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Will this get me into trouble?

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Laneer

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I agree with this. If the story needs to contain a rigid class system of some kind, maybe make it about something like tail length or shape, or about teeth, or noses, or maybe just make it be about some groups having more control over resources, and a class structure evolving socially from this (like in medieval Europe, the nobles owned land and the serfs were the means of production on said land, and social status was largely hereditary).

I see your point. That's definitely something to think about.

Maybe stripes? Or pointed ears? Maybe I could just do it by tribe. They don't like tribe X because of reasons.

And I could drop it down to just one group that suffers discrimination.

Removing color from the equation is the way to go.
 
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Brightdreamer

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I see your point. That's definitely something to think about.

Maybe stripes? Or pointed ears? Maybe I could just do it by tribe. They don't like tribe X because of reasons.

And I could drop it down to just one group that suffers discrimination.

Removing color from the equation is the way to go.

Beware of oversimplifying, here. Your idea of tribalism might be a better solution (especially if the side being picked on changes depending on who is dominant; A villages treat B like dirt, and B villages treat A like dirt, rather than a blanket simplistic "A is always treated better than B"), though you'll likely want to come up with the roots of the rivalry for your own knowledge and consistency, even if you never spell it out in the story. (Generations of back-and-forth territorial fighting, maybe, or religious/ideological clashes, or an old grievance that has been blown way out of proportion after decades or centuries of distortion on both sides...)
 

frimble3

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If you want his people to be nomadic raiders, there's your enmity right there: they're a pack of rootless thieves, shifty as the wind, no possessions but their loot-bags.
They consider her people to be like fruit, stuck in their places on the Tree, to be tasty prizes for bold fellows like themselves. Why do their burden their lives with so much stuff?

It's one of the classic conflicts of human history. And, the good-looking pirate and the beautiful town-girl? Another classic. Robin and Marian.
 

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I think what one has to do is be receptive to responses. That is, actually listen and consider them, rather than immediately dismissing them as the result people taking offence for no reason. Also many of the things that are now regarded as improper were also improper a couple of decades ago, but the ''so many different groups' now have a stronger voice.

I wish it was that simple to avoid causing offense.
 

lizmonster

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I wish it was that simple to avoid causing offense.

You will always offend someone. The goal, I think, is to avoid doing it unintentionally, and as we're all living in a biased world, it helps to work on our own biases and blind spots. Sometimes feedback from others can help with that, although certainly not always. It's worth remembering, though, that your lack of intent doesn't invalidate someone else's offense.

We are all works in progress.
 

mccardey

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I wish it was that simple to avoid causing offense.
I think it is that simple, for the most part. Listening before talking, asking before stating will take you a long way towards not causing offence unintentionally. * Intentionally*causing offence is a different thing entirely ;)
 

lizmonster

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I think it is that simple, for the most part. Listening before talking, asking before stating will take you a long way towards not causing offence unintentionally. * Intentionally*causing offence is a different thing entirely ;)

Yes. I have a pretty clear idea of the sorts of people my work offends. I am comfortable with the consequences of that.

If I'm writing something I don't want to be offensive, though - I want to know if it is, preferably before it gets published. Which is why it's good that the OP is asking questions now - it allows for all sorts of thoughtfulness to be woven into the story.
 

SAWeiner

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I think it is that simple, for the most part.

I think we're just going to disagree.

Yes, there is a lot one can indeed do to avoid offense. However, there are just so many different groups out there. For instance, my sister-in-law is directing a musical romance. She had to change some lines in a song because asexuals found them inappropriate--by implying that everyone has sexual desire.

Additionally, just because no one is criticizing your work now doesn't mean people in the future won't be offended. Look at the tremendous change in social mores over the last several decades. There are a good number of movies and shows considered classics, but now also considered offensive. Gone With The Wind (1939), Four Feathers (1939), Showboat (1927), and the blackface scene for Lincoln's Birthday in Holiday Inn (1942) are examples that stand out in my mind. What's taken for granted today could be considered absolutely outrageous in 70 years!
 
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lizmonster

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Yes, there is a lot one can indeed do to avoid offense. However, there are just so many different groups out there.

There are, it's true. Humanity is beautifully diverse. As it happens, it always has been. I'm quite glad that's being more and more expressed in mainstream culture, but that's me.

For instance, my sister-in-law is directing a musical romance. She had to change some lines in a song because asexuals found them inappropriate--by implying that everyone has sexual desire.

Good for her for making the change. Curious what you think her alternative was.

Additionally, just because no one is criticizing your work now doesn't mean people in the future won't be offended.

Son, there are things I wrote in 2016 that I'd write differently if I wrote them now.

The point is not "avoid offense at all costs." The point is "do what you are doing as deliberately as you can."

The OP asked a question because they had an inkling there might be issues, and the feedback suggests there may indeed be issues. OP's authorial instincts were correct on that point. OP can do whatever they choose with the feedback they've received, and will receive in the future, but they'll be doing it with full awareness of how their work might be read.
 

mccardey

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I think we're just going to disagree.

Yes, there is a lot one can indeed do to avoid offense. However, there are just so many different groups out there. For instance, my sister-in-law is directing a musical romance. She had to change some lines in a song because asexuals found them inappropriate--by implying that everyone has sexual desire.

Additionally, just because no one is criticizing your work now doesn't mean people in the future won't be offended. Look at the tremendous change in social mores over the last several decades. There are a good number of movies and shows considered classics, but now also considered offensive. Gone With The Wind (1939), Four Feathers (1939), Showboat (1927), and the blackface scene for Lincoln's Birthday in Holiday Inn (1942) are examples that stand out in my mind. What's taken for granted today could be considered absolutely outrageous in 70 years!
I don’t want to be the one to break it to you, but there have always been lots of groups out there - and if you think not causing offence is new, you just haven’t been paying attention. The only difference today is that some people are being asked to relinquish a little bit of privilege about being the *only* arbiters of what is offensive. Apparently having feelings is not the sole province of cishet white people. Who knew?
 

Helix

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I think we're just going to disagree.

Yes, there is a lot one can indeed do to avoid offense.

Yep. Do it.

However, there are just so many different groups out there.

There are. Humanity is not a bland monoculture made in one very dull image, although one might think it is, given the focus of Anglophone art over the past centuries.

For instance, my sister-in-law is directing a musical romance. She had to change some lines in a song because asexuals found them inappropriate--by implying that everyone has sexual desire.

Good on her! She made a small change to be more inclusive, and, in doing so, increased the audience for the work.

Additionally, just because no one is criticizing your work now doesn't mean people in the future won't be offended. Look at the tremendous change in social mores over the last several decades. There are a good number of movies and shows considered classics, but now also considered offensive. Gone With The Wind (1939), Four Feathers (1939), Showboat (1927), and the blackface scene for Lincoln's Birthday in Holiday Inn (1942) are examples that stand out in my mind. What's taken for granted today could be considered absolutely outrageous in 70 years!

I'm not sure that worrying about attitudes in 70 years' time is worth the effort. Considering other people right now is the important bit.
 

Roxxsmom

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I think the claims that people have to change things that might be offensive to marginalized groups are greatly overstated. It's really, really rare for anyone to be forced to do something a particular way, and when they are, it's nearly always imposed within a private organization or forum that has its own in-house rules for interaction.

It is true that people are sometimes criticized for making certain artistic choices or for saying certain things. No one was ever promised a life free from criticism in the US nor in other free-speech countries. And sometimes concerns over what the target audience will like can nudge editors to pass on something or to encourage a writer to change something.

Readers are under no obligation to stay silent about something they think was poorly done or downright horrifying, and a publisher is under no obligation to bring any work to press, though we are free to decry some choices as cowardly or overly mercenary.

As for classic works being deemed problematic in later times, that's always been a thing, and it likely will be as long as writers are products of their times and the arc of history is swinging towards greater social inclusion and equality. There's nothing wrong with still enjoying the good things about these works while acknowledging the painful parts. There's also nothing wrong with some people saying, "I just can't get past the racism/sexism/homophobia in this work, because it's still too raw a wound to rub salt in."
 
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SAWeiner

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I don’t want to be the one to break it to you, but there have always been lots of groups out there - and if you think not causing offence is new, you just haven’t been paying attention. The only difference today is that some people are being asked to relinquish a little bit of privilege about being the *only* arbiters of what is offensive. Apparently having feelings is not the sole province of cishet white people. Who knew?

So, how do you know you aren't being inadvertently offensive to Uzbeks, Lapps and/or Igbos? Again, avoiding offense to everyone can be tricky sometimes.

As Roxxsmom noted, fortunately serious situations don't arise too often. However, when they do, it can really be a mess for the people associated with the project.
 
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lizmonster

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So, how do you know you aren't being inadvertently offensive to Uzbeks, Lapps and/or Igbos? Again, avoiding offense to everyone can be tricky sometimes.

I'm not really sure where you're going with this. I sense some goalpost-shifting.

Your sister-in-law was approached by actual people and made a change. This seems to have been presented as somehow objectionable, although perhaps I misread.

There's also a big difference between, for example, a book where Uzbekis (or a thinly-veiled stand-in) are portrayed as Big Meanies because they're Uzbekis, and a book with no Uzbekis in it that disparages something the author didn't know was meaningful to Uzbekis.

It is simple to try not to be a jerk. That there will be times when we step in it inadvertently is inevitable, but that's no reason not to give it our best shot.
 

SAWeiner

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I'm not really sure where you're going with this....

It is simple to try not to be a jerk. That there will be times when we step in it inadvertently is inevitable, but that's no reason not to give it our best shot.

I do agree one should do what they can to not be a jerk. It just is for me that I am a bit apprehensive. I am not naturally tactful and already I can't get a foot in the door with my novel. I'm extremely nervous about other potentialities that can derail my career hopes.
 
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lizmonster

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I do agree one should do what they can to not be a jerk. It just is for me that I am a bit apprehensive. I am not naturally tactful and already I can't get a foot in the door with my novel. I'm just nervous about other potentialities that can derail my career hopes.

On the list of things that can derail your career hopes, this one is only going to be high on the list if you're determined to be a jerk. Write without stereotyping (as much as you're able), get as wide a variety of betas as you can, and listen carefully if people raise objections. Avoiding stereotyping isn't about being tactful, it's about honestly observing the world, and it can absolutely be learned.
 

mccardey

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So, how do you know you aren't being inadvertently offensive to Uzbeks, Lapps and/or Igbos? Again, avoiding offense to everyone can be tricky sometimes.

As Roxxsmom noted, fortunately serious situations don't arise too often. However, when they do, it can really be a mess for the people associated with the project.
Well, I hope that if I am, they will out me on it. But I’m not sure why you’ve singled those groups out - in my experience the hurt little faces usually belong to middle-class white men who live much closer to my own playground...
 
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Talking about developing non-human civilisations living in trees - take a look at Children of Time by Adrian Tchikovsky. (but if you're particularly arachnophobic maybe not)

I felt the whole spider culture and civilisation was extremely well developed and fascinating and I surprised myself by how much I would up rooting for those eight legged beasties!
 

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As for classic works being deemed problematic in later times, that's always been a thing, and it likely will be as long as writers are products of their times and the arc of history is swinging towards greater social inclusion and equality. There's nothing wrong with still enjoying the good things about these works while acknowledging the painful parts. There's also nothing wrong with some people saying, "I just can't get past the racism/sexism/homophobia in this work, because it's still too raw a wound to rub salt in."

Yep. When I teach I point out that Chaucer or Shakespeare or Twain (among others) are being racist, antisemitic, or bigots or antifeminist and we talk about why, and how that changes the way the story works, and how it would have been perceived then (and yes, antisemitism was known in the middle ages as Not Ok, and so was bigotry and antifeminism; these are not new concepts) and how it affects our reading and understanding now.
 

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