For the past couple of months, I’ve been watching the world spiral out of control. Between the pandemic (and the economic strain it places especially on “essential” (read: poor) workers) and news of a host of other disasters, it was hard to think otherwise. And then a man was killed by cops, sparking protests and any and all efforts to shut those protests down.
I won’t write one of “those” posts (whatever you think “those” posts are). You can find much better elsewhere online. But I will say that I have been thinking about (and writing, and worldbuilding) the fact that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Why do we need cops? What are those shifty bastards good for that we can’t manage by ourselves? (And furthermore, why aren’t we managing those things ourselves? Why aren’t we protecting our children? Why aren’t we helping people out? Why did we decide this was OK?)
The more this goes on, the more I think it’s perfectly OK to collectively shame people into proper behavior. Not outmoded standards about how women should behave, of course. That’s bullshit. But the basics that we can all agree on, like “murder is bad” and “everyone is equal so treat them that way” and “don’t diddle kids” (yes, that last one needs to be stated). I know not everyone agrees on all of those, but plenty of decent people do. Hopefully critical mass.
We express the ideas we think about, and how we regard them, in fiction. This is the principle behind storytelling “karma”, that authors will punish specific actions to show their readers that a thing is not OK. Or do the reverse and reward some actions to provide a role model of sorts. This is where the “evil slutty woman” trope comes from, among a ton of others. And I think that principle can be put to good use. If the things we used to write as good were written as bad, and vice versa, and if we wrote those books and published those books, we could reach a few people. One or two of us might be bestsellers, or hit an equally big potential audience piggybacking off of something else. And there go the dominoes.
Write the book about someone outside “the box” (you know the one, labeled “Blank Slate” in big red Sharpie). Those things you see demonized elsewhere? Show they’re good. I know this has been said a LOT, a ridiculous amount, and it won’t directly counter the tide of every other bad message elsewhere in the world, but it’s a good place to start, and there needs to be a lot more books like it. And, if you have to, stand by your authorial choices. Don’t change your protagonist because the agent doesn’t like it.