Cookiemonger posted an entry this morning called “The Killing Horror,” that got my attention, and I wanted to share a bit of my thoughts on a related subject. In her post (which I’ll let you read yourself), she discusses the oft-abused character trope of “woman saddened by butchering of an animal.”

In the vein of tropes like “Did Not Do The Research,” there’s a far more subtle trope of “Values Dissonance.” In the case of the former, the author doesn’t know much about what they’re writing, often such that savvy viewers will catch on — in video games, it’s bad for immersion, and for books or film, the suspension of disbelief.

Sometimes, an author’s failure to accurately portray some element of the story can be ignored for the sake of the story, though the more obvious the error, and the more integral the bad information is, the harder it is to suspend disbelief. Many authors and viewers alike think a work being in the “speculative fiction” genre makes this irrelevant.

It can be surprisingly difficult to detect Values Dissonance in a work when you agree with the values being portrayed, though for others who are more aware of differences in values, or who hold different values, the effects can be quite jarring. One fantastic example is in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, where the ending varies by era.

During Shakespeare’s time, you could probably imagine Kate’s speech about the woman’s place to be entirely literal and without a hint of irony. In a more egalitarian era, she’d just be “wrong.” In a post-feminist society, she could be bitingly sarcastic. Some productions even cut her final speech simply to avoid the controversy.

You can read about The Taming of the Shrew online. I used Wikipedia.

My own experience researching and writing in mythical Greece has been an evolving process. I’ve gone back and forth on gender issues throughout the process, as I found ways to justify certain elements of gender equality — which makes me more comfortable. Some less desirable elements, such as slavery, I’ve tried to keep intact.

I think it’s important for authors to maintain a certain amount of perspective on their own work, but even then, it’s impossible to listen to every critic. Someone will inevitably find something to disagree with, and really the only thing you can fall back on is good characters and storytelling. Writing can be a learning process too.

…I’ve managed to go back and forth on the subject in my own entry. Kudos to CM for making me think about this issue. You deserve a cookie!