1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bringing writing group material that will offend one member?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Commandante Lemming, Jun 23, 2016.

    So - not really a writing question but it's about writing and I can't ask social media because the person in question will see. My in person writing group has been having a lot of debates recently about writing race and gender, who should be able to write what, etc. Specifically the questions of men writing female protagonists and people writing characters outside their race.

    The group as a whole has come to the conclusion that this is a good thing and to be encouraged. However, one member of the group (who for what it's worth is white) has been quite vocal in comments that she does not believe white people should write minority POV characters, as this in her mind constitutes cultural appropriation, an exercise of white privilege, and theft of minority narrative. In certain cases she has told people that they don't have the right to write certain stories they have written and should abandon them, and in that same case actually got in an argument with a black writer who liked the story and wanted more of it.

    So, here's my issue - the individual in question is an Australian expatriate (the group is in the U.S.) and has said that she bases her views on race in fiction on the idea that, in Australia, it would be seen as extremely bad for a white author to ever, ever write from the POV of an Indigenous Australian (I'm not sure this is the case), and that would be the worst possible thing. I happen to have some work that is, in fact, written from the point-of-view of an Indigenous Australian character (who I've been writing longer than I've known this person). I have, in the past, avoided bringing this work to group because this person would get offended that the work exists and would advise that I stop writing. However, given that the group has for a couple weeks now had issues around this persons comments, I'm thinking it's time to bring that work in and challenge the assumption.

    My question is whether it's ethical to bring the work in, knowing that one person is going to be very offended. On the one hand, I'm tired of hiding this character, but on the other hand I'm not sure about the ethics of bringing it in specifically for the purpose of breaking this person's taboo (although I think that has some moral value). That, and while the person is not an Indigenous Australian, she is an Australian and I'm not. So the question of respecting non-Indigenous Australian sensibilities regarding Indigenous characters is also a thing.

    (Also, any Aussies want to comment on whether it is in fact utter taboo in Australian society for a white writer to ever, ever write an Indigenous POV character?)
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2016
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  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, it is certainly ethical to bring the work in. You can point out to the individual in question what the work contains, and she can decide for herself whether to take part in reviewing it. I think her position is quite ridiculous, so I'd hate to see you refrain from sharing with your writing because of it. There is always someone, somewhere, ready to be offended. You can't tailor your work to avoid those people.
     
  3. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Based upon what you've described, the answer would be to present your work to the group. One can disregard any comments by the individual in question, if you believe the views and comments in the critique are based upon the race/gender question not matching the author.
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    As long as your respecting the viewpoint your writing from and not trying to exploit it or degrade it than I wouldn't have a problem. She shouldn't either. People can get too pc for their own good and as far as I'm concerned isn't that a form of bigotry? - to avoid stepping into another cultures shoes? If everyone would try to write from another viewpoint they'd be better off. Didn't do Harriet Beecher Stowe any harm.
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed with the above. Bring your writing to group. If the person is unable to bring to bear a consideration of your work that is consistent with the consideration given to other works, the problem is not yours but hers.
     
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  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd agree with the above with the slight caveat that I think you should examine your motivations for bringing the work in.

    Are you genuinely looking for feedback and think this is the piece of work for which feedback will be most valuable to you? Okay, great, go for it.

    Or, alternatively, are you stirring the shit and using your piece as a way to prolong/intensify the existing argument? If so... it still might be okay to bring it in - I definitely feel that there's a time for shit to be stirred and arguments to be intensified. I'd just suggest that you be honest with yourself about your motivations, and that you consider being honest with your group-mates about it.

    I've never been a member of a writing group, so I don't know first hand, but my impression is that it can be a fairly vulnerable experience for a lot of writers, with a degree of trust required in order for people to share freely. It MAY not be the appropriate venue for stirring shit...


    ETA: Let me clarify/rephrase - I think you're pretty clear on your motivation. You're doing this primarily to stir the shit. And, again, not necessarily a problem. But I feel like the other responses to this thread were treating it more as a "he needs critique on this work", when really I don't think that's your motivation. Right?
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2016
  7. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm just going to get this out the way first. Hahaha hahaha, hahaha, haha, ha.

    Anyway, yes, it is completely ethical. You need the group to critique your work as a whole, and to remove a character from that critique would make them weaker. If she says anything about it, just ask "So you're saying people shouldn't be allowed to do things because of their race?"
     
  8. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    As much as I dislike this person's viewpoint that nobody should write outside their race/religion/gender/whatever, I wonder how much your motives are playing into the desire to present this work to the group. You're bringing in a piece that's pretty specific to the person who has objections. It may seem like you've written it intentionally to aggravate the situation. I work with a few writer groups and have found that there is a certain amount of tact needed with dealing with other people. You can just as easily present this material to a different group (like here for instance). If I was a member of the group, I might feel that you are only exasperating the problem with an intentional troll move.
    Go ahead and write what you like, just try to keep in mind that these groups are meant to improve your writing not philosophical debate.

    Shameless plug: For more of my wise and all powerful thoughts about writer groups, please visit my blog.:whistle: (link in my signature.)
     
  9. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    OK. Most of the feedback lines up with about what I was thinking to begin with, I just wanted to check with a few other people before lighting off the bomb, so to speak.

    @BayView You did hit the nail on the head in terms of motivations - which I am examining. Part of my motivation is just breaking this character out of my own self-imposed hesitance to bring it in. But I will admit that "stirring shit" does play into it. The primary reason I'm thinking about doing it is that the person in question has been going after one of the shyest and most vulnerable group members and trying to convince him that he can't write controversial stuff that he wants to write (first when he wrote from a black POV in a slavery-era story, which she sees as not something white people are allowed to approach, and then when wanted to deal with Old Hollywood notion of vampirism as a metaphor for male sexuality, which she thinks is sexist and beyond the pale.) And for what it's worth the slavery story was gut wrenching but also very good, and the African-American reviewer in the group really liked it. I've had some talks with the group leader about the person in question, and while we both count her as a friend, we're both worried about the rather aggressive approach this person takes to "white male privilege" in critique.

    I've been thinking for a while that I'm not comfortable not being able to bring in my character - and with the recent events I know that I'm holding the proverbial grenade that could actually get the can of worms all the way open so we can deal with it.
     
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  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    And as I said earlier, the work in question is not written intentionally. I wrote a significant portion of it before I met her. I had meant to bring it in months ago and have debated brining it in several times, but held back out of respect when the person joined the group. (That and I wanted to make it better before I even tried running a depiction of Australia past an actual Australian - especially since the work throws up several American stereotypes of Australia for the purpose of shooting them down - it opens with the main character literally shoving a live crocodile into the bed of a truck. I'm doing this on purpose as a literary device so that I can undermine the image, but it is there.)
     
  11. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    And I do want critique on the actual piece - it's not high priority but I've wanted critique on it for some time - the purpose in stirring said shit would be to clear the way for critique of the material in the future.
     
  12. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    I hate to say it, but this really is a question about whether the writing group is providing you with the type of feedback you need to enhance your writing.

    One thing that has helped with some of my writing circles is if there's a clear moderator who can steer the discussion back to the writing itself. My current writing cricle has a moderator with considerable gravitas - she's the chair of our national authors association, of which the writing circle is a membership privilege... which she can revoke.

    Even still... I've been offended by my collegues' submissions many times (one of them is writing a mary sue style self-help book along the lines of "I am super and you can be as super as I am if you convert to my pseudoreligion"), but I suppress the urge to provide feedback about the content, and focus my critiques on the writing itself. ("This passage where you talked about how God gave you supernatural powers to save drowning people, I lost track of which person was in the boat versus the people in the water - I think you need to clear up the sequence of events to make it easier to visualize this rescue scene")

    This person does not reciprocate, and lectures me about my scientific background. Nevertheless, my response to this is to nod, say thanks, and move on to the next person's feedback.

    I had a person in my last writing circle who was flat out offended by any profanity. She would explain how it's sinful and injures my soul. OK, duly noted, thanks, next person.

    Having said that... once a writing circle has achieved a critical mass of dysfunction, it's not a good use of one's time to rail against it, and abandonment is sensible.
     
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  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree there. This one is isn't at quite that mass yet, and we're just talking about one person who we all consider a friend but who's just gotten a little out of hand in enforcing their own specific view about what is or is not acceptable subject matter for fiction (i.e. if the critique is "you're not allowed to write this, and you need to stop writing it", that's a bit outside the function of legitimate critique.) In this case I also know the group leader's views on the subject because I've asked - so I know it's a matter of someone deviating from the actual position of the group itself.

    Oh and for what it's worth I did bring the material last Thursday and nothing happened because no one with any stake in the drama showed up that night but me - the person who's offended, the group leader, and the person I who'd been the main target all weren't there. But the rest of the group liked it :p
     
  14. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    I have been told that I should not write about LGBT, simply because I am not gay, or bi, or trans. If that is the case, surely I can have no women in my work either, since I do not identify as female. It is a ridiculous argument and would equally demand that all female writers ONLY write about themselves...but not lesbians! Since if they are not part of that minority, they have no right to create a gay character.

    Clearly this is absurd. You SHOULD write about minorities of all kinds, because that is how the world is made up! How insane to insist that we only write from a narrow perspective, because that is the only perspective we are allowed.

    You must write about what moves you. You must write the truth as you see it. HOW DARE someone tell you what you can and cannot write. For shame.
     
  15. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's pretty much my position too (all caps and exclamation points included). Although in fairness, the contention was a bit more specific than "white writer must never write minority character", the contention was "white writer must never write inside minority character's head". So her contention would have been that in theory I can and should write an Indigenous Australian side-character in a story with a white protagonist - but that a story with an Indigenous protagonist or Indigenous POV character would be taking that narrative away from the Indigenous population and speaking for them. I kid of sort of see that (although not really), but that's a problem for me because I write third-person multi-POV - all of my major side characters get POV sequences, and I can't add a side character without being able to get in their head. That and relegating minority characters to permanent-sidekick roles is, in itself, racist. The counter argument would be that we then need to encourage non-white authors to write all of these non-white protagonists so that they can be done without appropriation - which we totally need to do, because I want to read more of those voices - but if white writers don't start putting minorities at the forefront of the narrative, then we encourage the whole narrative about the whiteness of the literary community (especially in the SFF space) and push minority authors away from the material. It's one of those circular arguments that can just keep going and going - so I come down on the side of "write what you want".

    The other thing I come down on the side of is representing "micro-minorities" (for lack of a better term) in fiction. Personally, I don't just write minority narratives in my stuff, I write minority narratives that I CAN'T FIND in fiction. They're experiences I want to read about but can't, so I figure someone has to put those people in books too. I have plenty of characters that fall into the broad "White/Black/Hispanic/Asian" categories that we like to think count as "diversity" in America, but the ones that I really like to bring to the front are people who don't fit neatly. That's why two of my biggest characters are an Indian American who is a practicing Jain (I tried so hard to find a Jain character in fiction to read up on - came up almost entirely empty), and an Indigenous Australian who ends up in America (a nation which has absolutely no clue what to do with her given that she's "black" but not "African-American."). Those are groups that aren't just underrepresented in American fiction - they're not represented at all. And while I'd love to see someone from either of those communities break out and tell their stories from their own point of view, there's no guarantee that a group that's small to begin with will produce even one breakout author in the next 50 years. I figure someone has to put those people in stories, or fiction will just go on pretending they don't exist.
     
  16. Carly Berg
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    Carly Berg Contributing Member

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    Since she wasn't there for your story, write a sequel for the next meeting and name the main character after her. :twisted:
     
  17. Earp
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    Earp Active Member

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    For what it's worth, I'd say bring your stuff to the group the way you want to express it, and let the chips fall. That's what I do with my group, and if there are any members who take some sort of politically correct offense, well, sucks to be them. You can't please/appease everyone.

    Fiction, in my opinion, is supposed to be about examining the human condition, not certain politically selected parts of it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2016
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haha. I don't hate the person. Actually she's quite nice, we just have disagreements on what is appropriate to tell other people in group.

    And I did worse than that. I used her logic as the basis for why my villain does such horrible things to people (Not my fault this happened right while I was working on the origin story flashback).

    And there are plenty of other scenes - one of them will show up eventually - or I'll make revisions.
     
  19. KevinMcCormack
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    I have a vested interest in rejecting that type of restriction, because my genre of choice at the moment is Afrofuturism, despite being a white male. My main characters tend to be either black or first nations, and while I haven't done any first person, there's plenty of 3rd person omni POV. Also, one of my MC is a female, so it's really outside my personal experience.

    (I think my inspiration is Ursula K LeGuin, a white woman author whose Hainish Cycle novels include MCs who are black males, or people of no gender, among other fascinating choices)

    The only reason I'd be interested in criticism about the content is to prevent clearly doing it so badly that it would offend well meaning members of those demographics - the point of the exercise for me is to respect their cultures by performing due diligence and soliciting feedback for accuracy, it's not to leverage stereotypes. But if I accidentally did some of the latter, I'd rather hear about it from my writing group or beta readers than waste time polishing a turd that could tarnish my reputation when I shop it around to publishers.

    (If recent history is any guide, there will be pleeeenty of time for culture wars when I get nominated for a Hugo.)
     
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  20. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I have a vested interest as well because at this point I'm writing exclusively female protagonists and mostly-female casts despite being male (mostly because I just have difficulty conjuring up male characters that interest me, which I'm working on, but still). Plus I have a side project (albeit a dormant one) that's an alternate present where a Native American civilization in South America survived to become a modern world power (that one has some even less PC points about the fact that the survival of a culture usually goes hand in hand with a lot of morally questionable decision making by its leaders).
     
  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What's the name of the writer's group?
     
  22. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not telling on a public forum, that would violate the whole premise of asking this question in a forum where I'm anonymous, especially since this dispute is with personal friend.

    Why do you ask? (If there's a good reason PM me)
     
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  23. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My first reaction reading through this thread is that if everything isn't on the table, no exceptions, then the writing group is useless. As for @BayView's point in questioning your motivation, my own thought is that it doesn't matter. If someone wants to take issue with what I write, that's fine. That's one of the reasons I write. And if the group's purpose is to critique, that's fine, too. But when a member of the group declares that certain topics or opinions or methods are "off the table", that person is trying to inhibit what the writer is writing (or presenting to the group). If your purpose is to bring this limitation to the surface, to force the other member to decide whether (s)he is in or out, I see nothing wrong with that.

    Good luck.
     
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  24. sahlmi
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    sahlmi Active Member

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    I'm not saying she's right, but I think she's sincere in her feelings and her arguments are mainly a cultural difference. You know, like "whatever" is considered rude in America, but is a compliment or disregarded in some other country, and vice versa.

    She'd absolutely condemn me, though. I'm a black male who has a story in the fantasy queue right now written as a first person, white female. I do believed your group member would faint.
     
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  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly this.
     

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