Writing the Other

Nisi Shawl et al.

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.”

“The exercises, developed from workshops the authors have conducted, reward writers with learning more about developing characters including those who are ”just like” themselves and understanding past and present stereotypes.”
—Paula Guran, Writers.com Newsletter

“This book can help interested writers develop characters to exhibit the complexity of the human experience (and, since we’re talking genre here, multifaceted non-human experiences as well)[…] What I like best about this book is that Shawl and Ward encourage people to acknowledge their fears and concerns, but also to try anyway.”
—Broad Universe

“Just raising awareness about this writing challenge is a literary service[…]Such exercises clearly help flex writerly muscles.”
—Seattle Times

“[…]a timely book. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, two Seattle-based science fiction authors, have developed a useful, nuts-and-bolts approach to creating fully realized, well-rounded characters substantially different from oneself.”
Strange Horizons

Nisi Shawl is a member of the Board of Directors of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her stories have appeared in Semiotext(e), Asimov s SF, Strange Horizons, in the award-winning Dark Matter anthology series, and was collected in Filter House. She writes a regular book review column for the Seattle Times.

Cynthia Ward has published stories in Asimov’s SF MagazineBending the Landscape, and other anthologies and magazines.


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