A WAY WITH
THE PERSECUTION RESTS
By Steven Savage
Archives available at The Way With Worlds Home Page
Before I start, a note - Way With Worlds is now archived at it's own Way With Worlds site at Seventh Sanctum, including convenient subdivisions. I've also registered it at Bitbooks in the Writers Resource section.
And now, on with the column.
Discrimination. Persecution. Crusades to destroy the different, the heretic, the unaccepted. Nasty things that happen in the real world. Nasty things that may happen in fiction - if you write them correctly. Otherwise they just end up nasty writing.
It's easy to make a persecuted hero or heroine, or an evil bigot villain. It's more difficult to do it in a believable manner. In this column, I'll be examining how to handle these issues and what pitfalls to avoid. It may not be pleasant, but it may be informative, and it will help with writing.
BEYOND THE CACKLING VILLAIN:
One of the worst things you can do in dealing with discrimination, persecution, and bias in your story is to make the discriminating persecuting bigot a cackling one-dimensional character. It may seem simple to do, but it makes your story shallow, your world shallow, and thus your work unbelievable.
People pick up their biases, bigotries, and hatreds for reasons - be they cultural, due to personal experiences, or for other reasons. A person does not wake up in the morning and say "I think I'll hate this particular religion" nor does a person say to themselves "I need to be more evil, time to pick a race to hate."
Cultures themselves do not just "become evil and hateful." There are reasons, oftentimes complex and hard to spot - after all, in real life if such situations were easy to spot, the world would be a nicer place. Biases can be handed down for centuries, new fads can consolidate old hatreds, good ideas can go bad.
In short, unjustified and disgusting as biases and discriminations and crusades may be, they happen for reasons (and reasons people often miss). Cultures have their quirks, individuals have their leanings, and at times events past and present produce nasty attitudes and hideous actions. They don't just appear in the real world so people can have epic battles of Good versus Evil - don't do that in your stories.
Figure out why biases and persecutions in your stories happened and why. Examine the cultures you're using, borrowing, or creating. Ask questions and figure out how things got to be the way they are, and don't be surprised if your imagination leads to some startling or unsettling ideas.
While you're at it, examine your own biases and why you have them. Would you seem to be a bigot to someone else? Would they be justified? That may give you an excellent perspective on writing issues like bias and persecution in your stories.
This is even harder to write - the concept of a group/religion/people not normally discriminated against (or usually too powerful to be discriminated against) suffering discrimination and/or persecution. It can be an interesting concept to deal with, but it's quite difficult to implement.
In writing reverse discrimination you not only have to know the motives of the biased, but how the reversal occurred and is possibly even accepted. Again, things happen for reasons in the world of biases and hatreds, even if the reasons are irrational. In this case, you're dealing with a bias/discrimination that would normally be unexpected or unthinkable, so you're going to have your work cut out for you.
In writing reverse discrimination, and any discrimination, remember that hatreds and biases tend to be self-creating and self-exciting. Group A feels justified in hating Group B, and Group B hates Group A for hating them - which only justifies Group A's feelings. It's like a wheel spinning faster and faster.
THINGS TO AVOID:
When writing stories involving discrimination or persecution, avoid these pitfalls:
I'll be honest - if you're going to deal with such issues, you're going to walk into the history and psychology of human nastiness. However, if you do so, you'll at least be writing well.
Dealing with issues of biases, persecution, and bigotry isn't for everyone and it's not necessarily going to be easy. Work on it, do it well, but don't berate yourself, you'll only make a difficult situation worse.
http://www.towson.edu/~flynn/heroes.html - A retrospective on heroes in fantasy fiction. A worthwhile, if occasionally repetitious read.
http://www.census.gov/genealogy/names/ - Having trouble coming up with names? (At least American ones?) Go to the census and get a list of names that are out there and go to town.