During my winter semester I had a professor who insisted that we use “he” or “she” in our papers. He refused to accept “they” as singular. But “they” has been used as a singular in English for a long time. Writings from historical authors prove as much. Shakespeare and Jane Austin are just two of these authors.
It is true that “they” had lost favor as a singular for a while, but it is reemerging with the increased acceptance of the transgender community. Personally, I’m happy that it is coming back. “He” as an all encompassing term is, frankly, insulting. Why is it okay to assume that a woman is a man if you don’t know her gender but it’s considered wrong to assume that a man is a woman if you don’t know his gender? And “he/she” isn’t much better. For one, it’s more time consuming than “they” and, for another, it assumes that gender is binary.
“They” is both more inclusive and more convenient. So why do so many people get up in arms over the use of “they” as a singular?
Since we now have 200 follows, it seems like a good time to get some input from those of you reading our blog. Is there anything that you want us to write about?
It takes a lot of inspiration to write. I would never even had dreamed that I would be able to write my own stories if it weren’t for the fact that I read a lot. And, of course, if it weren’t for all the people who told me that I had a great imagination and was good at making up stories. My dad encouraged me to write from a young age, and my partner is the one who encouraged me to work towards getting my stories published. But my greatest inspiration has been the authors whose books I have read.
Tamora Pierce quickly became my favorite author when I was a child. She inspired me to believe that my sex did not determine my abilities. I instantly fell in love with her characters, especially her female characters who were all different and yet who managed to defy stereotypical gender roles to fight for what they believed in. Tamora Pierce got me interested in the fantasy genre in the first place. She led me to write my first fantasy story when I was 14, which was terrible and ended up being left unfinished, and I found myself with the idea to publishing a novel always in the back of my mind even when I thought that I had given up that dream.
The first adult fantasy that I read was the Valdemar series written by Mercedes Lackey. She is my favorite author, along with Tamora Pierce, to this day. Her books increased my love of fantasy and allowed me to think about a different kind of fantasy world. She is the reason that I don’t think King Arthur-esk story when somebody says “fantasy.”
Brent Weeks has inspired me in two ways. First, I find his stories are the type of stories that I need a weekend off for. Once I begin reading one of his books, I can’t put it down. I want to write those kind of stories. Second, he got lucky in a way few authors do: he got his first book published. My first book is still unpublished. I intend to edit it before I go back to school and see if I can get it published. I don’t know if I will be as lucky as Brent Weeks was, but I hope I am.
Neil Gaiman is my partners favorite author. I hadn’t heard of him until my partner and I began dating. I think that his stories are incredibly engaging. I enjoy his style of writing. I am also a fan of creepy stories. I have always loved horror and thrillers, even when I was a small child. After listening to him speak, I decided that, while fantasy is my favorite genre, I really didn’t want to write just one genre and a certainly don’t want a career based around one series. I would like to write thrillers, dystopian fantasy, epic fantasy, YA fantasy, and graphic novels if at all possible.
These authors are my four main inspirations when it comes to writing. Who inspires you?
Most stories depict gender as we view it in the western world. There are men and women. Men do one set of tasks (ie. ruling, fighting, acting tough, etc.) and women do a different set of tasks (ie. raising and giving birth to children, flirting with men, and home-making). But these are very western ideas of gender. And they stem out of the Victorian era, so they are quite modern. As such, you wouldn’t expect gender to be the same in every story.
What are some stories that you know of where gender is different from the western version?
What are some interesting or different ways that you’d like to see gender written about?
Is there anything wrong with writing about gender the same way in almost every story?
A few weeks ago my partner and I were listening to an episode of the podcast Writing Excuses. In the episode, the hosts were talking about social media and they mentioned how activism can hurt an authors book sales. I can see where they are coming from: many of the people I know refuse to buy anything by Orsen Scott Card because of his views on homosexuality. But what about those authors who use their books for the purposes of activism? Tamora Pierce, in an interview, mentioned the role of feminism in her books.
Personally, I have found that certain social issues help me create the stories that I write. In my first novel, I used a pro-life/pro-choice debate that I had attended as my influence for one of the more important scenes. I used a discussion about the fact that people deny the existence of asexuality as my influence to write an asexual character. I have used my personal experiences and causes that I care about to create my characters. I have gender queer characters, characters who are transgender, questioning characters, and one of my characters is a lesbian (so far). I have written many of my characters as they are because it is how I best identify with them. While most people may identify best with my characters if they were heterosexual and identified with their assigned gender, I find that my characters are more believable if I write someone who I can relate to. Besides, if you walked into any bookstore and picked up a random fiction novel, there’s a good chance the characters i it are heterosexual and cisgender. In fact, it’s quite likely that the protagonist is a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. That sounds very boring to me. I’d rather write characters so that those who normally don’t get to see themselves in literature can identify with a literary figure. That is my activism.
So what do other writers think? Should activism be kept separate from writing?
I have been told repeatedly that it is important for a writer to have an internet presence whether they wish to self-publish or take the more traditional route. I have only just begun to build my presence. For those writers out there, how have you built up your internet presence? What tools have you used? How do you feel about allowing the public access to your personal information and, if your not comfortable with it, what have you done to protect your info?
Also, what are peoples personal experiences with publishing and spreading word about your books?
The other day I came across an article titled “Writing and Gender.” I tried to leave a comment, but of course my internet chose right then to act up. I lost the article and could not find it again, so I decided I’d write my response here. The article discussed the prevalence of gender in writing and the authors hope to write a novel in first person while attempting to avoid making character gender obvious. I applaud the author for their willingness to attempt such a feat (if you read this, I’m sorry but I can’t remember who wrote the post). I also have a similar goal in mind. Gender is a big issue for me, and I attempt to always write characters that defy gender roles. I have also dabbled in some short stories where I avoid gender simply by using gender-neutral names and the singular of they. It is not an easy task, but it’s doable. My end goal is to do a graphic novel where the characters all look gender-neutral. I want to see how people respond when they look at the characters and can’t determine their gender. My curiosity arose from a study done where parents dressed their infants in gender-neutral clothing and refused to tell people their gender. In the study, some people where driven so crazy by not knowing that they would go as far as to try to undress the children to find out what their sexes were.
How would you respond to a story where you were unsure of the characters gender? Would you care? Would it take away from the story or distract you? Why?
Would you be willing to write a story where you refused to gender the main character or all of the characters? Do you think it would be possible? How would you do it?
Today my partner and I went to the new movie Transcendence. After the movie, we began discussing how so many dystopian stories contribute to the fear of science. In Transcendence it’s AI technology, In Divergent it’s mind control, In Hunger Games there is the fear that the elite will control all the technology and use it against the rest of the population. These fears see to follow fears held by the average person. But are these fears right? Or are they simply brought about by a lack of understanding of science and technology? What if there were a dystopian novel/movie that went in the opposite direction? Are there any that already have?