Writing the Other & Our Responsibility as Writers

We as writers have a responsibility. The world is evolving, and we, as artists, have a responsibility to help our readers move forward with the world.

The art we engage with shapes our understanding of the world. When we encounter a character, whether it be in a book, on stage, through a poem, or on a screen, we are opening ourselves up to understanding that character, which works as an extension of our understanding of what it means to be human.

Literature, plays, film, art, all help us to discover, relate, and comprehend how we are evolving. The books that make it through history all portray important situational messages, problems, and commentary on the way the world is, and things that need to be addressed. They all point the way for what we need to fix in order to move forward and evolve.

We have seen this time and time again throughout history. Consider Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, commentating on the horrors of colonialism in Africa, or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which outlines the racial injustices in America, or Angels in America by Tony Kushner which revolves around the AIDs epidemic in the ‘80s. Let us not forget Animal Farm or 1984, both by George Orwell who predicted and accurately outlined the way the western world is headed. These are just a few of the classics that come to mind.

While not all of us are trying to write the next great piece that will go down in history, I assume that we want to write accurately. The world, the country, the state, the providence, the town, are not all white, straight, able-bodied individuals. Including a diverse world in your story can not only provide representation for underrepresented individuals, but it can also bring depth to your story.

Thus, we have a responsibility as writers to ensure we are giving an accurate understanding of the human experience in the eclectic and beautifully colorful world that we live in.

This is why it is so important that as we write, we work to ensure we are not causing harm where harm has already been done, and that we accurately portray our characters, systems, and worlds.

Writing the Other

Writing the Other is an organization that provides classes specifically aimed at writers who want to create characters who are different of themselves. For example, a writer who has a character who has ADHD, when the writer does not have ADHD, a character who has a physical disability, or a character of another race, gender, gender identity, etc..

Writing the other image: a squid with an image of Vonda N. McIntyre with a think bubble saying "I think, there for I write the other."

Writing the Other aims at responsible writing, teaching writers how to avoid harmful stereotypes or portrayals of their characters.

Their website has classes, seminars, weekend courses, workshops, as well as free resources to help writers get it right. Their teachers include

  • Nisi Shawl
  • K. Tempest Bradford
  • Steven Barns
  • Piper J. Drake
  • Jaymee Goh
  • Keffy R.M. Kehrli
  • Debbie Reese
  • Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  • And so many more talented speakers and authors

From their website:

Representation is fundamental to writing great fiction. Creating characters that reflect the diversity of the world we live in is important for all writers and creators of fictional narratives. But writers often find it difficult to represent people whose gender, sexual orientation, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity is very different from their own. This can lead to fear of getting it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and, in the face of that, some think it’s better not to try.

The hard truth is this: Representation and Diversity are too important to ignore.

It IS possible to write characters who represent the “Other” sensitively and convincingly. Through our classes, workshops, and seminars and the resources available on this site and elsewhere creators can get a solid foundation in how to craft characters from any background, no matter how different they are from you.

Writing the Other homepage

The more we know, the more we can ensure that we are creating good in society through our art. By understanding and recognizing patterns in our view of those around us, we can learn to be better to those very people, and one of those methods is through our writing.

If you are unfamiliar with Writing the Other, I encourage you to check out their website and the work they do. Get involved with their community on Facebook, and have a read through their free available resources.

You can view their
2021 class schedule here.
You can check out their book,
Writing the Other, here


Recently, I announced the launch of a non-profit short story competition. The organization that all of our profits will go to for this project will be Writing the Other, because both Katrina Carruth and I believe so strongly in what they do, and in creating more educated and responsible writers. Specifically, we will be donating to the Sentient Squid Scholarship. Through this scholarship, writers can take part in Writing the Other teachings to help become responsible writers who contribute to bettering the world through their art.

Even if you are not interested in participating in our Nightmares When I’m Cold short story competition, I hope you’ll consider not only checking out Writing the Other’s workshops and courses, but consider donating to the scholarship to make them more accessible.

I look forward to seeing this organization grow, and to seeing more inclusive, diverse, and supportive writing in the years to come.

Writing Prompt: The One You Despise

There are two things that every story has to have:

  • A plot
  • At least one character

The two are very interwoven. You need the character to carry the reader through the plot, but you need the plot so that the character isn’t just hanging out on their couch all day playing video games.

However, more than having an interesting plot, you need to have a character that the reader cares about.

Mary-Sue

A Mary-Sue is a character, male or female, who has no flaws that they have to cover come. In Christopher Pike’s YA series, The Last Vampire, the main character, Sita, is a Mary-Sue. She is this vampire who is just too smart and skilled for her own good.

Likewise, I would argue that Superman is a Mary-Sue. He has one weakness, which is that he cares too much about the girl, and he can’t hack kryptonite. I am bored to tears with that guy.

One reason this is boring as all get out is because the reader needs an element of relatability. No human is perfect, so having a perfect character alienates the reader in some way. When the reader can connect with the MC, then the reader is more likely to get sucked into their plight.

What a reader wants, whether they’re aware of it or not, is a character who evolves in some way. Thus, they need to have some form of character flaw that they work through to become a better person.

Consider Bridget Jones—golly I love that lady. I think just about every woman relates to her in some way, which is why those books did so amazingly, and why watching the movie is both my mom’s and my favorite lazy-day activity. She is hilarious because she’s real. And I don’t mean somewhat relatable, I mean real AF.

She has to overcome her views of self-worth in order to get the guy. What this inspires in all of us is that we too, us real AF women, can get the guy too if we can believe in ourselves.

The relatability in a story means that it takes the reader through the journey as if they were a part of it, and it helps to almost give them an option on how they too can get over their own character flaws.

I know, no pressure, right?

Of course this is in a vague sense. I mean, the princess who goes through all the ordeals that the villain can throw at her and waits until her perfect moment s o that she can escape—is not likely going to happen to the average person who needs to learn their own strengths to save themselves. However, it’s a reminder to their subconscious self that they have the power to take matters into their own hands.

A key element, then, is to ask yourself how your character evolves throughout the story.

Writing Prompt:
The Flawed Character

There are several steps to this exercise, so hang tight.

Step 1

Develop a character you don’t like and describe them having breakfast, or something mundane. This is just so you can really get into the character’s head.

This character doesn’t have to be completely of your own imagination. You can take someone you don’t like and write about them as well.

But as you develop this character, try to keep your prejudices out of it. Write it as if you’re setting this person up as your MC (because that is exactly what you’re doing).

Step 2

The next step is to ask yourself what it is you don’t like about this character. What makes this character somewhat repugnant to you? Is it that they don’t have a family and are totally against having one? Is it that they don’t like puppies? Do they lack compassion? Are they completely boring? Are they a Mary-Sue? Are they constantly sickly because they have no regard for their health and do literally everything wrong in the world in order to look after themselves?

Go on, go crazy when deciding what it is you don’t like about them.

Step 3

Now, ask yourself what it is that they could do to make them likable to you. Is it that they could get a dog? Is it that they could open their minds to something new and different like green eggs and ham? Is it that they could be passionate about something?

Step 4

Now that you have your dislikable character, you’re going to write the story of how they become likable.

Some Examples

There are plenty of examples of curmudgeon characters who develop and become likable. Consider:

  • Shrek, the ogre who wanted nothing to do with anyone, until he learns the value of friendship and companionship.
  • Wilt, from Tom Sharp’s wonderful Wilt series, in which a very old-fashioned man is put in horrendous situations and all he wants to do is go back to being boring and thinking the world’s gone mad (my favorite is when his wife decides she wants to be liberated, gets swept up in the ‘60’s free love movement, and accidentally finds herself at an orgy)
  • The Hound in Game of Thrones – now that guy is great to dislike. He just wants to do his own thing, he wants to do his job, and part of his job is to look scary. He seemingly doesn’t care about anyone, but at the same time he does, actually care. He offered to help Sansa, and later on grew attached to Arya. Both of these are character arcs.

What did you come up with? How did you find this exercise? Let me know in the comments, or feel free to email me about it.

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