Dear Fellow Writers: No Man Is an Island

Did you enter the eBook giveaway yet? It’s still open, and you can enter as many times as you like, so be sure to jump in! Now, enjoy my latest missive. 

Dear fellow writers,

I need your help.

We’re in a war. This is the age of information, and books are written quickly and in huge quantities. Every week my phone notifies me of hundreds of new books to browse in the Kindle store; and that is just in the electronic library. Humanity has been writing since practically the beginning of time, and people keep producing new stories at a viral rate.

We writers are tempted to view the other authors as the competition. Like generals, we scour the Kindle store to see how we can maneuver our own small army of books and gain more ground. Fairytale retellings are the in-thing now? I must write one so I have a chance of survival! J.K. Rowling wrote another novel? Great, now no one will buy my books!

Those are first-person pronouns because I am guilty. When I saw other authors writing books and publishing them, I felt threatened. After all, that only increases the number of books for readers to choose and lowers the probability that they will pick mine. The war for authorship was raging, and I was losing.

Recently, though, I realized that I was wrong.

I can only write a book a year- possibly two when I graduate from college- but readers collect hundreds annually to grow their minds and imaginations. I usually write in speculative genres, but readers want things like historical fiction and thrillers so that they can make sense of our crazy world. I cannot write a decent love story to save my life, but readers search the romance section to find out what true love is. They need it, and I can’t give it.

The truth is, fellow writers, that the war is against lies, not other writers. Face it- there’s a lot of trash on the market right now, and I just can’t provide enough truth to combat the cultural lies. Couples want to know what to do about an unwanted pregnancy; how can I tell them loudly enough that there’s a third person involved? People want to know if marriage is really no more than two people who love each other; how can I reach them with news of the picture of Christ and the Church?

Thus, we truth-writers are all warriors in the same fight, and we are all in the same army. Especially if we are Christians, every other book by a new or indie author has everything to do with our ministries. A successful book is a victory for us all, and a book that no one reads is a wound to us all. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. No lone writer can fight the war alone. Not even Tolkien, the supreme commander of all fantasy writers could do that, so he had the Inklings. Thanks to that little band of writers, we have masterpieces like The Lord of the Rings and The Space Trilogy.

However, writers have a platform. I say it time and again until people are sick of hearing it: people who won’t listen to a sermon will listen to a story. This is why it makes me sick to hear people say that writing isn’t a real job or that English isn’t a real degree. Legislatures changed the laws on slavery, but it was the writers who first convinced people that those slaves were human beings. Money isn’t the idea here. Writers have more to live for; we are the among the ranks of those who change the world.

Now I’m asking all of us writers to unite. We need more Inklings clubs, more writing circles, more collaborative blogs. We need more indie authors and traditional publishers, teen writers as well as sixty-somethings. We need truth tellers, Christians, and brave warriors, who are authors.

Let’s stop fighting each other about who wrote the best fantasy book of 2016. Let’s start fighting the lies that dragons don’t exist and can’t be beaten.

Sincerely,

Hannah A. Krynicki

Dear Fellow Writers: Do What You Want

Dear fellow writers,

Don’t be afraid to write what you want.

Sociologists will tell you that you have to have characters of every ethnicity or else you’re a racist. Feminists say that you have to have two named female characters who talk about not-a-man, or else you’re a sexist. Politicians say you have to represent every lifestyle fairly, without a preference for one over the other, or else you’re a bigot. I’ve actually heard storytellers (I’m resisting the urge to add quotation marks) supporting these claims.

And that’s nothing but a heap of rot. As much as we admire the social scientists and true feminists for finding the best way for our civilization to work, and as much as we (sometimes) admire politicians for trying to achieve an agenda, none of these folks are really storytellers. Sure, they can learn to tell stories as well, but it’s not automatically their job, just as it’s not my job to analyze statistics or give speeches. However, lately these culture-workers have been sticking sociology’s nose where it doesn’t belong: into writing. And there’s the rub.

In most modernized countries, we have something along the lines of the First Amendment, which says that we can write what we want without getting in trouble. That goes beyond government coercion. We can’t be intimidated into saying something we don’t believe or shutting up about something we do, and we shouldn’t have to be afraid of ostracism when we write a good story that just happened to have differences from what the audience expected. We can write our own stories, and if readers don’t like them, then they can read something else. Maybe they can even write their own book- because honestly, if people have enough time to read that many “bigoted” books and complain about them, they probably aren’t suffering for free time. So that means, in any free country, such pressure is just plain stupid.

Yes, I’m talking about the Bechdel test. I’m talking about the pressure to write in the latest popular genre, and I’m talking about the fad that fantasy and historical writers have to represent every ethnicity in their stories. Really, I’m talking about any non-storyteller that tries to tell writers how to do their jobs. Things like this have no place in literature because they are anti-story. Their underlying assumption is that storytelling is nothing more than a string of conversations or an archetypal set of characters, and when we look at those conversations or characters, we had better find everything we ever wanted.

However, readers have many ways of understanding the deeply-held beliefs of the author. Counting the negligible details of a single interaction in a story is not one of those ways. As anyone who knows the first thing about storytelling would explain, storytelling is about many small components- theme, development, plot, characters, even good prose- built into a larger structure called “story.” That is how we identify a good or bad book.

Let’s look at it this way. 12 Angry Men or Fifty Shades of Grey: Which one is more likely to encourage men and women to think critically about social bias? And which one is more likely to (at best) demean women? Well… guess which one actually passes the “feminist” Bechdel test? Yeah. And this is what non-storytellers have to offer the world of writing. It’s great for educational textbooks, but horrible for stories.

What’s the first rule of writing? Don’t overthink it. The first rule is to write what you want. When writing stories, you don’t have to write for your mom, your professor, feminist critics, the government… you are in charge. Sure, the beta-reading and polishing phases will require a little more thought, but for the first draft, no one hired you to write a politically-correct vampire romance. Don’t ever let a non-storyteller tell you what to do.

Write the story that only you can write.

Sincerely,

Hannah A. Krynicki

Dear Fellow Writers: It’s Not for Adults, Either

Dear fellow writers,

Let me begin with a story. It’s what I do best, after all.

It is a sunny afternoon. You and I are walking down a country lane next to a brook of water. We have talked about everything from philosophy to chocolate to characterization, and now we are on the subject of the lovely summer weather.

“Such a beautiful day,” I comment.

“Yes,” you answer with a smile. “I just love walking underneath the clear blue skies.”

Without warning I slap your face. Hard. On purpose.

With pain shooting through your cheeks and anger rising in your stomach, you turn and stare at me. “Why on earth would you hit me?” you demand.

“Because it makes this story seem more realistic.” I shrug, grin, then skip off down the lane.

Now, friends, what do you think?

Rather, do you even have to think about it? I just can’t do a thing like that. Hitting you for no reason was gratuitous, hurtful, and just plain cruel. I would never really do a thing like that, and neither would you. Slapping people like that makes me look like a selfish child who doesn’t know anything.

Now, then. If you wouldn’t slap a person across the face for the sake of realism, why on earth would you slap them with a curse word, a mindlessly violent act, or a pornographic scene in a book?

I talked about this some time ago in my article “The Wince Factor” at Kingdom Pen. A Wince Factor is a sudden, unexpected slap that authors put into their stories for various purposes. As I said then, some of these Wince Factors have a legitimate place in the story- like, say, slapping Bruce Wayne for trying to get illegal revenge on a crook. Others, though, have absolutely no place in a story- like having a Tyrannosaurus Rex swear in a children’s movie for no apparent reason, or like putting “adult” scenes in Titanic.

So what’s the difference? Here’s a better question- do you want your future children doing the same things you make your characters do?

Let me say it this way: gratuitously putting so-called “adult content” in books is abusive to the reader and only proves the author to be a lazy amateur.

If I have to use swear words, sex scenes, or sword-killings to make my story seem real and “juicy,” then I am either lazy or an amateur, or perhaps both. Whatever the situation, at some point I must grow up and start putting some educated effort into my occupation. 

Mine is not an unqualified opinion. I’m a published author myself, and I’m learning to make indie films and podcasts. As far as audiences are concerned, I’m eighteen years old and a second-year college student who watches lots of kids’ movies with my siblings. I also read the books that were intended for people well into their thirties or forties. All in all, I’m the intended audience for most television shows and books. Therefore, I am more than qualified to make a statement about all the stuff writers are putting into books and movies.

But is the media really playing to the tastes of the 32% or more of consumers who share my values? I don’t use swear words, and I get uncomfortable every time someone uses a swear word around my younger siblings. I don’t like watching excessively violent character deaths. I have a zero-tolerance policy for gratuitous sexual content in media.

Now I know some of you are about to go to the comments section and start flaming me for being a Christian bigot. I don’t blame you; Western culture in general has the uncivilized notion that to be an adult is to drink alcohol, watch pornographic movies, and use swear words, and their only defense against opposing viewpoints is to slap them with a label and call it a draw.

But it seems that a person who cannot discern the best action in these cases is simply an oversized version of the child who throws a tantrum at the grocery store when his mother doesn’t buy him all the candy in the store, and who sticks out his tongue when told that he is misbehaving. Who is the bigot- the mother, or the child? Writers ought to know that there is a distinction: growing older is getting the ability to purchase all the candy, but being an adult is discerning whether it’s good for your waistline and your wallet. Likewise, being an adult writer is choosing to have a positive impact on the worldview and behavior of your audience.

Think of it this way- if the good guys like something, the readers love it. If the bad guys are motivated by something, the readers loathe it. The author’s opinion becomes the reader’s. Whether or not mass murderers are inspired by films, you can see evidence of a storyteller’s power even in the grocery store: Elsa and Anna on party napkins, or Captain America’s shield on a cereal box. Think about that- Marvel influences your choice of breakfast foods. We writers have great power, and with great power comes great responsibility.

Media rules the world, so don’t be a tyrant.

Here’s a big news flash- you don’t have to describe every detail in order for readers to know that a thing happened. Andrew Klavan, author of If We Survive, knew that it was crucial for one of his protagonists to use a swear word as part of her character arc, but he was still writing for Christian teenagers who don’t appreciate those sorts of things. So what did the ingenious Klavan do? He made the swearing scene happen off-screen. The character’s arc was completely developed and the story still packed quite as much of a punch, but Klavan didn’t have to verbally abuse his readers to achieve that effect.

Again, in the 1950s, if someone was beheaded in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness or if the Duke of Gloucester had a you-know-what scene with Lady Anne, Mark Robson and Laurence Olivier just made those things happen off-screen. And no one ever criticized Olivier for being a bad storyteller. So are our stories in the 2010s more developed, or just more debauched?

No more excuses. At this point, we all have two options. One, we can take out the bad stuff and write purpose-filled books, proving that we know right from wrong and care about helping people to understand the world we live in. Or two, we can leave the bad stuff in and prove that we don’t really care about anything but the money.

It’s your choice.

Sincerely,
Hannah A. Krynicki

Am I right or wrong? What do you think about gratuitous content in media?