WRITING THE OTHER & THE SENTIENT SQUID SCHOLARSHIP
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Natural Writer Coaching and I are incredibly passionate about supporting other writers, and we feel it’s important for writers to have access to amazing resources like the classes offered through Writing the Other.
From their website:
Representation is fundamental to writing great fiction. Creating characters that reflect the diversity of the world we live in is important for all writers and creators of fictional narratives. But writers often find it difficult to represent people whose gender, sexual orientation, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity is very different from their own. This can lead to fear of getting it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and, in the face of that, some think it’s better not to try. The hard truth is this: Representation and Diversity are too important to ignore. It IS possible to write characters who represent the “Other” sensitively and convincingly. Through our classes, workshops, and seminars and the resources available on this site and elsewhere creators can get a solid foundation in how to craft characters from any background, no matter how different they are from you.
From the website:
Help us help writers learn how to combat cultural toxicity and create narratives that represent and reflect the world.
Yes, this is possible! And we need your help to make it happen for more people.
Writing the Other aims to help authors at any point in their career path and from every background, including those who don’t have the money to pay us.
Our fund is named for author Vonda N. McIntyre, an award-winning and beloved science fiction and fantasy novelist who passed away in April 2019, and whose generosity is the reason this scholarship exists. In 2016, Vonda offered to pay for a registration in an upcoming Writing the Other class so writers who couldn’t afford to take it could still benefit. Though she didn’t want public credit, we named the scholarship “Sentient Squid” in secret honor of a character in her Starfarer book series, the “squidmoth” Nemo.
As writers, I believe representation in our stories needs to be our top priority, regardless of our own background. This means learning the difference between creating a thoughtful cast of diverse characters and telling a story that isn't yours to tell.
A few weeks ago, I took my first Writing the Other class: Writing Diverse Characters, taught by Nisi Shawl, K. Tempest Bradford, and Piper J. Drake. I participated in the “Weekend Intensive” portion of the class, which includes virtual live discussions, Q&A, and writing exercises. (There is an asynchronous option for those who cannot attend the live discussions).
One of the reasons (there are way too many to list) I personally decided to take the class was because I realized I am the kind of person who says “I grew up in Utah around white, straight(?) Mormon people and so this is why I have all these excuses to not know certain things, but I’m nice and love people so obviously I’m not racist… blah blah...” and, you know what? It’s that narrative (you know you have one too) that says it’s time to change. Admitting your own tiny lens and choosing not to do anything about it is just as toxic as admitting to having a major addiction but refusing to acknowledge the damage it’s doing to those around you.
So, I signed up for the class. Honestly, the first two days were difficult for me to digest (note: this is a good thing). We were immediately given access to a list of over 100 resources (that I’m still chipping away at) – articles and blog posts with topics and issues that, because of my privilege, I haven’t ever even thought of. These resources were in addition to the required reading and information provided in the lectures.
Everything from race, religiosity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, age, & everything in between, all stacked throughout topics like worldbuilding, dialogue, stereotypes... the list seems endless. And, the more I dig, the more I realize how much I don’t understand. And the more I learn, the more I realize I will never really know certain experiences.
Before taking the class, this overwhelmed me.
It’s mentioned in the class description that some writers prefer not to try writing the "Other" at all purely out of fear of getting it wrong. I never considered myself to be that person. We writers want to assume we are doing our very best to perfect our own craft, which, for me, includes accurate representation. But… after looking at my own stories, I can see that I avoid a lot of the "Other” in my own work. Initially, I wanted to believe it was unintentional. After being honest with myself, I know that staying in my box was very intentional.
As a white, able bodied, middle class, pansexual (invisible), cis female with no real religion, I created characters that didn’t fall too far from that tree. But my own world doesn’t really look like that. I started taking inventory on my character dossier (given to us in the class as part of an exercise) of people in my life as if they were characters in a story. Though most of them are white, there’s more diversity around me than I initially thought.
Why did I assume my fictional worlds would be any less diverse?
Because I was afraid. I don’t want to be the writer that gets it wrong. I don’t want to offend or hurt anyone. I don’t want to write characters based on stereotypes. I don’t want to feel like I’m a bad writer. I don’t want to feel like I’m a bad person.
Those fears are contributing to a world of the same, standard, hurtful, noninclusive narratives. The ones that do not accurately represent the world around us.
From the class description:
But representation is too important to ignore. And it is possible to write characters who represent the “Other” sensitively and convincingly. This course will provide writers with a solid foundation in how to craft characters from any background, no matter how different they are from you.
I can’t change the fact that I was born a white, privileged, cis female in the United States. BUT… understanding the limitations of my own lens and working as hard as I can to educate myself about experiences that are not my own is something I can do.
Does this mean that I feel comfortable writing any and all kinds of characters? No. Does this mean I feel like I have permission to write any and all kinds of characters? Absolutely not.
I feel a huge weight off my chest now that I’ve taken the class. Not because I know everything there is to know about writing the "Other" (I definitely don’t! Never will!). But, before the class, I felt like I was trying to build a house with no tools and no team – which made me want to just avoid it completely. Now, I feel like I have the tools and the team (an awesome community I get to stay connected with) to start writing characters outside of my own experience more intentionally. I know how to be more thoughtful in my stories, and what questions I need to ask myself before putting characters different from myself on the page. I also understand that sometimes those questions will take me to a giant STOP! sign, and that's okay. It's better to hit the STOP! sign than to proceed to a space I don't need to take up.
I appreciate that the Writing the Other classes give writers a safe space to evaluate what they don’t know and teaches them how to address their own biases that will inevitably show up in their writing.
A better future means being able to read books with diversity and representation. I have now signed up for more classes and will continue to take as many as I can. I HIGHLY encourage all writers to do the same.