

      One of the reasons that I like Brienne's character so much is because, even though he made her very "kick-ass," GRRM also doesn't shy away from the implications of a woman in such a role in such a place as Westeros. She is a woman who can't win: She is mocked when she tries to be feminine, and she is mocked when she dons armor and picks up a sword. As much as I complain about GRRM's writing generally, one thing I do think he did very well is how he writes woman characters (even if there is sometimes an almost leering tone when he writes about misogyny that squicks me a little bit ... but that could just be me).

      I had Tauriel and the fuss surrounding her in mind when I wrote #5. Especially since PJ originally had in mind--and even filmed!--Arwen's involvement at Helms Deep, so he seems precisely the kind of offender I had in mind for #5! :D I also minded her less in the film than I thought I would, but I also wish that if PJ felt he needed to add a major woman character to the trilogy--and I understand why he did and agree with him in principle--then he would have considered one in a non-combat role, and one who didn't ultimately end up a love interest for one of the male characters. I agree with what was said at Mythmoot about Tauriel serving in a role that will bring people (who tend to be isolationist) together ... but Legolas had a mum! That role could have gone to her in a diplomatic capacity and been very interesting, to see how she acts on her husband, son, and people. (I know ... I am doing what I hate when people read my stories and wishing something written as I would have done it!)

      Women had and have the tools and/or can develop them, which allow them to have an effect upon their world that do not require superior size or strength.

      Yes. And that's part of why I've enjoyed writing Silm women lately (although I haven't been able to get involved in Elleth's challenge yet ... :^\). Physically overpowering something is not interesting to me. Working within relationships and political circumstances to achieve something is.
  • I very much agree about women without swords.
    • They're so much more interesting (and relatable, as a woman who tries to be nonviolent), imo! :)
  • Women without swords is such a good trope, and definitely wins in terms of the realism department. This is one of the things I enjoyed very much about Game of Thrones, and just tonight I read a quote by Sophie Turner describing Sansa as quietly learning from her ordeals and outmatching her tormentors in the game, which is just as good an example as The Work of Small Hands is (still one of the fics that I keep aspiring to match in my own way someday).

    I like women with swords as well - but when I write them, I try to make very sure that they face realistic consequences for their actions, too (especially talking Tolkien) - probably even harsher ones than if they'd assume power/influence through more supposedly non-threatening and female-coded roles (my Maitimë has very non-flattering things to say right now - not fit for print). Without a struggle for the right to wield a sword in the first place, that story is wishful thinking... which can be wonderful in the right mood, but not ultimately very satisfying, so your point still stands, in a way.
    • Yes, I too like women with and without swords ... I just protest that the "with" version seems (in pop culture anyway) to be the default to satisfying the demand for stronger female characters. Speaking of GRRM, I just mentioned to Oshun up-thread that Brienne is an excellent example of a woman-with-sword that really works for me. (GRRM's writing generally makes me grit my teeth, but I look forward to Brienne's chapter and also love how she's been handled on the show.) She doesn't simply pick up a sword and own the world. That decision has consequences for her in a society with traditional female gender roles, and Brienne often feels to me like a character who just can't win. As a woman-with-sword, she is comfortable in her own skin ... and mocked. As a woman-trying-to-be-a-lady, she is uncomfortable ... and still mocked.

      I like your example of Sansa. I see so much Sansa hate out there, but she is a young girl (despite the actress being much older than the character) in a dangerous place and utterly without friends. That she has survived as long as she has when much of her family has not speaks to a resourcefulness and strength that also makes her a character I find so interesting. (Actually, for all my griping about GRRM's books, I do love his woman characters and generally suffer through the chapters from a male PoV while generally enjoying those from a female PoV. I had never realized that before ...)
  • Word on #5. It's sadly common in YA to present your heroine either as this cardboard cutout pining for her True Love, or a badass Action Girl with an arsenal of tricks. I dunno if you've read or would like Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic (Emelan) series, but her female characters are stupendous. Her Tortall books are great, too, but nearly every one of her protagonists can fight with weapons in that 'verse, which has problems of its own.

    ETA: Also, while I'm at it, Emily Rodda, enough said.

    Edited at 2014-04-15 06:08 am (UTC)
  • 5. I like something like this, too, except in my case I would call it "women without machismo." (I think I am pretty poorly read in contemporary fantasy, because I have never seen this cheap "woman with a sword" thing in print. I mean, Arya and Brienne do have their own struggles, and characters like Katniss Everdeen or Katherine from the Riverside books or Angua from Pratchett are not set up to be a straight-on match for physically powerful men, but are given some compensating skills that let them fight *some* men, and anyway their kickassedness comes more from their personalities than from these skills.)
    • I'm not well-read in contemporary fantasy myself. Most of my reading these days is either for grad school or as part of lesson planning. I'm counting the days till that alleviates somewhat ... :)

      I mentioned Brienne a couple times up-thread as a character that I think does well in the woman-with-sword role because picking up a sword doesn't confer automatic awesomeness onto her. The reaction of others to her and her own comfort in her identity feels very realistic for the society in which she lives.

      I agree about Katniss (I'm not familiar with the other two!), who I would define as good at survival, which happens to include skill with a bow. However, popularly, it seems to me that Katniss is often admired for her skill with a bow. The other stuff matters less. Now, I'm not saying that young girls are going to find it as exciting to learn to identify edible versus poisonous berries as to become a sharp-shooting archer, but it does seem that a lot of Katniss's image as a strong woman focuses on her skill with a weapon. (Tauriel from the Hobbit movies--PJ in general, since he initially intended to have Arwen at Helms Deep--was forefront of my mind when I wrote #5.)
  • I remember reading novels as a teenager and getting excited whenever I'd see a long block of italic text, thinking, "Yay FLASHBACK!!!!

    I adore flashbacks, too.
    • I totally agree with Dreamflower down-thread when she says she loves "stories that mess about with linear time"! :D Me too.
  • #5 irritates me, too. Yes, I like that women are fighters… but they can be so much more than that.
    • I agree. Women with swords can be just as well-rounded as women without swords, but I think it's generally a lot easier, on a shallow level, to consider someone strong if s/he has a weapon in his/her hand. The portrayal of courage turns into a simpler task, because the audience is often more willing to believe in it, though this doesn't necessarily negate her inner, less obvious courage. On the other hand, I think it can be more difficult to write characters like Sansa Stark, because you have to focus a lot on her internal struggles and quieter kind of bravery to convey how badass she can be. Then again, you could also say that to convince people of a swordswoman's inner courage, you have to work really hard at her character, because it's simple to say, "Oh, she killed that guy. She's strong."
    • (no subject) - dawn_felagund - Expand
  • I like real women - women who can handle a ladle as effectively as a plow and a snare as effectively as a skinning knife. Not every woman needs to be a warrior, even though most could step into the role of protector if they were pushed.

    I like characters who have a flaw, or more than one flaw, because we aren't perfect. It is those flaws that lead to character depth.

    I have no problem with flashbacks as long as the entire book/story isn't couched in that form. If it is, then there really is no need for a flashback - change the POV to that time period and put in an epilogue instead.

    The paragraph about the perfect word and imagery is one that really resonates with me. The authors I love reading have managed this delicate balancing act between descriptive or overabundant detail so well. I keep trying to learn how to wend my own way through that minefield.

    - Erulisse (one L)
  • I love flashbacks, too, and flashforwards, and stories that mess about with linear time. Some of my favorite stories by Lindelea are where she alternates the POV character, with every other chapter set in the "present", alternating with one in the past.

    ETA: I did your meme too: http://dreamflower02.livejournal.com/653618.html

    Edited at 2014-04-15 07:57 pm (UTC)
    • I love your phrase "stories that mess about with linear time." That's it exactly. I don't know that I've ever deliberately structured flashbacks and present time, like Lindelea's stories you describe. But I use a lot of flashback, and it's interesting that in Another Man's Cage, which is 350K words long, I have one flash-forward, which I almost took out, being as it was the only one. Yet it is consistently cited by readers as one of their favorite passages in the story, so I'm glad I left it in. :)

      I've often worried that I rely on the flashback too much as a device, so I have to admit I'm heartened to see that others like it too! :D
  • This was really fascinating, particularly the flashback thing. I love stories that give a strong sense of memories, but actual flashbacks don't do it for me because the way memory seems to work is a bit more complicated than that. What's really fascinating is the way we contextualize it and integrate it with the present and work out whether it's accurate or not. I quite like flashbacks better than straightforward narration, mind you, but I tend to think it's a lost opportunity for really doing interesting work that digs deeper.

    Now that I think about it, that's really very similar in a lot of ways to how I like fic that looks at what canon is, what's the historical source, what's the true account of things that actually happened and where is bias or erasure happening.

    On the girls with swords things: shall we even start with Tauriel and compare her simple girl-with-a-sword motif against the conflict and gravitas we get from, say, Eowyn or your own women in TWOSH? Because we could be here a while.
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