WHAT CAN YOU GET AWAY WITH IN FICTION?

Great question, easy answer: Anything.

In fact, the question itself is silly. You don’t have to feel you’re “getting away with” anything.

An epic fantasy novel featuring a gender-fluid protagonist? Why not? In fact, the only argument against is necessarily trans- and/or homophobic. If we, as fantasy readers, can accept that the hero of an epic fantasy is a hobbit, which is a sort of person who does not exist in the real world around us, how can any case be made that fantasy readers can’t accept a non-binary person, which is a sort of person who does exist in the real world around us?

I once wrote a post about why you shouldn’t swear in fantasy. Then I saw Game of Thrones and was like, oh, fuck, I guess we fucking can now, holy shit! I was trained at TSR in their Code of Ethics and I guess some of that (which was actually the old Comics Code) rubbed off on me, or sat inside me like some kind of mind-numbing tumor. I’m delighted to say I’m cured of that as thoroughly as any other sort of strictures as to what is and isn’t “appropriate” for this genre or that genre.

Okay, you might not want to throw f-bombs in your middle grade chapter book, but once you decide your audience is more than single digit years old, write your characters in your story in your voice from your experience. We, as readers, want—or we should want, anyway—to experience not just some idealized version of ourselves (though I freely admit that’s sometimes fun) but we can also, even primarily, read fiction to experience being some version of “the other” by walking a mile (or 90,000 words or so) in their shoes. In part of an excerpt from  Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon, Mark McGurl lays it out like this:

Our interest in fiction is in part an interest in encountering different degrees of (albeit, properly formatted) otherness, the better to assimilate it to ourselves in the spirit of personal augmentation. It is the otherness of fictional characters and their experiences, most obviously, but also the otherness of the author’s gradually revealed intentions. To varying degrees, and notwithstanding the self-centeredness of literary self-care, our interest in the novel is an interest in encountering the author’s autonomy, which is the real difference—and addition—they bring to our existence, in however mediated a fashion.

If fiction is a form of “wish fulfilment,” fine—so instead of being careful what we wish for, let’s wish for the widest possible experience. In “& Other Stories,” Eloghosa Osunde wrote:

What does fiction do for me? It allows me to see what has been made, just as it is. It reminds me that if there are seven billion of us, there are seven billion ways to experience the world, seven billion valid iterations. The systems do what the systems do, and the kindest thing I can think to do for anyone I love is to follow them to the end of their desire, is to go with them to the beginning of their imagination—that place where  I wish  turns into  I want. I listen to my loved ones when they say:  I wish  this was a world in which I could decide not to have kids.  I wish  I could decide not to get married.  I wish  this world was kinder to queer people.  I wish  we’d all take friendships more seriously.  I wish  this world was fair to neurodivergent people. I wish. I wish.

As an author, don’t be afraid there isn’t a readership for this, that, or the other thing. To be honest, in America in 2021, there’s effectively no audience for any novel—not like there used to be in, say, the 1950s (or any point pre-TV, pre-video games, pre-Internet, pre… whatever else), so embrace that. Your book will find your audience, and that audience almost definitely wasn’t going to be millions of readers even if you followed the Comics Code and kept it light PG rated and your hero is definitely a straight white guy who only saves straight white princesses from bad guys who don’t have to be white or men. I love the old pulp stories and the whole pulp fiction experience, not because the genres had reached a state of perfection that must now be repeated over and over again forever, but because, or more accurately in spite of the fact that those authors, editors, and illustrators were flailing around trying to invent stuff within sets of strictures based on a general feeling of who they were selling magazines to, who they wanted to sell their magazines to, who their invariably conservative advertisers wanted to sell their products to, and that was a 1920s, 1930s systemically and legally racist and sexist society.

Anyone who thinks science fiction and fantasy—or any genre—should continue to play to hundred year old market forces… I just don’t know what to tell you.

—Philip Athans

Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

Link up with me on LinkedIn

Friend me on GoodReads

Find me at PublishersMarketplace

Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, and I also recognize the supreme irony of adding an associates link to Amazon for a book that takes Amazon to task. God bless America.

In Writing Monsters, best-selling author Philip Athans uses classic examples from books, films, and the world around us to explore what makes monsters memorable—and terrifying.

You’ll learn what monsters can (and should) represent in your story and how to create monsters from the ground up.

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best science fiction blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, Dungeons & Dragons, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, Game of Thrones, help for writers, helping writers become authors, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, Publishing Business, Pulp Fiction, SF and Fantasy Authors, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, Writing Community, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to WHAT CAN YOU GET AWAY WITH IN FICTION?

  1. mcc1789 says:

    I look forward to seeing more diverse characters in fantasy myself. Perhaps some of the more recent ones have them, though I haven’t much. It does often seem more could be done though with the genre (on many fronts, not just that). Odd how in fantasy, despite it being so open to new ideas by definition, you so often get repetition. I guess it comes down to “follow the leader” in many cases.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s