Social Justice Warriors in Literature and History

Americans love a hero. Whether we’re talking about an underdog who refuses to back down in a fight against the establishment, or a powerful being who uses their strength to defend the helpless, we’re all about heroism. This seems to be a universal human thing, but I think Americans are especially fond of those tropes, and they’re very much a part of our cultural identity. Many Americans imagine our country as being (or at least having been at one point) a powerful force for good in the world that stands up against evil, especially nazis. We hate those damn nazis.

The funny thing is, though, that we as a culture absolutely loathe real people who embody the exact traits that we admire in literary and historical figures. We love that guy who stands up to a corrupt government, unless that guy is real and that government is our government. Then, we hate that guy. We especially hate that guy if he happens to be a woman on the internet. We even have a lovely term for that person: the social justice warrior. This label is often spat at people who try their hardest every day to push back against a culture that has completely normalized cruelty against those who historically had little or no power to protect themselves.

This rosy-but-limited view of heroism also applies to the past. Civil rights? Absolutely important. Everyone who marched was a hero. Suffragettes? Damn right women deserved the vote. Stonewall? Yeah, they probably had a point. World war 2? Let’s beat the shit out of those fucking nazis.* The people who fought against progress back then are increasingly viewed as backwards, ignorant, or outright evil. Especially the nazis. Screw nazis, right?

Wrong.

Well, I mean, nazis have a right to express their opinions, don’t they? It’s a free country, after-all. It’s just intolerant not to tolerate the view that some humans deserve to die or be raped or be socially ostracized for harmless inborn traits and personal choices, isn’t it? It’s literally just MEAN to call someone a bigot for saying and doing racist or homophobic things. It’s BULLYING to argue with people who make fun of those with disabilities that require accommodation. It’s a sign of the sad, close-minded, liberal mind-set that people aren’t willing to remain close with friends and family who “disagree” with their fundamental humanity being socially recognized, and who make dehumanizing jokes about them. While we’re on the subject of humor, rape jokes should totally be protected by freedom of speech, and people who object to them are literally destroying the soul of comedy. Trans women are one of the most at-risk demographics in the country, especially trans women of color, but it is an intolerable cruelty to cis women and children everywhere if they’re allowed to pee in safety. Oh, and of course, it’s just judgmental and rude to tell parents not to hit their property, I mean children.

But of course, that’s all just common sense stuff. Obviously the rights that people have already fought and died for, and the social awareness we have now which was raised inch by painful inch by activists who were shamed and ostracized for their efforts, that’s all a logical baseline for a just society. That was right, and justified. Anything more than that, though… Anything that challenges *current* norms, or demands the redress of *current* injustice, or challenges your personal *current* views of right and wrong, well. That’s just taking things way too far. The thing is, though, that’s exactly what people have always said. Word. for. word.

Every freedom we take for granted as just being common sense was someone’s totally absurd liberal agenda at one point. It was over the line. It was millennials with their made-up genders, and it was black lives matter with their violent demands to not be shot by police, and it was trans women wanting to pee where they’re less likely to get beaten to death by strange men. It was a threat to social stability. It was abusing the majority for the sake of a minority who were just getting above themselves.

Literature has always been used as a mirror held up to society so that we can see injustice that has become invisible due to desensitization. That’s a pretty well known fact, ask any english teacher. How is it, then, that people who would never miss an Avengers movie, and who eat up novels about gritty underdogs tackling evil corporations that profit from human suffering, and who truly believe that they personally stand for truth, justice, and the American way; will absolutely lose their goddamn shit when they hear: “Hey, man. That thing you just said without thinking is actually a slur against a group of people, thousands of whom were gassed to death in living memory, could you change a single word in your vocabulary so that you’re not perpetuating stigma against them?”

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*Yes, there are still tons of people who are straight up against all of this, clearly, but it’s no longer considered generally acceptable. You can’t be FOR slavery, that’s just wrong. Prison labor, though, that’s just what they deserve for being black. I mean, criminals.*

* Because there are plenty of people who DO proudly express that view, I feel the need to clarify that that last part was sarcasm. Fuck the racist as hell prison industrial complex.

 

“Norse Mythology” 

I confess that I haven’t yet finished reading my book on writing for March, but I have been listening to the audiobook of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. It’s very relaxing. He’s a great narrator, and the book has a wonderful rhythm to it. Each story is his retelling of an old Norse myth. He did a huge amount of research for American Gods and apparently he just has a general passion for norse mythology.

I love the way he characterizes all the gods. It’s cute and engaging, but I believe that it’s also very true to the original stories, or at least as much as it can be when sources sometimes conflict, or parts of the stories are missing. I was sad to learn that many of the stories about the goddesses had not been preserved or handed down at all. They’re simply lost to time and the spread of christianity.

It’s pretty different from the other Neil Gaiman books I’ve read. He hasn’t taken many liberties other than relating these myths in his own particular voice. He’s just being a storyteller in the long tradition of storytellers who collect and pass on beautiful pieces of literary history.

“Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn”

I just got done re-reading Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams. It’s one of his older works, but he recently released a new book set in that universe. It had been a while since I last read the whole thing, so I wanted to refresh my memory  before diving into the new book. I got the audiobooks of the series this time, and they’re pretty great. There’s some very impressive voice acting involved.

The first book in the series is The Dragonbone Chair, and it begins with Simon, a teenage kitchen boy who would really rather be anything else. He’s an orphan who lives in the Hayholt castle under the watchful eye of Rachel The Dragon, the mistress of chambermaids. The cast branches out to include Miriamelle, the high king’s wayward daughter, and other people – some human and some decidedly not – that he meets over the course of his adventures. It’s a truly beautiful world filled with interesting and surprising characters, like all of Tad’s creations.

I’m always especially impressed by the way he handles his non-humans. They’re whole people, with their own motivations, opinions, and struggles. They find themselves at odds with their own cultures at times, sometimes disastrously so, and that drives the plot in really interesting directions. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Binabick the troll is totally awesome and he’s worth reading the whole series for.

This is also the series that apparently helped inspire George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Tad has been very careful to point out that they’re two completely unique works, and they absolutely are. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is a lot less bloody and gratuitously rapey, for one thing, but having now enjoyed both series, it’s kind of fun spotting some common elements. It’s also a cool reminder that authors can incorporate similar ideas and borrow from each other but still produce very different results. (Like, SO different. I can’t stress that enough. If A Game of Thrones wasn’t to your taste, this series very well might be.)

Anyway, it’s been a while, but I am super ready to dive into The Heart of What Was Lost.

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My Method for a Full Manuscript Review/Edit

Here’s what’s been working for me. Feel free to ignore or borrow anything you like. It’s actually been pretty fun.

Fuel:

  • 5 hour energy shots
  • Buckets of strawberry refresher from Starbucks
  • Water
  • Fizzy juice
  • Music, usually a random pop station. I don’t usually have music on when I’m writing but for this I don’t find it too distracting.

Supplies: 

  • Pink, yellow, green, and blue highlighters
  • Black, blue, and red ballpoint pens
  • A nice lined notepad
  • Smart phone – You could just as easily use a printed-out copy of your manuscript for this.
  • Scrivener
  • For this phase, other than setting it up, I’ve avoided my laptop entirely. It’s too easy to get sucked into revisions (or Facebook).

Process:

  • I use Scrivener for actual drafting, so I was able to compile my manuscript as an ebook and then it was pretty simple to just pop the whole thing into Google Books. I even added a pretty cover so it looks like the other books in my library. Self delusion is an important part of my process, apparently. I did everything I could to distance myself from it.
  • Working from the ebook copy of my full manuscript, I make all my notes on the pad. Pretty simple.
  • Anything that requires a major change, or is a completely new idea, gets highlighted.
  • I make sure to always label each page with date and chapter, but I don’t worry too much about labeling the specific notes. I want to be able to get it all back in order if I drop the stack, but most of the notes contain enough context that I’ll know exactly what sentence or paragraph to focus on as I go through the manuscript on my computer, which is my final step.
  • Doodles are obviously a vital part of the creative process.
  • I finished taking notes on the whole story, and reviewed my outline to make sure I hadn’t wandered badly off track and see if I needed to correct anything. (I did.)
  • And finally, I’m just going through the manuscript fixing things and checking the items off. If I can’t make the change right away because it requires more brain-power than I have at the moment, I make a red note in the margin to make sure I won’t forget to come back to it.
  • Example of my super fancy note-taking technique pictured below:

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Moving on to Professional Help

Girl Friday Productions will be responsible for both a developmental edit of Somnolence and a line edit after that. The contracts are signed, and I’ll be handing the manuscript over to them at the beginning of May. In the meantime, I’m just doing everything I can to get it in the best shape I can manage.

I’m super ready to be done with this project and move on to others. I never want to spend five years working on the same book again. It’s not that I don’t love it, I still do, but it sucks to be so tired of something I’ve created and am still creating. Part of that is just how the writing process goes, but I have a feeling that if I had been able to work faster I wouldn’t be feeling quite this sick of reading it.

A common piece of advice for dealing with this is to just put the manuscript down and let it breathe for a while before coming back to it, but that’s not always practical. Sometimes you’ve just gotta plow forward and swallow the screaming. This project has suffered from far too many breaks, really.

Besides, the next two projects on my stack are cool, and I want to go play in those worlds.

“Revision & Self-Editing”

Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell was my book on writing for February, and honestly, I’ve had trouble getting through this one. I’ve been pretty focused on editing, this month, which you might think would increase my interest in this book, but it hasn’t. I honestly had a much better time reading the punctuation book and got a lot more benefit from it.

I feel like Revision & Self-Editing could be much more concise, given the relative simplicity of many of these concepts. Some of the information is certainly helpful, but much of it is the same stuff I can find by googling for plot structure and character development. I’m not gleaning a ton of new ideas from this read, or different perspectives on the familiar ones, and it isn’t very engaging. It would probably have been more helpful for me a couple of years ago, or even just early last year, but I’ve kinda clawed my way past this stage already.

So, my review is that this is probably a decent book if you’re just starting out, but if you’ve already done a lot of research on your own or you’ve taken some classes on creative writing, you might want something more advanced. If you are just starting out, I’d probably recommend some other books on editing first, but I wouldn’t say don’t pick this one up at all. It’s just not the most engaging read out there. 

A Quick (Late) Update

Still editing. I found that I was having a lot of trouble distancing myself enough to see the larger issues in my work, so I tried something kind of weird that turned out to be super helpful. I converted the manuscript into ebook form and then popped it into my google books app. I even gave it a cute cover, shown below, because if you’re gonna do something silly you might as well be thorough.

I do a lot of reading on my phone these days, and I found it much easier to see problem areas when I could sort of pretend that it wasn’t mine. I had also been having trouble with getting bogged down in revising single sentences over and over because they weren’t quite right, which meant very slow progress. With this method, I write down changes and problem areas on a notepad with some pretty colors and highlighters for different categories, and I’m able to keep up a much better pace. Once I’m finished reading through, I’ll take the notepad and my computer and go through all the problems that I recorded, one by one.

After that, and probably a lot of nitpicking, I’ll be handing it over for a proper developmental edit sometime in mid April. I’ll put up more details when the papers are all signed, but I’m pretty excited about this.

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This will absolutely not be the final cover for this book. An actual professional artist will be involved, I promise.