Your Hosts: Dan, Howard, and Mary Robinette, with special guest Patrick Rothfuss
We begin our discussion of revision by addressing a question we hear a lot: How do you know what needs to be changed? We talk about our various techniques for getting distance from our work, incorporating feedback, and breaking the process down into manageable chunks.
Liner Notes: Lindsey Ellis on Three-Act Structure
Credits: This episode was recorded by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 29:04 — 20.7MB)
Identify your chapter and scene purposes, and apply the 10% solution during a revision pass.
The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells
48 thoughts on “15.04: Revision, with Patrick Rothfuss”
How exciting! I love listening to Mr. Rothfuss! This was awesome!
I’m so glad that you guys didn’t edit out Pat and Mary’s exchange at the end.
Even before that happened I was thinking that this was one of the better episodes I’d listened to. But those final moments of honesty and tension, then understanding and reconciliation, all through the framework of revision, really made the episode compelling and instructive in a way that no other instalment has been.
Truly my favourite episode so far. Props to Mary for highlighting the issue; to Pat for being willing to engage in good faith; and to the whole team for having the boldness to release the episode untouched.
I’m still not entirely clear how it was his statement was sexist or racist. Can someone explain this to me as to avoid offending someone in my own writing. Would someone from Morocco not have dark eyes? Is it wrong to mention a womans beauty while writing? How do you be specific about the looks of someone from another culture without being offensive. What was offensive seems vague to me.
What a great episode! Lots of good tips. I hope we hear more from Patrick. I wanted to say I really appreciated you guys not cutting the analogy he used and instead working through it once Mary-Robinette called it out. When I heard Pat’s analogy, it fell flat and I couldn’t relate to it, and it gave me a weird slightly sexist vibe because it was woman and looks focused. I was relieved when she pointed it out and it was exactly the type of thing you guys had to consider with intentions vs. actual effect. Mature communication all around. Thanks you guys.
I just wanted to say that Mr. Rothfuss behaved like a true gentleman when he was essentially accused of being sexist.
Ignoring the distinct possibility that this comment was posted in bad faith, I think it is a phenomenal example of the misconceptions present in this comment section. The message was never that Rothfuss is sexist, nor that his analogy had any malice in it. The majority of (male) commenters seem to hold the belief that Pat was being accused of being an intentionally sexist/bad person, which, as I see it, is completely missing the point.
The message was simply that his analogy can perpetuate sexist trains of thought, and Mary Robinette objected on those grounds, not as a personal attack. Everyone can say or do harmful/problematic things purely by accident, and then attempt to correct themselves, as Pat did. This is not demonstrative of evil or a moral failing, this is just life. Everyone can make mistakes, especially when it comes to sensitive topics that do not directly affect themselves.
Damn, Mary, your activism throughout the seasons have made me self-aware enough that I too was distracted by the analogy :P Also great way to point it out without confrontation, I’ll write that down too.
Although my problem with the analogy was the conclusion. Pat’s advice was that you need both in a book for it to be meaningful, the analogy would be that you need both types of romantic relationships for a life to be meaningful, whereas I strongly belief any life can be meaningful with any number of romantic relationships, including zero.
Very respectful discussion. I loved it!
With respect, I don’t think Mary’s objections to Rothfuss’s analogy are valid. Is it sexist to acknowledge that some of us are attracted to women and not to men? Is it sexist to acknowledge that some people are more beautiful than others? If everyone is beautiful, then no one is beautiful. Is that the ultimate goal of feminism: to tear all women down and make them equally ugly?
No matter how many times you revise your writing, there will always be people who choose to be offended at it. While I enjoyed the back-and-forth as the members of the panel revised Rothfuss’s analogy, the end result was weaker and less effective than the original. The lesson I took from it was that if you try to revise your writing to satisfy everyone, you will suck the life out of it and satisfy no one.
You know, at first I had the same reaction as you. But I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think Mary was right.
One of the main factors in sexism is objectification–and that’s what happens to the second woman in the example. The analogy proposes that there are two types of women in a man’s life:
(1) the 10-year marriage woman–who is a full person you love, and experience life’s ups and downs with.
(2) the beautiful woman who, as far as this analogy is concerned, exists only to fulfill my desire for pleasure in this one moment. (Which is the very essence of objectification).
I’m sad that this is what you took away from the discussion.
To answer your questions.
1. Is it sexist to acknowledge that some of us are attracted to women and not to men?
A: No. And that wasn’t what this discussion was about.
2. Is it sexist to acknowledge that some people are more beautiful than others?
A: No. And that wasn’t what this discussion was about.
3. If everyone is beautiful, then no one is beautiful. Is that the ultimate goal of feminism: to tear all women down and make them equally ugly?
A: No. And that wasn’t what this discussion was about.
The issue was that women are used as metaphors in a disproportionate amount than men. We are disproportionately valued for our appearance rather than our abilities. Using this metaphor continues a larger pattern, and that larger pattern is damaging.
As an ally, Pat was open to considering a different metaphor. Given more time, I’m certain that he could come up with something that would satify even you. In fact, after we stopped recording, he continued to revise it.
Mary, I’m not the one who interrupted the podcast to say “this metaphor offends me.” If I had a podcast and Patrick Rothfuss was on it, neither formulation would have made me bat an eye. What dissatisfied me was the way that you used “I’m offended” to take over the podcast, to the point that your cohost actually had to ask “do we need to stop recording and redo this?”
I’m all for working together to build a society that isn’t sexist. I have three younger sisters, a wife with a STEM career, and a daughter due in May. But you’ve got to pick your battles. I’m all for pushing back against unrealistic beauty standards and sending the message that women should be valued for much more than their physical beauty. But if you choose to be offended at the slightest thing and turn it into a battle, you’re never going to achieve that.
So many people these days are ideologically possessed with pretensions of victimhood, and nothing good can come of it. However, I am glad that you and Patrick were able to work out whatever differences you had without turning it into a shouting match, as seems to be the case so often on the internet these days.
Cutting in as an Anthropologist in Systems. (things like sexism, homophobia, etc) I also have an interest in food systems, and particularly how those systems deal with creativity. (Also writer)
All of your second paragraph is trying to show that you don’t have cis male privilege, yet you do. You have it. Own it, and realize you aren’t a real own voice in this. You can learn by asking rather than asserting. This is what I term badging. You can hear it in lines such as:
“I have a best friend that is gay.”
“I have gone to the march on Washington.”
“My best friend’s daughter’s husband’s adopted brother is black.”
But social justice is not a Scout badge system. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. No matter what you do, you don’t get a shiny badge to tell you you are good. You have to work on it every day and you can still mess up.
And BTW, to be clear, privilege isn’t bad, the problem is not recognizing when you have more of it than others around you and you are unwilling even when you recognize it to listen to them, hear their objections out and understand why they feel like they feel about their own lived experiences. Even if you listen, you should be making space for those lived experiences to enrich things like your writing. To understand why they want to say it from their PoV, because the act of writing is an act of empathy–otherwise you’ll end up writing only yourself which will result in poor books.
You may be saying at this point, “What about me and my experiences?” And that’s right, but remember, if say… someone tells you up front their relative is dying of cancer. The insensitive thing would be to say, “Well, you’re wrong about that and acting like a victim.” You aren’t going through it. You have no right to push what you think over them. Likewise it’s also insensitive to say something like, “Well, you know, I had an uncle when I was five that also died of cancer and it was really hard on me. Let’s talk about me now.”
It’s EQ. And if you object to people asking to up your EQ, it’s going to be difficult on you as a writer and artist. We’re selling emotions on the page.
Your problem is that you “chose” to take offense to what she said in defense of Patrick Rothfuss who listened and understood the problem and got it right away and then in your own analogy, “chose to be a victim.” His analogy had issues of treating women as objects… but he was quick to realize the issues and moved on, but you hung on like he was a victim of feminism. Friends call friends out when they could do hurtful behavior towards others.
But you don’t have skin in the game. You are a professed man. Your badges aren’t here to agree with you. You’re speaking up and over women’s experiences and using them as objects for an argument without them being here. Isn’t that problematic?
If you think I give a damn about “priviledge,” you should see my collection of politically incorrect bumper stickers on the tailgate of my truck. My personal favorite: FREE TIBET* *(with purchase of $19.95 or more)
Thank God for free speech!
Joe, it’s okay if you like the metaphor as it was. It’s okay to use it. It’s okay to criticize Mary Robinette’s criticism. But it’s also okay to let Pat take her ideas to heart.
Chill a bit.
Joe, my name is Mary Robinette.
When Pat made the analogy, I had two choices. I could let it slide or I could talk to him about it. I did not say “this metaphor offends me” I said that the analogy distracted me and that I would love it if he would use one that was less sexist.
Further, Dan’s query about re-recording was to Pat to find out if he wanted to re-record so that the audience didn’t hear him use an analogy that Pat agreed contained a problem.
If Pat had said “yes” you would never have heard this. We talked about it again after we finished recording. *He* chose to keep this in because he thought it was important for people to hear how revision worked.
So, I’d like to ask you to walk away from the keyboard for a day and think about why you are angry at *me.*
Mary Robinette, I started off a smidge defensive while I listened because I got the sense that this was a very personal analogy for Pat. But, I got to say, your point about the analogy’s effect on the audience seems spot-on to me. Pat certainly doesn’t have to revise the analogy and that’s fine and dandy, but his revision seems to make the analogy more useful. So, I guess that’s a win.
Mary Robinette has already addressed this, but I wanted to weigh in with some more details since I’m the one who asked if we needed to edit that discussion out of the show. I did not propose that because I thought Mary Robinette’s question was inappropriate, or because I was worried that the discussion had become uncomfortable. I proposed it because we always try to make our guests feel comfortable and come across as “camera ready”—we want to help them present themselves as effortlessly witty and intelligent. Any time the conversation turns to “how exactly should we say this,” it is our standard procedure to start that thought over and edit away the “figuring it out” discussion that comes in the middle. When Pat suggested that we keep the discussion in, I was surprised, but it quickly became clear that this was the right course of action.
Keeping that discussion in the episode, warts and all, elevated the episode in some pretty amazing ways. First of all, it took a discussion of revision and turned it into a demonstration of revision, which is pretty cool already. Second, and I believe more importantly, it turned into a demonstration of humility, self-evaluation, and being open to critique. Pat was willing to look at his own creative output (a podcast, in this case, but it’s applicable to anything), listen to criticism about it, ask meaningful questions to understand it, and move forward. And no, he didn’t arrive at a perfect revision on the spot, but revision takes time, and the process is still valuable.
Pat could have said “yes, let’s edit this.” In other occasions he has. And as one of the best-selling writers of fantasy in the world, he certainly didn’t have to approach this conversation so humbly. But I would argue that his humility is WHY he’s one of the best-selling writers of fantasy in the world. The first and most important step of revision is admitting that something needs to be revised, and that can be painful, but it will always open the path to a better final draft. We should all be so open-minded.
Pat is a friend of mine, and a very close friend of Mary Robinette’s. He enjoyed this discussion, encouraged us to air it untouched, and recorded several more episodes afterward (which will air later in the year). He does not need anyone to defend him from a discussion that he approved of. Furthermore, I would suggest that it took a lot of courage for him to say “please allow me to look unpolished and unprepared in public, in the service of a valuable lesson.” Reducing that gesture to “Mary Robinette is mean and political” is not only false, it takes that gesture away from him, and in the process misses every point we were trying to make.
Bravo on all fronts, Dan. It was the right call to include the discussion, and you’ve underscored that by responding to critical comments from others in exactly the right way.
Thanks for your insights, Dan. I think you handled the situation quite well, and I’m glad that Pat encouraged you to post the uncut audio.
Agree… although apparently they are friends, so maybe they have openess, it was rude to confront someone who wasn´t trying to be offensive and is in a guest situation. It startled me when I heard that.
Thank you so much Mary for having the courage to speak out. It may be a small thing, voicing your opinion to a respected colleague, but as a woman I feel like I would have fallen into the trap of not saying anything even though I was bothered by the analogy. It’s easier to not speak up and if you hadn’t the episode wouldn’t have such a thoughtful and respectful discussion. Good on everyone for keeping it in.
I am really glad I read this. I was a bit confused as to what exactly was sexist while I was listening. This explanation about disproportionate metaphor usage and the larger pattern aspect really clarified it for me. Thank you Mary Robinette.
No, it’s not sexist to acknowledge that some people are attracted to women. The problem was with the fact that women were objectified and treated as hero’s reward / eye candy for so long it became deeply ingrained in our culture. Tbh i wouldn’t like the analogy even if it were about men, but the point is that’s no accident that it was Mary who pointed that out. As a woman i see and am affected by sexist things that my male friends don’t even notice, because it’s not their reality to live in.
And it is certainly true that you can’t satisfy everyone and there will always be people who don’t like your writing. The real question is where to put the line and that’s the judgement everyone need to be doing by themselves. WX were always inclusive and i really feel that as a lgbt woman from Eastern Europe, but i’m also aware that from the perspective of US-centric literature my POV often gets lost as a marginal and not really profitable target. So yeah, we’re getting into defining our audience in this and that’s a whole new thing, and hopefully done not just before the revision but before even writing the first draft.
I’ll probably never fully understand Mary’s position. But, I understand enough to be part of the solution.
I love that she spoke up because using an analogy like that is something I could have very easily done. Now I know better.
This is one of the best episodes I’ve heard in a long time. Great insights. Great choice to keep the conversation about Patrick Rothfuss’s analogy in as well. He is a fantastic guest, and that was an intriguing conversation and example of how revision can work.
Pat’s analogy worked for me –I married my dark-haired Brazilian beauty, by the way! ;) — but Mary’s comments made me reconsider an alternate wording of the analogy even before I got to the part of the podcast with Pat’s reevaluation. I think it’s a problem simply addressed with a gender neutral term, and given more time, Pat would probably find the right word So that’s a great example of how the revision process can work, and we got to listen from the outside to another writer doing it. It made for great listening and a great podcast.
I was so excited for this episode. So stoked. I love this podcast and have been listening for years now almost daily—(the only one I listen to regularly)—then BAM! Patrick Rothfuss as a guest! Definitely among my top authors of all time already (among some of the hosts and panelists over the years!), even with such a small collection—the short stories are highly underrated. I was recommended Name of the Wind a couple years ago from a fellow teacher, and recently bought the anniversary edition of it for an acquaintance in her honor, haha. I made my own Tak set after I read the books, in lieu of being able to afford one. I was so excited for this.
But, I have to say, this was one of the worst episodes of Writing Excuses I’ve heard. I’d have to rank it lower than that ‘Flash Fiction’ parody that was 15 second long. :/
I love the variety of perspectives on this podcast – these latest seasons tend to blow the first seasons away, not just in terms of audio quality, but the heterogeneity of panelists across every boundary and background. I love it! However, this episode got way out of hand with conflicting perspectives derailing the entire episode.
There is an old adage, something about if you go to personally criticize someone’s performance, that you don’t do it while you are still in front of your customers (or patrons / audience / students). I find it extremely unprofessional that not only did Mary call Rothfuss out on a barely perceptible slip on air, but that she refused to share responsibility in finding a resolution to that personal conflict. I could hear the tension – that was a hostile work environment. Rothfuss did a fairly decent job of working professionally to mitigate his slip, I believe – although the longer that one-sided debate went on, the more of a blunder it became for the guest author, unfortunately. But seriously, your co-host cornered a guest into a pedantic argument over a passing analogy, and robbed listeners of what should have been an insightful discussion.
Rothfuss did a fine job in trying to move on and regard the discussion as a lesson in Revision (repeatedly, I might add…), but I really think that the offer of keeping the clip unedited was simply a respectful gesture toward Mary, as to not downplay her point-of-view.
From this audience member’s perspective, though, the entire episode took a downward turn after that. It was embarrassing. I have to generally agree with Joe’s sentiments. Nobody came out clean of this.
I really think, if its possible, that the hosts should attempt to invite Rothfuss back for a second episode to make up for that very alarming bit of unprofessionalism from the hosts this episode. That rant should neither have happened, nor made it past edits to the final episode—regardless of Rothfuss’ attempts at soothing it over.
Fan-boy much? Eh, maybe – although I’m arguably more of a fanboy of this show, and have invested way more time into it than just about anything else short of writing. I just think that kind of argument should have been kept off-air, and corrected as such if there was a concern for the listeners over latent misogyny.
Please get Rothfuss back, and talk about something else besides gender. Magic systems maybe? Or world-building? Or Tak? :)
Hi Nate. I can tell you’re upset by this, and honestly I get: usually when we contradict each other this strongly while recording, we discuss it together and come to a solution and then cut the discussion out of the final product. You’re not used to hearing this kind of stuff on out show. But as one of the five people in the room, I want to assure you that this was not a “hostile work environment,” and I want to assure that Pat didn’t just grudgingly consent to airing this, he is actively proud of it. We all are. Offering himself up to look unprepared on-air allowed Pat to demonstrate some really wonderful principles, not just “how to revise” but “how to respond to criticism.” As I said in another comment, there is no need to defend him from a conversation he approves of. And we absolutely would not air a discussion that made a guest uncomfortable, regardless of our personal agenda. Rest assured that after this recording was finished, we went on to record three or four more with him that same night, and those episodes will air later in the year, and Pat continues to be a good friend and a fan of the show.
I’m glad this conversation was left as a whole.
I saw his analogy as a: There is your wife, who you love. Then there is / was your one week fling. Which may or may not have happened after you got married.
In a discussion about your side characters becoming more interesting than your main character. I think that warrants an analogy that invokes less “cheating partner” vibes / language.
Especially since it sounds like he’s used this one before, based on what Mary Robinette said.
Howard’s analogy was spot on.
The discussion before the side quest was helpful too.
I’ve listened to all 14 seasons but this is my first time commenting.
Mary, I would like to politely push back. I don’t necessarily think you were wrong to call out Pat but I don’t think you made a compelling case as to why his comment was off base.
Let me preface everything below saying I’m a proponent of women’s rights and a believer that sexism is rampant, that women in our culture are horribly objectified and demeaned, and I think men need to be far more mindful of their remarks about women than many of us are. I also think fantasy and fantasy authors often exhibit sexist tendencies I find troubling.
That being said, Mary, I found your offense at Pat confusing.
I happen to be reading Calculating Stars at the moment (and enjoying it) and when you called out Pat, this paragraph I just read the other day came to mind from your book (first-person female POV for those not familiar with book):
“After the Meteor, Nathaniel had begun working out. He was not alone in that drive to be more prepared for ‘what if’ scenarios, but, my heavens … did I ever appreciate the result.”
Your protagonist is enjoying her husband’s physique and reveling in physical pleasure. It’s put into the book for the express purpose of (among other things) allowing the reader to imaginatively partake to some degree in this moment of physical pleasure.
When Pat made his remark, he was doing a similar thing. He was using a fling with a “dark-eyed” woman as a contrast to being in a committed relationship. He didn’t say “dark-skinned” woman and didn’t remark about overtly sexual features, either of which WOULD have bothered me. But given the point he was making–that some characters you will be with for the long haul and some are there for a fleeting time but you’ll really enjoy the time you have with them–I think his analogy was within perfectly appropriate bounds. I don’t understand why you took his remark to be sexist and I’m confused as to why you took such a hardline approach rather than broaching the topic of how we should be mindful of how our words come off to others in light of negative patterns of behavior that are perpetuated in our culture.
If the podcasters had all concluded that Pat’s comment could be taken negatively so be mindful of your audience, I would have no problem. But my takeaway was you all thought his comment sexist and I don’t think you made a strong enough case for that. It came off very thought-policish, which I know you didn’t intend because after many seasons listening to you, I know you’re a very thoughtful person. But I would appreciate some clarification. I’m writing a book too so this also raises a very practical question of appropriate boundaries.
Where is that line with sex between having fun (Calculating Stars) and objectification (dark-eyed woman)?
I think you could also use a work analogy. There’s your crazy summer job with your best pals that was two weeks of crazy hell. Then there’s your career, which is deep and has things you love, hate, you struggle with, you strive for. And even if you’re lucky enough to be working in something you love, you’ll still think back on those two weeks with fondness – they have a place in your life story. But you would never want those two weeks to be your FT job! They each play a role, and a role that can’t really be subbed one for the other. So it’s ok to have that beloved side character pop in for a dance, just let them have a bow now and then too. ;)
I cringed when I heard the 10 year marriage vs the dark eye beauty too. I’m so glad Mary pointed it out and gave voice to my same reaction. I loved hearing the others on the podcast allowing them to discuss their POVs, and that Pat listened to what was said in a validating way and so did Mary as he tried to understand her reaction, concern, and then tried to find the right words. Pat was receptive, instead of trying to shut her down like some of the comments I’ve seen. I’m very impressed with this podcast and how everyone handled the moment!
Dear Brandon, Dan, Mary Robinette, and Howard:
Thank you to both Dan and Mary Robinette for providing more explanation on this controversial episode. I appreciate the Writing Excuses panel’s continual dedication to helping all of us become more sensitive writers, but while the revision process was nicely demonstrated in the episode, the discussion of sexism (even though Patrick Rothfuss agreed with Mary Robinette’s correction) left me more confused than ever. To help identify what I (and perhaps others) see as a disconnect, I will examine two aspects–(1) Objectification, and (2) Terminology. Having all four Writing Excuses panelists weigh in on and address both topics would bring greater clarity to the subject for professional writers and prepare us as listeners for how this topic will be handled in your future episodes.
(1) OBJECTIFICATION. Was Patrick Rothfuss’s metaphor an objectification of women? In the metaphor, a dark-eyed woman has sex with a married man who just landed in Morocco. Why would she do such a thing? Because she’s impressed with his personality? The man is a stranger to her! And yet she has consensual sex with him. If the man has objectified the woman, hasn’t the woman also objectified the man? It would appear, according to Mary Robinette’s correction, that we are only permitted to interpret such a scenario as male objectification of women. Apparently the woman in the metaphor was saying to herself during that entire night of passion, “I know we just met today, but I love him with all my heart. He’s my soul mate. I have no interest whatsoever in his body.”
I love Mary Robinette’s depictions of happy, committed couples in her novels (we need more of that!), and I am disgusted by marital infidelity, no matter how brief or “temporary,” but that doesn’t mean I’m going to condemn a guest panelist’s use of a metaphor in which a man and woman, each of whom are willing participants in a liaison, have, in reality, both objectified each other.
(2) TERMINOLOGY. Since the metaphor is based on a scenario in which both parties objectify each other, could it be that the primary source of contention is something else–the actual words Patrick Rothfuss used, namely, a “dark-eyed woman”?
This, too, seems problematic. In episode 13.40, for example, Mary Robinette discusses the “super hot girl” trope without condemning as sexist either the trope or the terminology itself. And in episode 12.2, a female guest on the podcast refers to a male character as “very hot,” but Mary Robinette doesn’t object.
Why does Mary Robinette accept references to men and women as “hot” but not Patrick Rothfuss’s reference to “a dark-eyed woman”?
I would genuinely like to understand what the professional takeaways for writers are supposed to be here from this episode/controversy, and I think the entire Writing Excuses listening community has a right to an explanation, not only because the episode revealed that Mary Robinette has had a long-standing distaste for Rothfuss’s metaphor, but also because her objection and the subsequent discussion about it were retained in the recording, implying that this is not simply her personal opinion, but is a standard that the entire Writing Excuses panel views as valid. However, in view of the contradictions cited above, it would be helpful to get some clarification to guide our writing so that in our fiction we can avoid giving people like Mary Robinette a basis for calling our particular choice of words sexist.
Would it have been okay, for example, if Rothfuss had instead used the term “super hot girl,” a term Mary Robinette herself uses in episode 13.40? How is it that the phrase “dark-eyed woman” is sexist but “super hot girl” is not?
Regardless of whether a particular phrase appears in an author’s metaphor or is used to describe a character’s role in a novel, if the context of the given narrative is that a female of the species is highly desirable from a sexual standpoint, how does an author convey this fact while still being politically correct?
The only solution I can think of is to confine myself to writing speculative fiction about alien or fantasy creatures with no sexuality and who are incapable of finding any another sentient being physically attractive.
1) Yeah, let the ladies have their fun. For all we know the woman in this scenario saw a dude that she didn’t have to meet again and decided to have a disposable date for the night.
I guess you could go all the way to writing romance novels on Amazon? Which aren’t objectifying thankfully. :P
My take on the conversion was more along the lines of fitting the work/metaphor to the audience rather than worrying about whether something’s sexist or not.
Personally, I thought it was a wonderful, provoking metaphor. But a different one can reach a different or wider audience.
Yeah, if I was a male Fantasy writer, I would avoid this podcast like the plague :P One strange anology and you could be labeled a sexist/mysognist and be reviled in the current climate.
Really, I love the podcast, but I would avoid this like the plague if I was a male fantasy writer.
Also, the analogy is fine tbh. If he said, dark eyed beuty about a woman going to have a ladies night in spain, there would be no outcry. I understand the argument about heros journey and all that malarkey, but I don’t agree with it tbh.
I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of the situation, Tim. Mary Robinette mentions that she has heard Pat use the analogy before, so it’s obviously something that she hasn’t brought up to him before this podcast. There’s a significant difference between letting something slide in private vs letting it slide in a podcast where her name is part of the marquee and hundreds if not thousands of aspiring writers are going to hear it.
More to the point though, she clearly states that the analogy is sexist. She makes no such proclamations about Pat himself. Just like any critique, we critique the writing and not the writer.
Coincidentally, I received a review yesterday on chapter 1 of my book where the reviewer took exception to the lack of women. I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a part of me that thinks the reviewer was just looking for a reason to get up on the soapbox, but at the same time I have to acknowledge that it could be a valid concern. There was a time when I was writing the first draft that I realized I didn’t have any women at all. That wasn’t done intentionally or maliciously, and I have since added several female characters who play important roles, but none of them show up in the first chapter.
So now I will wait and see if any other reviewers raise the same concern, and I will take another look at the chapter and the story overall to see if I need to strike a better balance.
If we can’t accept criticism as writers, whether we agree with the criticism or not, we aren’t going to get very far in this business.
I’m going to add another element to what I said, and that criticising a woman saying a Spanish beauty could actually infringe on a woman expressing her sexuality.
Do you think it is wrong for a woman to say the above, Mary? And, not to derail my own comment, but beauty has been used to described men as an adjective tbh.
This is definitely a “blessing-in-disguise” episode, reason being that conflict (a very important facet of the storytelling process) was introduced through dialogue, and left unfiltered for all of us to see.
What’s good about this–and why episodes like this are goldmines for any prospective storytelling prospector–is that we get to experience conflict through dialogue in action!
Why I think this is in the right vein for Writing Excuses is that it fits the “deep-dive” philosophy of the podcast. I’d recommend everyone read Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology because this episode directly reminded me of that book. In the anthology, the four main hosts of Writing Excuses write stories and share them, blemishes and all–from shoddy rough draft, to scintillating completion. This is something that would send a cold shiver sailing up my spine if I were to ever attempt to do it. Sharing things that are aren’t up-to-snuff is really difficult for almost anyone that’s remotely creative, in my opinion.
As a hobby writer, one of my biggest hurdles so far has been a pretty common one: realizing that you don’t have to regurgitate gold from day one. Writing is a long process, and revising is very important, no matter how difficult it can be to get through (I’m not surprised that Brandon wasn’t here for this episode, since he especially hates revising!). Even million-dollar-making professionals make mistakes (one example that I always think of is when Stephen King had a character in The Green Mile–Percy Whitmore–wipe the sweat from his face… While being completely bound in a straitjacket).
As for sexism, I never really encountered it first hand during my life, and so it never really existed for me outside of incidents online. However, sexism used to be absolutely rampant in Fantasy. There are PLENTY of “golden age” fantasy books that have female characters only there to serve as a trophy–an object–for the protagonist to obtain. I recall Pat mentioning at an event that The Hobbit didn’t have a single female character, which I hadn’t ever realized. This put things into a different perspective for me, even though I still think Tolkien sometimes get an excessively bad rap for it (there are way, wayyy worse offenders than Tolkien out there, but I do think it’s true that “his shadow is long”).
A documentary came out recently that I found to be absolutely wonderful, and which touches upon past sexism in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’d recommend everyone watch Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s really fantastic, and I find it pretty amazing how fast a paradigm can shift. I think we should be proud of the leaps and bounds we’ve made in literature concerning pervasive sexism in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, but we should still try to takes steps to maintain–and perhaps improve–what has been accomplished thus far.
I don’t know what’s more cringe-worthy… that another episode appears to have been blown up over this sort of thing… or the number of people who are rushing to Mary Robinette’s side who can’t even get her name right.
Going to have to find the right frame of mind before wading into this episode… I’m glad I read the comments first and can be prepared.
As an editor, I think this conversation is SO valuable for writers to hear. And if you’re able to really take to heart what both Mary Robinette and Patrick are saying, you will 100% write better books. (And, y’know, be a better person.)
If you cannot hear feedback that certain language in your book is coming across as sexist or racist, you are sabotaging your writing career.
You need to be able to hear (from an editor, beta reader, sensitivity reader, or friend) that “This metaphor is coming across as sexist/racist” without hearing “YOU are sexist and racist, you dirty scumbag.”
It is so incredibly frustrating to point out potential problems to a paying client, to someone who has poured their heart and soul into their novel, and have them become defensive. Writers will focus on explaining themselves rather than doing the work of taking a fresh look at the text.
It doesn’t bother me for my own sake. I get paid either way. But I want the writers I work with to succeed! Writing that ignores potentially problematic elements, especially around race and gender, is going to limit itself. (And after the American Dirt debacle, you can bet publishers are going to be on alert for issues of cultural appropriation.)
I thought Mary Robinette very respectfully flagged that the metaphor felt off to her. (It means a lot to hear someone call this out. The metaphor did not sit well with me either.) Patrick explained himself, but he didn’t disengage. He gave Mary Robinette the ability to help him do better.
And then, he gave us the gift of seeing this process happen. It’s a blueprint for how we can ALL respond when someone has the courage to give us an honest critique.
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