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Writing the Other

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  610 ratings  ·  113 reviews
During the 1992 Clarion West Writers Workshop attended by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, one of the students expressed the opinion that it is a mistake to write about people of ethnic backgrounds different from your own because you might get it wrong, horribly, offensively wrong, and so it is better not even to try. This opinion, commonplace among published as well as aspiri ...more
Paperback, 122 pages
Published December 28th 2007 by Aqueduct Press (first published 2007)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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Amy Rae
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Writing the Other serves as a decent first step for the writer who'd like to write about black people but isn't familiar with phrases like "white privilege." It's a fairly gentle introduction to issues at play in writing diverse characters, especially racially diverse ones. The two Nisi Shawl essays included ("Beautiful Strangers: Transracial Writing for the Sincere" and "Appropriate Cultural Appropriation") were insightful and contained concrete suggestions for approaching diverse writing. I fo ...more
Paolo Chikiamco
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I bought a physical copy of “Writing the Other” last year, but now that there’s an ebook edition out, I decided to write a review that will hopefully encourage more people to buy and read this very important writing. book. We Filipino authors especially should never forget that, as the book says, “difference is not monolithic.”

I’m a Filipino, and a geek, but I’m not used to feeling like an Other, like I’m not a part of the mainstream. I live in the Philippines, so I am, in fact, part of the maj
Tanya Gold
A nice introduction to the concept of writing outside of one's own experiences. I would love to see an updated edition with more practical advice.
Jessaca Willis
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
First off, to my pleasant surprise, the Kindle version of Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward also includes two other essays: Beautiful Strangers: Transracial Writing for the Sincere and Appropriate Cultural Appropriation, as well as an excerpt from Shawl's novel, The Blazing World.

I studied social work as an undergraduate and then again in grad school. For those who didn't know, social work focuses a lot on systems of oppression and the impact on people and communities. So when
London Mabel
Jun 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers
I would recommend this book to every writer. A little bit more to writers of sci fi/fantasy, but really everyone. Though it specifically focuses on people of color, it's a primer on how to make sure you're appropriately incorporating "the other" into the world of your fiction--that is to say, people who aren't like you. Even if you're a white person living in Sweden, writing about white Swedes, there are presumably still people who are different enough from you (gay, disabled, poor) who ought to ...more
Anna Stephens
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good introduction to writing diverse and believable characters. Some good pointers towards what to include and, more importantly, what to avoid. It also has a series of exercises to help writers practice and define their skills in this area.
Joshua Rigsby
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a difficult and complicated subject to be sure. This book offers a first step toward creating a common language around writing “others” as well as offering some helpful advice.
Don’t read this book fast.
It’s not meant to be read fast.
Read this book slow. Do what I did and forget it at work on a Friday; then, pick up something else. Read, and take note of the suggestions Shawl and Ward have offered in this book with the other book you started. Come Monday, get back to this book, finish it, and read it again.
Even if you’re not an author, or a would-be author like me- this is a really good book just to have around in order to consider other books you read.
Quite honest
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ebook, writing
I found this extremely underwhelming. If you're the sort of person who would seek out a book like this, you're probably already familiar with pretty much every point they make, and they don't even make them in any particular detail or with any especially enlightening examples. The main thesis is that it's better for dominant/majority group writers to try and fail than it is for them to actively avoid diversity in their books at all, which I guess is just a matter of giving writers who want to do ...more
Sep 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, own
Although much of what is discussed in this book seems fairly obvious, especially given the prevalence of discussions of racism and portrayal of non-white characters on the Internet these days, so many of those Internet posts specifically cite this book, which is why it all sounds so familiar. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward do a good job of explaining how to write character who are different from yourself in specific categories—though the fact that they blatantly ignore class as "not significant" is ...more
Apr 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Writers
A fellow writer lent me this book because I'm writing a book with African American characters (I'm Euro-American). The two authors refer to differences in ROAARS (Race, Orientation, Ability, Age, Religion, Sex). It includes writing exercises but I skipped them to read right through. I got a lot of help from it -- like don't use food to describe skin color. Oops, I need to go back through and take out my references to caramel. They urge writers to not avoid writing about others for fear of misapp ...more
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Recommended to writers of SFF for craft reasons. Even though most marginalised writers are aware of the issues around writing diverse representation, the writing exercises are still useful in prompting every writer to examine the different unconscious biases they may not be aware of.

'Your story will benefit from your examination of the implications of what you've written, from the feedback you receive on its impact, from your consideration of how typical it may be, and from your questioning of w
Bob Nadal
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a fantastic, challenging book. It has you looking at all of your bias, prejuide and privilege. This helps writers to develop characters that are more complex and true to life.
Julie Bozza
Interesting, with a couple of new-to-me ideas. Definitely food for thought!
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A look at how to better incorporate different voices (of different races, orientations, ages, abilities, religions, or sexes, using the not-that-easier to remember ROAARS mnemonic--and there are literally infinite other dimensions that matter, too), into your writing. Steadily chipped away at this one over several months as I read pieces of it and worked through the exercises.

Good: Practical, concise, and readable, uses lots of good examples of what not to do, with suggested exercises and bibli
James Hold
Oct 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
Interesting advice directed toward writing "about characters marked by racial and ethnic differences." However it seems to put across an argument suggesting you must paint all people of a specific racial group as being the same so as not to offend any of them.
IMO. you'd do better to treat them as individuals with individual thoughts and opinions. Not all blacks live in the getto and dig hip-hop, just as not all Asians eat rice and noodles. Figure out WHO you want your character to be first, the
Lesley Arrowsmith
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'd almost forgotten about this, and didn't connect it with Everfair, which I've just finished reading, until I saw the list of Nisi Shawl's work just now. I bought it several years ago as an ebook, and because it's an ebook, I can't see it on my shelves, so I just forget I've got it. But it was an excellent book on how to write about a diverse range of people, and it was something I needed to learn for my own writing (and I'm still learning, and trying to do better all the time).
Highly recommen
Ginny Kaczmarek
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this for writers interested in conveying people unlike themselves in a respectful way (which should be all of us!). Through a series of informative, thoughtful chapters with lots of (sometimes funny) examples, as well as a couple of thought-provoking essays, writers are encouraged to write beyond "what you know" in a way that opens minds rather than shutting them down.

The authors' website offers even more information, videos, links, and encouragement, as well as a series of c
Rachel Pollock
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Advanced required reading for a class. Great collection of essays on writing outside your lived experience without appropriation/offense.
Anna Stephens
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good overview

Covers the basics and gives some decent examples to follow and to avoid to make your writing more diverse and characters more believable.
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
The core of how I felt echoes Amy Rae's solid critique.

My personal hypothesis as to what went wrong here is that most of the text presents liberal solutions to colonialist problems, but without ever examining a number of incompatibilities between [neo]liberalism and postcolonial ideals. The authors didn't spend enough time unpacking and considering the issues to really be authoritative in their advice, resulting in a text that is variously naive or incomplete.

A scattering of gripes (in no partic
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I found the notion of “the unmarked state” to be very powerful. The rest of the advice from the book is a derivation from this simple yet profond observation.
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This very short writing book was published in 2005 and is arguably even more relevant today. It lays the foundation for anyone to examine their own biases, particularly in their writing, and gives practical writing exercises and advice to overcome those biases. I would say this book is required reading for any writer who wants to ensure they are not doing real-life harm in building their characters.
Ronel Janse van Vuuren
*This is the book club book of the month for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group Book Club.

If you’re not as woke as many of those in my writing circles are, this is a must-read for you. But otherwise it is a basic, very condescending (considering it’s 2020) little book about do’s and don’ts when writing about people who aren’t like you.

“We will show you what works (and what doesn’t) when writing about characters of races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, nationalities, and oth
Casey Jo
Dec 31, 2019 rated it liked it
This was written in 2005 and it shows. This was/is an important primer for a lot of white folks, but it's got some notable flaws.

Notably, the ROARRS designation puts Race/Sexual Orientation/Age/Ability/Religion/Sex on the same playing field, and ignores other critical qualities like class. And while some of these are core to our lifelong identity, others change (most notably age). And nothing acknowledges the particular importance race plays in our culture, as though it doesn't want to be offput
Feb 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting overview of writing diverse characters. As a writer you always worry that you're not doing it right. There are many traps for the unwary from racial stereotyping to cultural appropriation. I got to the end of this book with a sigh of relief. I don't seem to have fallen into those traps yet.

The book began as an idea formed at a Clarion workshop. It's American, and to a certain extent reflects the experience of being black in America, but does expand to a much wider overview. Othern
May 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing-craft
I've had this book for a little while, but only just got around to reading it. I was concerned that it might be hard going, but it was just the opposite: presented simply almost to the point of a fault. However, this makes it clear and straightforward, and the minimal jargon that inevitably needs to be used is explained well and with examples.

It's short, and much of its content I've read before in one place or another, but there's still value in setting out, step by step, the issues of represen
May 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-nonfiction
I think this book is a good resource for new writers and writers working with a diverse range of characters. I didn't have a chance to try the exercises but was inspired to do some character rework on my novel in progress while reading "Writing the Other." I have a good resulting feeling of progress being made as a result. So definitely worth checking out.
That said, I wished the 2 authors had worked on this a bit more collaboratively (Ward is around for 1 out of 3 sections - there's workshop mod
After abandoning a book where a well-meaning author "got it all wrong" and overused some very stale stereotypes, I thought reading this might be a sort of balm to my brain and soothe my temper a bit. I liked the idea of exploring how authors could avoid writing clumsily (and sometimes just plain badly) about "other." Unfortunately, I didn't think there was much information here. It's material from a workshop, and it has that sort of "let's skim the surface" vibe to it that workshop material alwa ...more
Lydia Rogue
I can't in good conscious give this a star rating. While I'm sure most of the language and concepts were very radical and accurate in 2007, reading it in 2020 made my stomach churn as a trans person. I want to recommend it for the ideas it presents for how it talks about privilege (Or ROARS, as they called them in the book) and intersectionality, but the terms and concepts around trans folks has aged so poorly I can't in good faith recommend it. I hope that the authors get to do an updated editi ...more
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Nisi Shawl's story "Cruel Sistah" was included in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #19. Their work has also appeared in So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy and both Dark Matter anthologies. Recently they perpetrated "The Snooted One: The Historicity of Origin" at the Farrago's Wainscot website. With Cynthia Ward, they co-authored "Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Di ...more

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