Names Without Faces

Absolutely, and without question every writer creates their own style. Even the writers that try to ape other writes have their own style. It happens. It is a part of all of us being individuals with different things that bring us to where we are and different things that bring us to writing. We all write for our own reasons. We have to. We want to. We just happen to be good at it. Some just have a knack for having their finger on the cultural pulse and can write what people want to read, a definite skill of its own. It’s been interesting of late in examining elements of my own style – which I still don’t know that I have, like, can someone read a story by me and go ‘Ah-Ha, that was a Ringer piece most certainly’ – I have started to see pieces of things that I do that, if to no one else, are interesting to me.

Perhaps the biggest stylistic choice I make is that unless it’s a key part of the story I don’t tend to give my characters racial identities. This isn’t to claim some haughty sense of cultural sensitivity, nor is it to act as if I am not writing from the perspective I am – as a white guy that grew up in the suburbs of middle class America. I don’t hide my background, I don’t flaunt my background, and it is what it is. So to say that I write from that background, as the person I am, having experienced what I have. I don’t apologize for who I am and I don’t brag about it. Saying all that there is no way to fully separate writer from writing. You do the best you can but there’s a point where you start to focus on that so much and something that wasn’t an issue becomes one. You insult the reader if you pretend to be someone you are not and to know things you don’t. All you can do is live and listen and try to do the story and its characters justice. Back to how I write though, I do make a conscious effort not to force a racial identity onto my characters because in most stories that doesn’t matter. My hope is to write stories that could happen to anyone, at any time. Telling you it’s a white person that looks like this or that they are a black person, or Arabic, or Hispanic, or whatever is to build walls around the story that don’t need to be there. The hope, my hope, is that the reader projects the faces onto the characters. The hope is that the reader invests enough of themselves into the piece that they fill in those blanks. Heck, for me I don’t even tend to see people, I see the story, as a whole, not as pieces. In the end it’s the story that matters and placing restrictions on who and what those characters are should only be done if it’s an integral part of the story and its plotting. This isn’t a judgment on other writers, it’s just where I am coming from and where I write from.

The thing about stories is that when they’re done, when we’ve written them, when I have written them then it’s all on you. If I did my job then you’ll fill in the blanks and make that movie in your head. I know what I wrote, what I meant to wrote, and what I hope you get out of it but it isn’t for me to tell you you’re wrong if you got something out of it that I didn’t see or intend. And that’s the same way with the characters, the less restrictions I put on them the more the reader can make them in their own image, or whatever image they choose. Sometimes it matters that Billy was a white male, 38, from Buffalo, New York and he has a scar over his left eye, which is blue. Maybe that matters in the story. A lot of times it doesn’t. And for me, it’s a shame to tell people who they should imagine in these stories. As the reader you have a lot of power, more power than I do, because while I lay out the bones of the world of the story it’s you that builds it.

What it comes down to isn’t political correctness, or some sort of pseudo-enlightened writer crap – it’s about you. I have never felt it was fair that I tell you who you see in your mind’s eye. As the author I dictate enough things to you, hopefully in ways that amuse or scare you or maybe make you think. I have enough power and to me, the least I can do is let you experience my stories on your terms and with your insight, background, and imagination. I dunno that it means anything to anyone, but for me it’s important. As are you. And I definitely thank you for any investment of time you’ve given me. I dunno that my stories matter to anyone but if they do, then part of that reason is because the people that read them cared enough to make them matter.


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