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I'd appreciate if anyone can help let me know if my story is offensive

Toby Frost

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I do have a few thoughts on that story and the policing of YA, but they're not related to this topic - or social justice issues at all - so I'll leave it there.
 

Joshua Jones

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I think I am with you there, @Toby Frost. But, this is also an interesting statement on how readers identify with characters' experiences, even if they are not exactly synonymous. What I mean is, it sounds like she was depicting slavery and indenterment from an Asian perspective, but when read from an American perspective, it was (mis)interpreted as racist. Of course, I haven't read this work, so for all I know, she wrote of an African stand-in race who gleefully skipped through their slavery and had minimal cognitive ability to feel pain or achieve something higher, but it sounds like what she did was relatively benign until brought over to an alien context. That is a bit concerning, but also speaks clearly to the realities of reader identification with the characters.
 

SilentRoamer

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Personally, I would fictionalize the ethnicity of the characters and write it in a fantasy world. You might still get people complaining like in the NYT article BlueStocking linked but I would probably just ignore them as marginal - after all you want to sell books I imagine.

If you are writing about ACTUAL Chinese and Japanese people then I think it is on you to research and be as authentic as possible, that being said if you are writing for a western audience how much of the nuance and cultural understanding is going to make it through?

I guess for me would be research workload vs authenticity and finding the balance between the two.

I would probably avoid all of the pitfalls and just create analagous cultures - you can still end up with a rich and varied world of peoples and cultures such as Robert Jordans Wheel of Time series without worrying too much about offending people. Although I imagine it wont be long before authors are accused of cultural appropriation if they write cultures outside of their own - I hope not.

There has been some really good advice and a lot of research material in this thread so I think it's probably on you now, the last thing I would say is:

STOP WORRYING AND START WRITING!
 

Brian G Turner

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It takes place in the future afterall and the story is still about this ultimate tournament with the most baddest and most badass star-fighters, monsters, golems, robots, cyborgs, sorcerers, wizards, cybercops, super soldiers, witches, werewolves, zombies etc.
At the end of the day, if this is a first writing project, just write it - chances are a lot will change during that anyway. :)
 

Bee22

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@Joshua Jones I completely agree with you man, I will do my best to do my homework!

@SilentRoamer since this is mostly geared towards a western audience (though I would love it to reach audiences worldwide) I see what you are saying, it might be too much of a risk to even take considering even if I've done my homework and get as authentic as possible, there's a good chance half the western audience wouldn't have a clue what the meanings or mythological references are being based upon.It's a very touchy subject and I wont be able to please everyone, going with a completely fictional race and nationalities could work and I know it's been done before, I'm still not certain I want to head that way. I'll have to see how my wriings go.

@The Bluestocking thank you so much for those references! I really appreciate your help and I can see what you mean by the YA author. It can get very controversial fast if not done properly I can't speak for her since I did not read her books and don't know how sensitive the community was of her work, but I can see the things she may have written that could of been of her lack of knowledge and I don't want to make that same mistake. The books, genres and mythology references you showed will help me greatly!
I just recently started learning more about some gods and goddesses in Chinese mythology I never heard of and Erlang Shen with his companion dog seems to interest me more now than Monkey King. I might even base the character on him as my protagonist. Of course I will do all the studying I can. I really want to get more into Chinese culture and I think just my interest for wanting to write my stories based off of it and it's mythological characters will get me more into it!

You can always throw me more references, the more knowledge I gain the more my story will tell itself to me and the more it will add to my studies. Unfortunately I only have those to talk with on the internet of Chinese background. Hopefully I will meet more people of Chinese heritage near me, I may have to do some traveling myself. Thanks Bluestockings! :)
 

The Bluestocking

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thank you so much for those references! I really appreciate your help and I can see what you mean by the YA author. It can get very controversial fast if not done properly I can't speak for her since I did not read her books and don't know how sensitive the community was of her work, but I can see the things she may have written that could of been of her lack of knowledge and I don't want to make that same mistake.
It was NOT her lack of knowledge but that the audience was looking at her work through the American perspective on slavery which doesn't seem to take into account that slavery isn't exclusively American. But I'm not going to get into that discussion now.

The books, genres and mythology references you showed will help me greatly!
You're welcome! (Though I am still reading the future tense here - aka you haven't started yet - instead of the present tense - aka you've already started with the reading)

You can always throw me more references, the more knowledge I gain the more my story will tell itself to me and the more it will add to my studies.
To manage expectations:

I help when I can but I have my own pile of work to do for my WIPs and trying to get published in between an already insanely busy life running a non-profit in the day and teaching in the evenings. And I have my own writing group members to support through their WIPs as well as other writer friends who need me to help with beta reading etc.

My advice is to do the primary research yourself and only ask me or anyone else you need to ask about it when you get stuck. Don't rely on us as an automatic fount of information on Chinese (or Japanese) culture for your book. Get digging, get reading, get listening, get travelling.

Just remember not to rush it - you've picked some very old and complex cultures to base your novel on. Listen to @Phyrebrat about taking your time with research and learning the writing craft. If you're not the "hiding in the shed to write" type, maybe find a writing group in your area to join.

And most of all - as everyone in this thread has been saying: finish your first draft and when you have the words on the page, that we can provide some concrete help.
 
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The Bluestocking

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Since this is mostly geared towards a western audience (though I would love it to reach audiences worldwide) I see what you are saying, it might be too much of a risk to even take considering even if I've done my homework and get as authentic as possible, there's a good chance half the western audience wouldn't have a clue what the meanings or mythological references are being based upon.
Um... publishers aren't going to market the book just to Western audiences, y'know. SFF is predominantly in English and books are marketed worldwide, and if successful, some are even translated into other languages.

And then there's the internet and Book Depository sending books to readers worldwide, even to countries where Amazon doesn't reach.

Never assume that your book might not reach the very people whose cultures you are mining for your stories.
 

SilentRoamer

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Never assume that your book might not reach the very people whose cultures you are mining for your stories.
That's a good point and something I hadn't really considered in such a direct way.

I would want to be as authentic as possible if I were using real world cultures/peoples both out of decency to those people and for quality of the work - even if I hadn't before considered the writing reaching those people, I would probably use some sort of fictional analogies if doing something outside of my cultural norm.
 

Toby Frost

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Random thought: this sounds a lot like Mortal Kombat and games of that sort. If you're coming from this from that angle, why not make the tournament a literal computer game? Perhaps players fight virtually: controlling robot fighters, or just using their minds to move the fighters in a shared online world. You could still have all the back-stage intrigue and the fighting, but you wouldn't need to know half as much about the societies the fighters come from and the fighting techniques they're using (especially if they're controlling things like dinosaurs and tigers as well as conventional martial artists). It could be like a cross between Rocky and Ready Player One.
 

The Bluestocking

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Random thought: this sounds a lot like Mortal Kombat and games of that sort. If you're coming from this from that angle, why not make the tournament a literal computer game? Perhaps players fight virtually: controlling robot fighters, or just using their minds to move the fighters in a shared online world. You could still have all the back-stage intrigue and the fighting, but you wouldn't need to know half as much about the societies the fighters come from and the fighting techniques they're using (especially if they're controlling things like dinosaurs and tigers as well as conventional martial artists). It could be like a cross between Rocky and Ready Player One.
I'd read that, actually.
 

Bee22

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Random thought: this sounds a lot like Mortal Kombat and games of that sort. If you're coming from this from that angle, why not make the tournament a literal computer game? Perhaps players fight virtually: controlling robot fighters, or just using their minds to move the fighters in a shared online world. You could still have all the back-stage intrigue and the fighting, but you wouldn't need to know half as much about the societies the fighters come from and the fighting techniques they're using (especially if they're controlling things like dinosaurs and tigers as well as conventional martial artists). It could be like a cross between Rocky and Ready Player One.
I like this too and it kind of fits the type of ideas I had for my story! Maybe if i work on something similar to this concept it would become less worries in dealing with offensiveness?

Read these to see how not to do it o_O
Chung Kuo (novel series) - Wikipedia
I'm gonna check it out, I'll be doing as much research as I can! Thanks!

@Bee22 This might be useful - she touches on writing diverse characters:

Thank you @The Bluestocking you are very helpful!

Btw, just out of curiosity do you play Mortal Kombat!? If so who's your favorite character?
 

Phyrebrat

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The Writing Excuses podcast is hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Taylor.

They've done quite a few episodes on diversity and in particular how to be more aware in writing such. At 15-20 mins long, they're easy to listen to, and well-produced*, and have great guests from minority backgrounds, as well as experts from NASA etc.

I'd say it's almost compulsory listening for writers.

pH

*I do find Mary Robinette at times insufferable as she tends to contextualise everything from her own work, often sounding like a lunatic when comparing writing to puppetry (I get the similarities, but she's far too fond of going there), but I just shout at my Bluetooth speaker when she goes off on a look-at-me ramble. I should also say, she has great insights, too!
 

EJDeBrun

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As another ethnically Chinese person whose family fled China during the revolution and still live in Taiwan, who also speaks Japanese and worked with Japanese companies and CEO's, I'm going to point out some issues I see that have nothing to do with being offensive or inoffensive (or maybe they are, everyone else can be the judge) because for me, I find the whole premise unbelievable UNLESS these families are several generations away from their home countries. (and this isn't even talking about how to deal with god and religion because again, those are VERY different depending on which religion you're talking about. Buddhism is different depending on if you're in China or Japan, Shinto-ism is only in Japan. There's just so much)

China, Japan and Korea have been fighting wars with each other for several thousand years. Hell, my grandparents lectured me just for studying Japanese, forget dating one. Not only that, Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, it's all the same) families in positions of power are as protective of power and pedigree as any blue-blooded noble. I mean, look at Crazy Rich Asians. The issue with the main protagonist isn't even that she's not ethnically Chinese. It's that she's not the RIGHT KIND of Chinese.

Considering all that, it would be very difficult for me to imagine that any high powered Chinese or Japanese clan would allow either of their scions to marry someone not from their own social circle, forget their own country. And how would these people meet in the first place? I suppose, if they're rich enough, they could meet in a high powered foreign university, but I can tell you that their families would be extremely against their relationship. They might even disown their children and at any point, even if they survived the battles, their children would be considered second class citizens within the families. (I have experienced this as a child of a father who was considered "beneath" my mother's pedigree. And we are NOT crazy RICH Asians. Just crazy)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, it's POSSIBLE your scenario MIGHT work, and as a reader, I wouldn't be offended by the material, but unless it was handled really well, I would probably struggle to believe it based on my own experiences and that would definitely make me put the book down.

So I suppose the moral of the story here is what everyone else has been saying: do your research and reassess your premise based on what you find. Ask yourself what changes you can make to minimize the pitfalls while maximizing your point because there are probably a lot of simple things you can change to skirt a lot of the big issues and still reach your goal.

To help with that I recommend reading Liza Dalby's work. She was a practicing geiko (geisha) in Japan and her Tales of Murasaki has some really relevant material about Heien Era Chinese-Japanese politics, which would only be the tip of the iceberg if this is the direction you want to go in. She also demonstrates how a Westerner can really get Asian cultures right.

Another good one is reading Mineko Iwasaki's memoir. She's someone who came from an old Japanese noble's family before she became a geiko and she is also very honest about the prejudices she grew up with, not just against foreigners, but also within Japanese cultural groups. It's also a useful read because her own prejudices are wildly on display.
 
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The Bluestocking

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Not only that, Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, it's all the same) families in positions of power are as protective of power and pedigree as any blue-blooded noble. I mean, look at Crazy Rich Asians. The issue with the main protagonist isn't even that she's not ethnically Chinese. It's that she's not the RIGHT KIND of Chinese.

Considering all that, it would be very difficult for me to imagine that any high powered Chinese or Japanese clan would allow either of their scions to marry someone not from their own social circle, forget their own country. And how would these people meet in the first place? I suppose, if they're rich enough, they could meet in a high powered foreign university, but I can tell you that their families would be extremely against their relationship. They might even disown their children and at any point, even if they survived the battles, their children would be considered second class citizens within the families. (I have experienced this as a child of a father who was considered "beneath" my mother's pedigree. And we are NOT crazy RICH Asians. Just crazy)
This. All of this.

My own mother endured a LOT of grief from my father's family because she was from a dirt-poor family and "only has a secondary school education" while my dad's family was wealthy enough that my great-granddad had 3 wives and could maintain 3 separate households and multiple children in style, and my dad and his siblings all went to university abroad while my paternal grandparents moved in the same circles as many magnates and tycoons.* My parents' marriage was only grudgingly approved by my father's family (I suspect because, after I crunched the numbers, I was actually ON THE WAY when my parents married. The drama! Oh, the drama!)

Now imagine if my mom was Japanese...

Unfortunately, my grandparents died when I below 12 years of age so I'd never know if their disapproval of my mother and myself would've been alleviated when I won a scholarship to Oxford (their only grandchild to do so and it's a status symbol for any Chinese family to have a member who went to Oxbridge). But my doing well went a long way towards elevating my mother's station in the family.

As I've mentioned vaguely before to @Brian G Turner - if I wrote a series based on my family's multigenerational feuding over inheritance and pedigree, it would be both very entertaining and also cause for half my family to go into fits of apoplexy [evil laugh]

So yeah - if anyone is going to write about a Sino-Japanese marriage, they are going to have to get the ensuing family feuding and cultural dynamics right.

And listening to friends and classmates from Taiwan, China, and all points Chinese diapora families, this family drama is NOT unusual. Especially around inheritance, money, familial status, clan pedigree, and racist attitudes towards other East Asians on account of historical inter-cultural, inter-country feuding and violence.

*Note: I did not grow up in a very rich family - a very middle-class one, but not filthy rich because my eldest great-uncle squandered the family's entire fortune. Yup - D.R.A.M.A. But the snobbery remains intact. Because of the importance of "face" and all that jazz. Another important part of East Asian pride.
 
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The Bluestocking

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Thank you @The Bluestocking you are very helpful!

Btw, just out of curiosity do you play Mortal Kombat!? If so who's your favorite character?
I don't play any video games (okay, perhaps I might play one of the very cutesy ones with geese and kittens) but I grew up with wuxia/kungfu movies from Hong Kong so I appreciate a good martial arts tale.
 

Bee22

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This is interesting
China, Japan and Korea have been fighting wars with each other for several thousand years. Hell, my grandparents lectured me just for studying Japanese, forget dating one. Not only that, Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, it's all the same) families in positions of power are as protective of power and pedigree as any blue-blooded noble. I mean, look at Crazy Rich Asians. The issue with the main protagonist isn't even that she's not ethnically Chinese. It's that she's not the RIGHT KIND of Chinese.
See this is what concerns me, I could take my chances on this approach and could make for some very interesting family drama, but it seems like it could get very complex, I might just go with the story revolving around just a Chinese family from two different Chinese inherited family clans. Or maybe I should include all three different cultures of of three sides of families from China, Korea and Japan? That would make for some interesting drama interactions between say one side of the family Chinese and the other Korean/Japanese? Could all three cultures of families somehow work?

And listening to friends and classmates from Taiwan, China, and all points Chinese diapora families, this family drama is NOT unusual. Especially around inheritance, money, familial status, clan pedigree, and racist attitudes towards other East Asians on account of historical inter-cultural, inter-country feuding and violence.
So this might be a problem then? Maybe I could have my story set in historical times? During a time period that is long gone might be less offensive than trying to intergrade something in todays society when there's enough political difficulties surrounding us.

I don't play any video games (okay, perhaps I might play one of the very cutesy ones with geese and kittens) but I grew up with wuxia/kungfu movies from Hong Kong so I appreciate a good martial arts tale.
It's okay, I'm sorry I was just asking, hope I didn't upset you :(

That reminds me, maybe I could take inspiration from Jet li's movie Fist of Legend during the events around WWII where he was a Chinese student in Japan learning Japanese but fell in love with a Japanese woman but the Japanese and his own Chinese family disliked him for this and he fights that bad Japanese general at the end. I know it's not a wuxia/kung fu film but it was a good martial arts movie imo.
 

EJDeBrun

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I'm not good at using the quote tool here, so I'll just answer in a more list-like format:

I think sticking to one East Asian country is probably wise since there's enough work trying to understand China, Japan OR Korea's 4000 years of history let alone master all three of them well enough to make have any kind of believable scenario.

And I'm sure somewhere out there in the world there is a family that has roots in China, Korea and Japan but I can tell you that's rare and most likely found Not in Asia (in other words, 2nd or 3rd generational kids from the US, Europe, or South America (there is a decent population of Asian immigrants in South America, particularly Brazil)) so it really depends on the type of story you're trying to tell.

Also, in regards to shifting the story to another time period, that's an option but please do your research because all the Asian prejudices are rooted in history. Basically, you're never going to find a time period where China and Japan got along. There were periods where they ignored each other (like when the Mongolians were taking over everyone), but never a time where they were friends.

BTW, like I said before, none of this excludes you from writing that type of story. Really, all I think Bluestocking and I are trying to say is that it's not a simple thing to mix cultural groups like this, so if you want to be accurate and believable you to have to be sure to study the sometimes very complicated and often prejudiced social forces that come with the cultural territory or else your story is just going to either a) offend someone or b) be grossly unbelievable.

(and btw, I haven't even gotten into the demonology side of the story because I think that's been covered)

Anyways, I just think you have your work cut out for you but if you put in the effort, I don't see any reason why you couldn't write the story you want while respecting the cultures you're writing about.

Also, Jet Li's Fist of Legend is an excellent movie, but not something I would use for cultural reference.

Also side note: I have played Mortal Kombat and I think I remember Sub-Zero being my favorite.
 
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