2nd Edition Edits: The Name

When I was young I wanted to be called David, but I knew that no one would call me that because I was assigned female at birth, and David is a “boy’s” name. As a consequence, when I was writing Time Speaker (which is actually the first book I wrote not the second despite the order it comes in the series), I gave a particular character the name of David. And he kept it right up until last week (March 18) when I was doing technical editing on the second edition manuscripts.

The second editions of Rise of Hawk and Time Speaker happened for a number of reasons, which I’ll outline in this blog series, but one of the two primary reasons was that I’m currently in the process of medically and socially transitioning to male (or NB). My new name is going to be David, as is my new Author Name, so a second edition of the currently published books makes sense.

One of the “rules” in writing is to desperately avoid any justifiable accusation of being a “Mary Sue”. For those that don’t know, or if perhaps the term has changed and some folks aren’t familiar, a “Mary Sue” is a character that is a copy of the author inside the story. It’s considered something that only unprofessional or teenage writers do, and it’s very certainly one of the few rules I follow and don’t screw with (which is saying something because I delight in learning writing rules and then learning how to break them gleefully but in a useful manner).

So, when I made the decision to change my Author Name to my future legal name, I had the dilemma that my character was also called David. There were only three options: don’t change anything and field questions and accusations of being a Mary Sue by those who in the future don’t know that I transitioned. Or, I had to change either his name or my name. Now, it was a difficult decision mostly because this character has been David since I was about 14, so that’s 25 years of a character having that as his core name. But, once I decided that I couldn’t stand to break that Mary Sue rule, even though he isn’t actually a Mary Sue, the decision was fairly obvious. He had alternative names and I did not. I couldn’t, now that I have opportunity to properly live as myself, surrender my name because of a character. Even him.

Originally, the character had a birth name, which, in defiance of his extremely abusive father, he changed to David when he got married. And as the character accumulated other names for his separate roles in the story, he used the name David to discern himself as his real self and not any of the roles he had to play. This was a thematic mirror of my own experiences. When I was twenty one, I changed my legal name, in fact my first AND last names were changed. I did this because my old name was used by people to pressure me to be something I wasn’t. The family name was used to insist that I had to get married and have kids, or as a reason why I’d never amount to anything. People in my life at the time who were abusive decided what they thought my birth name meant and used it as a weapon to try and force me into those roles. And I changed my name in defiance of that, showing legally and physically that I am who I am, and no one defines that but me. I was trying desperately to make space for the real me in the real world instead of having to play different roles for different people. And while, at the time it didn’t work as well as the character’s mirrored action, it was a very important transformative part of my life (still is, actually). So I deliberately kept this theme in the story, even beyond the time when I realised that it served no real purpose for the story other than adding to the character’s ever-increasing list of aliases.

There’s a famous guide about writing, which includes a phrase that’s something like “learn to kill your darlings”. Your “darlings” are the parts of your prose or your story that are self-indulgent, or that you love terribly but that don’t necessarily have a functional part in the story/prose, it’s just there because you like it. It’s said to basically say that the story is more important than your ego, that just because you like something or just because it means something to you personally, doesn’t actually mean it belongs in the prose. So that, an author should try to focus on the prose first and foremost, only keeping the things that further the story, no matter how pretty that piece is or how terribly fond you are of it. You must cut it out of the prose or “kill” it for the purpose of better prose.

His name being David despite not needing to be was probably a “darling”, but honestly the reason why I let it stay even years after I realised it wasn’t needed, was because I couldn’t have that name, but he could.

And last week, I joyously killed that darling because now that I can have my name, he doesn’t need it any more.

Why do I have so many characters?

Seemingly, the norm for most forms of storytelling is of one main character who travels through the story learning and doing what they need to get to the end of the story (aka the Hero’s Journey). At least, that seems to be the default because those who deviate from the one main character story motif are “outliers” rather than just writing. The one person story follows just the one main viewpoint, where the main character is the sole hero, or the “good guy” and most of the time the other characters in the story only have an identity in relation to the main character, like “love interest”, “best friend”, “mentor”, without any or much independent motivations or characterisation of their own other than their “function” in relation to the hero.

So, given this abundant cultural backdrop, I was never surprised that one of the common criticisms of my writing was that I have too many main characters and too many points of view. In fact I have a friend who constantly tells me that I should build my writing career on the short stories I do for bonus content, because the multiple viewpoints are too complicated for people. The irony is that I actually write this way deliberately. I’m not just writing how I want because it’s at my whim, I have designed most aspects of TSU very deliberately, and the multiple viewpoint has been a part of the story since I was 14.

I truly believe that our fictional, cultural, and media stories mimic and inform our beliefs about ourselves and life, and if we choose to change our stories (and the method by which they’re told), we also change our culture. But people under-estimate the power of our stories to affect and mold our culture and perceptions. Writers also tend to under-estimate the impact of their fiction and the responsibility for that impact to society at large. Writers just want to tell their story, and the potential impact isn’t usually a thing they think about very much because it’s just fiction, right? I disagree.

When we’re taught by story and myth that there is always a hero, a person who’s more important than others because of destiny (or whatever), we’re laying the foundation for oppression because the “hero” is more important than the side characters. Until recently, most of our stories had the same kind of person as the “hero”: a thin or muscular white cis het male. This informs our cultural subconscious that only this type of person is important, and everyone else is a side character, a “love interest” or the “fat/black best friend” or the “old mentor”. Our very stories tell us that some people are superior to others, so it’s no wonder we have an unrelenting racism and bigotry in our western society.

By focusing on one “main” character, we’re not only adding to the narrative that some people are heroes/important and others are not, we’re also adding to the viewpoint that the individual is the most important thing in the world.

We live in a world where we expect our needs and wants to be met, without much thought for those who help supply those needs. Your place in the social strata can of course vary how many of your needs are met (and how oppressed you are), but over all our society focuses on the single individual, on single dreams, on the pursuit of individual happiness and perfection, and often of being better or more fulfilled than our neighbours. There’s also very often the underlying belief that your greatness must always come at the cost of others well-being or greatness. That the poor deserve to be poor so that the worthy rich can get richer. We are all the hero in our “hero’s journey of life”, and everyone else gets relegated to the plucky side-kick or the romantic love interest or the asshole antagonist. Our individual humanity is the only one that matters, not because it’s true but because we’ve convinced ourselves that the pursuit of individual happiness is the only way to live one’s life. And one of the reasons we believe this is because the only stories we’ve been given to describe our own journeys through life, mirror this mindset.

Our stories have told us a lie, that humans are individualist creatures. We’re not. We are literally pack/herd animals. We’re emotionally, mentally and physically wired to exist in relation to others, and because our stories (and the messages from capitalism) have been based around a single character and their needs and their wants as an individual, we’ve collectively forgotten our connections, our community-based nature. We’ve forgotten how to connect to others, how to work together, how to trust. It’s almost as if our very culture has developed PTSD, and we’re curled up in the corner with a weapon expecting every other person to be a threat, and then wondering why we’re so terribly lonely and miserable.

The healthy, empowered human is one who functions in relation to their community. For evidence of this you only have to look at the native peoples around the world and how their social structures existed before colonial invasion, and perhaps how our ancestors might have lived before invasion as well.

We’ve been so focused on the individual, on dominance and conformity, that we’ve forgotten our base, core nature of community and connectedness. You cannot be connected while looking down your nose at someone who’s different. But we don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t understand something that has no stories with which we can tell and explain a concept. I only understand what I do because I’m a member of a number of oppressed minority groups, so I have a different perspective. For those who fit in the mainstream, they have been taught by our stories to be prejudiced, to be separatist, and entirely individual-focused. And in order to change that in a meaningful and effective way, we must change how we tell our stories, and what stories we tell. People have already cottoned onto this concept (also called diverse representation), which is why we have far more movies and tv series with diverse stories and characters, but we all add to this shift towards a kinder world with our own stories.

So, with intention to help bring about a better future for our society, I choose to write my stories in a format that is as the world really is. There is no one main character because the troubles and problems that come to the characters cannot be solved by one hero, they can only be solved by many, many people coming together and fighting together to survive. In reality, as a species we are stronger together, we are wiser as well, particularly if we share our wisdom and actually listen to each other. And like the fiction world of TSU, the real world cannot be saved by one person, only by a large group of us coming together cooperatively, and saving the world together.

So, I choose to break a number of writing “rules” by deliberately having many main characters and many points of view in my stories, not because I’m trying to be a smart ass or because I’m following a whim. I’m choosing very deliberately to make sure (where possible) that my stories will help to improve the world, to help build a better world without bigotry through my choices of story and perspective.

In summary, I view us all as threads, and together we weave a tapestry of story and experience which becomes history and, hopefully, a better world.

And that’s the perspective from which I write my books.

Time Speaker Universe

Imagine a series of terrible events, where everything that matters to you is destroyed. Your friends, loved ones, even your partner, are all taken from you. To add insult to injury, this foe almost takes away your life as well, but you survive.

And while lying in the rubble of your life, something changes. The trauma reveals an ability you have to see the future. In this future something vast and terrifying destroys all life on your planet. With your vision, you also see that you have the power to stop the destruction.

Would you step forward and fight to save everything? Or surrender and watch helplessly as everything burns?

The Time Speaker series tells the story of a man, called Hawk, who chooses to fight to save his planet, and the stories of hundreds of other people who eventually join him in this fight.

The series is currently projected at twelve books. While I’ve written books 1 to 5, I’m in the process of republishing books one and two under the new writing name, and then I’ll be publishing at least one book a year after that.