Unique You

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Nick Wheeler via CompfightAre

Are you the type of writer who follows the old adage “Write what you know”?  If you are, I hope you’re being very literal about it.

On the surface, writing what you know may seem like a pretty boring prospect.  When I look at my own life: wake up, shower, pray, commute to work, interview patients, answer calls, send emails, commute home, eat, exercise, sleep, repeat… I see a list of monotony so boring I feel a yawn coming on.  I’ve come to the conclusion that writing what you know only counts about those elements of your life that are unique.

Who are you?  Dig deep and think for a few seconds before you answer that question.

When I wrote An Unproductive Woman several years ago, someone suggested to me that because AUW was set in Africa and the characters are Muslim that only Africans and Muslims would be interested in reading it.  I never believed that.  AUW confronts issues of family, life, death, hope, love, and faith, all of which are among the common threads that bind all human beings.

An Unproductive Woman is a work of literary fiction, and now almost 15 years later, my tastes and my preferred genre have changed considerably.  Currently I have a great affinity for science fiction and dystopian literature.  (The reasons why are a different post altogether.)  My previous and current genres are definitely worlds apart, but one thing has not changed.  I still write about characters that reflect, at least in part, my unique experience.  And while to many, my experience and way of life may seem foreign, I fully believe that my readers will appreciate the richness they add to my stories.

A few months ago I submitted my short story entitled Concessions for critique.  I received great advice and criticism, all of which has helped me shape the story into one that I am proud of.  One of the comments that I received affirms my point.

“One thing I liked is the fact it’s from a non-western/Judeo-Christian perspective.  I’m excited to see other cultures represented as main protagonists.  And, on that note, I like how you presented that cultural perspective here.”

If you were to randomly gather together 100 people, you’d find that by virtue of the fact that we are all human beings, we all share some common traits.  Fortunately, because a world of exact clones would be horrifyingly bland, you’d also find that despite these common attributes, it is our particular combinations that make each one of us unique.  Those unique traits are the ones you should infuse your writing with.

Do I sense your doubt?  I promise, you really do have unique traits and abilities.

Are you a 40 something year old father of three whose grown thick around the middle but who can still Windmill with the best of the b-boys?

Do you remember the lyrics to every song you’ve ever heard whether you want to or not?

Are you a practitioner of Confucianism, Islam, Mandaeism, or Samaritanism?

Can you speak a second language?  Ojibwa, Hindi, Swahili?

Have you overcome and survived a serious illness or injury?

Use your unique qualities to build unique characters and situations.  It’s still writing what you know, but based on the most extreme yet singular interpretation.

Now, let’s try again.  Who are you?


(Originally guest-posted 06/2012 at http://yesterdaydaugher.blogspot.com/2012/06/write-what-you-know-guest-post-by.html)

Something Entirely Unique In Gameplay


I play video games with my children.  I think it is important that I do, that way I know what they are playing and thinking and what interests them.  We talk about the games and together decide what is appropriate.  We also have fun.  While I play games, I am no gamer, which means I pretty much suck, but that has never stopped me.

I prefer first person shooter type games with unique story lines and non-default titular characters.  In fact, few things annoy me as much as being forced to play as the default white guy.  Actually, no one can force me, I’ve just decided that I no longer will.  I appreciate games that allow me to customize my character.  EVE, a new online game sounds pretty interesting and customization seems limitless, but alas, my three year old laptop can’t handle the graphics so that game is off my list.  I still haven’t completed Mass Effect.  The storyline is complex and smart.  There is a challenging little mystery that keeps you intrigued and interested.  Even better, Commander Shepherd, the main character, can be customized as a male or female.

I imagine that the cost in time and and dollars is far greater when it comes to games that allow customization, which would no doubt influence the creation of such games.  Additionally, it may be critical to the plot of the game that the character not be customizable.  I can understand this, but I am averse to the same old tropes…muscle bound white guy with attitude rides in to save the day.   It’s just that it’s been done, over and over and over again.

There is one game that is a favorite among the women in my house.  Mirror’s Edge.

This game is sheer beauty to behold with its sweeping clean lines and bright primary colors.  The art is simply stunning and you probably won’t see anything remotely like it in another game.  The plot is unique to games but is one we know well from books.  Think Orwell’s 1984, or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Mirror’s Edge takes place in an unnamed dystopian city[21] where life is comfortable and crime almost non-existent. But the city’s state of bliss is the achievement of a domineering and totalitarian regime[22]which monitors all communication, controls the media, has policies which include the outright illegalisation of smoking, and, it is strongly implied, operates sham trials and a sham democracy. Eighteen years before the events of the game they had opened fire on a protest against their rule, killing many civilians… (Wikipedia)

The titular character, a woman named Faith, is a runner.  By runner, I mean to say that she spirits around her city using amazing parkour moves.  Check it out.

She is nothing to joke with.  She can fight, dodge, and deal like the best of them.  Besides the fact that Faith is a woman, a characteristic not all that uncommon in games, she does have three very unique qualities you’d be hard pressed to find in games today.

  1. Faith isn’t hyper-sexualized and dressed in a combat bikini or strategically ripped, body hugging gear that ignites the fantasies of young men and anorexia in young women.
  2. Faith isn’t comic relief, the ditz in need of saving, or the sidekick.
  3. Faith is Asian.

Why does it make a difference?  I suppose for some people it doesn’t, but for people like me and my daughters it makes a world of difference.  Why should we feel consistently marginalized by our literature and our art and our games?  Let me rephrase that.  Literature, art and games that consistently marginalize us don’t belong to us, the us that wants to see characters that are whole well drawn representations of the real people who live in this world.  We aren’t all white, or men, or hoochie warrior hoes, or comfortable stereotypes.

I would posit that such homogeneous representations don’t just harm the marginalized, but they also harm those who exist as members of the accepted inner circle.  How can we hope to connect with our fellow human beings if we’ve managed to erase them from our collective works of art and by extension our consciousness?

I highly doubt such exclusions are intentional (I pray they aren’t) but I do think that its probably easier to pretend the others don’t exist.  That means less effort on the part of game developers, right?  Well, if there are more people out there like me, that means less dollars in their pockets too, because I’m not buying it.