I stumbled across the Auto-Complete function the other day when I was doing a menu-crawl around Scrivener’s nooks and crannies. It’s not the same as Auto-Correct, which I’ve had to turn off. Either Auto-Correct is too imaginative or I am: when I had the feature turned on, Scrivener kept changing my characters’ names and “correcting” other words that I didn’t notice until I reread my pages. Or worse, until I read them to my critique group.
Auto-Complete, on the other hand, only does what you’ve told it to do, offering up long or difficult-to-type words or phrases when you type the first letter. For novelists, I imagine this would most often be character or place names. In my collection of unpublished novels, I have a parallel worlds tale set partially along a Texas Coast dominated by the Aztec Empire. Tenochtitlán popped up from time to time, and I was glad…
I’ve just started watching the new Netflix series by the name os Sense8, and I have to say the show’s approach to diversity is one of the most successful compared to other recent fantasy and science fiction efforts. Granted, I have only had time to delve into the first two episodes, I’d prefer to focus strictly on what makes Sense8 a victory for diversity, rather than critique its storyline, acting quality, etc – I’m sure other reviewers will (and already have and have) covered this in great detail.
Part of the problem with mainstream fantasy and sci-fi is that characters that are representative of minority groups, even if they are included at all, are marginalized to being the supporting (often comedic or ‘sidekick’) characters to their white counterparts. Because film and show-makers are now beginning to become aware of diversity – or at least demonstrate their awareness through their works – they are including more and more non-white and non-straight (just non-typical) characters in general, and that’s great. But the fact remains that there is not a single large-scale franchise, television show, or even novel where a member of an underrepresented group plays the role of the lead character. That’s not to say these works are necessarily bad – some of them have been my favourite, including Lost, Game of Thrones, and Hunger Games – but they all have in common the inclusion of minority characters in minor roles.
I’ve always considered that problematic, so you can imagine my joy when I discovered Sense8, and its inclusion of many characters typically not found in western fantasy and sci-fi (and all in the same place): a young Kenyan boy trying to run a shuttle bus business; a Hindu woman juggling the notion of marrying a man she’s unsure of; a Chinese woman struggling to be taken seriously as the CFO of her brother’s large corporation; and a black gay woman and her white transsexual female partner. This wide range of characters and stories can in itself be considered a huge step in acknowledging the diversity of our world, but even more so because each of them getsrelatively equal screen timeand all appear to be equally important characters. This is a strong breakaway from the typical casting of minority characters into supporting, less important roles.
Some reviewers have actually commented that Sense8 doesn’t go far enough with regards to including diverse characters, asking why the show didn’t include any bi/asexual, aromantic, or other characters who don’t “fit into the gender binary.” If we’re going to go that route, I can also ask why the series’ creators did not include characters of a Middle-Eastern, Pakistani, or Japanese descent – that would certainly have contributed the amount of diversity presented in the series. But it would also have greatly diluted the diversity that is already presented and to which pretty much the series’ entire screen time is already dedicated. In order for the viewer to get the necessary details from each character’s story and to truly understand and relate to their struggles, they need to be able to see enough of it, which wouldn’t be possible if we were to include fifteen different characters of a variety of groups. The show does a fantastic job at treating its characters more or less equally, and to do so, it obviously had to limit the number of minority groups represented. To me, that’s a smart logistical move, rather than a downfall.
So basically, the economic law of diminishing returns: the more characters (of any type) in general, the less time there is to show each character’s story, and ultimately, the less the viewer cares about the characters and the show as a whole. Just look at HBO’s Game of Thrones and how many characters which were present in the books simply did not make it into the show. Screen time is a part of it, but viewer emotion and attachment even more so, and would not be possible with an even larger cast.
Another way Sense8 wins in this regard is proving the importance of each character not only through screen time, but through their emotional journey as well. It’s a relief to see each character go through their own sets of trials and tribulations, without being portrayed as inferior or less important than those of another (typically white, straight) character. More specifically, often in fantasy and sci-fi works, the character arc of a minority character exists solely within or for the purpose of furthering the the main character’s own arc, rather than living out his or her own independent story. We saw it in Hunger Games. We saw it in the Avengers. We see it on The 100. On the non-fantasy side, we definitely see it in Orange is the New Black. House of Cards. The list can go on and on. Again, this does not mean these are bad films or television shows; but in terms of having independent and equally important diverse characters whose storylines do not depend solely on the existence of the stories of their white counterparts, they fall spectacularly flat.
Sense8, like Marco Polo (which for the most part also embraces equality in character presence and weight) is different. The stories of each character are intertwined, but in a natural way. Their storylines intersect in ways that progress the story equally, and that, impressively, do not portray one character’s struggles and victories as more significant as those of another. But of course, the storyline is set up that way: we are first introduced to each character independently of every other one, as they are located in different locations and cultural contexts, and do not know each other, but most impressively, the show continues on that way (again, during the three episodes that I’ve so far had the time to watch).
I have to say, there is nothing wrong with having some characters naturally be more important than others – this would happen one way or another in a story such as A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) because of the varying positions of power that exist within it. The problem, I think, is when all the important characters are culturally and racially uniform, while their supporting characters may be diverse, but only exist to propel the plot of characters more important than themselves. This is where I truly think fantasy, sci-fi, and all other genres for that matter can significantly improve. We shouldn’t have to have a Bill Cosby show equivalent in every genre to tell stories of inspiring black characters; they can be interwoven into a work that may include a variety of different cultures and races, and where storylines of significance can belong to white, non-white, and non-straight characters alike.
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section. I’d love to know what you think, and where our opinions may differ 🙂
A while back, the folks over at Writer’s Digest announced the return of their annual conference to the Roosevelt Hotel in New York – and was I ever thrilled to hear this news! From everything I’ve read, attending a writer’s conference is an essential rite of passage for emerging authors. Not only do you get an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the industry in action, but these conferences also present a priceless opportunity to connect with other writers, editors, agents, and maybe even publishing houses! A pitch-slam session is also usually an added bonus, as you will be able to receive immediate feedback on your idea and ensure that you take the right steps in order to get it published – including correcting any errors you may have missed while reviewing your work or concept on your own.
So how exactly do you prepare for this incredible, and potentially career/life-changing experience? Believe it or not, this isn’t just a matter of showing up, taking a few notes at the sessions, pitching your idea, and hopping back on the plane. In order to leverage the conference for all the opportunities it could possibly have to offer, there are several key steps that you should take in order to not be caught off-guard and to make the best of your time surrounded by people who might just remain in your life – as colleagues or friends – much longer than the three or four days of whatever conference you may be attending!
Research the location
Having already been to New York five times, I consider myself quite lucky. There really isn’t a lot of research for me to do on this city. But if you’ve never visited the city (let alone country) where your conference will be located, it may be a good idea to do some research on basics such as public transportation, location of your hotel/Airbnb, location of the conference and/or the cocktail networking evening (there’s usually something of the sort planned for most conferences). I usually like to look up on Google maps how to get from my Airbnb (my preferred choice of accommodation while traveling) to the conference location both by public transport and on foot, if that’s feasible. Being prepared for these basics will help you focus on the fun aspects of the conference, like socializing and learning all you possibly can from peers and mentors throughout the event.
Prepare and fine-tune the best query letter you possibly can
If you’re planning on attending a writer’s conference, odds are you’re writing something – especially these days, when they’ve become one of the few avenues through which emerging writers can meet their prospective agents and editors.
Even if you’re not going to the conference for the opportunity to pitch your idea, or obtain representation or feedback, it’s still a good idea to prepare a query letter in advance of the conference. You’ll have your ideas organized clearly, and in the event that an unexpected (or expected) opportunity comes up, you will be prepared to make the most of it. This is especially true if you’re attending with goals of pitching your idea: having a clearly outlined query will help you summarize all the key points for your pitch succintly, and you’ll already be prepared with a query letter should an agent request to know more! You can’t lose.
Select most appropriate agents and presenters
If you’re planning a pitch session with agents, it goes without saying that researching the agents to be present is a crucial step. Different agents will want different types of submissions, and often have a personal preference for certain historical settings and types of works. Even if you’re not planning on pitching, having a good idea of who will be present of the conference will help you be prepared in the event that an unexpected (but likely very welcome!) conversation blossoms during the event.
The Writer’s Digest Conference, for example, provides an in-depth analysis of all the agents that will be attending the conference and an overview of their general preferences for types of works for submission. By focusing on agents and editors who are specifically looking for your type of work, you can ensure for yourself the highest possible chances of getting noticed and of getting the most substantial feedback. For myself, I narrowed it down to a list of 15 agents and editors who could be interested in my work based on their outlined preferences, which will hopefully provide ample opportunity to present my work and hopefully get some constructive feedback – keep an eye out on this blog for an update on this in August!
Pick the right sessions
From what I’ve seen, many prospective authors are most excited about the pitching opportunities at writers’ conferences because it pretty much epitomizes all of our dreams about getting published. However, it’s important not to get so consumed with preparing for the pitch that we forget the importance – and great potential value – in attending the learning sessions that are planned throughout the conference. This is especially true for new writers (who are most likely to even attend the conference in the first place) because many of us still don’t have a complete understanding of the industry, stylistic standards, publishers’ preferred types of works, etc. This is all knowledge that is crucial for eventual success in the industry and the many of the sessions scheduled will seek to inform attendees on these very topics. For my part, I certainly I got very lucky, because it seems like the folks at WDC scheduled exactly the sessions that I feel I need to attend to expand my knowledge, and I’m incredibly excited to participate.
You’re all set!
All in all, I know this seems like a lot of planning, but if you start in advance it’s totally manageable. While there is a lot of planning and a bit of stress, there’s still lots of room to enjoy ourselves, learn about the industry that we’re working so hard to be a part of, and of course to meet some great people that may even become great colleagues and friends. Keep your mind open, have a good plan, and have fun!
Do you have any tips on preparing for writers’ conferences? What are some of your experiences in attending events such as these?