Identification

At the moment, I’m starting to look into concepts around how readers (and gamers/viewers) connect with characters, or how identification happens.

What-Does-That-Mean-Foreign-Language

There’s a few different thoughts around identification: does the reader want to BE that character? Do they imagine themselves AS the character? Or does the reader hold themselves outside of the character, observing and judging the situations and events?

It’s not as simple as “readers connect with the main character” (and definitely not that the main character has to be likable to be identifiable!). In some books, the main protagonist is the alienated viewpoint. Say, feed by M T Anderson – the main character, Titus, is this solipsistic teen in a highly commercial and capitalistic future. In this future, kids have an internet implant (the feed) in their brain (imagine having thoughts getting interrupted by ads). Except for Violet, who sees the world “as it truly is” without the implant and questions everything. Even though the book is written entirely through Titus’ perspective, empathy and identification goes more to Violet. The book is even dedicated “To all those who resist the feed.”

In film studies, identification is also complicated, with commentators distinguishing between primary identification (with the camera) and secondary identification (the character of empathic choice) (Clover 7-8).

chase

Evil Dead awesomeness. Dem camera moves!

… just as attacker and attacked are expressions of the same self in nightmares, so they are expressions of the same viewer in horror film. We are both Red Riding Hood and the Wolf; the force of the experience, in horror, comes from “knowing” both sides of the story. ~ Carol Clover

I’m still fairly new to looking into video game studies, but in searching for stuff around this topic, I found an interesting study on identification in three ways: avatar identification (roleplay, customisation and escapism), group identification (socialising and relationships) and game identification (advancement and mechanics).

sera2newCharacter customisation is huge for me and how I play Warcraft.

Identification is more than just “I like X”, but is important also in part because of the general perception that watching/reading/playing can influence you, the typical example being that playing violent video games makes you commit real world violence – which I totally reject. fool

Identification is also interesting in terms of genre. For example, with romance, it’s probably safe to say most people assume that the reader identifies with the heroine. And for a while the heroine as narrator was pretty established, however from perhaps around the 80’s this began to change as reader’s wanted to see the narrative from the heroes point of view. Author Laura Kinsale proposed in “The Androgynous Reader” that actually, the romance reader identifies with the hero, as the reader is represented by and also in competition with the heroine. Kinsale argued that “through her own and the hero’s eyes, the reader watches and judges the heroine” (35).

Which leads me onto what I’ve been looking at as a case study for all this: Twilight!giphyOn Meyer’s website, she states that “I left out a detailed description of Bella in the book so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes.” This goes back to the Mills and Boon adoption of “Lubbock’s Law”:

Lubbock’s Law was derived from Percy Lubbock, critic and author, who published The Craft of Fiction in 1921. Lubbock maintained that the best fiction, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, succeeded in part because the author wrote from the heroine’s point of view. ‘to have lived with their creations is to have lived with them as well,’ Lubbock maintained. Fiction, he added, must ‘look true’.~ Joseph McAleer

How Meyer interprets how reader’s identify with Bella was also extended to the choice of casting:

For every actress that has been suggested as Bella in the past few years, there are always a slew of critics that cry, “But she doesn’t look like Bella!” (Which can often be translated thusly: “She doesn’t look like ME!”) To this I would like to say: “Of course she doesn’t!” Bella is a fictional character, and she looks different to everyone. As is the same with every actor who will be cast in the next few months, no one is going to match up with your mental picture exactly—or mine.

Bella’s apparent blandness or blankness of personality was also picked up on by critics as a device for identification:

Unfortunately, the books are tough to defend. There’s no doubt, for instance, that Bella is a remarkably droopy, drippy character, and while her blankness could be justified as a device, enabling readers to identify with her (which has obviously happened to an extraordinary degree), she also has a weird clumsiness, a haplessness that means her vampire boyfriend has to rescue her regularly. ~ Kira Cochrane, The Guardian

Concerns about Bella’s passivity neglect to consider how the books invite identification with the main character. For this to be possible, there have to be certain gaps in her characterisation, but these gaps are designed to be filled in by readers with their own characteristics. ~ Catherine Strong, The Age

As Crawford examines in his chapter on the fandom and the controversy of Twilight, it is often claimed to be bad for readers, because if they identify with Bella (through such claims in fan reviews as wanting to be Bella or wanting to marry Edward etc) then they have a role model who has low self-esteem, is submissive, is passive and all that jazz – but then he asks “does the fact that someone identifies with a fictional character really imply that they view them as ‘a model for [their own] real-life choices’?” The argument against Bella and Twilight is also used for 50 Shades, such as with this article snarkily titled “Christian Grey is not real”. Crawford sees this argument as rather reductive, and also perhaps with implicit discrimination against readers (of Twilight) “because of their presumed youth and femaleness … often seem to be assumed, a priori, to lack the critical faculties necessary to distinguish between fantasy and reality.” This will be no surprise to fans of romance, or even young adult literature.

Dylan-Moran

So TL;DR, there’s a bunch of theories of how identification works, but it’s important to think about because society thinks that identification with fictional characters will lead to bad things, particularly if the work is about about sex or violence or is aimed towards younger readers.

Recommended Reading

  • Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover ~ A study of horror films from the 70’s to mid 80’s and how identification works (using a psychoanalytical framework) and how it is gendered.
  • Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer ~ A very detailed history of how Mills & Boon became one of the biggest publishing names in the world
  • The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity by Carol Thurston ~ A slightly older work, on how romance and women in romance were changing in the 70’s and 80’s due to the new wave of feminism.
  • “The Androgynous Reader.” by Laura Kinsale in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. ~ How reader identification works with romances (this is not an academic work, but rather from the perspective of an author of romances – however, quite a few academics pick up on this and extend the work, such as Amber Botts “Cavewoman Impulses: The Jungian Shadow Archetype in Popular Romance Fiction” in Romantic Conventions edited by Anne K Kaler and Rosemary Johnson-Kurek.)
  • The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance by Joseph Crawford ~ awesome history of the paranormal romance, its gothic associations, and including a reader response chapter on “The Twilight Controversy”
  • Player Identification in Online Games: Validation of a Scale for Measuring Identification in MMOG’s by Jan Van Looy, Cedric Courtois, Melanie De Vocht and Lieven De Marez in Media Psychology Vol 15.2 (2012).

Zombie Perspectives (with bonus Zombie Sex)

Had to get your attention somehow. I have no regrets! Anyway, my friend started it:

Someone wants to go there with me! Excellent XD

So this blog will be an overview of books that include books from a zombie’s perspective, or has a zombie-human romance (some books classed as zombie romances are human-human relations during a zombie apocalypse. If you want that, go look at Kylie Scott!). These summaries will be spoiler-free – it takes info from either the first chapter or the blurb. If we want to be technical, these are not all really capital-R Romances (as in genre), but rather contain romantic elements. If you have any suggestions for other books I should add here (or buy!), let me know!

Flesh (Flesh, #1)Skin (Flesh, #2)

Zombie Perspectives

There is a bit of overlap, so these are the non-relationship ones.
DustDust is centred around Jessie, a zombie. She has a nice little zombie gang and society going on. Their world starts to change when they notice new creatures in the woods, ones that blur the boundaries between living and dead even more than before.
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie Perspective, Known in society, Apocalyptic, Infectious, Series

Dead Mann Walking (Hessius Mann #1)

This is sort of a noir story with a PI down on his luck – except the PI is a zombie. In this world, there is a ‘cure’ for death. In Mann’s case he was executed for his wife’s murder and later found to be innocent of the crime, so he was resurrected. There’s still a barrier between zombies and ‘livebloods’ in society, so he doesn’t get hired much.
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie Perspective, Known in society, Series

Pay Me in Flesh (Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law, #1)Mallory Caine is an attorney and a zombie. She still needs flesh (especially brains) to survive after she died and was mysteriously resurrected by someone a year ago. Zombies and vampires aren’t known in society, so her dietary requirements, the true nature has to be hidden from everyone, including a certain persistent ex-boyfriend.
Keywords: First POV, Zombie Perspective, Urban Fantasy, Not known in society, Zombie Master, Series
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Zombie Romance &/Or Sex
Nightshifted (Edie Spence, #1)Edie is a nurse in County Hospital on the special shift – the one with vampires, weres, zombies. These creatures live under the radar of normal society, but they deserve proper medical attention too! And in the case of one handsome zombie, a bit of a different type of attention…
Keywords: First Person POV, Urban Fantasy, Not known in society, Series

Reaper's TouchThis one comes out Feb 10 from Carina Press. It is a post-apocalyptic steampunk Western with zombies … and some luvvins! It’s been much recommended to me by friends, but since I haven’t read it, here’s the blurb from GoodReads: Abby is a Ranger, part of an elite group who defend the border against Reapers—humans infected with a parasite that turns them into mindless cannibals. Rangers are immune to Reaper infection, and as one of the only female Rangers, Abby is expected to settle down and breed more Rangers—a fate she’s keen to avoid. When she’s ambushed on the plains, she’s ready to go out with guns blazing—until a mysterious, handsome cowboy rides to her rescue.

Keywords: Third Person POV, Zombie perspective, Zombie-human relationship, Paranormal Romance, Known in Society, Series, Infectious, Apocalyptic

Generation Dead (Generation Dead, #1)Teens across the country start waking up from their death. They are a bit fuzzy around the edges, but so is society – teens have always been seen as difficult, but the entire culture needs to adapt to these resurrected kids. Challenging the suspicions of society, Phoebe falls in love with a zombie (“differently biotic”) boy.
Keywords: Third Person POV, Zombie perspective, Zombie-human relationship, YA, Paranormal romance, Known in society, Series

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1)R is a zombie, who spends most of his days aimlessly walking around an airport or in his plane. One trip to town will change his life as he falls in love with a girl just trying to survive in the apocalypse. This book is different from the movie, and I’d argue it’s much better!
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie perspective, YA, Paranormal romance, Known in society, Infectious, Apocalyptic, Zombie-human relationship

Dearly, Departed (Gone With the Respiration, #1)Set in post-apocalyptic neo-Victorian world, Nora Dearly is captured by the living dead. But these are the good guys, a military unit of zombies protecting her from the real monsters. She is determined to find out the truth of what is going on, and not even the handsome Bram can stop her from discovering the secrets of the dead.
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie perspective, YA, Paranormal romance, Infectious, Zombie-human relationship, Series

I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked ItAlley lives in a world of post-humans; vampires, werewolves, zombies and really isn’t impressed by their brooding emo attitude. She didn’t realise he was a zombie when she fell head over heels for Doug. How does one date the undead?
Keywords: First Person POV, YA, Paranormal romance, Zombie-human relationship,
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Extras

Breathers: A Zombie's LamentAndy wakes up from a tragic car accident that killed his wife … and himself. It’s hard to find anything to live for or do, he just lives in his parent’s basement (to the disgust of his father), and attends (useless) therapy and Undead Anonymous meetings where he meets the sexy Rita – a recent suicide.
Keywords: First POV, Zombie perspective, Known in society, Zombie-zombie relationship

My Life as a White Trash Zombie (White Trash Zombie, #1)

Angel Crawford’s life is nothing to envy, an alcoholic dad, a high school dropout, criminal record. Waking up after dying is a weird experience, and it only gets stranger when she finds a mysterious letter offering her a new job – at the county morgue. Complete with a new craving for brains, she has a second chance at life … sort of.
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie perspective, Not known in society, Urban fantasy, Series

Die for Me (Revenants, #1)This book isn’t exactly zombies, but related – revenants (they use the term zombies as a joke). Kate has moved to Paris with her sister after the death of their parents, she is at a loss of how to deal with her life. Until she meets the handsome and mysterious Vincent, but being with him is not going to be easy. He has enemies, and being with him means that they are also now after Kate.
Keywords: First Person POV, Not known in society, YA, Paranormal romance, Series

Ideology and the Reader

This is a post of contention. The idea of ideology and meaning in fiction has long been argued about. I think the problem stems back to English classes where we are taught about authors intentions, deliberate meaning and relationship between the author’s feelings and own lives to their fiction. Now, this is ONE type of way to analyse fiction, but personally not one I go for.

This post is about exploring another way to analyse fiction. Nothing is right or wrong in academia (unless it’s written by a dead French guy, then it’s always right  /snark), so everything (that can be backed up with scholarly, peer-reviewed works) is legit.

** With thanks to Tim Coronel and Jodi McAlister for their input ❤ **

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Ideology in the Story

All text is considered ideological.

A narrative without an ideology is unthinkable: ideology is formulated in and by language, meanings within language are socially determined, and narratives are constructed out of language (Stephens 8).

By how you write characters, story and events, you create particular attributes, values, morals, ethics etc. which are inscribed as good or bad. Where this gets messy is the concept of the author’s intention. Some believe that authors do this all deliberately, to imprint upon her/his audience certain messages. I’m of the belief that the author’s intention cannot be read within a text (check out Death of the Author) – the text speaks for itself.

All statements are mediated (at first created by the author, but then by the narrator – for more on narration, check here). The creation of any text does carry particular meanings within it regardless of intent. Ideology is not merely carried through deliberate action but by subconscious assumptions too. What is communicated is the story and it is communicated by discourse (the discourse states the story) (Chatman 31).

Story and Discourse Pg 26

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The Communication of the Ideology

The type of study I am doing looks at how the narrative structure and techniques can influence or lead a reader to a particular message or ideology. This is not to say all readers are blank slates and blindly accept whatever they are given (resistance is entirely possible – see Althusser or Gramsci). The story creates an implied reader position or audience. The audience for young adult fiction is, generally, young adults. But we know not everyone who actually reads YA is a young adult. With what the text assumes about what its reader knows, and how it presents information (particularly through narration), it positions the implied reader regardless of the real reader.

A narrative texts’ construction of communication is read thusly:

Real Author -> [Implied Author -> (Narrator) -> (Narratee) -> Implied Reader] -> Real Reader

The implied author is the reconstruction of the author by the reader from the narrative. The implied author has no direction in the work, it is how a reader might imagine an author to be based on the narrative. Perhaps this is where all those “the room was blue, this shows the author was sad” sort of statements come from?

Outside the brackets are the real world, you can take, give, resist or write as you, the individual. Inside the square brackets are what is drawn from or created by the narrative, which is established within the round brackets.

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Hollindale’s Three Levels of Ideology

  1. Explicit social, political or moral beliefs of the individual writer and his/her wish to recommend them to readers through the story. Intended surface ideology. Usually more radical/non-conservative.
  2. The individual writer’s unexamined assumptions. Even passive beliefs can be revealed through story. These are generally widely shared values.
  3. A large part of any book is written not by its author, but by the world the author lives in. This transcends the idea of individual authorship.

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Examples:

Applebaum’s research into YA science fiction is based on the proposal that as adults are the writers of children’s books, they influence the novel (whether deliberately or not) with their own fears and anxieties.

…the function of SF as a vehicle for exploring contemporary dilemmas within the context of scientific and technological discovers, a perception which is central to this book (Applebaum 3)

James’ study looks at representations of death in children’s fiction, as well as gender and sexuality.

…a culture’s representations of death may be read collectively as a text to give insights into its social systems, death ethos, conceptions of selfhood, temporal orientation, and religious and secular values (James 2)

Trites’ research is into power relations that are represented within adolescent literature. Teenagers must learn the negotiation of social institutions (power) to be able to grow successfully, according to societal rules and expectations.

Adolescent novels…invariably reflect some cultural biases, most of which are likely to be veiled in ideological discourses that affirm widely held societal views (Trites 27)

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Recommended Reading

  • Chatman, Seymore. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film.
  • Barthes, Roland. Death of the Author. 1967 essay.
  • Applebaum, Noga Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People
  • James, Kathryn Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature
  • Trites, Roberta Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature
  • McCallum, Robyn Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction: The Dialogic Construction of Subjectivity
  • Stephens, John Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction
  • Genette, Gerard Narrative Discourse
  • Hollindale, Peter, Ideology and the Children’s Book (This article is especially useful!)
  • Gramsci, Antonio Selections of Prison Notebooks
  • Davis, Helen, Understanding Stuart Hall
  • Althusser, Louis Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

The Changing Face of the Monster

Over some mocha this morning I was thinking (coffee required for brain function). Everyone blames Twilight for dumbing down the vampire. People right out despise Twilight for changing vampires. They’re supposed to be monsters, people cry out in rage, not lovers! As my focus is also on a monster-turned-romantic-interest, Twilight has some sort of weird interest for me. I don’t particularly like it, I think Bella is weak and the writing not great – but there’s a part of me that knows that if I’d read it as a teenager (probably <15; maybe what would be considered a tween now), I would have loved it.vampires

Vampires had already completely saturated mainstream culture before Twilight. They were domesticated by their commodification. Fred Botting discusses this: the vampire is now a familiar and consumable figure. His references for this go much earlier than Twilight, with Dracula as a superhero in 1962 and the amusing Count Duckula, but especially Anne Rice (he doesn’t specifically mention Twilight in this section, although this book was published three years afterwards, but I haven’t finished reading it all yet!). This has created a new site of identification for the vampire.

“Vampires cease to be threats to individual and social identity and curiously give shape to the unformed mass of desires, cravings and appetites called the consumer” (Botting 41)

So the vampire loses its weirdness.  This sort of goes against a lot of monster theory. The vampire is no longer uncanny – something that was once familiar and has since become repressed (Freudian theory). True Otherness is a return of the repressed. Foucault argued “What makes a human monster a monster is not just its exceptionality relative to the species form … the human monster combines the impossible and the forbidden” (Foucault in Levina and Bui, 5). For Derrida, a monster is something that is unknown, abnormal, it frightens because there is no anticipating it. Once it is known, once the monster is seen as a monster, “one begins to domesticate it” (Derrida in Levina and Bui, 6). In Twilight Edward says vampires could have evolved side-by-side with humans – Darwinian evolution rather than supernatural presence.

“The vampire is warmly embraced, included, naturalised, humanised in an appropriative liberal gesture that is scarcely tenable given the vampire’s historical construction as that which is both most proximate and alien to human identity”(Botting 41)

We know what vampires and zombies are now. We know their weaknesses, we know their  strengths. What is left to explore? As Hildebrand-Burke demonstrates in his post on modern horror, we seem to stick to the past view of monsters rather than looking to the future. Why can’t we create new monsters? Why stick to the 19th century imagery of what a vampire is, or the 1970s-80s version of what a zombie is? Fear comes from change, from what is unknown. Nina Auerbach proposes “every age embraces the vampire it needs” (although embrace might be a bit strong. Every age CREATES the vampire it needs?).

Although Twilight and the books I’m looking at are romances or contain romantic elements (romances = romance is the main plot & must have a happy ending. Romantic elements = romance is supplementary to the story), they change the monster and yet are reviled for it. Most modern vampires laugh at the suggestion that a Christian Cross or garlic can stop them. Is this not making the familiar monster unfamiliar again? They are changing the rules of the game and disturbing the knowledge that makes us safe. Why do we even want to restrict this change?zombies

Recommended Reading

  • Where are all the Monster Books? by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
  • Guide to writing modern horror by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
  • The Limits of Horror by Fred Botting
  • Monster Culture in the 21st Century edited by Marina Levina and Diem My Bui (check the Introduction by the editors, and Domesticating the Monstrous in a Globalizing World chapter by Carolyn Harford)
  • Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger
  • The Living Dead: A study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature by James B Twitchell
  • The Real Twilight: True stories of Modern Day Vampires by Arlene Russo
  • A Taste of True Blood: The Fangbangers Guide edited by Leah Wilson
  • The Changing Vampire of Film and Television: A critical study of the growth of a genre by Tim Kane

*Images from the Sims 3: Supernatural promotional material

More on Monsters

I make no attempt to hide how much I love monsters. My collection of Daleks is bigger than my collection of Tardis’. I call myself Forsaken in Warcraft and am dedicated to the Dark Lady (crazy zombie lady wants to kill all of the living – the usual). Part of this blog post was an assignment I did for uni, where I had a lot of fun in reading all about how we create monsters. This will be primarily on books, but also a few movies and TV too. Some of this touches on what I want to write in my thesis next year too!Nosferatu

Nosferatu, my little fluffy buddy from Nebraska (protector of the coffee mug).

In fantasy* especially, the differences between good and evil are particularly stark and this binary is usually played out between hero and monster/monstrous entity.runty

What is a monster/monstrous?

What is a monster or is monstrous are fluid descriptors. In general, the monster/monstrous is Other and ‘unlike us’. It is made of difference. The monster is the physical form and not human. Humans, however, can have monstrous aspects, which could be cultural, political, racial, economic or sexual differences. The descriptor of ‘monstrous’ is a process of alterity. These are not strict boundaries – through the process of dehumanising the monstrous human, their deviance can be inscribed upon their body (e.g. historically, this would be something like saying an enemy had a deformed body). In some cases, the monster can be the hero of a text, but the villain is usually dehumanised by their evil actions, thoughts or beliefs.

onyxia

Narrative Techniques

Metaphoric mode

Fantasy is a metaphoric mode, using techniques like indirection, parallel and allegory to comment on contemporary social practice. The theories of monsters also usually focus on the representational aspect. The monster/monstrous can stand for something repressed, a specific social and historical anxiety, or fear of the unknown. Textually, there is usually an emphasis on physicality (as well as inscribing deviance, it can be even a glance, “eyes as unforgiving as a snake” etc). The monster/monstrous itself can be a form of authority, and representing a negative ideology (the opposite to the usual values, morals, beliefs of a society – e.g. the monster could say that it is okay to kill for one’s own pleasure or power gain). The goal of the monster/monstrous is usually to seduce the hero to the dark side or kill them. The hero cannot be ignored. Often, the main character has a special relationship to the monster – particularly if it is a singular monster/monstrous** – or the hero is somehow special to them (particularly in paranormal romance).

Recommended Fiction

  • of the dead movie series, Romero (very clearly metaphoric of many anxieties – Romero’s zombie movies have been analysed many times)
  • Many dystopias are metaphoric – the very nature of the genre is that it takes what we have in society now to the extremes and extrapolates the change in human nature. The meaning of the genre is also to be a warning.
  • Witches of Eileanan series by Kate Forsyth
  • The Belgariad & Malloreon series by David Eddings
  • Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
  • Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris or True Blood tv series

molder

Focalisation/Point of View

While third person narration is more familiar in larger fantasy sagas, the monster/monstrous rarely gets a word in edgewise. Usually if they do get their own perspective, this is for dramatic effect so that you the reader can see something bad coming, but the good guys have no idea. However, in works such as dystopias and paranormal romances, limited first person is more typical. It can happen in these genres that the monsters (not monstrous entities) become heroes, romantic interests and sometimes even focalisers. It is often said that the role of limited first person narration is to get the reader on their side, so this narrative strategy at once defamiliarises the reader through having such a strange protagonist, at the same time as making them more sympathetic to the reader (Note: This is what I’m actually going to explore in my thesis).

Recommended Fiction

  • Dust by Joan Frances Turner
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
  • Generation Dead (book #1 in a series) by Daniel Waters
  • Dearly Departed (#1 in a series) by Lia Habel
  • My Life as a White Trash Zombie (book #1 in a series)by Diana Rowland
  • Endless vampire books – but the good ones are Evernight (Book #1 in series) by Claudia Gray and Vampire Academy (book #1 in series) by Richelle Mead and Blue Blues (book #1 in series) by Melissa de la Cruz.

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jenny

A thought on disembodied monsters

Something this makes me consider is if something disembodied can be a monster or monstrous, for example, an extremely repressive society, or certain technologies. It becomes almost an entity in itself where it is not one person alone or one sub-human race alone that is the problem, but something incredibly integral to how life is lived. Often in science fiction and YA, a dystopia comes about because something was once seen as progressive. Humans strive for utopia, and that striving for progress in itself becomes the horrific dystopia. Technology and ideas become threatening to the very stability of the world. You hear it now, the internet is softening our minds, we are losing our inner humanity through the progress of wearable (or implantable) technology. That fear comes across in books as well. Does that mean it is a monster or monstrous?

Recommended Fiction

  • Feed by M T Anderson
  • Uglies (series) by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
  • Unwind by Neal Stephenson

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mouse

A blurring of boundaries – Hero or Villain?

Something which particularly strikes at me are ambiguous heroes/villains. It could be they were perceived one way before and now are the other, or they have changed over the series and become greater/worse than who they were. I think this is particularly stark in zombie stories such as The Walking Dead, where the enemy is not so much the zombies but other humans. The things the group needs to do to stay alive are utterly barbaric, but that is survival. In the Flesh is about how a cure was created for zombies, to bring them back to who they were before and how society deals with that. This is also dealt with in a lot of zombie romance texts. In fantasy, it could be that a blackhearted villain is not really evil, but coerced by others or convinced that it is the best thing because the alternatives are worse.

Recommended Fiction

  • The Walking Dead comics and tv show
  • Quiver by Jason Fischer
  • In the Flesh tv series
  • Go re-read the recommended fiction section under Focalisation/Point of View

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*For some reason, some works tend to use fantasy as an overall term that also extends to science fiction and horror – no idea why they don’t just use speculative fiction.

** Examples of archetypes: Singular Monster: The dark lord, the witch. Singular Monstrous: The tyrant, the evil step-mother. Monsters: Vampires, demons, zombies, werewolves. Monstrous many: aspects of society e.g. repression, technology etc.

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Recommended Reading

  • Applebaum, Noga. Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge. 2010. Print.
  • Bishop, Kyle W. American Zombie Gothic. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Botting, Fred. Limits of Horror: Technology, bodies, Gothic. New York: Manchester University Press. 2008. Print.
  • Cohen, Jeffrey J. Monster Culture (Seven Theses). Monster Culture: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1996. Print.
  • Levina, Marina and Diem-My T. Bui, ed.s  Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader New York: Bloomsbury. 2013. Print.
  • Riley, Brendan. “Zombie People”. Triumph of the Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic on page and screen. Ed James Lowder. Dallas: Banbella Books, 2011. 82-97. eBook.
  • Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. New York: Longman. 1992. Print.
  • Trites, Roberta S. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa: University of Iowa Press. 2000. Print.

Point of View & Narrators

Point of view is considered to be a bit of a loose description. In general, narration is the telling of a story, but there’s a lot of little niggly things about narration that make it complicated.

Also, as you all are fantastic readers, you all know that narration can be mixed up within a singular work. I’ve given a whole bunch of examples from excellent fiction to show how really complicated it can be. Screw the rules! Even the rules I’ve seen in academic books don’t ring true. Generally speaking, YA is considered to have a lot more first person than third person, but we can all quote a billion books which show the opposite. So, whatevs!

This blog post is more about the academic perspectives on narration (particularly through children’s and YA fiction books) rather than an author’s perspective (because I don’t have experience with that. There are a LOT out there by people who are, though!).

I’ve also tried to be very good and not give away any spoilers!

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Narrative Voice and Focalisation

One of the reasons why ‘point of view’ is a bit loose is because there are two aspects to what makes up a point of view: narrative voice (who speaks) and focalisation (who sees). The narrator says what the focaliser sees. The narrator allows readers to envisage the world, and in all cases, limits the reader’s perceptions (perhaps to what is important to the story, perhaps hiding a mystery from them etc).

  • Is the narrator someone outside the story (hetereodiegetic narrator)? E.g. another character who knows what is happening
  • Is the narrator also a character (homodiegetic narrator) who is talking to someone? E.g. such as through a diary, recollection etc.
  • Is the narrator also the protagonist? (autodiegetic narrator)
  • Is it the character’s own internal narration? E.g. stream of consciousness/interior monologue.
  • Is the narrator overt (showing; clear personality and opinions coming through) or covert (telling; more objective, detailing events)?

This will have an affect on what is revealed and how it is revealed. Other effects on the narration can be the chronology – is it told linearly or back and forth? Sometimes these methods can be reflective (see Winds of Heaven), or reactionary (see A Gathering Light).

The Emily series by L M Montgomery is extremely interesting in terms of narration and focalisation. While the events are spoken of in third person omniscient form, the narration is limited to Emily’s perspective (sometimes in the form of letters, sometimes it goes directly into her mind). But occasionally, the author steps back in as narrator. Here is an example from the third book, “Those of you who have already followed Emily … must have a tolerable notion of what she looked like. For those of you to whom Emily comes as a stranger let me paint a portrait of her…”(Also known as an intrusive narrator).

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly is an example of reactionary narration. In effect, there are two narrators. One is Mattie, a young girl in the turn of the century trying to come to terms with what she wants in life. The other is Grace, a dead girl found around where Mattie lives. Grace’s narration only comes through Mattie’s reading of her letters to her beau. Reading Grace’s letters (written in the past, clearly since she is dead), changes Mattie as to how she acts now. She reacts to them.

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First Person

In first person, limited narration, you are restricted to that one point of view. This works to make you sympathetic to that point of view. First person is used to show the ‘true’ character, and give a sense of reality – but it also binds you to the character’s personal bias in giving only their idea of the story; it is inherently unreliable. First person narration is also referred to as intradiegetic narration – characters who only know about little bits of the narrative, who exist within the story. They will also use language as it is familiar to them, with jargon or slang, rather than sticking to the formalities of language use.

Feed by M T Anderson is entirely narrated by Titus (also getting his Feed interruptions). Readers are restricted to his point of view. From memory, we don’t even know Titus’ brother’s name, he just refers to him as Smell Factor.

Ideologically, the implied reader is positioned to oppose Titus. We would get on much better with Violet, but she is not the chosen focaliser. I find this rather familiar in dystopia, that you are always first in the head of someone who agrees with the society and how it is run, and then follow them as they learn from others how it is wrong. This is a process of defamiliarisation – stripping away what is normal to the implied reader.

Multiple first person is not much better in terms of reliability; it may give outside perspectives on what is happening, but those points of view could be just as biased or tainted in their own way.

Junk by Melvin Burgess is a great example. There are two main protagonists (Tar and Gemma), but they aren’t the sole focalisers. There are numerous characters in Junk who are granted a focalising role, with each chapter sub-titled by who is the current narrator. Each character, however, has their own personality that filters their vision of reality. While there are a range of characters to give outside feedback on how Tar and Gemma change, they are just as biased and unreliable as Tar and Gemma themselves are. The story itself is warped as you lose all sense of time and place, particularly due to this narrative strategy.

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Third Person

Third person narrators stand outside of the events of the novel, and can be omniscient or  limited. It depends on whether the narrator is aware of everything everyone is thinking and doing, or if the narration is restricted to the character the narrator is following and does not reference things unknown to that character. An omniscient narrator, one outside of the text, is also called an extradiegetic narrator. Third person narration is considered more reliable, less prone to informal language. The narrator can still step in with ‘I’ or ‘we’ in commentary. (I will make a short note here that epic fantasy does tend to rely on third person narration a lot – again, you’ll find examples to break that).

Generation Dead by Daniel Waters uses third person limited narration. While there are multiple focalisations within the book, the text limits itself to focalising one character at a time and narrating through their perspective in the third person. One character is sitting and thinking, but we only get his interpretations of the events around him. The perspective does not change by chapters but by sections. The reader is in one mind. Then a break. Then the reader is in another mind, elsewhere, maybe even at the same time as the previous event.

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Multivoiced and Multistranded

Multivoiced narratives have two or more focalisers from which the events are narrated. Multistranded narratives are two or more interwoven narrative strands. These can be either in first person or third person.

Wake by Robert J Sawyer has a very curious manner of multivoiced narration. There is a nameless (at first) focaliser who talks in the first person, while the rest of the narrative – the majority of it – is written in the third person with a few focalisers, such as Caitlin and Dr Kuroda. The perspectives shift to focalisers who at first don’t seem in any way related to the main story, and it becomes part of the mystery to unravel.

The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke is a good multistranded narrative. The chapters are split between time and the two focalisers, Clementine and Fan. There is a greater arc overall as the beginning clearly puts the timeline into 2009, then retreats to 1952. The different parts of the novel are of different time periods. Then each chapter changes as to who is leading the narration. It is a reflective text, these focalisers are meant to be compared to each other.

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Metafictive Techniques

A metafictive technique is where the text self-consciously refers to its status as a fiction text and blurs the boundary between reality and fiction. It could be the character directly addressing the reader, or the author stepping into the novel.

Liar by Justine Larbelstier is an exceptional piece of art, in both story and technique. Micah is the ultimate unreliable narrator (duh, the title! Of course she is). She varies her stories from fantastic to down to earth, but is never boring. She is the autodiegtic narrator – the only one who tells her story. As well as this limiting narrative technique, the structure of the novel deceives and confuses. I would call it stream of consciousness, except for these almost random disturbances and lack of linearity (or is that what a mind is, flipping constantly between events and unable to stay in one time?). Chapters are titled by words such as “Promise”, “Lie Number #”, “History of Me”, “Before”, “After”. Micah also directly speaks to the reader, “you”. She is self-consciously teasing the reader, with promises to tell them the truth, then turning back on them and admitting she was lying.

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Recommended Reading

  • Baldrick, Chris The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. 2001.
  • Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse: An essay in method.
  • Cadden, Mike. “The Irony of Narration in the Young Adult Novel.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 25.3 (2000): 146–154. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.
  • McCallum, Robyn. Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction. New York: Routledge. 1999 Print.
  • McCallum, Robyn. “Metafiction and Experimental Work.” International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. 1996. 397–409. Print.
  • Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. New York: Longman. 1992. Print.
  • Trites, Roberta S. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa: University of Iowa Press. 2000. Print.

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Recommended Fiction

  • The Emily Series by L M Montgomery
  • Feed by M T Anderson
  • A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
  • Feed by M T Anderson
  • Junk by Melvin Burgess
  • Generation Dead by Daniel Waters
  • The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke
  • Wake by Robert J Sawyer
  • Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Uhoh! There was a monster in my bed*

Last night I was with Kate Forsyth and Matt Finch at the NSW Writers’ Centre talking about monsters. This post will be a bit of an overlap between what was said then and some extra things I wanted to throw out there for writers and readers of children’s and YA literature on how academia views the novels you write/read, how gaming constructs narrative and more on zombies, because they are awesome.

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Being an Academic

There’s usually a fair gap between academia and the actual artists (Apart from my two lovely panelists!). Artists accuse academics of reading things into their work that they didn’t actually put there, academics will try to locate artists work in the greater sense of social/cultural identity. So I’ll give a quick rundown of some of the more general things academics say about children’s and YA authors in particular.

All writing is ideological. Whether you intend it or not, a lot of scholars see writing as something that reflects, reenacts or rejects society in some way. The way you present what a child is, is ideologically based. As Kate said, our construction of childhood is entirely modern and not at all how past, future, or even other present societies view childhood! As an example, you’ve no doubt seen the rise of the ‘tween’ in the past decade or so. This is not something that goes against our entire history of being. It is something created, but all our categories and definitions are (changing definitions/words in the dictionary are another excellent example, language is a living thing).

In writing a story, scholars say, you are positioning the reader into a particular view. If writing a realist novel (recently, I read Junk by Melvin Burgess, so that can be my example), you don’t really expect the reader to come out of reading it thinking drugs are totally awesome and they should go out and try them now. Not just for ethical, moral and legal reasons, but you use certain words, certain strategies of writing and of course plot to try to align the reader. In fantasy, you may not expect someone to think The Dark Lord is awesome and they should totes go join a gang of evil peeps now! Readers, of course, will take from the work what they will (and you can’t stop that! Everyone brings their own experiences to a text).

What you intend, as much as how you use narrative strategies to position one character as “good” or the hero, and another as bad, is important and from this, an ‘ideal reader’ or ‘subject position’ is created – as far as what I believe and the academics I follow, the authors intentions are not  literally able to be read in the text, it is only through narrative strategies that we ascertain this subject position. What you don’t intend, to the academic, doesn’t matter as much as your story. I used the example last night of how there are quite a few dystopias around the idea (or ideological positioning) of technology as something that is cutting us off from nature. While you may just be intending just to write a good story about a world falling apart, there are criticisms (as you would expect in reviews anyway) that maybe this intensely negative view of technology is actually teaching children to fear the future.

Being a writer, you are given great power. Childhood and adolescence is considered a time when we are forming our idea of what our identity is and where we fit in society. Some academics say that it is even the role of fiction – Children’s literature is for affirming the self and personal power, but YA lit is for inducting the adolescent into society, our structures and institutions. It comes at a time in their lives (assuming the ideal reader – I’m an adult and I read YA!) when their sense of self is malleable and adapting to the new information they are drinking in, and that doesn’t have to come only from non-fiction.

Recommended Reading

  • Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. New York: Longman. 1992.
  • Trites, Roberta S. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa: University of Iowa Press. 2000.
  • McCallum, Robyn. Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction. New York: Routledge. 1999
  • Applebaum, Noga. Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge. 2010.
  • James, Kathryn. Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature. New York: Routledge. 2009

sekhaBeing a Gamer

I have somewhere about 500 or so books … I think. Haven’t sat down and catalogued them all for a while. But with games, I generally go back to the same two (the others are more seasonal playing), World of Warcraft and The Sims, and they are very different in terms of storytelling.

World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game with two factions that hate each other – The Alliance (your typical European humanoids, humans, night elves, dwarves, gnomes, werewolves (called worgen)) and the Horde (your traditional villains, orcs, trolls, tauren (which are half-cow, half-human), undead, blood elves and goblins). There is an overarching storyline, following on from the other Warcraft games, where the Orcs invaded Azeroth through a Dark Portal and the humans defended their land, but at one point, the creation of the Portals between worlds actually tore the Orcs homeworld asunder and they were isolated from their people. Each race has their own story of how they came to be (e.g. Blood Elves are elves that got addicted to fel or demonic energies) and there are also quests in the game which contain mini-stories.

While you play as a Hero (for whatever faction), essentially you don’t have any control over the storyline or influence. While there are numerous options with what you can do each day (crafting, dungeons, exploring, farming, pet battling, playing Player vs Player), you can’t change the storyline. Even if you might agree with the big villain of the expansion (there’s always at least one big villain), you cannot change the outcome and probably, if you raid, you will have to kill them anyway. You can manipulate your own perception of your character, even if you don’t role play specifically, choosing clothes, companion pets (which don’t fight with you in battle, but are more like little pokemon), titles (such as Elder, Noble, Kingslayer, etc).

The Sims on the other hand, is more a sandbox game. You don’t have to do anything, nothing is set in stone and there’s no path to follow. A few pre-made families have their own background story and personalities, but anything that happens is up to you. You can only control one family at a time, and you can guide them to their dreams of becoming a CEO, or build a wall around their pool and forcibly kill them. The Sims doesn’t use English either, it’s an invented language called Simlish, so you can even make up what they are saying.

There’s a lot to love about the Sims because of the freedom in storytelling. You can tell the Sim where to go and what to do, and (forcibly) influence their whole life. The Sims community is extremely inventive as well! They share stories, videos (called machinima), their families, even create self-sims to explore how they want to live their life. You can take Sims from birth to death (and even beyond death, as you can play as ghosts too!), fulfill their dreams or ruin them, and from generation to generation.

There’s nothing to say what the future of storytelling in games are, but there are some games, such as by Telltale (including the Walking Dead game) where it’s more like a choose your own adventure, you are given a world and a character and a situation, and then choices on how you act and what you say – and those decisions influence the story. This is a very particular gameplay slowly on the rise. Could gaming have an impact on how we organise novels and stories in the future?

9199346Being a Zombologist-in-training

There are two types of monsters or villains that I like best – one is the villain that believes they are doing the best thing, for society or themselves or their family; the other is the relentless enemy that you can’t stop or reason with – the zombie!

Between the panelists last night, we agreed that for us, monsters are representative. Freud believed monsters to be a symbol of repression – whether on a societal level or personal level, something that was once familiar and homely, now foreign and Other. For children’s and YA, the slaying of this monster can be hugely empowering on many levels. I rather think that monsters can also be un-embodied entities, such as a whole society. While it can be a horrendous and heartbreaking journey to defeat one enemy, imagine battling all of society for justice – the odds are not in our favour.

That is essentially what zombies are. They are seen to be many things, our fears or anxieties about race (originally when zombies were misappropriated from Haitian lore into Hollywood, it was all about showing the barbarism and danger of blacks, particularly the danger of black men/magic controlling white women), consumerism (of course, Dawn of the Dead!), and more recently, terrorism and economic crisis and refugees. These days, zombies are the conversion of a HUGE chunk of society into mindless beings that only want your flesh or brains (the eating of flesh comes from Romero, the eating of brains from Return of the Living Dead and O’Bannon – it’s not “the original zombie” at all! *insert long-winded rant here*). The history of the monster is the history of the culture itself (just as how childhood is a historical and social construction).

There are other theories of course, that monsters are a psychological universal. Derrida argued that monsters are created by the unrecognisable and the unpredictable; once it is recognised, it’s no longer a monster (perhaps an argument for evil, seducing vampires -> sparkly, vegetarian vampires?). Could go down the path of “it’s the author letting out their own subconscious fears and defeating them”. Multitudes of theories!

But monsters and villains and evil is important, particularly in children’s/YA. I mentioned last night that there is quite a bit of criticism from the academic community that it is expected that children’s/YA lit needs a happy ending, or at the very least, an ambiguous ending (of which some other scholars believes subdues the actual effect of the literature, particularly dystopia where the moral of the story is that we need to act now so we don’t lose our humanity in the future, but you’ll never see a child get the same ending as Winston from 1984). Of course, we can all think of examples where that is not true, where the character does not triumph, dies, or falls into depravity, but a positive or ambiguous outcome is the cultural expectation. For the reader to feel empowered, there usually needs to be a resolution (Kate used the example of someone literally throwing down a book that had no real ending). With ‘traditional’ (Romero) zombies, it’s particularly hard to create a happy ending because everything is just gone. Society is gone, humanity is gone, all that is left is a life spent scavenging and in hiding. A tough play for an author, if you only stick to one view of what a zombie is…

Recommended Reading

  • Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture. Ed. Stephanie Boluk & Wylie Lenz. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, 2011.
  • Triumph of the Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic on page and screen. Ed James Lowder. Dallas: Banbella Books, 2011.
  • Zombies are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. Ed. Christopher M Moreman & Cory James Rushton. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2011.
  • Bishop, Kyle W. American Zombie Gothic. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010.
  • Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader Ed. Marina Levina and Diem-My T. Bui. New York: Bloomsbury. 2013.
  • Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human. Eds. Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro. New York: Fordham University Press. 2011.
  • Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy. Eds Richard Greene and K Silem Mohammad. Chicago: Open Court Publishing. 2010.

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Conclusion

If there is anything to take from the talk last night, it’s from what Kate said: Darkness is NECESSARY in children’s and YA literature. If you take away that, you take away the power. There’s an importance in retelling too, as Kate said ‘as a creative artist it’s our job to recreate tales, and find new ways to tell stories.’ That’s very true for monsters as well. Monsters adapt and change as society does. They fill a certain void that we need filled (yes, even the romantic ones!). As much as people cried out “Those aren’t zombies!” when Warm Bodies came out, their idea of what a zombie IS is tainted by cultural tradition (as much as we all love Romero, he didn’t invent zombies, he reinvented them!). That’s the power of the author, scriptwriter or storyteller. To tell the story that needs to be told, not what society dictates the monster or villain traditionally is and always should be.

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* ❤ Lady Gaga

 

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