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kuwisdelu
05-27-2013, 11:04 PM
I think this may be a uniquely Native American issue, but I'd love to be wrong, and I want to hear if other PoC writers face similar issues and how they handle it.

How do you write about things you can't write about? Are there aspects of your culture that are "taboo" to write about? Are there aspects of your culture that you feel you shouldn't write about? Are there aspects of your culture it would be disrespectful to write about? How do you reconcile these issues and feelings in your writing?

I was just thinking about the next couple of chapters in my work-in-progress, and realized I'd plotted a scene that I couldn't in any kind of good faith actually write. I'm writing a coming-of-age novel about a half-Zuni Indian like me, who grew up away from the reservation. When he's 12, I have him participating in an initiation ceremony that I can't actually write, because what happens is a part of our religion that's a secret. (The ceremony itself is a rite-of-passage that initiates you into those secrets.) I mean this to be an important moment for character development, but there's no way I can actually write the scene, or even summarize it.

What I'm left with is that I'll probably do a "fade-to-black" at some point, and write some sort of dream sequence that represents what happens metaphorically. (The novel is magic realism, so a purely metaphorical surrealistic sequence isn't very out-of-place I have quite a few, actually.)

Do you ever encounter a difficulty like this when writing about PoC experiences? What I think is so uniquely weird about it is that it's impossible to be 100% faithful and true to the experience, without also being disrespectful to it. Usually we want to write PoC experiences realistically in order to be respectful, and here I find it impossible to do so. Just one more part of the struggle of being a PoC writer...

So how would you write about things you can't write about? Have you had to? How did you do it?

RichardGarfinkle
05-28-2013, 02:10 AM
Kuwi,
It's not quite a uniquely Native American issue, but that's not the part of the problem I'd like to address. There is a writing solution to your problem which applies regardless of the source of the taboo.
One question, does your story have a narrator? If it is being told to a presumptive non-Zuni audience then your narrator can express the same concerns you have and not speak about the ceremony because it's taboo.
Done properly this can strengthen the sense and importance of the ceremony.
You can also show the effects of the ceremony by changes in how the character thinks, acts, and is treated. Secret events can be shown by their consequences without ever showing them or talking about them directly.

Cyia
05-28-2013, 02:14 AM
So how would you write about things you can't write about? Have you had to? How did you do it?


Would it be a different process than any other "Fade to Black" moment? There are subjects many writers don't feel comfortable sharing, either because of the nature of the incident or their own experiences. Sometimes, all you need is an appropriate lead-in with a suitably affected outcome. The reader can infer the important parts of what exists within the fade.

Write your rite up to the furthest possible point that you're allowed to speak of, with a heavy focus on how the initiate feels and what he's gone through to get to that point, like he's walking toward a precipice about to look down before a jump. Then pick it up at the point you're allowed to share, again. He's now at the bottom of the precipice. No one needs to see the jump to know he's done something that's changed him, because he'll now react as someone who's faced that moment.

kuwisdelu
05-28-2013, 02:24 AM
It's not quite a uniquely Native American issue, but that's not the part of the problem I'd like to address. There is a writing solution to your problem which applies regardless of the source of the taboo.
One question, does your story have a narrator? If it is being told to a presumptive non-Zuni audience then your narrator can express the same concerns you have and not speak about the ceremony because it's taboo.
Done properly this can strengthen the sense and importance of the ceremony.
You can also show the effects of the ceremony by changes in how the character thinks, acts, and is treated. Secret events can be shown by their consequences without ever showing them or talking about them directly.

Thanks. I'm really less concerned about my own handling of it than I am interested in hearing about how other authors have faced similar issues.


Would it be a different process than any other "Fade to Black" moment? There are subjects many writers don't feel comfortable sharing, either because of the nature of the incident or their own experiences. Sometimes, all you need is an appropriate lead-in with a suitably affected outcome. The reader can infer the important parts of what exists within the fade.

It's really weird for me because I generally never do fade-to-black. There's pretty much no subject about which I'm uncomfortable writing.

Rather than an ordinary fade-to-black moment, it feels a lot to me like writing an erotica novel, and then leaving out the sex scenes.


Write your rite up to the furthest possible point that you're allowed to speak of, with a heavy focus on how the initiate feels and what he's gone through to get to that point, like he's walking toward a precipice about to look down before a jump. Then pick it up at the point you're allowed to share, again. He's now at the bottom of the precipice. No one needs to see the jump to know he's done something that's changed him, because he'll now react as someone who's faced that moment.

Well part of the difficult I have with doing that is in some ways the outcome is meant to be kind of anti-climactic. Nothing really changes. And that's part of the point.

RichardGarfinkle
05-28-2013, 02:30 AM
Thanks. I'm really less concerned about my own handling of it than I am interested in hearing about how other authors have faced similar issues.

Sorry, that's what I more or less was doing. While I haven't dealt with personal taboos, I've had characters telling first person stories wherein they explain that they won't talk about certain ceremonies they've been through. My point was that the personal problem can be separated from the writing problem, the latter being solvable.

kuwisdelu
05-28-2013, 02:34 AM
Sorry, that's what I more or less was doing. While I haven't dealt with personal taboos, I've had characters telling first person stories wherein they explain that they won't talk about certain ceremonies they've been through. My point was that the personal problem can be separated from the writing problem, the latter being solvable.

The personal part is what I'm interested in. It makes me wonder whether it's even possible to write fiction that is 100% faithful to a certain experience when writing about certain parts of that experience is off-limits.

Cyia
05-28-2013, 02:59 AM
Well part of the difficult I have with doing that is in some ways the outcome is meant to be kind of anti-climactic. Nothing really changes. And that's part of the point.


Is the initiate aware of this before the rite? Is it possible that he's surprised by how much hasn't changed? If so, you could focus on that.

kuwisdelu
05-28-2013, 03:05 AM
Is the initiate aware of this before the rite? Is it possible that he's surprised by how much hasn't changed? If so, you could focus on that.

He's basically doing it because it's expected of him. He's just going through the motions.

And no need to call him an initiate. He's just a confused boy.

RichardGarfinkle
05-28-2013, 03:14 AM
The personal part is what I'm interested in. It makes me wonder whether it's even possible to write fiction that is 100% faithful to a certain experience when writing about certain parts of that experience is off-limits.

Do you think the difficulties in writing about indescribable events and their consequences are comparable or is the taboo difficulty (rather than the can't talk about it difficulty) what you're trying to get at?

kuwisdelu
05-28-2013, 03:24 AM
Do you think the difficulties in writing about indescribable events and their consequences are comparable or is the taboo difficulty (rather than the can't talk about it difficulty) what you're trying to get at?

I'm interested in particular about the cultural aspect and communicating across cultures.

In my example, this is something I'd be comfortable writing about personally, but I don't want to do it because I would be betraying my culture and disrespecting their traditions.

The difficulty arises because I'm both an outsider and an insider.

dolores haze
05-28-2013, 03:53 AM
Have you read Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog? She went into some details about secretive ceremonies, even including photos. This pissed off quite a few people, or so I heard.

Regarding your particular challenge, possibly you could start the story right after the initiation ceremony, thereby being able to write about the aftermath without giving details of the ceremony itself.

kuwisdelu
05-28-2013, 04:29 AM
Have you read Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog? She went into some details about secretive ceremonies, even including photos. This pissed off quite a few people, or so I heard.

Hadn't heard of it. I'd be pissed, too, and that's exactly what I don't want to do.


Regarding your particular challenge, possibly you could start the story right after the initiation ceremony, thereby being able to write about the aftermath without giving details of the ceremony itself.

No, it's important that it occurs at this particular point in the plot. It's where it makes the most sense dramatically and thematically.

(But seriously, I didn't mean for this thread to be about helping me with my own writing dilemma.)

Lyra Jean
05-28-2013, 04:47 AM
Maybe treat it a bit like erotica. So let me explain.

Erotica has sex yes. But it doesn't really focus on the whole tab A goes into slot B. Instead it focuses on how the characters feel during the act.

So maybe describe it like that. Focus on the characters feelings. Like I don't know how he's expecting this change to come over him but then he doesn't feel it happen. Or maybe compare it to something that you are allowed to talk about. But I don't know if that would put it in a negative light.

Or like in Africa there are cultures where boys have to go through an initiation in order to be considered an adult. If they don't go through it no matter what their physical age is they are still considered boys not men. They can't marry and have children or do other "adult" whatever that is in their culture until they go through this initiation.

So that is my two cents. I hope nothing I said was offensive. I'm always worried about doing that because I am white.

Cranky1
05-28-2013, 04:49 AM
Maybe treat it a bit like erotica. So let me explain.

Erotica has sex yes. But it doesn't really focus on the whole tab A goes into slot B. Instead it focuses on how the characters feel during the act.

So maybe describe it like that. Focus on the characters feelings. Like I don't know how he's expecting this change to come over him but then he doesn't feel it happen. Or maybe compare it to something that you are allowed to talk about. But I don't know if that would put it in a negative light.

Or like in Africa there are cultures where boys have to go through an initiation in order to be considered an adult. If they don't go through it no matter what their physical age is they are still considered boys not men. They can't marry and have children or do other "adult" whatever that is in their culture until they go through this initiation.

So that is my two cents. I hope nothing I said was offensive. I'm always worried about doing that because I am white.

That was my two bits but it was ignored so I deleted it. But, I agree with you. Focus on the feelings.

crunchyblanket
06-02-2013, 01:59 PM
How do you write about things you can't write about? Are there aspects of your culture that are "taboo" to write about? Are there aspects of your culture that you feel you shouldn't write about? Are there aspects of your culture it would be disrespectful to write about? How do you reconcile these issues and feelings in your writing?



This is part of the reason I don't feel able to write anything about or from a Roma POV. There are certain aspects of the culture that are considered off-limits to gadji (and that even I, as a half-Roma, shouldn't really know about.) There's also a certain conflict in me when it comes to representing some aspects of Roma culture I am less fond of - while I strive to be truthful and honest, I'm reluctant to give the non-Roma audience fodder for their already substantial antiziganist fire.

So yes. I understand the problem, and I've never really found a satisfactory solution outside of avoiding the subject altogether.

Kitty27
06-09-2013, 12:07 AM
I can relate.

There is a saying in the Black community known as "family business" aka certain things are not to be spoken of,written about or discussed with non Black folks. Ever.

This cultural enforcement is very strong.

For instance,hair. When Chris Rock made that documentary,he earned a place on The BC Ish List for a long time. That was family business. I know of all the issues Black women have with our hair,but I have a headful of hair down my back,the socalled "good" hair. If I decided to write about these issues,here go hell come for me. Now I am also Black! But because of my hair's condition, I can't speak on growth issues,texture and whatnot. They'd tell me right quick to STFU!

So, I don't write about this issue whatsoever.