Three Questions I Never Get Asked
Why did you choose to make Princess Danielle white in your princess books?
Isaac Vainio, the protagonist of your next book, is a straight man. Why did you decide to write about a heterosexual protagonist?
Jig the goblin is smart, resourceful, and in an admittedly nontraditional sense, rather courageous. What made you want to write about a strong male character?
May 23, 2012 @ 11:02 am
Eric James Stone
May 23, 2012 @ 11:25 am
Strange. I’ve never been asked those particular questions either.
May 23, 2012 @ 12:02 pm
This raises some interesting questions about the psychology of reading. It’s been shown that women tend to identify with and relate well equally to male and female protagonists, whereas men tend to relate well only with male characters, hence women are encouraged to create male protagonists when possible (e.g., Harry Potter).
– Would it also be true that gay people relate equally well to gay and straight protagonists, whereas straight people tend to relate well only with straight characters, and that people of color relate equally well to white and ethnic minority characters, whereas white people tend to relate well only with white characters?
In the research I mentioned, they speculated the reason that women relate well to male characters is because women are more empathetic than males. My thought, though, is that it’s because women (historically) have needed to understand the perspective of powerful men in their lives more than men have needed to understand the perspective of powerful women. If that’s the case, then that would tend to argue that people from less privileged groups would be better in general at perspective-taking when reading than are white males.
– So then wouldn’t it also follow that women are better at relating to gay characters and characters of color, and that gay readers are better at relating to female characters and characters of color, etc.?
One could argue, too, that since the findings on women identifying well with male characters comes from readers of mainstream fiction, maybe readers of fantasy are different (at least to the extent that they’re not just limiting themselves to the “medieval Europe plus magic” genre of fantasy). Maybe since fantasy worlds by definition require some openness to stretching oneself and taking on different and unusual perspectives, then fantasy readers in general are open to identifying with more types of protagonists.
– So maybe male fantasy readers are just as good at identifying with female protagonists as women are? And maybe fantasy readers in general (again excluding those who just want very conventional fantasy worlds) are more open to respecting a wide variety of perspectives than the average person?
(Sorry for the length!)
May 23, 2012 @ 1:27 pm
Is this in response partly to Rucka’s latest piece? ;> If not, you’ve got great timing. lol
Jim C. Hines
May 23, 2012 @ 1:36 pm
In part, but not entirely.
Jim C. Hines
May 23, 2012 @ 1:41 pm
My guess is that, in part, women are better at relating to male characters because historically, they haven’t been given as much of a choice. For so much of western literature, straight white male has been the default hero, meaning people like me are able to very easily find a range of stories about people like me, so I’m not forced to learn to empathize and identify with other groups to the same extent as people from those less represented groups would be.
May 23, 2012 @ 4:43 pm
“My guess is that, in part, women are better at relating to male characters because historically, they haven’t been given as much of a choice.”
Yes, that. Maureen Johnson’s wonderful piece again: http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/2010/09/22/sell-the-girls/
Also puts this in mind:
Lastly, heads up, John Scalzi may have sent a horde of angry SWM your way for your Facts are Cool statistics.
May 23, 2012 @ 9:09 pm
Isn’t it understood that if Jim writes about anything else it becomes appropriation of voice?
Say ….. where does he get off writing about girls? or goblins?
May 23, 2012 @ 10:23 pm
Hah, yes. To look at it from a slightly different angle, though… Authors like a challenge, and writing about someone whose way of thinking or culture or gender or sexuality is different is generally challenge enough. Combine enough difference-variables in one character, and it makes them harder to hold onto in your head and keep believable on the page (unless perhaps you know someone you could base her off of, but people don’t always appreciate that). Princess Danielle is white, as are you. Isaac is a straight man, as are you. Jig is smart, resourceful, and courageous in a nontraditional sense, as are you (also, his name is one letter off from yours). Each of them is also different from you in at least one major aspect, I’m sure, which is what interested you in them (if they were exactly like you, you’d have to be a narcissist to enjoy writing an entire book about them). I know what you’re getting at, but you are part of the default-protagonist class, so it follows that your characters share at least a few things in common with default-protagonist class.
May 27, 2012 @ 3:03 pm
I can understand about the first two, but I can’t understand the 3rd question getting missed! “Jig the goblin is smart, resourceful, and in an admittedly nontraditional sense, rather courageous. What made you want to write about a strong male character?” was the first thing I thought when I read the Goblin books after reading the Stepsister series. But all the books share a common “underdog” theme, of people who are typically overlooked and misunderstood turning out to be far more than others would expect. That’s a big part of what I like about Jim Hines’ books.
May 29, 2012 @ 4:54 pm
I have thought about this subject a great deal. An issue for me is the idea that one shouldn’t do anything unless one can do it well. So if I attempt to write a strong female character and I muck it up, the backlash is quick. It comes down to a catch-22, if one doesn’t feel able to properly write a female, POC, or LBGT character, and leaves such POV characters out of a story, then one is taken to task for the lack of diversity. Likewise if an author does attempt to write such POV and doesn’t get it right, they are taken to task for it as well, and often the excuse of “Hey lighten up, I’m trying!” does not calm the accusations of white male privilege clouding their perspective. In addition often the scope of the plot may not require the presence of character variation. Not every story must be diverse first and foremost. I like to read stories with a diversity of characters as long as I don’t get a feeling of tokenism.
Jim C. Hines
May 29, 2012 @ 8:49 pm
The thing is, if I believed you should never do anything unless you can do it well, I’d never have become a writer. I was a lousy writer when I started out — I couldn’t plot, my description sucked, and yes, my portrayal of “not-me” characters was rather problematic. Writing is a learned skill.
I’ve been taken to task for choices I’ve made in writing female characters, nonwhite characters, and non-straight characters. Sometimes I’ve disagreed, but often I find myself agreeing with the other person and learning from that feedback.
Is it pleasant? Generally not. But I think it’s important.
This is obviously something I feel strongly about, and I don’t mean to make you the target of my soapbox lecture. But I find non-diverse stories to be dishonest and unrealistic, for the most part. Yes, it can be a risk to write about characters who are different from yourself. But I have very little interest in reading stories that don’t take risks.
May 31, 2012 @ 1:54 pm
I’m with you. I would much rather take the chance, fail, and learn as well. Anyone who isn’t sympathetic to trial and error can just go………
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July 29, 2012 @ 9:48 pm
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