Research and Sensitivity Reader

(Did you play the game yet? Let’s Play a Game! Win a free ecopy.)

Alright, if you read my research post, I suggested to research in short bursts and figure out all the proper nouns, etc.

That’s basics. That’s for stuff like can I use watermelon in my 1600s historical fiction? It may not exist yet. (Yes. Watermelon was a West African plant that spread all over Africa, Asia, and Europe before 1000AD.)

That level of research won’t work for big stuff. Like culture. Like countries. Like people.

Those big things aren’t something you can easily research. And if you haven’t spent seriously time within the culture or studying the culture, it’s highly likely you will screw it up.

I mean VERY LIKELY. You are probably going to offer an injustice to whichever culture you are trying to use.

Culture cannot be learned in fifteen minute blocks. It can be learned with years of study or living within it. This isn’t something you can one off and be fine. You seriously have to know something.

That’s where sensitivity readers come in. (I mentioned sensitivity readers in Readers post earlier this year.)

You are asking someone of that culture, country, people, position, situation, etc, “Is this alright?”

One person may not get you the answer you want. You may need a few people to get a better judge of if your words are harmful to an entire group of people.

This isn’t just messing with historians. These are living breathing people you could be hurting or misrepresenting.

If you didn’t succeed at this, it requires a rewrite. The characters may need to be expanded on or changed from one nationality to another. You may need to rework a scene or part of someone’s background. Or you may need to rewrite a setting or time period.

If you can’t fully research the topic in a few minutes, chances are it requires a sensitivity reader.


This is top tier importance level.

No one deserves to be misrepresented in a story. If you treated each character with care, it’s probably fine. If you gave the setting the full perspective, it’s probably fine. If you weighed possible negative reactions to a culture’s representation, it’s probably fine.

Do not assume, though. Ask something from that culture to read it. You cannot decide if this matches well enough or not. They do.

(Did you play the game yet? Let’s Play a Game! Win a free ecopy.)

[Writer’s Stuff] [About Cat Hartliebe]

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