How Much Of The Sad Puppy Divide Is Just An Approach To Novelty?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Just a weird thought I had, watching accusations of people “pandering” because they put black/gay/handicapped characters in their novels:
When I wrote Flex, I covered about two-thirds of the Pandering Accusation Bingo Card: my lead character is handicapped (he lost his right foot in a magical battle), and he’s got a biracial daughter who represents as black.  The novel I’m writing right now, Savor Station, features as its lead a black gay son of cultish religious parents.
The thing is, I’m not pandering to anyone: if anything, I was pretty sure that having a black girl on the cover of the book (which was important to me) would suppress sales.
But those characters were exciting to me.
I’d seen a hundred white dude leads before in fiction. When I read a book and go, “Oh, hey, it’s another hard-boiled ex-cop,” I put it aside, because I get little pleasure from repetition. My favorite books are the ones that show me something wildly new that I haven’t seen before.
So when I was creating Paul Tsabo, the idea of a protagonist who was a) handicapped and b) complete crap in a fight appealed to me.  I hadn’t seen a dude like this before – especially when I realized his magical power was bureaucracy.  So I went, “Wow, I gotta see what happens to this guy!” and followed him down the rabbit hole.
Likewise, when I wrote Kenna, the lead of Savor Station, I went, “I have written five (unpublished) novels with a plucky white straight boy adolescent.  I’m tired of that crap.  How can I switch it up?”
So to me, both my reading habits and my writing habits pull me towards “WHAT THE HELL?!?” moments; my favorite stories are the ones where I have no idea how it’s going to end. I want unique things, and so I’m not pandering to anyone, I’m writing what I think is exciting because I haven’t seen it before.
And when Brad Torgersen’s repeated and exasperated claims that “Back in the day, when you bought a book with an astronaut on the cover, you knew what you were getting,” my response is, “Yeah, which is why I sought out books by Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft and Frank Herbert, who had weird-ass covers. I spent my childhood groaning whenever I saw those covers, because I did know what I was getting.”
Yet he seems to think this repetition is a good thing.
And I think a lot of the Sad Puppy divide comes down to those who value comfort reading – they want mostly what they’ve read before, with a few twists to keep it fresh – and those of us who only get off on things we haven’t seen before.
There’s nothing wrong with either side, of course – I don’t disdain those who want to read their Laurel K. Hamilton and Harry Potter books a hundred times over, even as I don’t understand it.  Reading is reading. Love what you like.
But I think at some point, people like Brad and company have metastatized their tastes to go “Everyone really wants to hear the same basic stories, deep down” – and from that perspective, of course we’re only adding these weird-ass characters because we’re pandering.  Why would you want to write a gay character when what you’ve read before are straight characters, and the only thing that really scratches your itch is stuff similar to what you’ve read before?
There’s nothing wrong with either side, actually.  Some of the best stories are, in fact, old tales retold, and judging from the popularity of a lot of military sci-fi (which I find repetitive) and romance novels (many of which tell the same basic plot) and even horror books, people like repetition.  There’s a very large segment of folks out there who are comforted by knowing what’s about to happen, and being proved right.
But I think one of the reasons the Sad Puppies routinely think we’re throwing people in “just to be PC” is because to their minds, you wouldn’t mess with tried-and-true story structures without having an ulterior motive. The whole point of a story is, to them, on some unconscious level, that you’re reproducing something great you’ve seen before, with the subtlest of changes, and a “wild” change like WHOAH INDIAN TRANS CHARACTER is something you’d only do to purposely fuck with people.
But no. To me, I hear “Indian trans character” and I go, “Wow, that’s new! I wonder how that would work!”  And I’m excited to read that, and to write that, if I have a home for that person.
I’m not pandering, man.  I’m just turned on by different ideas than you are. And that’s okay.



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