Ideal worlds

Not quite spring yet, but coast weather does give us hints of it

Sometimes the best part of a book is getting lost in the world. The story propels you through the setting, but the world of the story lingers in you long after. It can be what keeps the story and the imagination going long after the book has ended.

There were a few discussions recently that got me thinking about the world of my upcoming book. One was a variant of the "you just got dropped into the world of the last game/movie/book, how fucked are you?" type, and the other was a discussion of why men are bad at writing women in fiction. Those discussions remind me the author creates a world, and it's a unique opportunity for them to share a vision of their ideal world. It's also a place where you can see the bias of the author show. No big news to those who study such things, but I'm an uneducated high-school dropout, so this was a big revelation to me.

The one bit that stuck out to me about the men being bad at writing about women was one critique of strong female characters that came from one woman. Her position wasn't that strong women don't exist, but that men cannot recognize the normal day-to-day concerns and fears that a woman feels, regardless of her strength... things like always checking to see if that guy is following you, being aware of where you walk and at what time, that sort of thing.

It's not that what she was saying was wrong, but I realized those conditions don't have to, and maybe shouldn't, exist in a fantasy world. A fantasy world like the one I'm writing expresses an author's ideal world. It's a place where we not only decide to spend a huge part of our lives, but a place we also invite others to share with us. So it really behooves us to be conscious of the bias we bring in.

Related to this is the mental game of being dropped into the last media you consumed. This is a great test of the unconscious bias of the author. Consider that if you are a woman, how different your expectations of survival would be in the Lord of the Rings, versus Game of Thrones. Both worlds are full of violence and the loss of life, but one world is especially more dangerous for women. What would your experience be in other books, if you were of a particular culture, race, age, class or orientation? Small biases creep up everywhere, and shape our concepts from the core of storytelling on.

Being aware helps you avoid unwanted biases in your storytelling. That's a lesson I've been strongly in the Salish Rift development. My intention was to place it in a world that is post-racial, but not post-cultural. My terms are probably wrong here, but what I wanted to explore was the consequences of the modern world being rebooted, but with all of its inherent structures destroyed. What happens when there is no longer an institution of racism or sexism left? And the drivers that created those institutions are also destroyed? Humans still build communities, they still build cultures, but what if we have a fresh start with new seeds for growth?

The problem with this approach was that my own experiences deeply biased me. My initial plans for the cultures and clashes in the rift were strongly reactionary to existing structures, and it took me a few years to realize I was just propagating the same old crap all over again. I grew up in a racist world, and it imprinted on me strongly.

Fortunately for me, I was also queer and different from other kids in a lot of ways, so I had the experience of being an outsider for my entire childhood. This gave me the ability to have empathy and a touch of understanding of what it's like for other marginalized folk. That empathy guides me into not trusting my own opinions, but doing research and learning from other's experiences, and letting their voices be heard. A good long bout of constant self-reflection through that new information can help you pare down a good bit of your own bullshit. And remove any ego that tells you don't need to do anymore work.

The current novel is coming along well, but it won't be perfect. I expect I'll get some feedback on my world building, and I'm looking forward to making changes in the next books.

Randy Packer

Randy Packer