I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing. Which is somewhat inconvenient, seeing as what I should be doing is actually writing instead of just thinking about it, but it is what it is.
The fact of the matter is: I don’t want to be a part of the literary elite. Would I like to be well-known? Yes. Would I like to be successful? Absolutely. But when I think about it, I don’t consider myself as primarily an author; I consider myself a storyteller. My first goal is, forever and always, to entertain. To give people something that interests them, that they want to read. If I can make them think in the process, so much the better. If I can spark conversations about truly important matters, I will be over the moon. But even if I can’t, if all I do is provide people with a few hours of entertainment and a story that they enjoy coming back to, well, that’s all I’m really asking. It’s about the story, first and foremost.
That being said, I also think it’s any writer’s responsibility to make an effort to look at what their work is saying regardless of their intent. When I first started imagining the characters for Glass Houses, the cast looked dramatically different than it does now. I trawled through Google Images for pictures that fit the characters as I imagined them, I put them all together in one place, and when I finally had them assembled I sat back and thought,
“Wow. That is a hell of a lot of white people. And a hell of a lot of men.”
And the thing about it was, there was no reason for it to be that way. My main character and her sister became Latina (though I haven’t found a new picture I love for Alice yet). My intelligent, scheming main antagonists became POC, as did one of the most morally ambiguous members of the cast, and another antagonist became female instead of male. And the funny thing is that once I made those changes, the story immediately started to come together in a way it never had before. Details about the world, about the characters, were suddenly falling into my lap like I had finally managed to line things up correctly to open the floodgates.
It’s extremely easy to conceptualize a story in terms of what you see most often, and for better or for worse, what we see most often in American culture are stories about straight white males. Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you from my own personal experience that trying to force your characters into that mold can be detrimental to the story you’re trying to tell. My biggest piece of advice when you’re undergoing the planning stage is to assemble your cast, take a step back, and ask, “Do they really need to look like this? Or would a different configuration suit them better?”
OMG don’t make me cry anon. Don’t you do that. :D Sadly I don’t have the next part written yet so you’re in for a bit more of a wait. I haven’t managed much writing in the last week or two at all. In fact I spent most of yesterday rearranging my workspace to give myself more room for my crafty stuff, only to discover that my plans were bad and I should feel bad. Now I have no work space at all until I get everything put back together into some kind of configuration. I don’t even know WHAT configuration because nothing’s going to work. I might have to retreat to the library just to get some writing in. :D
OMG so gross. ;D I’m guessing that magical healing powers includes the ability to eradicate parasites, though. Luckily for them, because I bet they eat some disgusting stuff and they definitely don’t stop to bake it in their little werewolf oven.
I think it depends a lot on context. Like I said in my post, you can use epithets really effectively, they just shouldn’t be used as a replacement for character description or more appropriate names/pronouns. Constantly calling a character “the blonde,” for instance, doesn’t tell us anything about that character except their hair color, which we probably already know from the countless “the blonde”s that have come before. The set-up you’re describing sounds to me like a much more effective use of epithets, that would tell your readers something about your main character, his or her relationship to the other character in question, and his or her state of mind at the particular moment that the epithets are used.
There are places that, IMO, epithets can fit in really well. If you’ve got a third-person omniscient narrator, epithets would probably read as being really strange; the tone of that type of narration is usually at least more impersonal, if not more formal. If you’re doing a really tight POV and we’re seeing something very much from a context of a particular character’s thoughts and feelings, it immediately becomes a lot more workable, particularly when it’s a first-person POV like what you’ve described.
But it also depends a lot on the character. To use Teen Wolf as an example again, I’d have a really difficult time with the idea of somebody like Scott McCall constantly using epithets to describe someone else, even somebody he dislikes intensely, like Derek. Scott sees people as people, sees them as names and individuals, and that’s part of his identity and his innate sort of heroism. If on the other hand you were doing this with Jackson Whittemore, especially season 1 Jackson who is the douche to end all douches, I could totally believe it. He might actively avoid even thinking in terms of somebody else having a name, because he’s too popular to know that character’s name, they’re not important enough for him to acknowledge that he knows what their name is. Like take the scene in the Pilot where he confronts Scott about his supposed steroid use. You could 100% write it this way:
He corners the freak by his locker, and it’s immensely satisfying the way the kid flinches back when Jackson slams his locker shut for him.
“Alright, little man,” Jackson says. “How ‘bout you tell me where you’re getting your juice?”
The look on McCall’s face is particularly vacant. The idiot’s mouth hangs open and he says, “What?”
“Where. Are you. Getting. Your juice?” Jackson slows it down, breaks the sentence into individual words with plenty of little pauses so the moron has plenty of time to understand the question. He’d think maybe the steroids are damaging the kid’s brain, but he knows McCall’s always been this stupid.
The kid proves it, too, when he screws up his face, shakes his head, and says, “My mom does all the grocery shopping.”
So this example is laden with epithets, but I think it mostly works because the epithets are actually doing some work for us: they’re showing us who Jackson is and the kind of dehumanizing terms that he thinks of other people with. The particular ones I used (overused, really, for the sake of example; if I were actually writing this I’d probably use them more sparingly, because too much and they lose their effectiveness) are kind of condescending… aside from outright thinking Scott’s an idiot, Jackson also thinks of him as a kid, implying that Jackson thinks himself to be more mature, bigger, stronger, more worthy of notice. (This is a pretty classic case of one of my FAVORITE EVER things, the unreliable narrator. The fact that Jackson thinks of Scott as an idiot doesn’t mean Scott IS an idiot; what Jackson thinks tell us more about Jackson than about Scott.) He obviously knows Scott’s name (in the episode dialogue he says it in the next line), but he avoids using it, and that initial “little man,” which is used in the actual episode, is a great example of using an epithet like this to purposefully diminish the other person.
You really can use a device like this to give a lot of insight into your characters and their particular relationship, and as a signal of change in that particular relationship. In season 1 Jackson would probably think of a LOT of people in terms of epithets; by season 2, when he’s starting to fall apart and become more vulnerable and interacting with the other characters more, he’s more likely to stop thinking of Scott and Stiles as “testicle left and right” and instead think of them as “McCall” and “Stilinski.” He wouldn’t think of them as “Scott” and “Stiles,” though… how your characters refer to each other is such a huge, important clue as to the nature of their relationship. (And if you had a scene later on where he DID use their first names, like after they’ve saved his life or something, that would be a pretty huge character moment.)
When Sheriff Stilinski is pursuing Derek into the old steelworks, he might be thinking of Derek as “the suspect,” and when he has Derek in custody and is doing the interview, he might think of him as “Hale.” (You can also do some interesting things by having characters think one thing and say another. The sheriff might think of Derek as “Hale” but address him as “Derek,” in an attempt to create a sense of familiarity between them to try to get Derek to talk. On the other side of that coin, you could have somebody like Allison addressing him as “Derek” because that’s how he introduced himself to her, but thinking of him as “Hale” because she’s far more reticent about him than she’d openly admit.)
Similarly, if you were writing from Chris Argent’s POV, you might write him initially referring to Derek only as “the werewolf” or “the beta” (when Derek was a beta) because again, given his background he might see only the thing that Derek is, his statuses and what they mean for how dangerous/killable he might be, rather than seeing Derek as a person and individual. As Chris’ world acquires a multitude of shades of gray and he starts to get more entangled with the concept that werewolves are people to, he’d probably start thinking of Derek as “Hale.” I’d just say don’t try to get too crazy creative with it and don’t be too scared of repetition; if Chris is constantly thinking of Derek as “the werewolf,” that tells us about their relationship to one another. If you’re finding a new adjective every time and Derek is the irritating werewolf, the smirking werewolf, the insolent werewolf, the dark-haired werewolf, the frowning werewolf, then you’re again straying into that territory where epithets become irritating rather than informative.
In conclusion, Anon, it sounds to me like you’re on the right track with your use of epithets. As per usual, I am not an expert on anything ever, but if you have other questions feel free to hit me up, on Anon or off.