Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Slight Change in Aethetics - Guest Post!

I'll be stepping away for the day to give writer Len Berry the reigns of the blog for one day only. Len is the author of the recently published Vitamin F, available for your Amazon Kindle or Nook

A Slight Change In Aesthetics

Writing is not always the simplest art form, especially when you do something that goes against the expectations of most readers.

I had to break a lot of those expectations with my dystopian novel, Vitamin F. This wasn’t because I was trying to be experimental, but because the setting demanded it. In Vitamin F, after a genetic crash, the population has become 88% female. Because of that, most people walking around are female, the world has shifted to a female mindset.

We don’t live in this sort of world, so I had to figure out how to show the differences between Vitamin F and modern society.

The first step is to look at the people in the world. Where a crowd typically means a random mix of people to us, in Vitamin F, it means something more specific. Half of the people in a crowd can’t be men, in fact, if men are around at all, they’re in small numbers.

It goes further than that.

Any time stock people go by—cops, guards, students—most, if not all of them are women. Our minds, shaped by society, don’t see specific groups as being a mix of men and women. We instinctively assign masculine gender roles onto doctors, firefighters, soldiers, virtually every group. True, we might use gender-neutral labels or even feminine labels, but, in our male-centric society, we default to seeing men in basic roles. It’s only when we describe things with greater detail, do we break from these molds.

For this to work, I had to take extra steps. Sometimes describing the shape of a single person would be enough, so long as I related that body shape to the others in the group as well. Other times, I used dialog to have the characters in a scene define gender for me.

After all, why do extra work when you can get characters to do it for you?

Something else I had to address was the sorts of events that happened in social settings. I could still use trips to bars, but I thought most aggressive sports felt like they’d be too much. Action movies seemed like something that wouldn’t necessarily go away, but would need to change into a more emotional experience. I kept poetry readings, but, since I don’t care for most poetry, my lead characters share my disdain.

I found myself changing things so they might continue on. Some things were little, like referring to Tarzan as a woman, not a man. (There was still a Jane.) Especially since I take the lead characters, Bridgett and Penelope, on a trip through normal life, I made use of a sorority they both deal with. I framed the sorority from a lot of my dealings with college friends who were in those groups, but also from what I know about fraternities. Changing things to adapt to a different proportion for each gender became a small, but important task for selling the reality of Vitamin F.

The biggest shift I had to make to accommodate the story resulted in using one word in place of another. Most of the time, we talk about men and women in modern society. In Vitamin F, men are rare, a commodity, and socially second class. Because of this, I use the word “male” a lot more than I would in normal conversation.

In a way, this change is used by the Office of Genetic Security to make sure men are separate from women, not only distinct, but also not equal. While men are part of regular society, they have to undertake regular physical exams and make an annual sperm donation. It’s the sort of little word shift that Orwell talked about in 1984, so I thought it best to apply it in Vitamin F as well.

In crafting a story, it’s important to keep in mind the complete structure of the setting and the characters. The more unusual and distinct the world, the more it will require description and deliberation on how to approach even the smallest of elements. It doesn’t just paint a more vivid word picture, it also details the story and the plight of the characters trapped in its pages.


Len Berry a lifelong resident of Missouri studied biology before turning his imagination toward writing. In his spare time, Len enjoys drawing, watching anime, and playing an occasional video game. He is the author of the dystopian e-book Vitamin F, now available for Nook and Kindle. Since Len is an active blogger, you can find out more about him and his projects at his blog, Reflections of a Writer.

Thank you Len! I appreciate the perspective, and urge all of you to check out Len's blog and his book. His blog tour will continue tomorrow, and I'll take the reigns back for a Friday Flash and some other upcoming posts.

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