Write what you know, learn what you don’t, and then write that too.

Forgive me readers for I have erred, it has been two weeks since my last blog update. The first week I can absolutely justify, I had a vile head cold and just wasn’t up to it. Last week (although I was also preparing for a convention over the Easter weekend) I just didn’t have an inspired thought in my head and, since this blog is intended to help fellow writers and give readers an insight into the creative process, I wasn’t going to ‘phone it in’. But I’m back!

This week I’m going to focus on avenues of research in the hopes that it will encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourselves in your writing. Last year (as you might know) I was involved with a number of tabletop RPG projects and, because some of these were ‘real world’ settings I found myself doing quite a bit of factual research, largely of the historical nature. The project coordinator had encouraged all the writers to ‘go beyond Wikipedia’ in our efforts and (as convenient as that would have been) it was a great piece of advice. I picked up numerous tidbits from a range of sources that helped me flavour the final pieces so, by broadening my resource base it really helped me overall. That worked from a ‘History and Locations’ point of view.

Looking ahead I have in mind an Urban Fantasy series which I have been casually referring to as my ‘Soapbox’ series. The idea is to (through the veil of fiction) shine a light on societal problems as I perceive them because my writing is my forum and if I can attempt to better the world through that medium I feel obliged to do so. Now, whilst the scope of issues or themes that I might choose to cover is vast there is also the obligation to approach them from a position of informed sensitivity. This is especially true when you’re talking about themes of racial inequality, neuro-diversity and gender or sexual identity. For a very long time ‘minorities’ of all types have been the butt of the jokes in the majority of media franchises but, more and more, those characters are getting the opportunity to deliver the punch-line.

Now, I’m a white, straight, cis-gendered male and that gives me a lot of privilege among certain bands of society and, in my writing, I feel that I can use that white male privilege to promote diversity and equality. So, as I come up with the plots and characters for the series, it becomes my responsibility to do the research so that my well-meaning ‘support’ doesn’t, through my own ignorance of the life experiences of others, actually become a harmful factor. I want to be a good ally. There’s a lot of good reading out there on the subject, perception and experiences of people who are a part of these communities but actually talking to them is even better. Panels at conventions about diversity and representation are a great way to meet people who might be willing to guide your efforts down that path, it’s certainly the avenue I choose to follow.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing a ‘Star Trek’ style Utopian society where there is no bigotry, the bigotry and the response to it is kind of the point. Imagine ‘Lord of the Rings’ meets ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, but the important factor is not to go at it casually and use established stereotypes, as with any other character, depth and a genuine knowledge of what their life experience might be like is so important. As an example, if I were to bring in an Ifrit or Jinn character (powerful spirits from Arabic /Middle Eastern mythology) to employ as an analogy for the Syrian Refugee Crisis then I have to have more than a casual understanding of the culture the character is coming from, the role they traditionally play within that culture, the politics behind the Crisis and the effect of a traumatic relocation upon the individual. It’s not good enough for me to pick a group that I only have limited knowledge of and write a character under the heading ‘representation’. I have to do the leg-work, talk to people from that community (especially when it’s a marginalised group) and actually know what I’m doing.

It sounds like a lot of work, I know it is going to be, but I also know it will be worth it to achieve what I hope to achieve, a cynical, satirical British-gangster comedy from the point of view of the supernatural creatures on the outside, looking in drawing in social groups, cultures and mythologies that you might not normally see represented.

I’ve got another book to finish first and I’m giving myself about a year for that project but that gives me lots of time to plan and research so that I can do it right. So, while I write the Sci-Fi adventure ‘Riding the E-Rail’ I will be researching the ‘Bentley Pennywhistle Heptalogy’ (working title).

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