Why you should enrol in Writing the Other

Disclaimer: I’m a total newb at trying to express my thoughts and feelings on diversity and cultural appropriation. If I inadvertently write anything offensive or harmful, I invite you to let me know. But I have to start somewhere, try and fail, or I might never improve. Thank you, in advance, for your time, attention, and kind intervention (if required).

I’m not rolling up content as I have in other posts of this nature.

Out of the gate, I’ll recommend Writing the Other (WtO) to any writer concerned about writing inclusive fiction with respect and dignity accorded to characters unlike the authorial self. If you’re not concerned with these vital aspects of craft, then stop reading this post now. There’s nothing for you here.

K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl deliver an amazing and thought provoking course, the point of which is not to police creativity, but to ask authors to examine their fears, context, and assumptions, and to do their best to write inclusively. WtO will give you the tools to write characters of other ROAARS (race, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion, and sex) characteristics with integrity, and the resources to deepen your knowledge and understanding.

The point is that writing well is hard work, and writing well and respectfully of otherness takes effort and practice, like any other aspect of the craft. You have to be open, willing to learn, willing to practice, and willing to think critically about the creative choices you make in your fiction.

Those of us who come from a background of privilege (white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.) and those of use who align fairly closely with the unmarked state, still want to write inclusively. If we do so without due consideration, education, or research, we run the risk of harming the people from the same communities as the characters we write from sheer ignorance.

This can take the form of tokenism. Only have one character who is a person of colour? Why not include two, or even three, so readers can see that these characters are, first and foremost, people? Explore the experience of these characters in a fully-fleshed and respectful way. Give them voices. Compare and contrast them. Give them as much attention and thought to them as you give your main character. They may not have as big a role to play in your story, but they deserve to be real.

If your one gay character just happens to be the antagonist, you may inadvertently send the message that you think all gay people are like the antagonist. If your one trans character is the sidekick who gets killed, they become disposable, and that is another negative message you may unintentionally send.

If you have a disabled character who is “cured” by technology or magic, you effectively erase the character’s identity and struggle. If the character has to be able-bodied for the story you’re telling, then tell the story with an able-bodied character. Think about why you want to write a disabled character. If it’s to honour their struggle, then honour it. If you just think it’s cool, that may be true, but your choices may bear more thought.

Recently, in Canada, there was the “appropriation prize” debacle. [I’ve been curating articles and posts on the issues, in Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday, for the past few weeks. Peruse, if you’re so inclined.]

Last year, there was the Lionel Shriver controversy. [And yeah, I curated that one, too.]

Cultural appropriation happens when you take a story that belongs to a culture other than your own without permission and consultation (both are required) and write about it in a way that dishonours the originating culture.

This can happen in any of the arts.

The word diversity has been thrown about in publishing and writing so much in recent years that the word has almost lost its meaning. I’ve heard of speakers who have retreated from panels on literary diversity because they are often attacked or their statements taken out of context for the sake of theatrics or sensationalism.

Diversity, to me, means that people of colour, of other sexual orientations, of differing ability, age, religion, or sex, should write their own stories. And they should be welcomed into the publishing world. We need more editors, agents, and other publishing professionals who are from different backgrounds, too.

This doesn’t mean that no one should write a character that doesn’t share their background. If they do, though, they should be prepared to take the time and do the research to represent that character authentically.

For myself, I’ve decided that I won’t write a protagonist that is significantly different from me. That’s my personal choice, though. I won’t prohibit anyone else from doing that. And there are some writers who have written the other brilliantly, so I won’t say that it can’t be done. I choose not to.

But I want to write inclusively about a world that’s like the one I see every day. To do that, I have to educate myself. And WtO was a first step on that path.

As always, be well, be kind, and stay strong.

Muse-inks

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, May 7-13, 2017

It’s time to get your informal writerly learnings for the week 🙂

Jess Lourey touts the therapeutic benefits of writing a novel. Writer Unboxed

Then, she pops over to Jane Friedman’s blog: classic story structures and what they teach us about novel plotting.

Kristen Tsetsi chats with Jane Friedman about how books become bestsellers.

Then, Susan De Freitas guest posts on Jane’s blog: how to spot toxic feedback.

September C. Fawkes visits the Writers Helping Writers coaches’ corner: complex characters and the power of contradiction.

Sarah Juckes offers a cheat’s guide to writing a synopsis. Writers Helping Writers

Remember that crazy Lionel Shriver keynote and the various responses I shared last fall? Well, Keith Cronin tackles the topic for Writer Unboxed: in which a white guy talks about cultural appropriation.

There’s more to come on thoughty Thursday, and even more, next week. Stay tuned.

Susan Spann tells you when to walk away from a publishing deal. Writers in the Storm

Janice Hardy differentiates conflict from tension and explains how to make it work for you. Fiction University

Later in the week, Janice helps you figure out what to do when you think you have the wrong protagonist.

Maurice Broaddus visits Terribleminds: wrestling with writer’s block.

Leanne Sowul shares three ways to balance writing and exercise. DIY MFA

Gabriela Pereira interviews K.M. Weiland for DIY MFA radio. Two of my favourite writing women!

Then Gabriela hops over to Writer’s Digest to help you create a valuable email list for your book.

And then, there were three. Three [of my] columns published on DIY MFA! How to dream your way to fantastic fiction.

Oren Ashkenazi reviews five anachronisms that fantasy needs. Mythcreants

Colum McCann offers essential tips for aspiring novelists. The Guardian

Danielle Burby offers a few tips so you can tell if your manuscript is ready. Pub Rants

Jim C. Hines writes about traveling with depression.

This is kind of sneaky-bad. Marie Bilodeau tells Ottawa to pay its artists. The next day, Ottawa responded, but Marie’s holding out for proof of their good intentions.

Sudbury author, Kristan Cannon, has just published the fourth book in her post-apocalyptic series. Heidi Ulrichsen for The Northern Life.

Jason Guriel: what happens when authors are afraid to stand alone. The Walrus

Andrew Wilson boggles at the persistence of fake news regarding Agatha Christie’s one real life mystery. The Guardian

Holly Williams reads the startling sex letters of Joyce, Kahlo, and O’Keeffe. The Guardian

Looks like Netflix’s Anne with an E is the best kind of adaptation. Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic.

I so want to see this movie. Wonder Woman.

 

Aaaaand, we’re done.

Come back on Thursday for some thoughty, won’t you?

Be well until then.

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Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, April 30-May 6, 2017

A little silly, a little serious, and a whole lot of inspiration. Curated just for you!

Finland’s May Day frolic. This is Finland

Kristina Marusic: how it feels when you’re queer [as fuck] but your relationship looks “straight.” New Now Next

Sabrina Marandola reports on how parents and teachers launch a petition to change Quebec’s history curriculum. CBC

Pegi Eyers answers the question, what is cultural appropriation? (With tonnes of resources!) Ancient Spirit Rising

It’s okay to be smart: why are we the only humans left?

 

Jasmin Fox-Skelly warns that as global warming melts the ice, dormant and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are waking up. BBC

Erica Cirino: scientists discover that beeswax-eating worms are the secret to breaking down plastic. National Geographic

Hearst Digital Studios produces a powerful #survivorloveletter, from survivors, to survivors.

How general anxiety disorder is linked to emotional abuse. Daily Health Post

Kristin Wong examines how happy people complain. Science of Us

The surprising solution to the impostor syndrome. Lou Solomon—TEDxCharlotte

 

Jill Suttie says that taking a relaxing lunch break is good for you. Mindful

A BC professor’s sleep trick garners attention from Oprah, Forbes, and The Guardian. CBC

Alice Dreger: what if we admitted to children that sex is primarily about pleasure? Pacific Standard

The Oatmeal: you’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you. About awesome brain science-y stuff and your power to put your amygdala in it’s place.

Rae Paoletta reports on the first sound from the creepy void inside Saturn’s rings. Gizmodo

Christianna Reedy: new evidence about a cold spot in space could support the case for a multiverse. Futurism

Just because it was May the 4th (be with you): was Star Wars really in a galaxy, far, far away? Phil Plait, Bad Astronomer, for Blastr.

Amanda Ruggeri introduces us to angel roofs: the medieval marvel few people know. BBC

Cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon by Alice Kristiansen and Jessie Marie Villa

 

Stanley the singing Airedale talks to his mom on the phone.

 

And that’s how we pop your mental corn.

Just a wee reminder, I’ll be away this weekend, and so I’ll see you next Tipsday with a new batch of informal writerly learnings.

Be well until then, my writerly friends!

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