Kelly Haworth

LGBT Scifi and Fantasy Author

Growing Up

| 3 Comments

I’ve finally reached the age where I can look back and see how far I’ve come.  Both in writing, and in the way I think.

I never understood when writers said they hated looking at old work.  My first stories were full of imaginative worlds, and intense characters, and great moments that I cherished reading again and again.  Why would I ever not enjoy these moments?  Well.  That day has finally come.  And It’s not that I don’t enjoy my old stories, it’s that everything I was naive or outright wrong about now jumps out at me.

I want to share a few embarrassing examples.  Why?  Because we all have room to grow, and here’s some proof.

A few weeks ago, I read through a novel I had written in my early 20’s. I hadn’t read any of this story in about 3 years.  I found lines of narrative and structures of plot suddenly leaping out in ways I had never intended.

For example, there were several moments when I had been unintentionally racist.  The narrative stereotyped a non-white race, both in a positive light and negative. I had added characters as “tropes” instead of “people” and I think I know better now.  I think recognizing what I did wrong is a huge step toward doing it right next time.  We should all strive to show everyone’s humanity first and foremost in characterization.

Another example from the same book is a plot line where a character coerces another to sleep with them.  It’s dubious consent at the least, and borderline rape if taken at face value, and I was seriously shocked by this scene and the subsequent reactions of other characters. I knew what I was writing six years ago and what it meant. But it comes across completely differently than I intended.  Because the reader never sees the victim’s POV, the reader only sees the perpetrator feeling victimized at all of the other characters blowing up at them.  I don’t even think I need to explain why this is all wrong.  You definitely will not find me making this sort of mistake today.

My last example is from my upcoming debut, Y Negative.  In the early versions of this novel, the main character’s injections gave him scars akin to something like a heroin addiction.  I did this scientific error intentionally, as I wanted his scars to be symbolic of his will to survive.  But early betas pointed out the error, and I realized very quickly that it wasn’t conveying what I wanted it to.  Wisely, I decided it wasn’t worth keeping.  That MC has lost the majority of the scars he had in draft one, but that’s okay.  He didn’t need those scars to show his weakness, or his strength.  His characterization shows the reader those things.

The moral of the story here is not to be wary of everything you write or anything like that – it’s to give your writing some space before you show it to other people, so you can look at it objectively.  It’s to show it to betas before you try to shop it.  And most importantly, strive every day to be better about the way you view the world and the people in it.  It’s really easy to be unintentionally racist, or unintentionally sexist, or to ignore facts for want of “artistic value”.  But we should always strive to be better than yesterday. Don’t feel bad if you’re wrong, or if your point didn’t get across.  We’re all learning together to be better people to each other.  I’m thankful that I can look back and see what I did wrong, because it tells me how far I’ve come.

And it hints at how far I still have to grow.

Thanks for reading.

3 Comments

  1. I think it’s valuable to write stories with POVs like a rapist, or near-rapist, thinking that way. That’s reality. I’ve been through the private diaries of a psychopath, and that’s exactly how it was. We live in a bell curve of sensitivity and empathy. The human race as a whole gets on because there are very different people.

    Sex is wrapped up in power, domination, and even death. It’s not just Sunset beautiful out in the suburbs. I have had the experience of having a very nice woman I was with become hypersexual for a short time in response to death around us. I remember the thought running through my head, “Oh, my god. The Romans knew what they were doing when they had orgies after watching gladiators fight to the death at their feasts. Wow. This makes perfect sense too. Because if there has been a mass slaughter, the species needs to make more people.” I felt curiously detached, like I was watching it all at a distance, me, her, all of it.

    Eschewing reality in its grim and gritty difficulty in favor of pablum from the faucet of theorizers about what life is supposed to be? That is not what writing is about.

    Don’t throw away your writing for that false grail. It’s a mirage. What you just wrote about there as problems is the strength of your writing. It’s what makes it interesting and meaningful. That kind of thing is what can make writing great.

    • Hi Beezlebub!
      You’re right, of course. But I also think there is a time and a place to make those kind of stories. You have to mean it, and you have to own it, and such a story could be perfectly acceptable and beautiful in the right context. I was specifically talking about cases where I didn’t fully intend it to come across the way it did. And honestly, I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to give situations of sexual abuse the full nuances they deserve. Maybe one day, if I choose to write about such things. Until then, I’ll keep writing those sorts of plotlines with one eye open.

      • But the full nuances are impossible, and very complicated. There is also the question of who is normal?

        Historically, what upper-middle class nice white americans think is abuse was normal.

        It’s probably genes that turn on for mommies to make them shift from their wild ways that got them to be mommies into upstanding holder-uppers of society’s play.

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