Getting Help with your Women, POC and GLBTQ Characters: Rules for the White-Het-Cis-Male Writer

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My illustration from a wonderful piece of flash fiction from FSI is a brilliant case in point; is my inclusion of a POC in an illustration where no race is identified in the story a good thing? What about when we realize that the story is about expendable red shirts! Is it now a bad thing?

Science Fiction has been and continues to be embroiled in a controversy around the representation of women, GLBTQIA characters and people of color.

There are fans who long for the good old days, when such people were mostly absent, and there are fans who are delighted by the inclusion of these viewpoints, and there are fans who claim not to care much, so long as they like the story in question.

William Gibson is famously quoted as saying that all spec fic is really about the present, in one way or another, and our present is very  much about these issues. Avoiding these characters in your body of work means you’re writing from another era, for another era.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But it’s not what I want to do.

But what about cultural appropriation and exploitation? When does a certain kind of stereotypical representation and story telling prove to be just as problematic as the white-washed world?

You have found the apparent double-bind. Ignore people unlike yourself and be part of one problem; do a half-assed job with them and become part of another.

What’s a writer to do?

Try. Fail. Try harder. Fail less.

First you have to try. If you think of yourself as a spec fic writer, who can write aliens and AIs,  role-playing the Other should prove doable—right? If girls and gays are inconceivable, maybe you should give up on the aliens and AIs… you’re not up to it.

Heh. But I kid my people.

Second, you need feedback, from the people you are attempting to represent fairly. You need beta readers, my friend. And  yes, perhaps this post should be titled ‘writer discovers an actual use for social media.’ (If you lack these kind of people in your feed, by the way, and or they won’t volunteer, well, there’s another data point for you!)

You need beta readers; POC beta readers, GLBTQ beta readers.

More than one per group would be good.

Whats the downside? You may find that after an honest back and forth your story is gone. It’s disappeared. The bulk of it no longer makes sense. It’s time to start over or write a new story.

You may find that your betas accept the story as written, but tell you, ‘we have enough of that story already. We know that story. Were tired of it.’ (Expect to hear this about stories including rape and suicide.)

So you may lose a story—by learning something, that will make you a better writer, and a better person.

That’s your worst case scenario.

So. Now you know what to do. Do it.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, Reinventing Science Fiction, Uncategorized

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