Inclusivity in Writing

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In my last post, I wrote about how Hollywood is going woke. They’re turning established male characters into female, using established franchises because there’s already a fan base to help ensure an audience. Or the suits—people making the decisions to green light projects—are adding LGBQT characters to be inclusive. Just to be clear, I’m not against any of this as long as the story is well written. But like many sequels, the story goes by the wayside because the focus is on the cash grab. I won’t rehash that here.

Now, if a character is written as LGBTQ, then the right thing to do is show their trials and tribulations due to their sexuality. Otherwise, why write them as LGBTQ?

To be inclusive, Jimmy. Why ya gotta hate?

Not hating. In a story, everything is important. There’s a famous writing principle called Chekhov’s gun. If a writer shows a gun in a scene, then that gun must be used—fired—at a later moment. Otherwise, why show the gun? Chekhov was warning writers not to put extraneous details that didn’t contribute to the whole of the story. 

Character traits, objects in the room, time of year, season (Winter is coming), even gender or sexual orientation should be cohesive in a way where readers can connect the dots and find meaning.

So what can be learned from an LGBTQ character? The same can be asked of a person of color (Monster’s Ball). Or a woman working in a male dominated business world (Working Girl). Or a male in a female dominant role (Mr. Mom). Or a mentally challenged character (Radio). The examples I’ve listed show how the characters deal with life’s shit storm.

Recently, Netflix released a series called Another Life. The premise, much like the film, Arrival, is an alien artifact has landed on Earth.

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So a crew is sent off into deep space to explore the origins of this object. One of the crew members, Zayn, is a nonconforming gender medical doctor, which is a pleasant surprise. But over the ten-episode series, Zayn didn’t enlighten our view of what’s it like to be nonconforming gender. Or if there were challenges. Or prejudices. I mean, do people in the future overly sexualize them? Or see them as less than humans? I ask these mean questions only to show that Zayn’s strengths are their own regardless of the nonconformity. But the writers didn’t developed Zayn’s character, or anyone one else’s in the series. This is bad writing. What’s worse is that the alien artifact, the science fiction portion, didn’t enlighten us in any way either.

I mentioned Arrival because I loved the short story the film was based on, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang. The short story is true science fiction in that there’s an extraordinary circumstance—an alien spaceship has landed, making first contact—and how humans handle their new reality. Chiang talks about how different languages can shape how we think. For example, in English we say, “I am hungry.” This sentence shows that I am that state. In Spanish we say, “Yo tengo hambre.” I have hunger. They’re very different ways of communicating. I mention this because the main character, Louise Banks, is a linguist tasked with translating the alien language. The aliens view time as circular, meaning the past can affect the future and the future can affect the past. Their language also reflects this aspect of their reality. As Louise becomes more fluent, her experience with time also changes, and she’s confronted with a future tragedy, the death of her unborn child. So the question becomes, does she still choose to have a kid, despite knowing what the future holds?

This choice, this exploration into the human condition in an extraordinary situation enlightens our own view of life. At its simplest we ask ourself what would we choose? Have the child and suffer the loss of their death? Not have the child and lose the amazing experience of raising a little person? At a deeper level we may appreciate life more by appreciating our children, by seeing how precious and fragile life is, and we can further understand that the love we can experience is a powerful driving force in our lives. The depth of understanding from Story of Your Life is what’s fun for me as a reader, and what’s fun to try and illicit in my readers in my own writing. Whether I succeeded or not is left for posterity to judge.

It may seem like I’m picking on Zayn in Another Life, but I’m not. I’m all for inclusivity. But when writers put a nonconforming character into a show, I wanna see why because such a small population of humans are of this segment. The number of Americans that identify as transgender, for example, is less than one percent.

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Not many ‘Mericans would ever meet a transgender individual. So show us their experience. Not just as a human, but as someone who lives in a society that may not accept them as human. The transgender community receives intense hate and violence. Enlighten us on their experience. Give our minds something to chew on. They deserve our attention and respect. They’re not pawns for an agenda.