Telling the Slanted Truth
So I've been thinking about gender, identity, and culture in my current manuscript and realizing how important it is to explore richness and diversity into your story, whatever it is. And in the considering Le Guin's book, how I can take cultural and even biological assumptions -- in her novel's example, that the human world is based on a binary gender system -- and turn those concepts on their head. This spirit of adventure is especially important in fantasy or sci fi, where there is no limit to the permutations that an author can make regarding what a culture's particular norms are or are not.
The process reminds me of the old Emily Dickinson line, "Tell the truth, but tell it slant." Somehow the "slanting" of truth, especially in fiction, allows the writer to access a deeper reality--a bigger truth. Indeed, the poem continues, "Truth in circuit lies." My heart sighs at these words. In nature, in culture, the circular stories are the ones that take us deeper into ourselves and into the inner world.
I work with and around children every day, and I've come to believe that young people today recognize deeper, more universal truths. They are smarter and wiser than past generations, and they search for what is true. The current presidential primaries are proof of a deep quest for more "real" politicians--on both ends of the ideological spectrum.
As a writer, I challenge you to create characters who, through their very presence, drive the reader to question what the nature of reality is, what the nature of truth is.
Here are a few questions to consider :
Do all your characters have a similar worldview and/or political and social perception of the world around them? If so, why? If not, why?
Do you have characters who represent radically different ways of being?
How strong is the self-awareness of identity in your protagonist? How does that self-awareness change over the course of your book?
What is the nature of conflict in your novel? How big or small is it? How do characters react to conflict as a species, as a culture?
If your novel is a relationship drama, i.e. the conflict is founded on interpersonal dynamics, how can you broaden individual character's concerns onto the world (whatever world you are writing) stage?
Coranna Adams is a writer, filmmaker, and educator from Asheville, North Carolina.