13.36: Confronting the Default

Your Hosts: Brandon, Amal, Mary, and Maurice

If you live in the northern hemisphere, inland, perhaps above the 40th parallel, you are probably quite sure that there are four distinct seasons. There are, however, many, many people for whom “seasons” are things that happen to other people.

This is the conflict between your default and the rest of the world, and in this episode we’ll talk about confronting your default.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson.


Think about a bird. What makes it a bird? Write down five simple characteristics which make birds birdy for you. Now research birds and find birds that don’t fit your template.

7 thoughts on “13.36: Confronting the Default”

  1. Blowing out of the Windy City, Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice confronted the default! Seasons in Los Angeles, fall in Australia, atheists and faith, the gender of a wombat engineer, how many races are in your spaceship, how do you ask for the salt, mixing up characteristics for characters in your books, using your nondominant hand, and being aware of your biases. Lots of great discussion, that you can read in the transcript available in the archives and over here


  2. Umkay…I am a pretty traditional sort: two genders, nonegalitarian, patriarchal and loving it, and a monarchist American. Dont do progress if the path only leads to a cliff…no fun at dinner parties, I promise. But I do love thought experiments, and writing and your discussion on being aware of defaults in the context of a comment on bird societies and other uplifted creatures reminded me of this. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9354761

    As you can the the social implications for a sentient bird society of a traditionalist bent could really clash with the sensibilities of a sentient primate culture like our own.

    Notice which sex is homomorphic. It is the opposite of mammals. So how would that difference play out as a moral question with gender non conorming sentient birds? The genetic stakes strikes me as opening story question that are irrational from a mamalian perspective. In a sufficiently advanced bird society, where prepaleolitic considerations of species survival are off the table…no fundamental need to defend feeding/breeding territories…what are males needed for except perhaps to sing and look pretty?

  3. Is there a link somewhere to the character sheet referenced in this episode where you can plot your characters against the default?

  4. Interesting episode. It was quite nice and very, very interesting. I wonder would Mary ever want to do a ‘what writers get wrong” about bisexuality? Maybe not wrong, but I imagine it would be interesting on an interpersonal level. A mentor relationship in an epic fantasy could have a one sided sexual tension that could be different than if the characterwas gay. Also, it’s pretty cool that you said that as there can be a backlash against bisexuality. (Moderator can delete this paragraph if offensive)

    Brandon’s story about mistborn is a perfect example of why, in my opinion, you shouldn’t change things just to change things. I feel like the lack of women gave it this interesting, almost myopic, claustrophobic feeling. This lack made that first novel. Where are the women? Why are they not there? The lack of women, interestingly enough, is as part of that novel as the mist was.

    Also, I feel like vin became adopted by all the gang in a strange way. She was a bit of a tomboy and there was nothing wrong with that. She interacted with mostly male characters and there was nothing wrong with that. There was nothing wrong with showing the dynamic of Vin in that group dynamic.

    Isn’t that the beauty of writing? To show different situations. To analyze. To create interplay that creates an engaging story. And, Vin interacting with that cast of characters was very interesting.

    Would more female characters in the gang of thieves have made a better novel? Perhaps. Would it have given rise to more relationship options? Of course. Would it have been a different novel? Yes, absolutely.

  5. At the age of 26 I traveled from my safe little haven in the United States to live and work in Japan for a year. 24 years later, I’m still here.

    With that said, if you really want to shake up your default beliefs on almost every level, then I highly recommend living in a foreign country that is different than your own. (It doesn’t have to be for 24 years.) If you take it a step further and dive into the language and the culture, then your own world of beliefs will, quite often, be smashed into little pieces. Which is a good thing. In my own experience at least, the process of putting my world back together has made me far more open to the ideas and beliefs of others.

  6. What I find interesting is that these “defaults” are being spoken of in terms of morality.  By morality, I’m referring to phrases like “I’m guilty of… whoops….thanks for pointing out my biases… I want my biaes pointed out to me.”

    Example: Brandon’s team of *theives* has only one woman. 

    There seems to be no issue with a story that essentially glorifies and makes heroes of theives i.e. something that is actually morally wrong.

    But there is gulit- or at least concern -over the fact that there was only one woman on that team of theives. The gender composition of the team is not an actual moral issue. 

    Would Mistborn have been better with another woman on that team? I don’t think so. It would have been different, but I don’t think it would have been better.  Vin isn’t the only female Mistborn in that story, and I felt all of the characters were exactly what they needed to be for that story.

    I understand WX’s point is to think outside the box when creating characters. My point is that there is no moral failure in creating  a story with characters who would all mark the same box on a demographic survey., so please stop speaking of this in terms of right and wrong. 

    Choosing to write outside of personal bias is a preferance,  not a moral imperative.  I’ve been writing long enough to know the only kind of character I *have* to write is an interesting one. Not everyone who vists this podcast will have that understanding.  I find it very easy to imagine how discouraged a young writer might become by hearing that their characterizations are flawed because of the gender or race or orientation they chose to write about.

    Please return the focus of this podcast to the actual mechanics of writing good narrative, instead of narrative as activism.

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