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New entry May 06

Critter Notices

Critters is 25!

This November, Critters is 25 years old! Wow! Thanks so much to all of you, who've made it such a resounding success!

Books from Critters!

Check out Books by Critters for books by your fellow Critterfolk, as well as my list of recommended books for writers.

Space Travel for SF Writers

Hot off the presses from ReAnimus Press! Space Travel - A Science Fiction Writer's Guide— An indispensible tool for all SF writers that explains the science you need to help you make your fiction plausible. (Also via Amazon)

New Book from a Critter Member

**NOW IN PRINT EDITION TOO!** Awesome new book, HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SPECULATIVE FICTION OPENINGS, from a Critter member whose unearthed a shard of The Secret to becoming a pro writer. Really good piece of work. "...if you're at all concerned about story openings, you'd be nuts not to read what Qualkinbush has to say." —Wil McCarthy, author of BLOOM and THE COLLAPSIUM

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ReAnimus Acquires Advent!

ReAnimus Press is pleased to announce the acquisition of the legendary Advent Publishers! Advent is now a subsidiary of ReAnimus Press, and we will continue to publish Advent's titles under the Advent name. Advent was founded in 1956 by Earl Kemp and others, and has published the likes of James Blish, Hal Clement, Robert Heinlein, Damon Knight, E.E. "Doc" Smith, and many others. Advent's high quality titles have won and been finalists for several Hugo Awards, such as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy and Heinlein's Children. Watch this space for ebook and print editions of all of Advent's current titles!

Book Recommendation

THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock

Announcing ReAnimus Press

If you're looking for great stuff to read from bestselling and award-winning authors—look no further! ReAnimus Press was founded by your very own Critter Captain. (And with a 12% Affiliate program.) [More]

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Writing Assault and Why You Should Avoid It

by Claire Scherzinger

Many would say that science fiction is our portal into the future, an opportunity to create better worlds or at the very least point out the problems humanity faces today. I agree; these are all things that fall under the purview of SF. However, as I spent hours critiquing the stories of my fellow critters, there was one common disturbing topic that continually made an appearance:

Sexual assault.

Perhaps it is jarring to read that heavy blip of a sentence, though it is the truth, and I hopefully have your attention in employing it. To paint with a broader brush, the problem I encountered with many stories in the critters queue was that women’s bodies, their personalities (or more distinctly, lack thereof), were often narrative objects to advance the stories of male-identifying characters. Traumatic backstories such as miscarriages, rape, and assault often were referenced once and never referred to again. Verbal and emotional abuse toward female characters was commonplace. Female characters I’ve read (for I have rarely seen a non-binary or trans character on critters) usually were reduced to physical appearances and lack substance.

I could spend days—months even—talking and writing about why this is problematic and detrimental to the progress of the greater world. Though to the credit of some, when I pointed out these problematic parts of their story, it was often not intentional, and they were keen to give their work a re-write. However, many writers never responded to my critiques and likely continue to write the same way as they always have.

To those who want to be better writers: this article is for you. I have compiled a preliminary annotated list of resources and suggestions to address this behemoth of a topic. Luckily, we have progressed enough that people are discussing and writing about this topic on the internet prolifically; in Google, I put in ‘why depicting sexual assault in writing is problematic’, and loads of stuff comes up. Here are a few:

1. Common tropes involving rape and how to replace them:

This one was really good because it gives examples from writing and tv.

2. If you have to involve sexual assault in your story, these are all informative reads:

I would also suggest looking at data on sexual assault, as most assaults happen between people who know each other in some capacity. It’s not just a bunch of awful people going around and hurting innocents. The media delivers spectacle when reporting on sexual assaults, but its reality is much quieter than most people know.

3. Writing better female characters:

Though there are, again, loads of resources from a simple search.

4. Finally, the Bechdel test:

I would consider giving your latest work this test and see where you end up.

This list is a starting place because, in the end, it comes down to what you are reading. If someone doesn’t read fiction by women, it often comes across in their writing, manifested in the problems I have described above.

The good thing is, this is an easy fix! There are so many wonderful novels being written by women, as well as a lot of great theory on misogyny, relationships, love, and language from male, female, and non-binary writers. Being a widespread reader—meaning you don’t only read SF—is one of the easiest ways to make your stories. Just read.

Here are some relevant titles that I have found helpful:

Theory:

    Down Girl, by Kate Manne
    All About Love, by bell hooks
    Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

And a few novels:

    Written on the Body by Jeanette Winter
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    The Power by Naomi Alderman
    Of course, anything by N.K. Jemisin

Finally, a note on content/trigger warnings (CW/TW):

CW’s are important because they allow a reader to decide if a story isn’t for them. While I can read stories with some assault, wanton, and poorly written, violence is challenging for me to read. I have come across CW’s that are obvious, using keywords such as ‘sexual assault,’ ‘abuse,’ ‘graphic violence.’ I usually steer away from these, though if I’m in a good place, I will read up until the point the assault occurs.

However, I realized sometimes a justification is used as a CW along with or instead of the obvious keywords. For example, recurring was ‘sexual assault that happens off stage’ or ‘sexual assault that is a backstory for the main character,’ or ‘main character is a really evil, twisted dude’ among others.

My advice is to be as straightforward as possible and even include the paragraph number where the assault occurs (so if you want to get a partial critique, there is forewarning to the reader where to stop).

But if possible, I would encourage you to try moving your story forward without sexual assault and abuse. Many manipulative and power-grabbing situations occur in the world that can inspire a guttural reaction in your readers.

Yes, assault happens in the real world. I know that, as do many. However, it doesn’t mean it needs to happen in your story to show that a character is the worst of the worst or to try and give your piece the harsh tone of a brutal world. As a creator, I hope you’ll challenge yourself to try and keep this harmful trope to a minimum and write better worlds for us all.

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