Writing Diversity


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  1. #1
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Writing Diversity

    Potentially touchy subject but I'm going to give it a go. I just read a tweet where someone had received some workshop feedback on a character, where the feedback read "Why is she Asian?"

    To the responses. First among these was the contention of whether such a critiquer would ask people in real life why someone was Asian, or bi, or what-have-you. Let me also put in here that I'm a straight white reasonably middle class male, so now you know. Anyway, I understand this response. But I am not sure it really gets to the heart of things, simply because the difference is that the real world is as it is, and fiction is something created and therein lies the answer to the whys and wherefores. People - so far as I know - don't generally go round asking each other why they are of race X or sexual orientation Y because we know people different from ourselves are there; we have all the history of the world (or a quick walk down the nearest street) to draw on. Therefore, to my mind, the reason they must have asked it with the fiction piece was that it seemed somehow out of place, not bedded into the rest of the writing. Bombed in, a token. The alternative is to assume that the work was so good as to be functionally indistinguishable from reality, but personally I suspect the reader's expectations were incorrectly handled. The problem is it's such a hot topic that people assume the most severe explanation must be the correct one, because that would fit in with the intense scrutiny put upon the subject. But this critique could just as equally have been a legit piece of feedback on a genuinely shonky piece of prose. I haven't read the fiction. But I do know that when I've written something that is out of place people have called me on it.

    Second response was around the concept of default ethniticy. Had they asked why there were characters that matched everyone's (presumably non-Asian) heritage? Was this critiquer responding from their own default standpoint? I mean, they may have been, or equally the writing may have nudged them into it. A lot of the respondents went straight to assuming the former without giving the latter any consideration, which I found kind of lazy. I find it damaging to quality work when people forego telling writers their stuff needs attention, preferring to echo chamber them instead, to stay in their good books and not rock the boat. At the very least the person may have wasted their money.

    I googled this topic. A lot of the articles are around sensitivity readers, with comments concerning how not to use offensive stereotypes without meaning to. That is all fine. But I think sensitivity readers should also consider advising how to write well so that any non-majority character doesn't seem bombed in but - like in the real world - a part of the genuine water of the book. That's on us writers, to do that properly. Sometimes feedback, and writing, makes us stumble across uncomfortable questions and if we straight up avoid them, or prioritise easy kudos over head-on engagement, our writing may suffer. And when someone complains - no matter the topic - we may have to look at ourselves and our work and give things the due diligence they deserve.

    Umm, do I have a question? This was a bit of a rant, wasn't it. Ermm. What are your thoughts on all this? Safeties on, yeah?


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

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  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by bdcharles View Post
    Potentially touchy subject but I'm going to give it a go. I just read a tweet where someone had received some workshop feedback on a character, where the feedback read "Why is she Asian?"
    Because her parents are from Laos?

    Personally I would disregard such feedback. It's a banal question.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

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  3. #3
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    Because her parents are from Laos?

    Personally I would disregard such feedback. It's a banal question.
    Yeah, I mean, to me it's very badly phrased as feedback. But if there was something not working - like maybe the character was in some subtle way unconvincing as written - I'd want to tidy that up.


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  4. #4
    Personally I've never bothered much about sensitivity or political correctness, so my answer as to why I might have any "diverse" characters in my work would be simply "because I can". I am the author, which means I and I alone get to decide what characters and why I want in my works, and I am under no obligation to explain my reasons every to every random idiot looking for hidden political messages if I don't feel like it, much less if there aren't any to begin with.

    I would suggest you too look at it this way. Once you start worrying if your depiction of minority character X is "accurate" or "sensitive" enough or explaining yourself to every nosy asshole who demands to know "why this" or "why that" (most often with a certain expected answer), you stop being a writer and become little more than a propagandist for a particular ideology. Unless that's the explicit purpose of your work, of course.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by bdcharles View Post
    Yeah, I mean, to me it's very badly phrased as feedback. But if there was something not working - like maybe the character was in some subtle way unconvincing as written - I'd want to tidy that up.
    I agree. I'm just of the opinion that lazy feedback warrants a lazy response. I have no problem with having characters critiqued in any way and I don't consider feedback about how I'm portraying any particular character as "PC". If I get something wrong, I want to know. I might have been born in the 1950's but I don't need to live there.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  6. #6
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CyberWar View Post
    Personally I've never bothered much about sensitivity or political correctness, so my answer as to why I might have any "diverse" characters in my work would be simply "because I can". I am the author, which means I and I alone get to decide what characters and why I want in my works, and I am under no obligation to explain my reasons every to every random idiot looking for hidden political messages if I don't feel like it, much less if there aren't any to begin with.

    I would suggest you too look at it this way. Once you start worrying if your depiction of minority character X is "accurate" or "sensitive" enough or explaining yourself to every nosy asshole who demands to know "why this" or "why that" (most often with a certain expected answer), you stop being a writer and become little more than a propagandist for a particular ideology. Unless that's the explicit purpose of your work, of course.
    My angle on the question of why the character is there is not so much about justifying their presence but literally, what about the character made the writer write them that way? As to why the editor (or whoever it was) flagged up that particular thing, I just wonder if there was something about that char that rendered them unconvincing as written. Could it, I wonder, be a simple matter of insufficient suspension of disbelief? If the character had been unconvincing as, say, someone In the 1950s, yet was described as just that, would the question stand?


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  7. #7
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    I agree. I'm just of the opinion that lazy feedback warrants a lazy response. I have no problem with having characters critiqued in any way and I don't consider feedback about how I'm portraying any particular character as "PC". If I get something wrong, I want to know. I might have been born in the 1950's but I don't need to live there.
    I’ll have to rethink all those times I’ve responded with “?”


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  8. #8
    possibly associated with your
    character (package assumptions/instancing of object)
    within context (framework)
    relation(s) with motion (through story arc).

    many readers
    do not appreciate
    emerging feelings
    elicited
    by stripping out
    generally accepted "other identifiers".

    slipstream can be that nuanced.

    lemme know if you are interested in
    some writing challenges which work
    with and through "principles" clarifying
    this aspect of the reader-writer relationship.

  9. #9
    Member Rojack79's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CyberWar View Post
    Personally I've never bothered much about sensitivity or political correctness, so my answer as to why I might have any "diverse" characters in my work would be simply "because I can". I am the author, which means I and I alone get to decide what characters and why I want in my works, and I am under no obligation to explain my reasons every to every random idiot looking for hidden political messages if I don't feel like it, much less if there aren't any to begin with.

    I would suggest you too look at it this way. Once you start worrying if your depiction of minority character X is "accurate" or "sensitive" enough or explaining yourself to every nosy asshole who demands to know "why this" or "why that" (most often with a certain expected answer), you stop being a writer and become little more than a propagandist for a particular ideology. Unless that's the explicit purpose of your work, of course.
    Thank you! It's like if i wanted to have an african character in a european fantasy setting. African's and other dark skinned individuals have been in europe for centuries. Do i have to justify my choice to put a black dude in my story? No! So don't get bent out of shape if he doesn't "act" like every other black guy out there that's been portrayed in various forms of media.
    This might not be my best work but that just means there's room to improve.

  10. #10
    To be critique at all the statement, which it must be as all critique effectively takes the form of statements about the work, "Why is she Asian?" must be regarded as shorthand for something else such as "I wonder why she is Asian," (a reaction as a reader) or "Ask yourself why she is Asian." (Advice about writing it that needs elaboration by the critic.) Readers can't normally ask the writer of a work questions as it must stand by itself and there is a difference between giving critique as a one-off response and starting a dialogue about the work. The fact that a writer posts their work doesn't necessarily mean that they wish to enter into dialogue about it any more than the critic may wish to receive feedback about their critique. Such dialogue should be separate from the critique thread to my mind. Questions are fine in critique so long as they are rhetorical and not so open-ended as to be ambiguous in their intention.

    That's my view on that particular critique. Now for the diversity issue.

    Personally I don't think that diversity should be emphasised when writing just to tick the diversity box, if that was the intended criticism. In my novel I actually ticked that box by not mentioning the diversity of my characters. If society wants to regard ethnic diversity as read throughout itself then I don't feel the need to write it into my work because it must be the default assumption. If a reader can work out the ethnicity of my characters from what I have written then so be it, but if they can't then it is clearly irrelevant to the story and they can believe what they like according to their own predilections. One of my characters was actually in my mind of Anglo-Caribbean mixed race but the story didn't need me to mention that explicitly, so I didn't. Had I done so I would just have been ticking a box on society's checklist which had nothing to do with the story just to avoid being criticised for not making it ethnically diverse.

    For a real life parallel on this subject see THIS POST that I wrote earlier today. The idea that everything in life now needs to have the ethnic diversity seal of approval just doesn't make sense. Do I also need to mention that one of my characters is left-handed to tick the manual diversity box? Should I mention that one used to be Buddhist but became disillusioned about it or would that be seen as taking a stance on religion? In my novel a character actually asks whether they are being told to pray to get out of a hazardous situation and the reply given is that each must interpret the advice given in their own way. The reader equally must interpret that part of the story in their own way. Only the story matters and that exists in a slightly different form in each reader's mind. Critique is based on just one such form. What was in the writer's mind at the time of writing is irrelevant.
    'Sharing an experience creates a reality.' Create a new reality today.
    'There has to be some give and take.' If I can take my time I'm willing to give it.
    'The most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence.' So speak up.

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