February 7, 2014

Casual Friday: Challenging Our Own Preconceptions

I’ve always thought of myself as an open-minded person, both when it comes to life, and specifically, writing. I subscribe to the live-and-let-live theory: you do what you want, and I'll do what I want, and as long as nobody gets hurt, we can all go about our merry way. when it comes to writing, there were places I didn’t want to go, lines I didn’t want to cross, but I knew that it was a personal choice, and I didn’t have a problem with other writers who went there, because why should I? Subject matter, politics, whatever. Write what you want, and I'll write what I want.

Actually, I still believe that. But I was also a bit of a snob.

Yeah, I said it. Me. Snobby writer. And let me tell you, it was a shock to realize it. I thought I was pretty laid back and broad-minded. 

Nope. *points finger at self* Snob.

Allow me to present an illustration.

I’ve always been a die-hard romantic, of the seriously dyed-in-the-wool variety. I love a good love story—who doesn't? And while I’ve also always been decidedly hetero, I’ve never been bothered by or offended by non-traditional romances. I just liked mine straight-up boy-girl traditional. Personal preference. I even went so far as to say I would probably never write a non-traditional romance, because I just couldn’t get into it.

Minor segue here. A couple of months ago, I started replaying one of my favorite video games of all time, the Mass Effect trilogy. I’d played and loved the 1st game when it originally came out, and then part-way through the 2nd had to give it up. Working 3 jobs only afforded me so much time. Now, the thing about these games is that there’s a decently heavy romance element to them. The main character, Commander Shepard (who you can play as male or female), has a number of secondary characters who he or she is able to romance through the space of the 3 games.

I decided for this play-through to play as Femshep, which was a big change for me simply because I’m so used to having to play as a male MC in most games (another rant, for another time). And then, out of the blue, I decided the guy my female MC could romance (Kaiden—sorry Jamie!) annoyed me too much, and I just didn't like him. So I went with the female alien (Liara) that could be romanced by either gender. I didn’t really think much about it, just romanced away with a shrug, and carried on with the trilogy.

And holy hell.

By the time I got to the 3rd game, my mind was blown. The relationship that Bioware (the game company) developed between these two was simply beautiful. Adorable. (Seriously, some of the dialogue between the two made me absolutely swoon.) I came out of the play-through with a completely different outlook, a new, deeper appreciation for non-traditional romantic pairings. I’m now in my 3rd play-through, and the Femshep-Liara relationship has become one of my all-time favorite romantic pairings across every media and genre—book, movie, or game.

And best of all, it added a new layer to the kind of stories I want to tell.

Now, this is only one very specific example, but it made me realize that my preconceptions were holding me back as a writer. Sometimes we need to defy our own biases, our own natural inclinations. We need to understand that as our skill as writers grows and develops, we need to let our perceptions and ideas grow, as well. It’s something we owe not just to our readers, but especially to ourselves.

Challenge yourself as a writer. Push the limits of your comfort zone, if only for a moment. Allow yourself to think outside your own box. Because you might surprise yourself. And even better, you might just find something extraordinary.


Elizabeth Briggs said...

Love this post! Kaiden will always be my favorite, but I also did a playthrough with Liara and really enjoyed the romance. Now I want to go play Mass Effect again...

Dahlia Adler said...

I love this so much. It actually hits super close to home right now, and affected my writing a lot: I realized one of my characters, for whom I'd written an entire (bland, wholly chemistry-lacking) romance was just not into guys. At all. I wrote in a new character - a girl - and bam, I finally felt like I got her right and found her someone she can spark with.

I think back to the first book I really, seriously queried, and how I'd thought about writing a f/f spinoff with one of the characters (who's established in the book as a lesbian), and was too terrified of getting it wrong, of not being able to do it. I'm so, so glad I've grown as a writer enough to feel confident in telling the *right* stories for my characters.

Jamie Grey said...

Fantastic post, Cait. (And I'll even forgive you for not liking Kaidan :) I think it's SO important to be open to other options. You can miss out on so much if you don't!

Ok, now off to finish my *mumblemumble* Mass Effect playthrough!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, guys! I debated a lot about posting this (as Dahl knows!), because it's such a deeply personal thing. But it really is SO important that we allow ourselves to grow as writers, not just in skill, but in the stories we're able and willing to tell.

Sarah Hipple said...

This is a wonderful post, and perfect because non-straight characters is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I've avoided them as well (not due to a lack of preference for them, but out of a slightly crippling fear that I would utterly screw it all up.) I think I"m being silly. People are people. But I'm definitely still working up my courage for a LGBT MC. Right now I've got a LGBT secondary character instead.

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