Welcome to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. On the first Wednesday of each month, we blog about writing to encourage others out there. The IWSG is all about connecting, sharing, and ‘rocking the neurotic writing world’.
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!IWSG
This month, we are exploring the following question:
Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?
I’m going to approach this question from two angles.
Firstly, all words are valid. They are yours, after all. Expression is free.
It’s what you do with them that counts.
I would suggest the most important time to be thinking about whether to include a scene, or release a story into the wilds beyond your own company, is when you are editing.
The Australian Writer’s Centre offers a fantastic, comprehensive course on editing called Cut, Shape, Polish. Written by Angela Slatter and Pamela Freeman, delivered via self-paced online learning, I completed this course last year. From it, I learned how to map my structure, analyse existing scenes, and figure out which scenes were potentially missing and/or needed revision.
Figuring out structure and in-depth editing is one of the most valuable learning experiences I have had as a writer so far. I highly recommend you find craft books, online videos, podcasts, or courses to hone those skills if you haven’t done so already.
Each scene needs to work for your story. And you need to know the ins and outs of scenes, story structure, theme, character development, relationships, dialogue/prose balance, style, and more, to really get to grips with whether or not a scene is relevant or necessary.
But don’t worry about that when you’re writing your initial drafts. Let those words flow.
It’s all about fixing things later (for me, at least).
My second angle is more challenging. It’s about diversity, representation, and voice.
I suggest that when writing a story, a POV, or character not of your own identity, that you should seriously consider whether or not you should. Whether it is your story to tell.
If that is the kind of statement that makes you say, “But, hang on!” then I am talking to you.
And I’ll be honest as well: that was once me. Back in the early drafts of my space opera trilogy, I did not realise that I’d written an ‘evil albino‘ antagonist until I was made aware of the unconscious bias that my consumed media had instilled. It was a challenge to think objectively about my character, to not convince myself that the portrayal was okay because it was science fiction.
It was not okay. It was reinforcing negative, harmful stereotypes of people living with a disability, who have been exposed to many portrayals of people like themselves as villains.
I rewrote my character. Not from an albino character’s point of view, or in a way that made them sympathetic. Rather, I considered what had led me to create an ‘albino’ character in the first place (lazy writing, it turns out), and instead explored the possible genetics of space exploration and planetary settlement in depth. This gave me a richer, more nuanced, and better thought-out story. One without harmful stereotypes.
Since those early, ignorant times, I have actively sought to learn about writing characters from identities other than my own. About how and why representation is important, that own voices matter, and that some stories should not be usurped–especially by white, abled, heterosexual, privileged writers. The publishing world needs to make space for the marginalised groups whose words have not been heard up until now.
And there are many.
Before you ask: yes, it is important to include diverse voices and identities in our writing. Be representative of the world in which we live. Encourage others to see themselves in your work, rather than be excluded by a privileged, white-centric point of view. However, I ask you to seriously consider your own work, and whether–intentionally or otherwise–you have brought biased opinions, worldviews, or characters into being. And whether you can change that to be more inclusive.
But I also ask you not to write about ‘what it means to be xyz identity‘ if that is not your lived experience. Let the voices of those who do live that identity be heard.
If you would like to learn more, I cannot recommend enough the work of Writing The Other, with whom I studied an intensive course on Creating Diverse Characters last year.
PS: I am not saying to never write a character or story that features people other than your own background. I am asking that if–when–you write diverse characters, that you do your research, consider the impact of your words, not write for the sake of ‘diversity is in vogue and will get me published’ (because that’s exploitation!), and to ask members of diverse communities for feedback on your work. Be inclusive, and work towards change. In writing, in our societies, in the world.
Remember: All words are valid. Expression is free.
It’s what you do with it that counts.
Now I’ve talked about the stories and scenes that give me the most pause. Check out what other IWSG bloggers have to say about this month’s question at this Blog Hop.
I’d also love to hear about your opinions, challenges, and scenes that give you conflict in the comments! Thank you for reading. 🙂