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Writer’s Craft #53 – The Inside Job

January 2, 2012

Lillian Cohen-Moore

Lillian Cohen-Moore is a multiracial Jewish writer and journalist based out of Seattle, Washington. Her speculative fiction has been published by 365 tomorrows, Timid Pirate Publishing, The Edge of Propinquity, White Cat Magazine and The Irish Times. She currently writes for Another Passion, a Seattle publication for creative professionals. When she isn’t compulsively interviewing people, she acts as the Editor-in-Chief of The Broadsheet, for Broad Universe. She thinks Lois Lane is cooler than Superman. She blogs at www.lilliancohenmoore.com.


Writing fiction that draws on your cultural or racial background is a little like a planning a heist. You’re perfect for it, because it’s an inside job. Here are some tricks I have picked up working as a journalist and researcher.

  • Use other eyes because yours alone won’t work. Every writer knows about proof reading and editing, but writing this kind of fiction needs a read for accessibility. Can people outside your culture understand it?
  • Act as an informant because you’re the person on the inside for your audience. You know your fictional world, but you’re also acting as their informant on your culture.
  • Your audience is smarter than you think so don’t over explain. If you stop every page to unpack history or diagramming jokes, you’re wasting your time and the reader’s. This is fiction, not ethnography. At the same time, some of the words you use need to be in a language they can understand.
  • Ask questions of yourself and the text. Why are you writing this story? Why does it matter? What about it is something people on the outside can connect with? Why this story now? A clear idea of where your story comes from saves you headaches later.

Share your thoughts on writing about your own culture.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2012 8:17 pm

    As a nerd, I am tempted to write about my culture and set a story at an SF convention, but I think it’s been done enough times.

  2. January 2, 2012 9:58 pm

    Ah, that’s like the writer writing about writing, isn’t it. There’s some Dr. Who writers who get away with it, I think.

  3. January 5, 2012 12:23 pm

    As a Catholic, I sometimes want to include something of that background in my writing, but it’s difficult to do without sounding unintentionally preachy.

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