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November 6, 2018

Breaking Out of Stereotypes --- Guest Post by Erica Cameron, Author of WAR OF STORMS


Solid world-building is a must for any high-stakes fantasy and part of the task is avoiding harmful stereotypes. Erica Cameron, author of The Ryogan Chronicles, stopped by our blog this week to talk about breaking out of these stereotypes int he fantastical world of her series. In the third book in the series, WAR OF STORMS, the immortal mages have risen, and they're out for blood. Khya arrived at the Ryogan coast too late to stop the invasion. Now, cities are falling before the unrelenting march of an enemy army, and Khya's squad is desperately trying to stay ahead of them. Warning the Ryogans, though, means leaving her brother imprisoned even longer. Calling in help from every ally she's made in Ryogo, Khya tries to build a plan that won't require sacrificing her friends or her brother. The end is coming, and there's no way to know who'll be left standing when it hits.

The human mind is wired to jump to conclusions. It’s an evolutionary survival instant from the days when we needed to instantly be able to decide if something was safe or dangerous. The need to make split-second calls like that isn’t a normal part of the day for most people --- cops, firefighters, the military and others excepted, of course --- but our minds still approach every new situation the same way our many-times-removed ancestors did. This is part of why it’s so hard for society to completely break away from stereotypes and prejudices. It’s a theme I play with quite a bit throughout The Ryogan Chronicles.

Although I did remove a lot of modern prejudices from the societies I built for my world, no human social structure is without its issues and its divisions. Itagami separates its population based on magic and exactly how much of it they have. Characters like Sanii are overlooked by the citizens of the city because of their assumptions about yonin --- the magicless servant class. This is why Sanii’s arc is all about breaking down the ways people underestimate em and proving them wrong.

When creating characters, there is a lot to think about, and it goes far beyond what shows up on the page. It’s important not only to be aware of what a character thinks and how they see the world, it’s also crucial to take into consideration how the world sees them. It’s a truth of human psychology that both sides of this particular coin have a huge impact on how individuals interact with the world around them --- and what they expect from the world.

In books I can set up situations which force characters to examine their own minds with new eyes, a feat that’s much harder to manage with real people. What I can hope is that readers can learn along with Khya how to question the things they’re taught and the preconceptions they might have about others. Sanii changes as the series progresses, gaining confidence in eir abilities and trust in eir own instincts as ey proves to emself and the world exactly how capable ey is. Khya, too, changes as this same knowledge sinks into her mind. If I did my job right, the reader will take the same journey.