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17 November 2011 @ 02:00 am
The Pittsburgh Principle  
I turned a corner in NaNo Land. A subplot fell into place. My word count is caught up after a long weekend of friends and family visits. Acts II and III are still largely ?????? lines in the underpants gnome model of novel writing, but I have enough outline and scene sketches to keep me trucking.

The title of today's topic occurred to me when I was looking for references about Chinese urbanization and industrialization to help with my early planning. I found two excellent references - Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang, and The Concrete Dragon by Thomas Campanella. I also found a book that I was damn glad I looked up reviews for before purchasing it. I won't dignify said lump of textual horseshit with a reference, but I will say that a review likened it to a general overview book about the United States that spent all its time on crime rates, economic disparity, and the failures of for-profit health care. Yes, we have all those issues. Yes, they hit too many people terribly hard. Yes, they should be acknowledged when relevant to a narrative. But no, they don't represent the gist of American life for everyone all over the map.

In case it's not obvious by now, I grew up in the Steel City. People joke that it's a perpetual '80s time warp filled with clones of Carl from Aqua Teen Hungerforce fame. It also has the perception of being a post-industrial wasteland. Yet Pittsburgh is a historic and scenic city with its own unique quirky cultural melting pot. Its infamous dialect - which I still maintain a fair amount of after a decade in central Pennsylvania - reflects a cornucopia of influences from various European immigrant groups. If we didn't have awesome employment and housing in State College, I'd be quite happy to move back.

I would expect to see that feeling and interest captured in a work of fiction, giving a balanced impression of the city's character while being honest about its challenges. And I think of what I would expect from an acceptable portrayal of Pittsburgh as I work within the comparably unique, historic, and friendly setting of Nanjing. Of course, there's the added necessity of avoiding the exotification and marginalization of Chinese culture as commonly seen by the West. The Pittsburgh Principle doesn't cover every nuance of such, nor the related problems of Asian character stereotypes. But it does help me conceptualize the Platinum Rule as applied to a setting, which helps alleviate common outsider fears of touching on troubles at all. After all, the implication of a setting as Happy Nice Nice Paradise Land is problematic as well.
Current Mood: optimisticoptimistic
Current Music: Dynasty Warriors 4 OST - Heavy Gauge
quufer on November 18th, 2011 04:53 am (UTC)
I'm rather liking Pittsburgh, myself. It's a far sight better than, say, Cleveland, where my family is. And Factory Girls is an excellent book, highly recommended.
The Heavy Metal Matador: Kuribo's Shoerydain on November 18th, 2011 05:20 am (UTC)
Factory Girls is awesome indeed. Its portrayals are balanced and matter of fact, and its anecdotes go into tons of useful and interesting detail. It shows the potential for self-improvement, negotiation, and upward mobility - which many outsiders seem to be quite unaware of - while being honest about issues like looks and height-based discrimination and the occasional necessity of faking it until you make it. I found it helpful for shaping certain characters and events, as well as starting to learn about the challenges of differentiating oneself in a collectivist culture.

The one caveat I've heard is that Dongguang is a unique industrial boomtown, so its setting particulars can't be generalized to other cities. I think I did OK at picking out details of overarching urban cultural trends as opposed to Dongguang-specific features, but none of them will break my story if they don't apply to Nanjing after all. I'll have to find myself a cultural beta reader when I reach the point of a presentable draft.