Friday, December 06, 2019

Blind spots

I attended Malice Domestic last May, and lurked in the audience of several panels.

Often a photographer will take informal shots of the audience for the Malice newsletter and for Twitter.  I, of course, slink down in my seat, and hope to pass unnoticed.

At one of the panels I attended, a lady stood at the side of the room and raised her camera.
Down I slunk, wishing I'd gotten my hands on a burka.

Across the aisle, I noticed another lady who didn't like having her photo taken either. She didn't slink down though, she embraced the moment, and lay down across the chairs in her row.

Zowie, I thought, that's a good idea!  I wish I could do that. Too bad there were people in the chairs I'd need to my right.

The photographer snapped a few more shots, then sat down.

I glanced across at my Sister in Shyness, who was still lying across the chairs. I should tap her foot and tell her the photographer was done.  I had just turned to do this when one of the ladies seated behind Sister leaned over and spoke to her. I couldn't hear what she said, or what Sister said in return.

Another minute went by.

I realized soon thereafter that Sister wasn't avoiding the camera, she was in actual medical distress. She couldn't catch her breath.

The lady behind her, who had leaned in to help, rendered aid. Sister was able to sit up and proceed. She left the panel at the end under her own steam.

Leaving me more than slightly aghast and more than a bit ashamed.

Because of course I'd seen what had happened through the lens of MY expectations and experiences. It literally did not cross my mind that she was in distress, so sure was I that she was LIKE ME.

What -ism is that?

Which brings me to the point: we see the world as we know it. We bring our own expectations and experiences, and world view.

If you're writing about people who aren't like you, it might be a good idea to bring in some beta readers who aren't like you.

There's a new thing in publishing called "sensitivity readers" that supposedly help deluded, ignorant folk avoid making deluded ignorant assumptions.

The idea is that if you're green, and writing about someone who is turquoise, you need a turquoise reader.

Which misses the point completely. Sister and I were peas in a pod. White ladies who love to read, carry weaponized walking aids, and like to sit in the back of the room. I still saw what she did through my world view, and I was 100% wrong.

Not all African-Americans have the same life experiences. Certainly not all Asians. Not all women. Certainly not all teenagers.

You can't ask someone to read your book to find things that are offensive; there's always someone willing to be offended about something.

But you can ask beta readers to help you find where your world view is getting in the way of character development or portrayal.

One blind spot I see a lot, and I've yammered about here as well: writers who describe men by what they do, and women by how they look.

Are the good guys in your book always black?
Are the bad guys always white?
Are the Asian characters always bad at math?
Is the redneck sheriff the smartest woman in the room?



This post isn't about sensitivity and racism.
You're as sensitized as you're going to be today.
And while I care on a cosmic level if you're a racist, the only place I'm going to make a judgment about it is in your writing.

This is about blind spots in your writing.
A lot of us have those about race, ethnicity, religion, and class.
I would have told you I'm as aware as the next person about mine, but I sure won't be doing that anytime soon now.



*just a reminder: this is one of those topics that many people can get hot under the collar about. Your comments are welcome with some provisos: no politics; no blanket statements; certainly no name calling.  Thoughtful dissension welcome.





45 comments:

KMK said...

Just the simple thought that the more different kinds of people you know, the harder it is to stereotype. I grew up in Rust Belt Appalachia, but I went to an urban college, and have spent most of my life in newsrooms, where no one cares who or what you are as long as you can do the job. And where your colleagues are happy to call you out for your biases. Everybody can't marinate in a diverse and intense environment, but we can all do our best to seek out and get to know people who aren't like us. Makes us better writers -- and people!

Gayle in Memphis said...

Thank you -- as an avid reader, I encounter authors' blind spots often - sometimes enough to put me off the book. I'm happy to be a beta-reader if someone needs an old female white academic (university setting) who also happens to be a psychologist

Amy Johnson said...

Oh wise Queen, thank you for mentioning that individuals can be different in some ways, even if they're the same in another way. Perhaps that should be obvious, but... Just yesterday, I was "willing to be offended" (ha!) by a TV commercial from a health organization. Apparently attempting to say it's pro-woman and pro-women's health, it had various women, each saying something that apparently was supposed to be a good thing about women. Like women are powerful, women say what's on their mind, etc. But wait, I know women who say what's on their mind, and other women who don't. Same with men.

Something I've noticed, especially in the last few years, is people--who may have good, kind intentions--making blanket statements about how people in certain groups are good. Nope, there's (probably?) good and not-so-good in (all?) groups. And now I'm thinking about whether it's helpful or harmful to categorize people into groups. But I'll stop here. (Almost: I was reading yesterday's Reef comments last night before bed, and later I had a dream that our Queen sentenced me to Carkoon. I am not joking. Perhaps I'm a little stressed. Maybe someone should make me some fudge.)

Mister Furkles said...

From my experience in grad school and work, it happens that "Asian characters are always good at math."

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Hi Gayle,

Oh my God.

One of my two MCs is a 64-year-old white female psychologist in academia.

I have been looking for two years for someone like you to ask questions. But to have you beta read my WIP would be beyond amazing.


So...um...are you up for it?



Brenda said...

I’ve spent too much time fussing over potential blowback against my novel. Recently, I attended a panel on writing diverse characters. When I asked how to dodge appropriation flak, I was simply told, “You can’t, and the more successful your novel is, the more likely you are to see a twitter storm.”

I relaxed like a tire with a slow leak. I hadn’t even realized how keyed up I was about the whole issue.

Then I read a very successful novel that even I was smart enough to be offended by.

And the tire got pumped up to working pressure again.

Lessons learned?

1. Research.
2. Do your best within the confines of your stories not to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Be aware.
3. Engage subject matter beta readers. I was lucky enough to have four indigenous beta readers. One was offended, two were supportive. The fourth was my son, who was more grossed out by my mention of pubescent arousal than anything else. All helped refine my characters.
4. Find a racist beta reader. When Uncle Del snorts and splutters as if your characters are real people you know you’re close.
5. Apply the same beta criteria to as many characters as you can. If your character has a religious experience, run it by someone who shares that belief. If your character engages in an unpopular activity (like hunting), talk to hunters. At the very least they’ll save you from getting the caliber wrong. You can’t write by committee but you can do thorough research.
6. Recognize that even if your story passes muster now, five years down the road it may not.
7. Recognize that flak is inevitable.
8. Be real where you have to. Be kind where you can.

Oh, and that ism, Janet? Ask Carcharodon Carcharias. :)

Brenda

Lennon Faris said...

Yes, it's funny, even really good books can get big stuff 'wrong.' I recently read a book where the m.c. is very compassionate towards all sorts of people, very contemplative, open-minded, self-aware, etc. Clearly the author coming through and telling us what he believes about the world. It fit the story. Very well-done.

Then, at the end, the m.c. decides that he isn't the 'one' for the main love interest girl, and so he chooses the 'right' boyfriend for her, and before leaving, he (in a romantic, bittersweet way) all but forces them to get together.

Um...what? Does a teen girl need a bf every second of her life (esp. when she says she doesn't want one)? Does her (now ex) get to pick the next one for her?

Sorry this may seem off-topic but really, I think an extra female beta reader or two (or maybe a parent beta??) might have caught that one.

NLiu said...

Imaginary future Twitter trolls scare me. I think I need some billy goats in my pocket.

Brenda, so helpful. Thanks.

In terms of understanding where other people are coming from, I found marrying someone from the other side of the world, moving to their country, then hanging out with expats from all over the globe helpful. But some may find that a tad drastic.

I still get it wrong every day too.

Seriously, anyone know where to find pocket-size billy goats? Anyone?

Kitty said...

I had a man read through a ms for me. It's about a woman who was tired of being ignored by her emotionally distant husband, so she left him one morning while he was at work. She left a I'm-leaving-you note with no other info. Somehow the male reader got the impression that her husband was abusive. I honestly could not figure out where/how he had gotten that idea in my ms. So when I began re-writing it, I made a point of making certain the husband was not abusive.


Gayle, when the time comes I'll be in touch. However, your profile has no contact info.

Craig F said...

The first thing I got from this post was that we write what we know. If that is true, then who would go to Malice Domestic. When the lady lay across the seats I thought of a panic attack, because of some camera doing what she didn't want: to show her face to the world. Not because she was ugly, old, or insecure; it is because it is the only way to be secure.

Be sure to ask permission when you wish to portray someone's particular quirks and foibles. They may hold them for a reason.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

For you young pups here’s an eye-opener.

Years ago I used to assume that people who looked like I do now thought old, acted old and did not have a clue how the real (so-called modern) world worked. I figured that once wrinkles, aches and pains plus a thinning of the herd hit, aging flipped a switch. One day you’re punching a time clock and putting in 40 hrs-plus and the next day you’re feeding pigeons in the park after your daily dose of Metamucil. I did not know that who we were way-back-when is who we are now. Just because we have gray hair or no hair doesn’t mean we’re old. It means some of us have a propensity to speak our minds no matter what anybody thinks and some keep their mouths shut. Knowing when to do either is what experience has taught us.
I’m still learning.
I’m a boomer.
I’m guilty.
I assume that anyone who has never used a typewriter is a young pup.

Katja said...

I would like some beta 'reader' with a view beyond my horizon and how I know the world, please.

I got a new review (the 16th - not many). Four stars, mostly positive but with some mention of what that person didn't like (basically, he found my story too dark, maybe annoyingly dark). I'm fully aware that reviews are honest ideally. And I don't even want 100% 5-star-reviews - I believe it looks almost artificial and possibly fake if I had 100 reviews and all 5-star-shiny. Now, why do I struggle? Why am I close to being offended, as I see the world through my eyes?

The person who left the review is a friend of mine. We've met up several times. We've been eating together. Played bowling. He was at my 40th birthday party. He asked me regularly in recent years, "And, how's the book coming along?"
When it was out, he congratulated me, asked for a SPECIAL copy.

I just wish he'd left being honest in his previous email to me - not put it out there in public at this point. Yes, I'm offended, somehow, I admit that. Maybe I'm that bad and my character is rotten :(.

I can't stop thinking about it. Also because he's asked me "What are you doing for Christmas", so I'm due a reply.

How do I react to him saying "Left you a review" and a smiley afterwards.

Could someone pass me their glasses to help me see the real world? I'm totally stuck in a blind spot.

Thank you.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Yes. This is excellent. Thank you.

A local attorney has an ad on network TV. An 'actual client' says, "I chose Joe to represent my case because he was a marine. I know I can trust him." Um, because there's no such thing as a bad marine? Okay.

Colin Smith said...

Granting all the above, some people may, legitimately, have a small social circle (social anxiety, location, etc.). That doesn't mean you don't have exposure to alternative points of view. Judicious use of the internet can help broaden your horizons with regard to the range of human experience and opinion. Reading widely also helps.

Also, you could keep your day job and pay attention to your co-workers. (Yes, for those who have seen it, that's an unsubtle plug for my blog post today.) ;)

Terry said...

Best assessment I've seen about cultural (or other) appropriation.

I'm a woman of a certain age writing a novel about a 26-year old woman. Hardest thing I've tried to write. Harder than writing from the viewpoint of man. Young women are from another planet. I'm visiting that planet, though, and struggling to get it right.

And brava to Carolynnwith2Ns. Just because I'm a woman of a certain age doesn't mean I'm feeding squirrels in the park.

Brenda said...

Katja,
There is nothing wrong with a four star review in my opinion.
Brenda

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Think of the best characters you have ever read, both the heroes (or anti-heroes) and villains. The ones that have made you cry. The ones that have made you both love and hate them. The ones you can never forget. The villains you wish you could kill with your own two hands on one page and want to embrace on the next. The heroes you wish you could have a beer with most times and at other times, make you want to go full rant on them.

I think these "blind spots" are more about how you wholly create your characters regardless of the surface characteristics. It's hard. I find the best characters are wrought in places that are emotionally difficult to go - finding the insecurity, uncertainty in the hero, the beauty and charisma in the villain, sympathy with the devil, rebellion against an omniscient God.

It is why "describing men by what they do and women by how they look" is so dreadfully dull. It is meaningless and doesn't even rise to the level of amalgam or stereo-type anymore. If your characters don't offend somebody, you've done something wrong. We are all offensive in our own special way and thus will the best characters regardless of their place in your narrative.


It's the shades of gray that define us all. We might be inclined to judge others with a black and white lens but that is not accurate in reality. We are all terribly flawed and more beautiful than we will ever imagine. The best and most memorable characters are nuanced in shadow and light, all marked by scars invisible to the skin.

Colin Smith said...

Speaking of a different perspective (and I don't know if I've told this story here before, but it'll be new for the newbies):

About 10 years ago, I managed to lose about 60 lbs. It was gradual, but it got to the point where co-workers commented. "Have you lost weight? Well done! How did you do it?" and so on. All very nice and encouraging.

Then I encountered Becky in the break room. She was an older lady, and a little hesitant as she broached the subject. Here's how she did it:

"Is this weight loss for a good reason?"

I paused for a moment, then gave her a reassuring smile. "Yes, yes it is."

Becky had recently lost her husband to cancer.

So, yeah... don't always assume people think the same way.

Brandi M. said...

Hi Katja,

Four stars is great! As for the criticism, maybe dark stories just aren't his cup of tea. Unless several reviews say the same thing, it's just one person's opinion.

*WinterOne said...

Speaking of blind spots, and please know that I point this out with the best intention: it feels like "wishing I'd gotten my hands on a burka" is (unintentionally, I know) mitigating the significance of the burka down to a costume or a prop.

Karen McCoy said...

Beautifully said, Elise. And another brava to 2Ns.

I've probably used this quote before, but one of my more astute former colleagues gave a great analogy to demonstrate blind spots. She said "It's like everyone's wearing a giant red cowboy hat. You can see everyone else's, but you can't see your own." I am always very up front about telling people they can tell me all about my gigantic red hat.

Katja In my experience, it's always a good thing to be honest about how you feel, even if the other person might not understand it. You can always frame it in a palatable way. "Hey, thank you for that review. I'm curious to know more about..." See what they might have to say, and perhaps it's not as cut and dried as you think. Or, if it is, then you have a clearer insight into what this friend's blind spots might be.

E. Berg said...

Malcolm Gladwell recently released a book called Talking to Strangers on this topic. Terrific read, for anyone interested. Given that it's our job as writers to tell "the truth" (as Stephen King says), Gladwell provides a very interesting take on our understanding of "the truth" of others in a variety of situations (as well as the associated ramifications of our often incorrect assumptions). A timely, important topic I'd say--thank you, Janet!

CynthiaMc said...


Our finance person at work was Asian. She was excellent at math. If I tell the truth about that, does that make her a stereotype? Does that make me a racist?


Unless we're writing specifically to be political or be a feminist icon (or any other ist) or to be a spokesperson for today's (insert soapbox here), realize fashions change, what's in vogue changes, and the public who adores us one minute may revile us the next (see Jesus on Palm Sunday to Good Friday for an example).

Mama said "Some people will criticize you for breathing."

The only thing I can do is write as well as I can, tell the story I want to tell and hope other people love it as much as I do.

Janet Reid said...

*WinterOne said

Speaking of blind spots, and please know that I point this out with the best intention: it feels like "wishing I'd gotten my hands on a burka" is (unintentionally, I know) mitigating the significance of the burka down to a costume or a prop.

This is a GREAT question, and gets to my point exactly.
Can a burka be something for me, that it's not for someone who uses it for a faith-based reason.

Can I use a burka as a "costume" or covering, if I'm not Muslim?

I don't know the answer but that's an interesting question, and I'm very glad you asked.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

We've just celebrated one of our national blind spots, Thanksgiving. Otherwise known as The Day of Mourning if you are Native American.

I grew up with Wampanoag Indians as neighbors and friends. When I was much older I got my family history from my grandmother and realized we were Mayflower descendants.

So my ancestors helped to destroy theirs.

Makes me look at the cute school pageants in a different way.

Jeff Messineo said...

Hand raised. I recently changed some info about a character early in my manuscript that was coming across completely wrong. It was meant to make the guy crass but came across worse. I softened the lines with the same affect.

We all sometimes work for drama and discover worse. For no reason at all but to provoke. Other times it is a blind spot.

I guess it's a journey for us all and all we can hope is to get better each time.

Carolyn Haley said...

In response to: "But you can ask beta readers to help you find where your world view is getting in the way of character development or portrayal."

To which I say, "Pah!" Of course one's world view will get in the way of character development and portrayal in a novel! An individual human being is capturing a personal vision through writing. And since every beta reader also has an individual world view, each will have his/her own opinion on what's getting in the way.

When you add "sensitivity readers" into the equation, you create a situation with the potential to neuter a writer's work. Sensitivity readers' job is to help authors avoid pushing anybody's buttons. Or might, possibly, maybe pushing somebody's buttons. (Likewise the whole "trigger warning" thing that's been building momentum.) This mentality enforces a culture of uniformity and correctness, which, if unchecked, will upend what the publishing industry has long been pushing authors to embrace, i.e., the category/genre system.

We hear over and over again that a novel that doesn't fit into a marketing niche is commercially and critically doomed. But if a book conforms to one genre, it usually can't conform to another because each has its own conventions and loyal readerships (not to mention individual readers' own world views). Therefore, all novels will always be incorrect for someone.

So the advice intended to be helpful needs to be qualified to something like, "But you can ask beta readers to help you find where your world view is getting in the way of character development or portrayal in the context of your novel's desired audience."

There's always been a push-pull between "Conform!" and "Be unique!" but we're edging into the danger zone where people are becoming afraid to express themselves authentically through art because they might trigger somebody's sensitivity. Or lose the opportunity to make a buck. That suppression is a foundation stone of repression, which leads to censorship.

We must remember that readers have a responsibility to close a book they don't like -- or not buy it in the first place -- just as electronic communications users have the responsibility to hit their delete keys if they don't like what's on their screens. There are way too many world views for everyone to anticipate and assimilate.

We must also remember that many books that have been dubbed great literature were provocative and disruptive in their day. Some remain so today.

Katja said...

Thank you, Karen, I appreciate what you've said!!

It's absolutely possible that I'm too sensitive (I'm not a perfect human being), so I already regretted earlier that I wrote here what I wrote. But I find your words comforting, thank you.

If he were a stranger to me, I wouldn't mind at all. I am prepared for reviews that take down my overall rating - everyone gets those. I just thought that your friends are those people who try and help keep it as high as possible because they WANT to support you, because that's what friends want.

I still haven't responded to him. I could wait a few days. He has actually explained himself, and I don't need to ask him more about what he doesn't like so much. He mentions that, although it counts as fiction, it's an autobiography, and then he asks me if it was REALLY possible that a woman sticks for some years with a man who isn't good for her.

What shall I say... "Are you telling me what an idiot I was?"
Or is he telling me "I don't believe you that this happened?" or "Why couldn't you write your time in England less dark?"
I can only respond saying that OCD is so horrible when it spins completely out of control and yes, it was that dark.

His words got under my skin. Because I thought friends do different things for each other. But he's got a different view that I struggle with, it seems. He probably doesn't know at all why I'm, let's say, hurt. I will try to get used to 'other worlds' and views. :)

Again, if he were a stranger, I wouldn't mind. I've got another four-star review and I loved it, clicked on like and told a person on Twitter who knew them to say thank you (that was a while ago).

Thanks, Karen!! <3

Katja said...

Thank you :) !

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Erm...Gayle?

Beth Carpenter said...

My character said something like "I'm not crazy about heights." My editor changed it, saying it's insensitive to use the word crazy. I went along with the change, but I didn't quite get it. I could see if I'd used crazy to mean "deranged", but not to mean "extremely enthusiastic." Maybe this is a blind spot for me.

Jenn Griffin said...

Katja:

"then he asks me if it was REALLY possible that a woman sticks for some years with a man who isn't good for her."

Of course it's possible!! I wouldn't worry about that at all.

I wonder: 1) if the story is indeed autobiographical, could you be upset at his review because you expected a friend to know and understand your "darkness" (as it's presented in your story)better than he has? Maybe your experience of the friendship runs deeper than his. Sometimes they go that way.
2) does his worldview and approach to life just not recognize "darkness" as part of the human condition? People's awareness of humanity ranges from oblivious to hypersensitive. Some float through life while others suffer from the burden of it. His review/opinion may be less about you and your writing and more about his worldview.
As long as you've written authentically and used the best words possible to convey your story, you've done your job and done it well.



Jenn Griffin said...

E.M. Goldsmith:

"We are all terribly flawed and more beautiful than we will ever imagine. The best and most memorable characters are nuanced in shadow and light, all marked by scars invisible to the skin."

This is beautiful and powerful. Thank you!

Colin Smith said...

If I was an editor, I'd be cautious about making editorial changes to dialog in this way. A character's use of terms and phrases like this is part of their voice. Even if it *is* insensitive and not something you would say, the character is not you. Of course, I'm not an editor, so what do I know? ;)

Carolyn Haley said...

To Colin Smith's remark: "if I was an editor, I'd be cautious about making editorial changes to dialog in this way. A character's use of terms and phrases like this is part of their voice. Even if it *is* insensitive and not something you would say, the character is not you. Of course, I'm not an editor, so what do I know? ;)"

I *am* a professional editor, and I can say with confidence that you are right-on. There are two appropriate reactions to this particular situation. One, ignore, for the reasons you cite; two, flag it with a query and raise the question about possible misintepretation of the meaning. It is the author's choice of phrasing, not the editor's.

Katja said...

Jenn,

you have SAVED my day, thank you! And YES, i think you're right. I must be upset as he 'challenges' my story by doubting it, and finding it too dark because he might not understand it.

The main character 're-lives' her mother's life for a while - her mother endured mind games from her father.
And, in real life, my mother is still with that 'devil' she's made a deal with. So, it IS possible and sadly happens far too often.

I didn't want to say it, actually, so as not to throw my 'friend' under the bus (but since I've talked a lot about all this to Fiancé, now I don't know what this friend is to me), but he has shown other behaviour that completely puzzled me (and I still shouldn't say because that would be throwing him under the bus).

But all that other - to my world seemingly strange - behaviour never involved me directly. Even as I observed it. This time it was different, though.

But by the way: my darkness is SO much brighter these days, just to let you know. :)

Thank you again, Jenn!!! <3 <3 <3

Colin Smith said...

Thank you, Carolyn! Of course, my comment was in reference to Beth's comment, but I think you got that.

Yay!! I was right about something! Don't mind me while I go show my wife... ;)

Karen McCoy said...

Katja Happy to help!

Ewan Smith said...

A really interesting article. To get through life, we slip into assumptions all the time about the people and situations around us but that can be dangerous as a writer. I write short stories; mostly romance, sometimes cosy crimes. With those genres being so established, you constantly need to fight against creating characters who are stereotypes. Yet you also use the assumptions and expectations of the reader as a kind of shorthand so that you can crack on with the story. It's an interesting dilemma.

Sunnygoetze said...

Janet, thank you for bringing up the burka, very insightful. Sometimes our prejudices are so inbred that we don't know that we are being racist. All of us are guilty of that. Currently I am challenging myself to write a piece that does not divulge the protagonist's racial identity. I am doing this to challenge myself and bring sensitivity to an issue that all women may go through. I could use a beta reader to see if I get it right. Wish me luck.

JulieWeathers said...

Late to the party, but I am not going to ask for sensitivity readers for The Rain Crow. Here's the reason. No one alive today was a slave or a Black freeman or an indentured servant in 1861.

The book is being written based on the best research I can do and that's the best I have to offer.

LynnRodz said...

Janet, I swear you can read my mind. It's a question I asked myself concerning a minor, yet important, character in my story. I waited to see if any beta readers would pick up on it (they didn't) and yet I still wondered if I should change the ethnicity of that person. (I won't go into the social structure in France 40 years ago, but it fit.) Still, if I had qualms about it, your post gave me that little shove to change it.

Aphra Pell said...

I'm late to this, but I'll still comment because it's something I have loads of opinions on...

For me, as both a writer and reader, it's crucial to develop the character as a real person first and foremost. For example, I just finished a book featuring a character clearly intended to be autistic. They were a collection of stereotypes in a hat. It annoyed me, partly because it is poor writing, and partly because autistic people have to deal with the negative consequences of those stereotypes on a daily basis, and having them lazily perpetuated in media causes harm.

(Going off on a slight tangent, this is why I think some sensitivity reading is important - it's got nothing to do with the proverbial snowflake being offended. It's because propogation of negative stereotypes makes real lives more difficult and sometimes dangerous - in ways you may not realise if you've never been on the receiving end. If you use twitter, follow a guy called Eugene Grant. He provides very lucid and eye-opening examples of how popular stereotypes about dwarfism lead directly to regular harrassment - plus he does some great history threads and is generally awesome)

Another hypothetical example about characterisation - I'm currently facing the possibility that I'll be using a wheelchair for life. I find this irritating, but it's not a big deal, because... meh. I've lived with relapsing remitting disability since I was 11 - I'm already adjusted, and I can afford the tech to keep my independence.

However, a friend of mine, whose identity is tied up in running and cycling... give him a sudden physical disability, he'd be devastated and, at least initially, not know how to cope (we've had that discussion).

A third person might be isolated and depressed by the situation because they are dealing with it without family support, on social security, or living in non-adaptable rental accommodation.

So, if a writer wanted to realistically portray "person facing up to using a wheelchair for life" the first place to delve isn't the wheelchair use - there is no right answer to be found there. It's understanding who that character is, where they have come from, what matters to them, what they do, how they see their future, what their financial situation is, what their personal relationships are - and how they'd react to some of those things changing. A writer would still need to talk to wheelchair users of course - but more to make sure they get the practicalities and reality right (doors, oh my godiva, there is so much you learn about doors in a wheelchair. And kerbs. Don't get me started on kerbs).

Also, indulging in stereotypes is dull. I see from the latest James Bond tralier that they've gone down the "villians with facial disfigurement" route. Again. It's not good because it's a stereotype with the potential to harm real people. But it's also flipping boring. We've seen that trope at the very least since the dawn of Victorian melodrama. It's 2019, we can do better than that - on so many levels.


*WinterOne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
*WinterOne said...

I'd like to second what Aphra has said (and thank you for sharing your story!).

What I think some people are not understanding is this: you can have a well-written, racist (or other -ist) character in your story without your novel being racist. You can write a story during the slave era and still be respectful of not perpetuating harm.

Janet's question of "Can I use a burka as a "costume" or covering, if I'm not Muslim?" is one I cannot answer (despite strong opinions) because I'm not of the group who is affected by the use of that garment. It's a burka-wearing Muslim who's opinion we should listen to, and in lieu of that, we should err on the side of caution.

Listen to the voices of the people impacted.

Much like the whole point of this blog post - you don't know what your blind spots are. There's no harm in having someone check to see if you have some in your novel, but there's plenty of harm is missing one.