Reality Skimming
9May/12Off

Dialogue #4: Krista D. Ball (2 of 2)

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Dark & Light

Lynda Williams is a strong proponent of optimistic art, but others believe that the dark side is necessary in Speculative Fiction. In how much detail should unsavory acts/thoughts be described, and to what purpose? Are there situations in which a reader may need be offended in order to convey a greater message? The same dark themes also seem to pervade contemporary young adult speculative fiction. What are the issues surrounding this?

Last week...

Krista D. Ball According to her mother, Krista D. Ball tells lies for a living. She is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. Krista incorporates as much historical information into her fiction as possible, mostly to justify her B.A. in British History. Krista enjoys all aspects of the writing and publishing world, and has been a magazine intern, co-edited four RPG books, self-published several short stories and a novella series, and has been a slush reader for a small Canadian press. She has also written a non-fiction blogging guide and is currently writing a non-fiction historical book for authors called, "What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank." Whenever she gets annoyed, she blows something up in her fiction. Regular readers of her work have commented that she is annoyed a lot.

Today...

Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). Part 7 of the Okal Rel Saga, Healer's Sword, arrives in 2012. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT.

Lynda Williams: Dark & Light

Confession –I love heroes. When I face a dreary day or a mean-spirited adversary in the daily slog, I need my touchstones to make it through: like Frodo hanging onto memories of the Shire to help him contend with the evils of Mordor. And as melodramatic as it may seem to equate making it through to lunch on a bad day with saving the world of humans, elves and dwarfs, I suspect many lovers of the genre will know what I mean.

We all need something to believe in.

When I discovered the depths of man’s inhumanity to man, as a teenager who read widely and volunteered with a crisis centre, I was shaken. Not only could people behave in far more ugly ways than I’d imagined possible, but their victims typically lacked the advantages of SF heroes empowered by mysterious origins or superior technologies.

To process these shocks to my sheltered but imaginative self, I used my beloved characters, pushing them to their limits in their Okal Rel Universe adventures. As I got older, and grappled with the less perfect heroism of flawed and fragile human beings, my characters had an even worse time of it because I introduced handicaps and imperfections. But no matter how I tortured Amel or drove Horth to the breaking point, they remained heroes because they hung onto their belief in good things, like love or integrity. And if they could do it, I could.

Because we can’t afford to build a world in which people are too traumatized to dare to be the good guys.

So darkness, for me, lies not in what happens to a character but how the story influences the reader. If readers come away from a story thinking it’s smart to be the bad guy, it makes me feel a little ill.

When I was researching how to portray Amel as a survivor of sexual abuse in childhood, I discovered many men abused as boys become abusers (1) because of the two roles “available” they prefer the dominant, stronger one. Those who escaped this fate were the ones able to sustain empathy with others despite their experiences. More broadly speaking, exposure to extreme harm off all kinds, particularly warfare, has long been known as harmful to one’s ability to function in society (2) and continually demonstrations that resistance is futile leads to giving up (3). Are these the effects we want to engender in readers or viewers of SF?

There’s considerable debate on whether the vicarious experience of violence makes people more violent (4). But what if violence isn’t the key issue? What if it’s more about whether the good guys are portrayed in a positive light, suffering to achieve something meaningful– or fools who would do better to be more selfish, grasping and cruel?

I can’t, as a writer, help living in hope that my creations might have some influence, however slight, on others and if so, I want them to weigh in on the side of light and heroism.

Footnotes

(1) Why do People Abuse?
(2) Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
(3) What is Learned Helplessness?
(4) Research on the Effects of Media Violence

Next week: Lynda Williams writes her response to the central topic.

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