New Class: Weekend Intensive – The Art of Writing the Other Jan 1 – 3 2016

Another weekend intensive! This time over a holiday weekend, which should help with accessibility.

When: January 1 – 3 (detailed schedule at the link)
Where: ONLINE via Google Hangout
Price: $250 + service fee
To Register: Visit Brown Paper Tickets (Registration opens December 5th)

Miss this class? Sign up for our mailing list to get notifications when we give it again.

New Class: The Art of Writing the Other – Weekend Intensive

When: December 11th 7PM Eastern to December 13th 10PM Eastern
Location: ONLINE via Google Hangout
Price: $250 + service fee
Registration begins: November 6, 2015

This is a new version of our class condensed into a shorter time frame (2.5 days) that also costs less. The material covered in this course is similar to our previous 6 week classes, just heavily concentrated. This class is for writers who cannot commit to regular meetings over several weeks but can devote one weekend.

The class is appropriate for all writers (fiction, plays, comics, screenplays, and games included) from all backgrounds and any skill level.

Please see the registration link for all details, including schedule.

Miss this class? Sign up for our mailing list to get notifications when we give it again.

New Class: Writing the Other Online – Fall 2015

Writing the Other Online Fall 2015 will take place from September 26th to October 31st weekly on Saturdays at 10am Pacific
Location: ONLINE via Google Hangout
Price: $450 + service fee
Registration begins: August 26th, 2015

Writers know that it’s important to write about characters whose gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity differs from their own. But many are afraid to do so for fear that they will get it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and think it is better not even to try.

In truth, as author Daniel Jose Older puts it, when writers create characters from backgrounds different than their own, they are really telling the deeper story of their own perception. It is possible to write the Other sensitively and convincingly, and this workshop can start you on the path to doing just that.

Drawing on and updating decades-old work by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, authors of the acclaimed reference “Writing the Other: A Practical Approach”, this six week online course delves deep into learning this sometimes tricky skill. Authors Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford will combine lectures, discussions, and writing exercises in a safe, supportive atmosphere.

The class is appropriate for all writers (fiction, plays, comics, screenplays, and games included) from all backgrounds and any skill level.

Miss this class? Sign up for our mailing list to get notifications when we give it again.

Good Writers, Coasting, and How You Can Avoid Joss Whedon’s Mistakes

Joss Whedon sad

There are a ton of great articles examining Joss Whedon in the wake of Age of Ultron and plenty of crunchy debates to dive into because of them. In this piece, Sady Doyle illuminates something about Whedon that I’ve understood on a subconscious level but not been able to crystalize until now. To wit:

My ultimate take on Joss Whedon’s “feminist” screenwriting is that it’s a byproduct of good writing, period. The writer he most reminds me of is Charlie Kaufman: They’re both deeply personal writers, who clearly have a wide variety of sexual hang-ups, and to the extent that these hang-ups center on women, they probably do affect their perceptions of real-life women in many ways. Plenty of women have noted that Whedon’s fixation on emotionally vulnerable, eighty-pound teenage girls is disturbing and off-putting, and I would tend to agree. Charlie Kaufman’s apparent belief that a sexually awakened, self-realized woman wouldn’t need him, and would therefore abandon him to a hostile universe, is also kind of weird and upsetting, or (at least) a good reason not to ask Charlie Kaufman out on a date. However, because Kaufman and Whedon are good writers, who understand why stories work, when they sit down to write a story, they feel the obligation to make all of the characters identifiably human, including the women. This is, sadly, so rare that their female characters are often more well-rounded and interesting than almost any other characters out there, including a lot of characters written by people with better sexual politics.

When I read that a light shone down from heaven because YES. This is not just a Joss Whedon issue, it’s an issue with a lot of writers who hail from the land of privilege.

I (and others) have said many times that when you write stereotypical or downright offensive minority/marginalized characters, it’s almost always due to bad writing. If you’re a good writer, you don’t reach for the easy stereotypes, you don’t pull from the box of overused ideas, you aren’t a lazy thinker making lazy choices. And that often results in passable minority characters that might even be considered amazing and revolutionary[1]. Especially when compared to a sea of characters that are nothing but two dimensional offenses to all good taste.

Sometimes that’s even enough.

When you’re thirsty in a desert, even cloudy, contaminated water looks great.

However, it will not always be enough. That situation is a place to start from, not a place to kick back in and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Yet that is what many, many writers do. Whedon certainly seems to have done. As Ashly Nagrant points out, we’ve now had 20 years of Whedon doing the same thing over and over, coasting on his talent instead of building on it.

Joss Whedon has failed to evolve as a writer and a director. People who are longtime Buffy fans saw Age of Ultron and complained about how quippy the dialog was. That quality has always been part and parcel of a Joss Whedon project — it has long been one of his trademarks. When the question was how could people who loved Buffy be surprised by this, I could only venture a guess:

We are suddenly, sadly realizing Joss Whedon is a one-trick pony.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy those tricks and there is nothing wrong with that! I am in no way saying that I haven’t enjoyed Joss’s work and won’t continue to in the future. But it does hit a point where it is almost 20 years since the debut of Buffy and you suddenly realize Whedon is just writing the same thing over and over again. No matter how much you like garlic bread, you can’t eat it all the time or you’ll get sick of it.

What’s the solution? Continuously work on becoming a better writer.

Pay attention to evolutions of thought on representation and be aware of the kinds of tropes that most media properties–be they TV, movies, or lit–engage in. Listen when your readers critique your minority/marginalized characters, particularly if they are the same identity as said characters. Accept people’s lived experiences as valid and learn from them.

Read books and articles on this subject. Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is an excellent place to start. Invisible and Invisible 2 are also excellent resources for delving deeper into representation.

Take classes and workshops that address this specific skill. Yes, I teach them, and so do others. Both in person and online. (If you want to find one, I can help with that!)

Read fiction by authors who have a reputation for writing amazing, deep characters. Examine how they do it, absorb it, learn.

Basically all the things you’re supposed to do to become a better writer, anyway. All the things truly great writers do, even after they’re hailed as being great.

Footnotes

  1. This accounts for a lot of Steven Moffat’s success as well. He’s clearly a good writer when he’s on his game. And that good writing can distract you from some underlying problems. And because the writing is good you want to ignore the underlying problems. There comes a point for many of us when that’s impossible. Like Whedon, that point arrived when his popularity meant a large body of work to examine.[]

Writer Fears About Writing The Other: Here’s How To Get Over It [Updated]

Writer Fears About Writing The Other: Here's How To Get Over It [Updated]

Here’s one of the great circular conundrums of our time:

We need more characters of color/LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t the default white, able-bodied cis male in commercial literature.

I, a fiction author, am afraid of writing characters of color/ LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t like me or from my cultural and social understanding because I might get it wrong, and if I get it wrong people will be angry at me and yell and also ruin my career.

I’ve seen and heard writers (mostly white) express some version of that at least a hundred times since RaceFail 09. They point to that discussion or any number of other public Fails since then and go: SEE?! You see? That’s what happens when we try!

There are a few things about this that need addressing. First, large, public Fails actually happen when authors don’t try. Second, the problem is rarely that the author tried and didn’t get it exactly, 100% right. It’s that they failed and then acted like an ass when someone pointed it out to them. Third, avoiding author Fail isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be.

Most importantly, the consequence of being ruled by that fear is that you aren’t helping with the first problem. And if I may be so bold, I think the issue of representation is far, far more important than individual fears of getting it wrong. I also know that it’s hard to tackle that first issue without also addressing the second. Luckily, I have the solution.

You can attend a Writing the Other class, seminar, workshop, or retreat in person or online[1]. You can find upcoming classes on the Writing the Other Tumblr or get notifications about them via this mailing list.

[UPDATE: The retreat mentioned here is over, but there are new classes listed on the Tumblr and on my sidebar under Classes.] Next summer I’m teaching at the Writing the Other workshop/retreat alongside Nisi Shawl, Cynthia Ward, David Anthony Durham, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Tomorrow, registration for this workshop opens up. If you are the type of author who has been held back from addressing the issue of representation in SF by fear that you’ll get it wrong, this workshop will give you tools to help you get it right. There’s no guarantee that you will always, 100% get it right if you attend this workshop. I am confident that at the end of it you won’t be 100% ruled by fear.

Registration opens tomorrow, October 13th, at 12pm Eastern. The workshop fee is $500 and includes meals but does not include accommodations. Click over to the Eventbrite page to see all the details[2].

How many of you will I see there?

 

Footnotes

  1. This section of the post has been edited and updated from the original version.[]
  2. This workshop has come and gone! Join the mailing list to get a notification if we do it again or when we do online classes[]