Exercise 1

Every culture has certain defaults, the “unmarked state,” groups of characteristics that are considered so normal by members of the dominant culture they do not have to be mentioned–except in their absence.

These unspoken defaults include things writers don’t describe about a character because “Everyone knows”.  For example, I generally don’t mention when someone is right-handed, but the left-handed or ambidextrous person is always called out. Characters are assumed to be able-bodied or members of the majority culture until the author inserts information to inform the reader otherwise.

Since this callout normally only occurs when a character is different from the unmarked state, it can have the unintended side-effect of these characters seem foreign or different, and end up promoting stereotypes, caricatures, and monochrome worlds.  Thus, by only describing the skin color of a character of color writers may inadvertently end up setting him/or her apart in the minds of readers as less than or second class.

Thanks to these defaults, we simply don’t spend a lot of time speaking or writing about these characteristics. This exercise allows us to both introduce ourselves, and begin to grow used to describe different characteristics. Introduce yourselves, make yourselves as three-dimensional as possible while concentrating on your different characteristics:

– Race
– Gender
– Sexual Orientation
– Ability
– Age
– Religion
– Ethnicity
– Social Class
– Location

You don’t need to use every attribute, but I want you to get used
to not taking shortcuts or leaving things to a standard default as we start future lessons when we begin crafting characters. Don’t forget to say a little bit about what you write and what you would like to accomplish from this workshop. Feel free to share a bit about your life away from the writing world, if you like!

BTW, only put down what you feel comfortable sharing. You are welcome  to just say Hi, or to remain a lurker, but you’ll get more out of things if we talk and share.

To help you, I will start.

I’m Barbara, a.k.a B. A. Binns, an African-American author who has been writing since 2008. I am a cisgendered female, and able-bodied, although my knees complain a lot about carrying the overweight body, so who knows how much longer I’ll be able to say that.

When I look in the mirror I see brown skin–darker in the summer, lighter under my clothes–and black hair peppered with gray, a sign that I really am old enough for Social Security and to not mind being a grandmother (at least not too much.) My lips are full and my nose spreads across my face, but, at least to me, fits in with the high cheekbones I inherited from a Cherokee ancestress.

I’ve been a Baptist and Catholic in my youth (there was a really good-looking Catholic priest when I was in college). Currently I am a Methodist who attends church regularly, so my characters, even my teen characters, do too. My ethnicity is 100% American and I’ve spent almost all my life in a small  American suburb although I have traveled to other various cities, states, and countries in the past. I began life  in the poorer class, but I now consider myself solidly middle class.

I am a member of RWA (Romance Writers Of America), SCBWI (Society of Children’ s Book Writers and Illustrators), The Chicago Writers Association, and the American Library Association (you see, I’m a joiner). I was a 2009 Golden Heart finalist for my adult mainstream novel, Damaged Goods, and my debut young adult novel Pull won the 2009 Golden Rose, the Finally a Bride contest, the 2010 National Readers Choice Award, and was named to the 2012 YALSA Quick Picks For Reluctant Young Adult Readers. In addition I have written a number of short stories published in small publications. I began life as a biochemist and then moved into computer science. When I decided to write I put those skills to work. Now, three novels later, I teach this class, plus a class on writing believable male characters, and a research for writer’s workshop. To top things off, I recently became a grandmother!!
Whew!!

Now it’s your turn.

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