I have a book to recommend for this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop. I’ve lost count of the number of times this month I’ve come across some variation of anxiousness over a writer who earnestly wants to do right by cultural material and characters that are not their own. I always recommend this book: Writing the Other by Cynthia Ward and Nisi Shawl.
Seriously, you should all read this book. It came about out of an incident at the Clarion West workshop, when a student lamented that she felt there was no right way for her to write about non-White characters. Shawl and Ward have their own workshops tackling the problem, and this book grew out of these workshops.
It is full of practical advice and exercises. Here’s one of them to whet your appetite:
The book refers back to a collection of characteristic they call ROAARS (Race, Orientation, Ability, Age, Religion, and Sex). Another key concept is the Unmarked State, which denotes a state of possessing only those traits which are unremarkable. Choose a celebrity–any celebrity will do. Now as that celebrity, write a brief description of someone with radically different ROAARS. Take 4 minutes to write this description.
Some follow up questions:
- Was one of the characters closer to the Unmarked State?
- In which respects did they resemble/differ from the Unmarked State?
- How did what you wrote from the pov of the celebrity differ from your own pov?
- Did you find yourself using cliches or abandoning them?
If you gave the exercise a go, let me know in the comments. I’d also love to hear your views on writing those different from ourselves!