Tade Thompson on the Depiction of Otherness in SFF

As a writer often hear about the dilemma of “Writing the Other” i.e. creating stories with characters whose racial heritage, sexual orientation, or religion are different from our own.

In “Emic, Etic, and the depiction of Otherness in SFF” Tade Thompson asks how should we interrogate our text for “otherness” , on how we can fairly represent something which is not our own. He speaks of how we can write sensitively and convincingly about people of diverse backgrounds/cultures without causing offence, or promoting negative stereotypes — as well as the limits of what we can actually do when writing about this difficult (but important) subject.

“No fictional portrayal of any community is ever going to be accurate, including those by members of said community. The best we can hope for is some degree of concordance with lived experience. For example, the stereotype of the obedient Asian wife will have poor concordance while a more nuanced, complex character will have higher concordance. This has to do with the complexity of real life. One thing that becomes obvious from reading anthropology and history is the inability of anyone to capture the entire essence of a culture in words or images. We can try, but it is impossible, and not just to the observer from without. Outsiders cannot see everything and have biases; insiders cannot see everything and have biases.”