During the 1992 Clarion West Writers Workshop attended by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, one of the students expressed the opinion that it is a mistake to write about people of ethnic backgrounds different from your own because you might get it wrong—horribly, offensively wrong—and so it is better not even to try. This opinion, commonplace among published as well as aspiring writers, struck Nisi as taking the easy way out and spurred her to write an essay addressing the problem of how to write about characters marked by racial and ethnic differences. In the course of writing the essay, however, she realized that similar problems arise when writers try to create characters whose gender, sexual preference, and age differ significantly from their own. Nisi and Cynthia collaborated to develop a workshop that addresses these problems with the aim of both increasing writers’ skill and sensitivity in portraying difference in their fiction as well as allaying their anxieties about “getting it wrong.” Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is the manual that grew out of their workshop. It discusses basic aspects of characterization and offers elementary techniques, practical exercises, and examples for helping writers create richer and more accurate characters with “differences.”

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This article has 3 comments

  1. Anonymous

    recommended reading, and an except from a novel written … If you think you are struggling with how to write people of a different race, religion, ability, gender, etc. than you, you should read this book; if you think you aren’t struggling with how to write people of a different race, religion, ability, gender, etc. than you, you should read this book. Shawl and Ward lay out all the issues and pitfalls involved in attempting to write someone “other” to your own experience, while also remaining encouraging about the attempt (the need, really)…

  2. Anonymous

    A Good Beginning for Writing Diversity This book is a departure from my usual fare — it’s one on the art of writing. I’m writing a novel, and one of my fears is that, in attempting to write diverse characters with experiences different from those of my own, I will do something terribly wrong. This book was recommended to me as a way of thinking about character diversity.It’s a short book, and it really is no substitute for “primary sources.” If you’re writing a young black man from a poor neighbourhood, it’s…

  3. Anonymous

    Essential, not only for writing the Other, but for writing Well. I’m a Filipino, and a geek, but I’m not used to feeling like an Other, like I’m not a part of the mainstream. I live in the Philippines, so I am, in fact, part of the majority. And my geekish pursuits tend toward reading books, watching anime, and playing video games, all of which are activities I can indulge in by myself.But in the world of mass media, particularly genre media, my race ensures that I’m not part of the majority. I know what it feels like to read a story where my…

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