*Years ago, when I was deeply in the political closet, after days of mouthing pieties or at least not laughing in the faces of editors and agents saying (or posting, or emailing) them, I would hit IMAO.US, Frank’s site, and laugh until I felt human again. Imagine my shock when I realized he wrote science fiction and fantasy. His new book, Sidequest, was just released and you might want to check it out. Meanwhile give a hearty ATH welcome to Frank. He’s one of the good ones (And sorry this is late. The site gave me issues with formatting.).- SAH*
Woke-ify Your Fiction
A good rule for writing science fiction and fantasy these days: If it’s not woke, it’s putting people to sleep. The key now is being socially conscious. Most people are regular conscious — reactive to basic stimuli like sight, sound, small rocks being thrown at them — but the more pertinent thing to be is socially conscious — reactive to microaggressions and the racism and bigotry that undercut all human activity. And if you want people to buy your fiction these days, it needs to reflect that social consciousness — as tedious as that all sounds.
I know some are resistant to this idea. You’ve probably heard this quote: “Why do I have to worry about all this political stuff? Can’t I just write fun stories everyone will enjoy?” You know who said that? That’s right: Adolf Hitler.
A lot of people don’t want to confront how closed and exclusive science fiction and fantasy have been throughout history. H.G. Wells spent a whole chapter of The Time Machine making explicit that in the future there would no longer be Irishmen. And when J. R. R. Tolkien ever had a woman do something useful in one of his stories, he always had to follow that with a note that this was a fantasy and would not happen in real life. And were later authors like Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke any better? I’m honestly asking; their books look very long, and I haven’t read them.
But you need to be better than that if you want to write today. You need to Woke-ify™ your fiction if you want to reach today’s readers. And I’m here to tell you how to do that.
Remove Anything That Could Trigger or Offend
In olden times, people would just plod away writing whatever they’d want without thinking about the damage they could be doing to the psychological well-being of their readers. They would probably plead ignorance of how their language could cause harm, but ignorance is no longer an acceptable defense — though, yes, most of us honestly have no clue what could set people off nowadays.
Well, my advice is that you consider your reader to be a fragile little mouse which any sudden movements or loud noises could frighten into running away. With each word, ask yourself: Could this scare someone? Could this offend someone? Could it be misconstrued as something offensive? Could this remind someone of some other word that could be offensive? If I were to look this up in the dictionary, would there be any offensive words on the same page?
You might think it’s a good idea to just stick to really simple language to avoid offense, but it’s not that easy. Think of one of the simplest books ever made: Fun with Dick and Jane. We’re not even past the title, and it’s already highly problematic.
Words are just a problem in general. I say don’t be afraid of leaving a few blank pages in your book. In the least, it will give your reader a nice respite before more of those troublesome words start bombarding him or her.
Now, I believe the usual habit these days is to think of every oppressed minority group you can think of, write them down, and then check them off as you include them in your story. And while that’s a great method, I think we can be even more inclusive. That’s why I say expand your horizons and try to come up with new groups that no one ever thought to include.
For instance, in my first novel, Superego, I was inclusive of psychopaths, a group still very much discriminated against. In my latest novel, Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled (available now in paperback, ebook, and audiobook — just putting that out there), I’m inclusive of computer programmers. Computer programmers barely ever get to be the hero because they’re weird, awkward, and not very athletic. And frankly people don’t like them and say mean things to them, and it hurts my feelings.
So take a daring stand and be inclusive. It’s great, because it’s the type of daring stand where you can expect accolades for how daring you are — versus the other type of daring stand, which makes people angry at you. Avoid that.
Advocate Social Justice
To be good woke fiction, your story needs to be about social justice. But what is social justice? Well, regular justice likes to sit by itself. It’s just over there in the corner, at a table all by its lonesome, nursing a beer. Not even looking at anyone else. But social justice is friends with everyone. It’s chatting people up and laughing at their jokes and having a great time out with the gang.
Okay, I don’t actually know what social justice is. But judging from what I’ve seen described as social justice, just take whatever theme you have in your story and be real smug about it. Like let’s say your story is all about how teamwork is important. Then at the end have your character be all like, “We’ve blown your minds with our teamwork ideals, destroying your colonial ‘don’t help each other’ mindset. I bet your world has been turned upside down and you feel enlightened.” And maybe throw a hashtag in there. I think social justice requires hashtags.
Don’t Be a Straight White Male
This one is going to be harder for some than others. Sarah Hoyt has been pretty good about this, while I have always struggled. But if at all possible, when you sit down to write, don’t be a straight white male. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with being a straight white male — you were born that way, no fault of your own — it’s just that everyone hates you. So stop it.
Some people are going to be resistant to this one. Isn’t fun fun? No. Fun is not fun. Fun is bad.
Think of it this way. Imagine someone smiling and laughing and having fun. Is that person thinking of all the oppressions going on in society and the racism that pervades all our interactions? No, if they’re smiling, they’re forgetting about all of that. Having fun is the opposite of being woke. Smiles are for fascists who don’t care about oppression. If you think any of your writing could make someone smile, you need a drastic rewrite so that your fiction constantly hits people in the face with all that’s wrong with society so they would never imagine smiling again.
Well, those are all the tips I have to help you Woke-ify™ your fiction. So go write something enjoyable and socially conscious. Or at least socially conscious. Or don’t write anything at all; it’s kind of a minefield. Plus I don’t want the competition.