Writing People of Color (POC)
Science Fiction and Fantasy writers (SF&F) have a fair bit of elbow room when writing POC. Because we are writing about fictional places and fictional worlds with fictional characters who have fictional lives and fictional feelings and experiences in their fictional lives.
Our characters (of any color) have emotions and feelings and experiences formed in the world, people, and environment that we create.
The problem, I suspect, comes if our created world and the genuine one are too close. Urban fantasy would have a more difficult time with this than a story based on a world by Terry Pratchett. Portal fantasy would have a much harder time than high fantasy, because this (our) world forms the character.
If the world we create has close ties to the one we live in, then the life experiences of the characters will need to reflect the attitudes and experiences they have in this actual world.
And that is where the issue becomes… iffy. To pretend that they don’t have the experiences and backgrounds of being raised in this world is to ignore / disregard the reality of actual people’s lives.
To write about an experience, or about oppression, if we have never experienced it, is disingenuous. It’s like saying we know what it's like to have cancer if we have never had it. You can’t say you know what it’s like to be black if you are not.
This is where sensitivity readers (beta readers that are the color of your character) might help you write the experience from a genuine point of view.
It’s important to do the research and explore the views of the people you are attempting to write. A man writing a woman would be wise to have at least a few women read his work. A white person writing a black person would be wise to have a few black people read to bring a real and genuine feel to the work.
That research and exploration is what I mean when I say make the work feel genuine.
If I write in a world that does not have the same issues, where slavery never happened and the world treats people based on the individual’s character, then my character will have different feelings and experiences that shape him/her and his/her responses to events and people than the black person living in this world, who has this world’s backstory to carry. I can still explore those issues, but without having to be as precise about them.
For example, I have a character in my book Dragon’s Flight that people don't trust because of her race. Her history and her experiences in that world dictate her responses to people and how she feels about certain events.
I can use that character to explore and present to the reader the issues of racism and values and morals without having to use the specific situations of this world. Getting a reader to think about those issues without "being in their face." And creating what I hope is a more subtle approach.
Science fiction and fantasy have a history of introducing people to thoughts and ideas different from the present norm and even moving generations in a new direction of thinking.
I like to think it's our reason for writing. To entertain, yes, but also to create a better world.
How to Respond to Honest Correction and Critiques
What are the choices?
Respond with gratitude — thanking them for the correction and learning from it.
Respond by respectfully disagreeing — and discussing why.
Respond with anger — arguing. Anger is frequently a symptom of wounded pride. Anger is destructive, and often destroys relationships.
Respond by stewing — Stewing is just a silent form of anger.
Respond by leaving — Some people, offended by correction, will abruptly leave a conversation, a room or a relationship.
I receive correction most days of my life.
It might be in my writing.
It might be in the way I pronounce words. (I have hearing issues.)
It might be in how I signed a particular sentence in ASL. (American Sign Language)
It might be in how I did something, or in how I plan to do something.
It might be something as small as getting the name of something wrong.
I respond by thanking the person who provided a critique or correction.
Or, by saying, Really? I did not know that.
Or, Sorry, I got that mixed up.
Or, Yes, you are right.
Honest correction is helpful.
If I feel I am correct, I will say that’s an interesting idea.
Or, I don’t agree. (and say why)
Or, I will have to think on that.
Or, I will look into that.
Or, I think so and so.
In respectfully disagreeing, discussion is key.
To put it bluntly…
If you cannot accept honest correction, you have the problem,
not the person providing the correction.
Books that have made a difference
to the way I write.
Craft books by Orson Scott Card
Craft books in the ‘Elements of Fiction Writing Series’
(This series contains craft books on all aspects of writing.)
Self-editing for fiction writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
Techniques of the selling writer by Dwight V. Swain
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puclisi
(Also their books on settings, both rural and urban)
The Writing Active Settings series by Mary Buckham
(She also has a series on hooks)
Eats shoots and leaves by Lynne Truss
Rivet your Reader with Deep Point of View by Jill Elisabeth Nelson
And last, but not least
The Chicago Manuel of Style
The Fiction Writer
I believe the role of a fiction writer is to explore the human and the social issues of the day.
To do so in a way that allows and encourages readers to consider ideas they might not otherwise have considered.
To question the roles and beliefs they hold as truths.
To allow readers to see though the eyes of others.
To open minds to the possibilities that other opinions and beliefs and ways of life are of equal value to their own.
I believe Fantasy and Science fiction are the best vehicles for achieving these goals.
To forgive is not to forget.
Nor does it mean to absolve someone from a crime, or wrongdoing.
To forgive is to allow one’s self permission to move on and live life despite a wrong done to you.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.
Just because I forgive you, does not mean I need to subject myself to the same behaviour/actions again.
Forgiveness means that I chose not to be affected by you.
I have moved on.
When I was a child, my teachers told me that my stories were good, but my spelling and punctuation were bad and, therefore, I could not be a writer. That was a lie, but the child (me) believed it.
The truth is, you can learn those things.
There are two primary aspects to writing: the craft and the art.
I define the craft part as having the tools and the knowledge of how those tools work. Tools such as
dialogue and dialogue tags
show, don’t tell
scenes and structure
and at least a dozen more.
I define the art of writing as using the craft/tools available to create a piece of work that shines, that evokes the desired responses from the readers, or creates pictures in the readers' mind that makes them want to turn the pages.
Painters have paintbrushes of varying shapes and forms to create different results on the canvas.
Writers have words.