Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
One of the many duties of successful speculative fiction is to work as a mirror on reality, and ultimately, humanity. Sometimes that mirror can reflect more serious subjects. So, it’s no surprise that something like bigotry would become a topic, even in a series like Harry Potter. While there have been a great many articles written about the successes and failures of the metaphor, the goal here is to examine the word itself.
Enter “mudblood.” It is a slur for a magical person born of parents who have no magic ability of their own. Considered highly offensive, it gets slung around a lot in the series by bullies, villains, and the propaganda arm of the fascist state. Clearly coded like racial profanity, the word is designed to dehumanize (or dewizardize, in this case), and the connotations manifest throughout the series. In fact, the entire story across all seven books largely consists of the titular hero and his pals battling against a villain who believes all of wizardkind should be “pure-bloods.” (We can trace this back to Salazar Slytherin—the goth racist who founded Slytherin House and thought the school should only teach those of pure wizard-blood. Then he left when no one agreed with him. He was basically the Morrissey of Hogwarts.) It’s important to recognize the context of “mudblood” in relation to the overall struggle; it’s not just a word bandied about by meanies, it has plot connotations as well.
As a term, it’s evocative of modern racial profanity. Used within the realm of speculative fiction, it does its part to hold up the mirror, and as faux-profanity it does this effectively.
Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.
Over the last week, I saw a couple of authors share tips for writing and for whatever reason, they each chose eight as their number. I know there are others who go with more or less, some of which I’ve even highlighted on this blog (Elmore Leonard, Dave Farland, Heinlein.) I wondered if this was a thing, so I did a little Googling. I found quite a few sets so I figured it’d be fun to gather them up and share them here.
A note before we begin: take everything with a grain of salt. Glean what you can; ignore what doesn’t resonate. What works for one author doesn’t always work for someone else. There is no right path to writing. Be willing to try anything, and figure out your process along the way. It’s easy to get frustrated, but learn to enjoy the discovery, uncovering how you work is part of the fun. So, that said, let’s jump in!
If there were a “big eight,” it’d probably be these eight. (I’d theorize that it was Vonnegut who set the precedent.) He doesn’t hold back, and his “rules” clearly serve as guidelines for his razor-sharp prose.
My Favorite: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
This set wasn’t assembled by O’Connor but rather gleaned from her work. However, it’s a fascinating insight into the way she worked and why her stories still resonate.
My Favorite: “I suppose I am not very severe criticizing other people’s manuscripts for several reasons, but first being that I don’t concern myself overly with meaning. This may be odd as I certainly believe a story has to have meaning, but the meaning in a story can’t be paraphrased and if it’s there it’s there, almost more as a physical than an intellectual fact.”
There is a bit of an my-way-or-the-highway style to these “Do’s and Don’ts,” but there are some good approaches within them as well. And one cannot argue with Grisham’s results, but as always do what works for you—write to serve the story.
My Favorite: “Don’t — Keep A Thesaurus Within Reaching Distance”
Gaiman’s rules are as varied and profound as his own work. But they also come from a place of kindness and empathy. Very much worth a read.
My Favorite: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
This collection was gleaned from Rowling’s various quotes, and she offers some good advice for those struggling through the difficulties of creation.
My Favorite: “I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company there.”
But wait… even after you read those rules, I should stress that Rowling didn’t assemble these herself. Like O’Connor above, someone else gathered them from various quotes of hers. However, unlike O’Connor, Rowling was able to hit up Twitter and explain her approach.
All nonsense. I’m with W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” pic.twitter.com/V8JSHteiHz
While the post is absolutely a collection of things she said, they aren’t hard and fast “rules”—think of them as tips or approaches. As I mentioned above, there are no rules specific to everyone and Rowling would agree. You can read more of her thoughts on writing (pulled from Twitter), right over here.
Personally, I’ve never been interested in writing short stories. But they are a staple of science fiction and fantasy. These eight little rules are a wonderful approach and would be effective for any fiction long or short.
Lewis’s tips are very similar to most modern writing advice. Just replace the “radio” with “internet” and magazines with the “internet.” Basically, replace the internet with books, people! Get rid of the internet!
My Favorite: “Read good books and avoid most magazines.”
So that’s it! Perhaps yo—
Wait, though… if the J. K. Rowling’s “rules” weren’t really hers, right? I mean she said them, sure, but they weren’t her rules per say. (The same argument could be made for O’Conner and Lewis, but they’re not around to tell us any different.) That means I owe you someone else! So, here’s eight different rules from eight different authors—they also happened to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
As you’d expect, there’s a ton of good advice on this list. One thing I’ve noticed as you read more and more of these is that the tips and rules seem to the echo the others—almost as if each set is constructed of similar material but reflected by an inner mirror within each writer.
My Favorite: Alice Munroe’s “Work stories out in your head when you can’t write.”
So, there are eight writing tips from eight different writers writing tips from sixteen different writers! A lot of good stuff, and plenty of interesting strategies. Hopefully, you find something that works for you. I listed my favorites, but I am sure you have your own as well. What stood out to you? Anything you disagree with? Do you have your own list of eight? Leave a comment and let me know!
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For a while now, in light of the recent string of tragedies we’ve seen in the world, I’ve watched fellow authors make a particular comment. (Most of the time on social media.) It can be paraphrased as such:
“None of the things happening in the world right now are happening in books.”
Okay, I can understand where they are coming from, but such a blanket statement feels a touch fantastical. Yes, the violence, destruction, hatred, and bigotry in books have little impact on the real-life lives of people, and yes, there is a solace there. But, to say those things don’t happen in the pages of fiction feels a little naive. Fiction deals with challenging topics all the time. Look at many popular book series on the market today; nothing is off-limits.
Take J. K. Rowling’sHarry Potter series, which began as a children’s book; it danced with bullying, bigotry, racism, and the aftereffects of murder. Harry Potter himself suffers, at the very least, mental abuse at the hands of his aunt and uncle (you could probably argue physical abuse as well.)
The world of Suzanne Collins’The Hunger Games, a darling of the YA genre, is horrific. The children of an enslaved populace are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of a wealthy, hedonistic society and its corrupt government. It’s not a pleasant place.
George R. R. Martin’sSong of Ice and Fire series, which is the most mature of these examples, deals with the consequences following a myriad of tragedies. You name it, and it’s there: violence, rape, murder, torture, war, slavery, incest, rebellion, terrorism, bigotry, regicide, patricide and on and on and on and on. The novels are laden with grim events.
That is how it should be. It is what makes fiction so great. Fiction is a safe space that lets us confront those problems; fiction lets us experience both the beautiful and the terrible. It allows us to see different perspectives that we may never face in our daily lives. That kind of intellectual experience hones us as people. It makes it possible for us to build up generous amounts of empathy, so when real-world problems confront us (and they will, believe me), we will have the tools to face them. As Neil Gaiman so eloquently explained in his essay Little Triggers,
“There are still things that profoundly upset me when I encounter them, whether it’s on the Web or the word or in the world. They never get easier, never stop my heart from trip-trapping, never let me escape, this time, unscathed. But they teach me things, and they open my eyes, and if they hurt, they hurt in ways that make me think and grow and change.”
It does a great disservice to hand-wave away the terrible and sometimes disturbing themes of fiction. If anything, I believe that they should be celebrated. The personal value brought on by these perspectives is unmeasurable to us as a society, and thankfully—unlike real life—if a book ever gets to be too much, we can always close it for a little while.
Hooray! It’s Friday the 13th! AGAIN! Twice in one year! That means… er, it’s time to share a few links I’ve found over the last few days. (Weeks, in this case.) Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! (Include a website so I can link to you as well.) Let’s get to it…
If you’re a nerd (and you’re reading my blog, so you probably are) who likes crafts and food and other randomly awesome nerdy things then I recommend checking out this YouTube channel. Weekly the ever-bubbly Stalara presents a new geektastic DIY. Lot of fun.
Random Wikipedia Article of the Week:
Wherein I got to Wikipedia and hit Random Article until I find something good/weird/offensive/hilarious/interesting/etc. This weeks entry:
Toilet Paper Orientation
The pros and cons that revolve around the orientation of toilet paper. Are you an over orientation supporter or do you throw your vote for the ever powerful under orientation consortium?
Friiiiday! It’s time to share a few links I’ve found over the last few days. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Let me know! All right, let’s get to it.
How J.K. Rowling Plotted Harry Potter With A Hand-Drawn Spreadsheet
I swore I had posted this before, but I couldn’t find it. So I am including it again. I love process and comparing process, it’s interesting to see how different authors approach their notes to a story. J. K. Rowlings attention to detail is fantastic. (Thanks to Lola for reminding me of this.)
The Electric Executioner “As the train rattled onward through the night I saw a subtle and gradual metamorphosis come over the expression of the staring man. Evidently satisfied that I was asleep, he allowed his face to reflect a curious jumble of emotions, the nature of which seemed anything but reassuring. Hatred, fear, triumph, and fanaticism flickered compositely over the lines of his lips and the angles of his eyes, while his gaze became a glare of really alarming greed and ferocity. Suddenly it dawned upon me that this man was mad, and dangerously so…”
Hooray Friday! It’s time to share a few interesting links I have found throughout the week. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Let me know!
Accidentally Going Digital
Peter Damien observes his slow evolution from book reader to ebook reader. Having once be adamantly opposed to reading digital books, I can relate. Just wait until it becomes your go-to platform.
The Akodessewa Fetish Market Atlas Obscura takes us deep into the heart of West Africa where the practice of vodoun—known to us as voodoo—is still thriving. Here you’ll find a market that caters to the practitioners. Here you can find anything from leopard heads to human skulls, and more. [NOTE: There’s nothing super gross here, but if you’re easily disturbed best to avoid this link.]
The Green Meadow
Written by H. P. Lovecraft and Winifred V. Jackson this short story tells the tale of a mysterious meteorite that crash lands in the ocean off the coast of Maine, and the strange discoveries therein.