A Fear: Writing the Other

I’ve started work on a new sword & sorcery series. I have a map of the city. I have back story of the city. I have scant character outlines. I know how the two protagonists met. I’ve worked up key side characters and vital locations. I’ve outlined the plot of the first book as well as I can without actually writing the book.

Egan was a well-educated (thus well-spoken) child living in a remote area. The emperor took offense to some (as yet to be determined) slight (or maybe an attack?) by leaders of Egan’s village. The emperor (being the bastard he is) declared a rebellion brewing in the village and ordered all adults killed and all children to be enslaved. Egan was barely young enough to be called a child. He and his brother were taken back to the city and sold off. Egan was forced into life as a gladiator because of his size, strength, and intelligence. He did well for himself.

Stiles was raised in the warrens of the city, and was forced to survive through any means necessary. He never knew his parents and was more-or-less raised by communal efforts to groom him to be a thief. As a result, he became a stellar thief just because he knew he had to be valuable to someone in order to make that someone keep him alive. His drive to excel pushed him high enough in the hierarchy of the Warrens to the point where he was able to escape to the city proper. Once in the city, he was back on the bottom rung of society and had to start over. He’s known to the law as a relatively minor criminal, but always manages to slide past punishments meted out by the judiciary system.

There. We have a couple of character sketches and some background.

Sounds like I’m in good shape, right?

Not so much.

Here’s why:

Egan is a black man. Yes. I went there. I enslaved a black man to a white master. While this is an alternate reality story, it’s a reflection on history of our world. I hope to treat the outlook, attitudes, actions, and reactions of not only Egan, but also society, his master, those against slavery, and those for slavery properly. I’m a middle-aged white guy who has never been a slave. I’ve never owned slaves. Slavery (at least in the United States) was long gone before I came about. This means I have no personal experience with any of this. Egan, his past (and present) situation(s), this society, his master, etc. are all “the other” to me.

Stiles is gay. I had originally written him as a womanizer, but every time I had Stiles flirting with a woman, something felt off to me. The interactions were false at face value. I didn’t even believe them. As an exercise, I wrote a test scene where Stiles had an intimate (not sex, just close) moment with another man. Someone who was once a lover, but now are just good friends that still deeply care for one another. The scene worked. It felt (to me) to be plausible… believable…. genuine. This convinced me that the character that leaped from my brain was not who I originally imagined. He told me he was gay. Who am I to argue? However, I’m not homosexual. This means I have a second main character of the series that is also “the other.” I’ve had a few gay/lesbian friends over the years, and they are the people I’m thinking of when I write Stiles. I’m not planning on using them as examples or character sketches, mind you. I’m going to be thinking, “Will they approve? Will they like this? Will they ‘buy’ this scene with Stiles?”

So there you go.

I’m writing “the other” on so many different levels with my next project that I’m actually scared shitless about doing it.

Will that stop me?

Hell, no!

I’m all in.

I’m going to do this.

I just hope I do it well enough to make an entertaining story without forcing my middle-aged-hetero-white-guy perspective and attitudes onto my decidedly different characters.

Wish me luck.


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