Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Advice For Writing The Other, By Some of The "Others" in Question

As my regular readers know, I had a job as an editor for a while. During the brief period of time that I wielded the red pen of judgment, I noticed something odd. Namely that a lot of writers who crossed my desk seemed to have difficulty with characters outside their own experiences. Male writers whose female characters were flat, white writers whose characters of color were cringe-worthy stereotypes, and straight writers who did not have the first clue about what gay couples did in the bedroom.

Real bondage looks nothing like this, in case you were curious.
This is called, "writing the Other," and it put me in an awkward position. Because on the one hand, I was the editor, and I had found a serious problem with the writer's work. On the other hand, for those who don't have a book jacket with my photo handy, I am a white dude. So, while I was perfectly capable of pointing out what was wrong with the scenario in question, I never felt entirely comfortable in the role of explaining how to correct what was happening. After all, except in a very narrow selection of situations, I was not the Other that was being described, so what the hell did I know?

Fortunately, 5 Writing The Other Fails And How To Avoid Them has very solid advice that I wanted to share with everyone this week.

Writing The Other is an Exercise in Craft

In this guest post hosted on John Scalzi's blog, folks like K. Tempest Bradford and Lauren Jankowski weigh in on various examples of failure in writing the Other. And, while the examples provided are phenomenal in addressing specifics, I think one of the most important things authors can take away from the post is that writing the Other is something everyone can do. It isn't something everyone will get right on the first try, and it takes work, just like any other aspect of writing. It is, though, something that you can do.

Just remember to keep an eye out for the Goat of Criticism.
With that said, it is important to remember that writing the Other takes practice. You need to learn about the Other in question, and you need to form a complete picture of the characters, and their struggles. You need to push aside crass generalizations and lazy prejudices in order to create fully-formed characters with agency in the story. And, unfortunately, you won't always know when you've succeeded. Which is why it's important to listen to criticism, and to expand your pool of beta readers as widely as possible to be sure you have a lot of eyes on your project.

Authors always need to take their ego out of the process when listening to feedback, but that goes doubly for situations where you're writing about an Other. Because getting defensive about how you didn't mean to be offensive, or about your particular choice of language, misses the point. If you want to write the Other, and write them well, you have to listen, instead of talking.

Well, that's it for this week's Craft of Writing topic. The folks who contributed to 5 Writing The Other Fails And How To Avoid Them are really the ones doling out the wisdom on this topic. If you'd like to help support this blog so I can keep shooting more updates and advice straight to your screens, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron? As little as $1 gets you some sweet swag, and it's a serious help to my endeavors. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, why not start now?

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