Unmortal: The Palette-Swapping Problem

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-09-04 21:00:00 No comments

In my forthcoming book Unmortal there's a struggle between two characters, both of whom could be described as revolutionaries from and for an oppressed class. Their disjoint is in how they want to do this. Someone close to me who knows the details of the story asked me if this had been patterned after the disjoint between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. I admitted there were elements of that disagreement in this story, but that it was not in that mold — in the sense that I had imported some aspects of the real-world issue into what I was doing, but didn't use it as the design for what to do.

The single biggest reason I did this was simple: The conflict in the story between the two characters was an outgrowth of the situation entirely specific to that story. If I used the MLK/MX conflict as the template for that, it would have imposed a structure on their conflict that didn't really match who they were and what they wanted. I could have deformed their characters to be more in the mold of those real-world personalities, but at the expense of the story that already existed.

Understand something: I'm not suggesting the real-world struggles of MLK/MX are not worthy of being used as a story template or anything of that kind. Only that by the time I got around to seeing how a parallel existed, I had already mapped out the interior of the book, and those characters in it, such that I didn't need a model from anywhere else for how to shape things up.

It was nice to get some idea of the texture and dimension of the MLK/MX conflict and how that might inform what my characters were doing. But I didn't want my story to just end up being an echo of what had already happened, at the expense of it becoming its own thing with its own particular dimensions.

When people first start out writing, they look to what's outside themselves for models: the real world's history and events, other movies or books, and so on. That's fine; you have to start somewhere. And there's nothing that says you can't look to those things with the eye of a student — to learn the lessons they have to teach, instead of just copying them wholesale. But it helps to grow past merely being a stenographer of reality.

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