Rules for the Modern Storyteller
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1. The woman must always be superior to the man.
Listen: this is 2022. Traditional gender roles are outdated and, quite frankly, oppressive. Unless you’ve been living in a cave the past 30 years, you have to know that women can do every single thing men can do, but better. As such, this reality needs to be portrayed as accurately as possible in your writing. Suggestions include the man boasting how good and tough he is at some task, refusing help or to even listen to any suggestions, and then screwing up royally before the woman bravely swoops in with an eye roll and a cutting remark or three to save the day . . . after which the man will take credit anyway.
If it sounds true to life, that’s because it is. This even applies to animals; see, e.g., Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life:
Clarice is much more well-off than her previous incarnation and is constantly putting up with Chip and Dale’s ineptitude, though she will help them out if necessary. Unlike Chip and Dale, who live in a tree, Clarice lives in a car engine that somehow ended up in a tree. She is a messy, almost barbaric, person, yet is also very constructive chipmunk who is constantly tinkering and fixing things. Her relationship to the boys is also more platonic, though they do admire her for her respective abilities
However, there is an important corollary. Note that the above applies if the man and woman in question are both white.; if they are, then it remains an iron law. If not, then you have more leeway. For example, a black couple can follow the above rule, or the man can also be diligent, competent, trustworthy, and worthy of respect (see, e.g., Family Reunion). This optional rule also pertains to mixed race couples, as long as the man is a non-Caucasian.
2. The villain must never be a person of color; unless the hero is a person of the same or similar color, and in the latter case, the villain’s aims should match the heroes, with only the method differing.
Can you imagine a story where the villain is a POC and the hero is white? Give me a break! What is this, Nazi Germany? Could you imagine anything less true-to-life? Sure, in fiction we are allowed to stretch out and use our imaginations, but an audience’s suspension of disbelief can only be stretched so far.
As such, don’t be afraid to cop reality when crafting your villains. If your hero is white, the villain must also be white. Bonus points if the villain is racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and so on.
Note well that if your hero is a POC, then the villain may also be, but again, we use the term “villain” loosely here. As in real life, the POC “villain’s” aims are laudable; it is merely their methods which are bad (i.e., inadvertently harmful to other POCs; see, e.g., Black Panther).
Remember, 41 percent of America is Black, 39 percent is Latinx, 29 percent are Asian, 30 percent are Jewish, 27 percent are Native American, and 27 percent are Muslim. There is literally no reason to portray these heroic peoples in a negative light, especially when their colonial oppressors are still allowed to walk free.
3. A white male hero must fight white villains in support of the interests of non-white characters.
So let’s say, for whatever reason, you are going with a straight white male as your hero. This is fine! You are an artist. You are in creative control. However, if you want to make it in this industry, there are a few practical matters to attend to. First, the villain must be white. Second, the hero must be combatting the white villain on behalf of people of color for causes that benefit people of color. The recent movie The Batman does an excellent job of adhering to this rule, with rich white privileged male Bruce Wayne donning the bat-suit to fight other rich white privileged men on behalf of noble people of color who, due to centuries of oppression, need allies such as Batman. Ditto for last year’s Dune. Decolonize your stories!
4. People who are not straight must be portrayed in a positive light.
You might be wondering why such a small minority must be catered to so strongly. First of all, the real percentage of people who identify as non-straight is 30 percent and not 3, as you’ve been led to believe by bigots. Second, we need our stories to look like reality, and we need to reduce the stigma attached to being gay, bi, and every other sexuality on the spectrum. As such, stories should focus on the goodness and virtue of the LGBTIQAAP+ community by virtue of their sexuality. These people are good because they’ve been oppressed for so long. It’s impossible for this nearly one-third of the population of Earth to be otherwise given their status as victims. Superman being bisexual is a good start here. It would be better if he were full-blown gay, but it’s better than nothing.
5. The Christian is always a hypocrite, villain, or hypocritical villain, while all characters who are religious but non-Christian must be portrayed as deep and sincere practitioners of faiths full of profound wisdom and worthy of the greatest respect and deference.
Face it: Every single Christian you know is a hypocrite. Even those you don’t know are hypocrites. They’re probably racist too, despite their protestations to the contrary. Jesus was a Black Man, and these weirdos persist on claiming he was white.
In any event, it’s all a bunch of nonsense yet people believe it anyway. In order to accurately reflect this, make sure Chrisitan hypocrisy and bigotry is portrayed in your book everywhere possible. Look no further than the novel Old Man’s War for an example of how to utilize this hypocrisy both to reflect real life, but also to drive your story forward: the Christian character we meet early on is stupid and racist. It’s perfect, it’s realistic, and it will supercharge your writing.
6. A Christian protagonist is allowed only if they seriously question their Christianity, renounce it, or act in ways that are directly hostile to Christianity while pretending that they’re the real Christians.
Notwithstanding Rule Number 5, good Christians do exist. These are the ones who ignore most of Christian teaching and theology, or who leave Christianity altogether. Dr. Mary Malone, a former nun turned atheist from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, is a perfect example of this: she is a good Christian because she is an ex-Christian.
7. Atheism must be portrayed as the default, logical, and sane position on every imaginable issue.
Atheists make up one-third of the population of America. There’s no reason their lack of belief should be seen as the fringe opinion. Not only that, they are on average much smarter than Christians as far as IQ goes, and it’s not even close. Use this in your stories, but be careful! Relative IQ scores must only be used to prove that atheists and science are superior to Christianity and supernatural woo. Unless the Christians are people of color, but if that is the case, make sure they are portrayed according to Rule Number 6.
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8. Physically attractive characters are either dumb or secretly evil or have some other serious character flaw, while physically unattractive characters—and the more unattractive the better—must always be good at everything.
I don’t even need statistics to show how true this is. Just watch any movie made from 1980 onwards and you will see how accurate Rule Number 8 is.
9. Suburbanites must be portrayed as crass and materialistic hypocrites; rural dwellers must be portrayed as uneducated, racist, and violent rubes; and city dwellers must be portrayed as noble and intelligent.
Watch American Beauty. See how it beautifully incorporates this Rule into nearly every aspect of the film. You have hypocritical and clueless suburbanite parents. You have the angry homophobic right-wing gun-nut neighbor who is secretly gay. You have the rejection of traditionalism as the fulfilment of the real American dream. The movie doesn’t have enough heroic people of color to be a perfect guide for applying this Rule, but it comes close.
10. The rejection of tradition will save us.
This is it, people. The linchpin of the entire method. Whatever you know that people in the past used to do, or think, or hold sacred, chuck it out the window. Such moldy old things are the reason we are in this mess to begin with. The last century has been spent unlearning the previous 4,000 years of human history, especially the bit that began in 33 A.D. Make sure your characters understand this and are on the right side of history as its arc bends towards justice. Never forget what you fight for, who you fight against, and who your audience is.
And there you have it. Remember: if it happens on a screen, it becomes reality. Never forget the power that you, a so-called “mere entertainer,” have on the hearts and minds of people all over the world. You have a vital responsibility in promoting the values emanating from universities, top global think tanks, advertising agencies, and financial institutions. Now go forth and fight for justice as you write for justice, and be sure to enter promo code SCALZI for expedited shipping.