2/24/03: I am woman, hear my ROARS

Word count (outline and notes): 14314 At Potlatch I took a Sunday morning workshop on “Transracial Writing for the Sincere” led by Nisi Shawl and Cyn Ward, which was about half lecture and half writing exercises. (Many and varied were the writing appliances in use, including a Palm with a soft fabric keyboard that doubled as a case and a notepad with shorthand.) The good news is that I am already doing a lot of things right, in questioning assumptions and not letting my characters fall into the default ROARS (Race, Orientation, Ability, Religion, and Sex). Key points: You are not a racist just because your reptile brain comes up with nasty stereotypical thoughts about people of different ROARS. Racism is when your conscious brain agrees with your reptile brain. — Your first impulse for character, setting, etc. is probably wrong; question your unconsidered choices. — If a person belongs to the “unmarked” (cultural default) ROARS his way is smoothed in ways he may never even recognize. — SF can create new social divides to illuminate marked/unmarked states. — As writers we can use marked/unmarked state to create parallax. Who is looking at whom? How do they look? It varies depending on the observer. — Difference is not monolithic; not everyone who is oppressed has common cause (e.g. American Indians and African-Americans may dislike/distrust each other though they are both oppressed), and complexes of characteristics do not always go together. Avoid the categorical fallacy of mistaking the traits of an individual for the traits of the group or vice versa. Catagorical thinking is not inherently fallacious, but it can be; you can have charactes engage in categorical thinking to reveal aspects of their character (e.g. blind spots). — Use congruence (shared characteristics) to establish ties between the reader and a character of a different ROARS. — Even secondary characters should have multiple traits, as real people do; even if a very minor character has only a few traits, they should not all point in the same direction (e.g. have your poor black man be passionate about classical violin, not rap). — Resonance is the association of related ideas (e.g. if a German is a torturer that inevitably raises the suspicion he might be a Nazi); it can be intentional or unintentional, but should be carefully controlled. An easy way to disarm unfortunate resonances is to have more than one member of a particular ROARS (e.g. don’t have the villain be the only bisexual in the book). — You will make mistakes, get feedback to correct them. In the exercises I tried rewriting a scene from “Nucleon” with Carl the junkyard owner as a Puerto Rican rather than a Polish-American, and a scene from “Primates” (a Clarion story, unpublished) with the primatologist as a woman rather than a man. I was intrigued to see how much the other characters changed in reaction to these changes. Obviously I need to do some research on African-Americans, if I’m going to get Sienna right.

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