Resources for Writers
Culture Shock: Really Useful Links by Paul Anthony Shortt
I love learning about different cultures. The food, the customs, the geography, the history. The food, again. And it can be tempting to use cultures different to our own in our work. It adds an element of fantasy, even in realistic fiction. We can re-live our experiences abroad, imagine places we’ve never been, and share our love of a culture through our words.
But it can be all too easy to slip from well-intentioned respect into cultural appropriation. That’s why I’ve gathered up some advice on how to protray cultures other than your own in your writing.
1: 7 Tips for Writing Other Cultures – I’ll start us off with our old friends at Writer’s Digest. If you take nothing else from these links, etch these tips into your memory. They’re essential.
2: 12 Fundamentals of Writing ‘The Other’ – Make no mistake, when you write about different cultures, no matter how much or how little, you are employing the concept of ‘The Other’; the character or society which is marked by its difference to the ‘mundane’ that you’re used to. You have to be careful when doing this so as not to fall to stereotypes and present an insulting, even harmful, representation of that culture.
3: Creating Fictional Cultures – For those of you writing speculative fiction, at some point you are likely going to have to create a unique fictional culture. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re safe from the pitfalls we’re discussing. A poor expy of a real-world society can be just as problematic as a stereotypical repsentation of real peoples.
4: Novelists Have Their Say on Cultural Appropriation – See what other authors have to say on this subject. The issue of cultural appropriation is complex and there are no sure answers to fit every situation.
That’s all for this week. There’s more to this topic than I can cover in a single article, but if I could leave you with just a little advice it would be this: If the culture you’re writing (whether that be defined by its geography, religion, ethnicity, social class, mental illness, or disability) is not one you belong to, make sure you are respectful at all times, and if you can speak to someone of that culture who is willing to help, do so. And as I’ve said before, sometimes a particular story isn’t yours to write, and that’s okay.
(c) Paul Anthony Shortt