Writing Tip: Figure Out Your Comfort Zone And Go From There


Three domains for awesome reading: good characters, good plot, good prose.

I would contend that truly stellar writing excels in three domains: it has excellent characterization, the plot keeps you coming back for more, and the prose itself is to die for.1

I would also contend that generally writers tend to have a comfort zone–one of these three domains is easier to write and comes more naturally than the others.

When I was just starting to write, I got really hung up on trying to nail all three domains right out of the gate every single time. Because that’s what it took, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, that what it takes for a finished piece of writing to succeed. But that will pretty much make it impossible for me, personally, to get through a first draft of anything. So, in order to have something to polish, something to finish in the first place, I had to stop overthinking it. I had to get that first draft done, get it out, on paper, all the way through.

The way I see it, you’re not going to get to what I call “optimal writing,” or that primo grade-A book-hangover read-until-way-past-your-bedtime stuff until the polished final draft anyway. By then, you already know what kind of book you’re writing. See how in that graphic up there the optimal writing is buried deep in the center? That’s because it’s hard to get to. You have to chart a path.

My advice is this: in the first draft, play to you strengths and write fast by starting in your comfort zone. In the second draft, when you have a better idea of what you’re actually doing with the piece, fill in the gaps with the thing you’re second best at. Save the hardest for last. That’s the the part you wait until the endgame for. That’s the polish. You do that third, very hard thing while you’ve really nailed down the other two. By then you know the book like the back of your hand. You’ve got the rhythm down, the themes laid out. You know what you’re doing with it. Your writing isn’t exploratory anymore, so with this last piece it’s more targeted revisions.

An Example: How I Wrote Ariah

Start with characters, take a sharp right at plots, just barly squeak into good writing. BAM! That's how I wrote ARIAH.

The B R Sanders: Start with characters, take a sharp right at plots, just barely squeak into good writing. BAM! That’s how I wrote ARIAH.

I’m a very character-driven writer. Virtually all my narratives start first with an idea of a character, then with a complication in the form of a relationship. The cast forms, radiating out from one or two key characters who I understand in minute, intricate detail. I often don’t even have notes about these central characters. I just know them. Ariah, Sorcha, Shayat–I never had to write anything down, or plan anything out, or keep anything straight. I just, weirdly, knew them.

But all the other characters in Ariah had dossiers as I started drafting the book, because they were fuzzier and needed filling in. They were less organically alive, less vibrant (which is maybe why it wasn’t their story) so I made those notes.

I didn’t really get the plot of Ariah right until the second draft. I didn’t really know what the book was about until then, but I sure as hell knew who was in it. I wrote it, let it sit for a while, and re-read it. I made notes to myself on the re-read about plot stuff. Again, it happened naturally–I think of the three domains plot building is my second best. And I outlined a better, stronger plot for the book, which I followed almost to the letter in the revisions.

And then there was description. Not my strong suit. I…punted. I do not consider myself a stylist. I would say I have a sturdy, workable prose style. I tend to read my own writing for grammar and comprehension. I do not fiddle with my sentence. That way, for me, lies madness. They will never be perfect enough. So, I made sure the draft was coherent (in that the action seemed descriptive enough, and the dialogue was easy to follow, as it had tags that told you who was speaking–things that my first draft lacked in places), and subbed the book. My truly excellent editor was wonderful at pointing out which places needed more description and which needed a little less. Where my writing hit the Optimal Writing Zone instead of lingering in the murky green good characterization/satisfying plot wilderness, she probably had a hand in.

Ok, So What Does This Mean For You?

The Raymond Chandler: You start with the plot (a wicked detailed outline, mayhaps?), then branch out into characters. Polish up that prose, then head straight to the promised land.

The Raymond Chandler: You start with the plot (a wicked detailed outline, mayhaps?), then branch out into characters. Polish up that prose, then head straight to the promised land.

But lo! That is just one way to get to the Optimal Writing Promised Land. Your route might be different. The technique–start where it’s easy, and push through to where it’s hardest–might be the same, but your starting point and ending point are likely different than mine. I’ve come up with a couple of alternatives in the graphics here, but really, the possibilities are endless.

The beauty of writing–of any art–is that there’s no one way to do it. There’s as many ways to get the art done as there are artists. But getting started is always hard. Writing a book is a daunting process. Breaking it down into those general steps–First Draft, Second Draft, Polish–makes it more manageable for me. And assigning a general skill to each one to focus on and get right in the draft–Characters, Plot, Description–helps make it even more manageable.

Ar you Anne Rice? You write very long descriptions of furniture before venturing into Prairie of Plot. You edge into Optimal Writing picking up characterization almost by accident.

The Anne Rice: You write very long descriptions of furniture before venturing into Prairie of Plot. You edge into Optimal Writing picking up characterization almost by accident.

It’s made me a better writer in the long run. I trust my characterization more with each first draft I crank out. I know, with certainty, that’s my great strength as a writer. I know I’m getting better at plotting: it’s easier to manage every time I do it. And I’m growing as a stylist, too. I’m getting a knack for knowing what to include and what not to include. I am sometimes impressed by my turns of phrase when I read my own first drafts. The reason I’m improving is because this system helps me write more–get to the finish line and cross it. It exercises all three skills, which means everything gets a little better every time.


1Your mileage may vary as to what each of these actually consists of, but good writing generally has all three present for it to work.

 Want posts like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletter!

Writing ARIAH: A Closer Look at the Titular Character

Ariah is the pasty one in the center, FYI

Amazon | Goodreads

Given that Ariah hit some new folks radars thanks to spotlights thrown by the wonderful and talented Foz Meadows and Liz Bourke, I thought it might be talented to post some writerly behind-the-scenes type things here on how the book came to be. I haven’t really done that since before its launch, anyway, though if you’re interested, you can find all of those posts here.

Ariah Lirat’Mochai is a funny story. The book wasn’t supposed to be about him. It was supposed to be about his mentor, Dirva. Ariah was supposed to be the reader’s lens into Dirva, the way Nick Carraway narrates The Great Gatsby though the book isn’t actually his story. I maintain that Dirva is an interesting character in and of himself, but Ariah quickly took over the narrative. No passive viewpoint character here, no, Ariah demanded to tell his own story while Dirva’s maudlin arc played out in the shadows, seen sometimes and hidden at other times. I went with it. What else can you do but surrender to a first draft?

I have always loved Ariah’s voice. It came fully formed, of its own accord. He overthinks, he questions and second guesses, he is uncertain, but at his core, Ariah is a man who has a moral center. Not, particularly, a sense of self, but a firm moral center. And this makes him very interesting to write, because for him:

The truth was a slippery thing that, perhaps, did indeed slide between categories.

He spends a lot of time and energy trying to parse what he should say and what he should not, and when, and why. Some of this is to do with his magic–being an shaper, which is somewhat like an empath–he essentially eavesdrops on other people’s emotional states. They may be trying to cover, putting on a game face, that he sees right through without realizing he’s even seeing through it. So, because he’s so accidentally observant, he’s very careful. Ariah tries to weigh everything before he speaks. He doesn’t always get it right, but he tries to, which means there are so many thoughts running through his mind at any given moment as he tries to process everything at once.

On top of this is the complication of his empathic magic, and the way it interacts with his shifting sense of self. Early in the book, it becomes clear that he needs some sense of stability to keep himself together:

Ambivalence tends to drive me to self-sabotage. I do not do well with internal conflict; I do not do well when I am unmoored.

But it also becomes clear that for Ariah, paradoxically, coming to terms with a shifting sense of self provides the greatest sense of stability:

It’s like you’ve got two hearts inside you: yours and theirs. To learn a litany, you have to learn to be yourself and not yourself at the same time.

It’s only by understanding the way he is deeply shaped by the people he is around and loves that he can keep that dangerous ambivalence at bay. The only way Ariah can find to silence that awful internal conflict is, shockingly, but accepting that there is no single ineffable Ariah–there is the Ariah that brought to the surface by Sorcha, and the Ariah that is brought to the surface by Shayat and the Ariah that is brought to the surface by Halaavi, and none is more real or true than the other.

Ariah, like all the characters I’ve written, is deeply similar to me and deeply dissimilar to me. He is like me in that I tend to get immediately and terribly overwhelmed by the information I receive from others. I pay far too much attention by accident to people’s postures, their tone of voice, their word choice, their clothing, everything, and then I have to process it, and it’s exhausting, so very exhausting. He’s unlike me in that he strives for harmony and politeness. I don’t. But this idea of reconciliation between all these different versions of oneself, this idea that all the different sides and presentations of oneself are harmonious, are in sync, are a network of related ‘yous’ all made possible by the strength and depth of your relationships with other people, that is a thought I don’t think I would have had without writing this book. I wouldn’t have made that insight, which I find profoundly uplifting, without having stumbled upon Ariah’s voice and letting him take the story’s direction. I’m glad I did.

Want posts like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletter!

Debrief: “The Scaper’s Muse”

I’m starting a new series of posts that I’m calling “debriefs.” In these posts, I’m going to provide some behind-the-scenes insight into how a piece of fiction got published: where did the idea come from? When was it written? How many times did I sub it before it saw the light of day? That kind of thing.

Partly, I’m starting this series of posts because I keep these records for myself anyway. Partly, I’m doing it because I believe radical transparency in publishing is good for all parties involved. Partly, I’m doing it because I’m always fascinated when I read these kinds of things by other authors.

“The Scaper’s Muse” is included in Glitterwolf #9: The Gender Issue

Through bad luck and circumstance, Gavin Camayo is very politely exiled to an alien planet. But Stahvi is a fascinating place, and his stipend keeps coming from the corporation back home, so Gavin doesn’t mind the exile so much. There’s plenty of strange wonders around to keep him amused. But what happens when a familiar wonder—the person who lands him in exile in the first place—appears on Stahvi, too? “The Scaper’s Muse” is a science fiction short story about the interplay between identity and vanity set in an alien landscape.

Publication date: 7/30/2015

Completion date:

Number of times subbed: Six. The story was rejected five times, with one of those being a very near miss and one of those actually being from Glitterwolf #8: Identity1. The story also received no response from one market2 before being accepted and published in Glitterwolf #9.

The story of the story:
Like many of my short stories, “The Scaper’s Muse” was written in response to a call for submissions. It was an especially vague call, one requiring only that the work to be tied to a flavor of quark (up or down, strange or charming, top or bottom). I chose strange or charming, and that gave me enough direction to start somewhere. I figured, honestly, strange/charming was the spec-ficcy of the three.

I had, for a couple of years, had half a seed of a story niggling around in my brain for some sort of spec-fic updated Sir Gawain and the Green Knight3 thingamob. This is where most of my short fiction comes from: a weird alchemy of prompts from calls I stumble across and these little unsprung seeds my brain has hidden away. Something about the strange/charming prompt sprouted the Gawain and the Green Knight update, and I was off.

So, there you have it: “The Scaper’s Muse” is, essentially, a sci-fi queer interrogation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, all in under three thousand words!

Placing the story:
It was not an easy story to place. It’s odd. It’s mannerpunkish? And queer. And trans*. And sci-fi, but somehow very lit-sci-fi. I remembered as it took shape wondering if it was maybe to literary (not sci-fi enough) for spec markets and if it would be to genre (not literary enough) for lit markets. But definitely super-duper queer, so it would have to be a queer market no matter what

When the place that issued the call didn’t pan out, I ended up subbing to two place I’d subbed to before on the rationale that they’d seen my stuff and liked my stuff before–that’s how odd this little thing was. Usually I strike out into foreign territory because I am unknown with few ready leads, but this time I went to known quantities not once but twice. One of them was Glitterwolf, which ended up being an ideal fit. Look at that cover! Exactly the aesthetic of the piece.

1I subbed to Glitterwolf only once with a note that “The Scaper’s Muse” would be a good fit for either issue 8 or 9, and the editor at Glitterwolf sent me back a single note that did the double duty of rejecting the story for 8 and accepting the story for 9. That’s why the sub count is listed at six although there are technically seven outcomes. I used to teach stats and am an analysis in my day job I am compelled to be this pedantic please bear with me.

2This was the first place I subbed to, and the place that issued the initial call for which the piece was originally written. I don’t think the issue ever came together. Sadly, I think this magazine one up one of the tragic one-issue-wonder lit mags out there.

3The Pearl Poet: some real old school speculative fiction.

Want posts like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletter!

Thanks for the ships, Melville!

click through for source

click through for source

Despite my landlubber life, I’ve always had a fascination with books about the sea. Maybe that’s part of why I love Melville so much.

It’s not surprising, then, that one of the earliest inventions of the world of Aerdh were the pirates. I’m certainly not the first person to write about a spec fic pirate  society, and I won’t be the last. The pirates of Aerdh figure heavily in the plot of The Search, the follow-up to Ariah that I’m currently writing.

For someone who loves worldbuilding, pirates are inherently fascinating. What does it mean to create a society that is inherently a society of outcasts? What sort of mores do they hold? For a society to survive, it has to last more than a generation, which means that children must be born and raised into it. What are the people indigenous to that way of life like? How do they see the world? How do they justify that their culture is, by definition, parasitic–for them to prosper, they must prey on other cultures. And what about the economies that spring up in the pirates’ wake? What are the moral grey zones there?

I’ve written about the pirates before, most notably in Cargo. One of the major secondary characters in The Search is a pirate king–defining the scope of his influence and how he wields it is enlightening. The Search is building out pirate culture above and beyond what was seen in Cargo, and I’m having a wonderful time exploring it.

Beyond the idea of the pirates themselves, with their potential for outlaw justice and redemptive arcs and sanctuary for marginalized individuals, there are the ships. Melville, in his books, used the microcosm that is life on a ship to great effect. I think I was always taken with that, with the way that ship life pens you in with a very limited number of people in a very proscribed amount of space. Ships are truly tiny little worlds of their own drifting through the maw of pure natural force.

Such a strange thing, and such a raw thing, and how could you not then forge such deep relationships with your crew? How could they not become your family? No one ever has neutral feelings about family. You only ever love them dearly or hate the sight of your family. Imagine spending all that time working a ship with someone you can’t stand, who annoys the shit out of you, but you know your life is basically in their hands. It’s maddening. The psychology of ships is insane. So, I keep coming back to them in my writing.

Want posts like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletter!

Advice to New Writers: Remember To Add Conflict!

click through for source

click through for source

The Garden of Eden only got interesting when Eve at that apple.

The Awl recently ran an lovely piece interrogating why utopian novels are, by and large, not all that readable. Noah Berlatsky cites a number of reasons in his analysis, but really it comes down to this: narratives need conflict, and utopias, by definition, don’t have substantial enough conflicts to keep us interested as readers. There are no real problems in these worlds; there is nothing to overcome. And, therefore, there is nothing for the reader to root for or relate to. It’s purely aspirational.

Utopias also echo a common weakness in the stories of new writers. Here’s an example from my own writing: I wrote a story1 where the beats were largely as follows:

  • boy and best friend go to a bar
  • boy watches best friend make his rounds; boy winds up playing bartender
  • boy gets hit on and gently passes on another boy
  • boy goes home alone, feeling fine with his life choices

Ok, in retrospect, that’s…not actually an interesting story. It’s not even a story. There were some nice moments in it, and some good turns of phrase, but on rereading it a year or so later I kept waiting for something to happen. For anything to happen. Like, why was I writing this night of this kid’s life? It was just a night, any night, a purely unremarkable night. There was no conflict. There was nothing driving the story.

This doesn’t mean that your protagonist has to Go On A Quest for there to be conflict. Conflict can be mined from everyday interactions. Here’s another story of mine2, written around the same time, featuring the same character, which actually does have a conflict and a resolution and this is an actual story:

  • girl and boy start hanging out
  • girl likes boy, doesn’t know if boy likes her back
  • girl kisses this boy. He giggles like a mad man. She is embarrassed.
  • boy gets his shit together and writes her a poem because he does actually like her back
  • girl and boy are happily for now

See? It’s not a grand, sweeping, world-altering conflict, but it’s a conflict! She is unsure! She took a risk! She doesn’t know what will happen! There is uncertainty! those are all signs of a conflict.

The truth is that if your story doesn’t have a conflict driving its characters forward, no matter how pretty your language is, your reader will probably disengage. A story without a conflict is essentially a story without a plot.

Want posts like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletter!

1This story will probably never see the light of day, and we’re all better for it, trust me.

2While this story is marginally better than The One With No Conflict, you really don’t want to read this one either.

Sex as Worldbuilding

A couple of days ago, I read Karin Kross’s recap of the Sex and Science Fiction panel that happened at SDCC. From Karin’s recap, it sounds like the panel was equal parts thoughtful1 and irritating2. In any case, the recap got me thinking about the role sex plays in my own writing.

Just narrowing the scope of this post to sex, the act itself, and how that has occurred in my fiction, I’ve tried to explore it in ways that mirror the way sex is used Ariah_FrontCoverOnlyin the real world. Which, yes, often sex is an expression of love. Or desire. But many times, sex is divorced from both of those things: it can be used as a weapon (either literallyy or figuratively). It can be used transactionally, economically. Sometimes these uses blend together, and you can’t separate one from another.

Sex for love and desire happens often in my writing; my characters tend to be sexually and romantically agentic people. Yay for them! That’s why Ariah was classified as a romance, after all3. But here are some other ways sex has appeared in my fiction:

Matters of Scale coverMatters of Scale” touches obliquely on the issue of sexual addiction. Both “Matters of Scale” and Ariah explore the intersection of sex and magic with regard to shapers, for whom sex is complicated—consent is tricky because they essentially black out4. Some shapers self-medicate with sex to escape the constant noise of their magical abilities, just like some real-life people use sex to keep anxiety or depression or other demons at bay.

Cargo is one of the very few places I’ve written about sexual violence. It’s a topic I write about infrequently, not because it’s unimportant, but because it’s triggering and it’s often written about flippantly and inappropriately. But it does happen.

Cargo also introduced the Aerdh-pirate concept of tethers, or captain’s concubines. CargoMy current work-in-progress, The Search, is exploring the nuance and nature of tetherdom in greater detail. This is sex as transaction, or at the very least implied sex as transaction, but it’s not coercive. The Search is going further, too: what would a brothel that is not coercive and exploitative look like? What would a sex worker-run brothel look like?

All of these elements were as plot-driven and plot-driving as the romantic and lusty bits. All of these elements, I think, were also key to include from a worldbuilding perspective, as well. It’s false to think of sex one way. It has always been a flexible part of human nature, used and abused and traded in a hundred different ways. Hopefully one day we won’t abuse it anymore, but I think we’ll continue to trade it (hopefully ethically—because I think we can trade it ethically). At the very least, unless you’re writing in a utopia, your world needs to include all the permutations of how sex occurs.

1Wesley Chu

2Nick Cole

3Ariah was published by Love, Sex & Merlot, the Romance imprint of the Zharmae Publishing Press, not its fantasy imprint (Luthando Couer).

4I am coming to realize there is likely a whole separate post in this.

Advice for New Writers: Read Your Draft Out Loud

click through for source

click through for source

When I first began dabbling in fiction, I would read my pitiful drafts out loud to my partner, Jon. “Can I read you this line? I think something’s wonky here.” He would say sure, and I would start to read my draft, voice wavering, blush rising, and I would hear that wrong word, that errant grammar, the same second he did.

After awhile, it became habit for me to read him finished scenes aloud. I am a terrible copy editor left to my own devices, and I found reading the draft out loud to him helped me suss out nearly all the typos and grammar errors. It also helped me work out the flow of the scene: this sentence is too long and complicated; this sentence is too short and choppy. This paragraph drags on forever. The dialogue here flowed way better in theory than in practice. Reading the written words aloud–while always a touch awkward–helped highlight weak spots I missed just by reading through the draft on my own. Often Jon wasn’t even paying attention. He was watching court TV or folding laundry or cooking dinner and murmuring sweet, supportive words of encouragement at neat, repetitive intervals. But it was good practice. I still do it with final drafts of short stories*, or with particularly difficult scenes in novels, only this time alone in my bedroom in a whisper.

The reason this trick works is because written language and spoken language are tied together. When people read, they do this thing called subvocalization: because we associate words with sounds so strongly, we mentally “speak” the words as we read them. People vary along the degree to which they are aware of which they do this, and apparently a big part of speed reading is investing in techniques to minimize one’s reliance on subvocalization to comprehend and process what you’re reading. Anyway, the gist of it is that when we talk about a writer’s ‘voice’ we are, to some extent, talking about a literal voice–so reading a draft of your work out loud to work out the kinks and zero in on what your writerly voice is when you’re getting started is not as kooky as it sounds.

Also, then, when you make it big you’ll totally have it down for your book readings.

*I’m not as confident with short fiction as I am with long form fiction, so I tend to run the final draft through every test I can before sending it out for submissions. I trust my gut a bit more by now with novels because I’ve written more of them and have a better sense of what works with them.

Measuring Success


Thanks, Lithub. I know.* (click for article)

One thing that writers always get asked in interviews, and that I’ve now gotten asked myself, is why we write. Embedded in this question is a question of success: what are you trying to achieve with your writing? How will you know when you have achieved it?

I write because I like to write. And I still like to write–so I am successful on that front.

I write because we need diverse books. I want to contribute to a body of literature that gives voice and life to positive representations of queer characters, women characters, trans* and gender variant characters, characters with disabilities, characters of color, characters in poverty and characters who live at the intersections of all of these axes. I try my hardest to do this.

I publish in case the stories I create resonate with others. It’s not that literally no one will read my book. It’s that just a few people will read my books. Look, who reads book about queer elves? Queer nerds. My own people. I’m not writing for everyone. I’m a queer nerd writing books for other queer nerds. So it’s all right by my if almost literally no one reads my books, because for most people my books probably aren’t really going to resonate. Otherwise I would just write my books and let them hang out on my computer.

Am I successful with publishing these stories and books? There is definitely room to grow. Building a readership is a slow business. But it’s happening. Story by story, book by books it’s happening. Reviews trickle in, I get periodic emails from people I’ve never met who have stumbled across my work, who are moved enough to reach out to me because something I wrote resonated. Because they saw themselves in the queerness of my writing. Which is why I wrote it, and why I shoved it out there in the great glutted marketplace of stories all vying for attention in the first place: in case it made someone marginalized by society feel a little more validated.

I write to validate myself. I publish what I write to validate others like me.

Support diverse literature.
*For further reading about the insularity and false-famousness of the literary world, read this fascinating interview with Nell Zink.

Snow Blindness: A Follow-Up To Nicola Griffith’s Analysis of Book Award Demographics

I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but by training I’m a statistician. I don’t live off my writing, and in my day job, I work as an analyst for a large urban school district crunching numbers. Back in grad school, I taught stats to undergrads who would really rather be anywhere else, bu I like stats. Always have. So I read Nicola Griffith’s post “Books About Women Don’t Win Big Awards: Some Data” with great interest. The first thing I thought of when I read is was I bet this replicates with other marginalized identities. I bet it’s not just gender; I bet it’s race and sexuality and class and everything else, too.

I had some time this weekend. Not much, but enough to do a little digging. I did what she did–mostly–but for race. I looked at four out of the the six prizes she looked at* for the same time span she looked at (2000-2015) and coded whether the author was White or a Person of Color. I dug up what I could on the book in question to try and figure out, if I hadn’t read it (and I hadn’t read most of them), if the protagonist(s) was White or a Person of Color**. And then I crunched some numbers. Here’s what I found:

  • Lit awards are exactly what you would guess: blindingly White, White as the purest arctic snow. Generally, over 80% of Pulitzer, Man Booker, National Book Award or NBCC prizes went to White writers.
    • Also, unsurprisingly, intersectionality matters. When you look at both race and gender, that arctic snow is full of dicks. Big, pasty dicks. Women of color and men of color made up 9% of the award winners apiece. White men were five times more likely to win an award than people of color. White women were three times more likely to win an award than people of color.
  • Griffith found that even when women writers do manage to win a prestigious award, they tend to do so when they’ve writer about men. Race in writing seems to be of a more peculiar character:
    • Writers of Color, the ones who won these awards at least, wrote exclusively about People of Color. Who knows; maybe they were bored of the absolute blinding whiteness of the narratives they see day in and day out and felt no compunction to contribute to that.
    • White writers mostly wrote about other white people, but a few broke the mold and wrote about People of Color and were awarded (probably by a panel of White people) for it.

That’s the high-level TL;DR summary, there. I’m going to roll up my sleeves now and dig into the data now. Stick around if you’d like! To start, here are the four awards I looked at:

POC=People of Color WP=White people

POC=People of Color
WP=White people

You can see that the trends are remarkably consistent across the awards. The NBCC is the only one coming close to bucking that trend–NBCC was more likely to give the award to POC authors and to books featuring POC protagonists written by White authors. The Man Booker Prize, on the other hand, was the most blindingly White of the bunch. This mirrors quite closely what Griffith found with regard to gender: Man Booker had the highest number of awards given to men who wrote about men, and NBCC gave a relatively wider spread of awards to men and women writing about men and women.


The pie chart above collapses all the awards I surveyed across the award giving body to get an aggregate sense of race trends. There are two main points of interest here: first, that over 80% of awards for the last 15 years of these four major awards have gone to White writers. 80%–FOUR FIFTHS.

The second point of interest is that the flexibility of writing gender that Griffith found–men writing women, women writing men–isn’t present to the same extent here. Some White people are writing People of Color, but People of Color are interested in writing their own narratives, not adding to the already bloated collection of White narratives. And yet, the preponderance of awards are still going to White narratives written by White people–or narratives of color written by White people.

note that the women author's pie graph is smaller. That's on purpose: men (regardless of race) won 60% of the awards in the time span looked at.

note that the women author’s pie graph is smaller. That’s on purpose: men (regardless of race) won 60% of the awards in the time span looked at.

For my final trick, I overlayed Griffith’s analysis and my own. I coded my set of data for both race and gender of both the author and the book’s protagonist to see how the two pieces of demographic data interacted (because, you know, intersectionality matters).

The graphs above split out the combination of the author’s race and gender and their book’s protagonists’s race and gender. The graph on the left shows the proportions for the men winners (60% of the dataset). The graph on the right shows the proportions for the women winners (40% of the dataset). What the above data tells me is that White men write about anything and everything and get awards for it. Mostly they write about other White men, yes, but they are the ones crossing gender and race lines most in their writing and get awarded for it.

I would have liked to do more. I wanted to add sexuality into the mix, but it was very hard to determine author’s LGBTQ status with just a cursory internet search. Only two of the winning books, Middlesex and The Line of Beauty, were book that I knew dealt with LGBTQ themes. I would expect similar patterns to emerge should that data become available, though.

*Griffith also looked at the Hugo Award and the Newberry Medal. I excluded these from my analysis due to time constraints which is a fancy way of saying ‘then I had to give my kid a bath.’

**There were some cases, like The Road, where movie adaptations of an arguably non-race-identified protagonist was cast as White, which I then used as essentially canon evidence of Whiteness.