|The Politics of Attitude||[May. 4th, 2008|08:03 pm]|
This is a problem I try to address in all my writing, but often have little success with. I think it's one of those ideas that are inherently difficult to do well.|
Briefly, what fascinates me most about a secondary world in fantasy or SF is the attitudes its characters have toward life. Is it a comic view? A tragic one? What is most important in the economic system: profit, lives, reputation, or something else? What are the relations between the sexes in the societies presented, sure, but even more improtantly, what kind of emotional postures do the sexes take toward each other? (Fantasies that don't think about this end up with the unconscious "women are less important than men" cliché; fantasies that do think about it, but simplistically, end up with the "women are revered because they're closer to nature, duh!" attitude). What are the historical events that ally countries or pit them against one another, but also, what are the reputations and residue those historical events have left behind in the minds of the people living now?
I want the characters to think like people of their culture would think, their thoughts rising naturally out of the emotions and unacknowledged prejudices and social forces driving them.
But this? Extremely hard to get into print. Try to do it and all sorts of unsavory things can happen. You can smash all characters flat into either acceptance of the dominant attitude or one-dimensional opposition of it; look at Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, where you're capitalist if you're Good, and socialist if you're Evil.
You can allow your own real-world attitudes to influence what happens in the story, to its detriment. Anne McCaffrey retconned her own canon to take gay characters out, even though she'd set it up that way and an accepting attitude toward homosexuality made more sense in the context of the world (characters being overwhelmed by passion when their dragons mated and supposedly grabbing the other rider to have unthinking sex immediately; now McCaffrey claims that the dragonriders' girlfriends or wives always step in). Some of the criticism I've read of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, absolutely baffled by the ending of the novel, points out that the ending makes sense if you look at Eliot's attitude toward the autobiographical elements in the book, but it's absolutely wrong for the characters involved.
You can try your very hardest to incorporate attitudes into the book and still wind up with a tangled mess. Most of George Meredith's novels are like that. He does his very best to, say, reconcile idealism and realism, but he ends up with characters that don't act "realistically" enough for many readers and also aren't good enough to seem like people from a romance. Some retellings of fairy tales fall flat for the same reason; the author is trying to reconcile the dream logic of a distinctly non-modern story with modern moral ideas, and the whole thing explodes.
So the problem becomes how to do this and have it work, and, even more, have it be part of the story, rather than something tacked on.
I don't know how yet.