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I've been working on a YA/adult contemporary fantasy novel for a while and I had some questions about sensitivity reading.

The world featured in the novel is entirely new but it's inspired by ours. Namely, the heroine is coded as Arab (as I am, so I drew her experiences as a queer Arab woman from mine) and her love interest is from a nomadic people inspired by North-Eastern Asian cultures (specifically Korean, but through their travels they absorbed many components of other cultures as well). This people is mostly known for their white hair and their astronomy skills, as well as their vivid godly tales of star gods.

Here is where I have questions.

  1. I have called this people "Dalmeoli" as a placeholder. I suspect that for someone who speaks Korean, it sounds awfully silly since it's just "moon" and 'hair' stuck together. But I can't really tell either and this is where I seek sensitivity reading. Does it sound accurate to you and if not, how could I make it better without being offensive to Korean culture? I was thinking of translating "moon nomads" instead, and I'm open to using the English phrase rather than butcher the Korean language.

  2. The love interest's name is Sora. He is a man, but in Korean, Sora is a feminine name. I am aware of that, but since he is from the nomadic moon people, which absorbed bits of cultures during their travels, I thought it was okay if he was named that way since in Japanese it can be a male name. I am just afraid it would sound weird because his family name is Kim, like his mother's. Does that sound appropriate or is it shocking? Neither he or his mother are the type to bother about gender stuff but I'm mainly asking from a culturally sensitive standpoint. I want to avoid the implication that Asian cultures are a monolith, it's not my intention but if it's what my writing conveys i want to fix that.

To sum it up, my question is: where do I draw the line between artistic freedom, world building, and culturally sensitive representation?

Thank you for reading through this!

  • Great things to take into consideration, but not something I can help with personally, I'm afraid. Hopefully someone around here can, although we don't seem to have a huge number of users... Might be worth asking on a forum site like nanowrimo - I think they have sections for people looking for beta readers / sensitivity readers, plus you can just ask your question and get discussion-style answers, which you won't get here because this is only Q&A. Good luck! :) – DM_with_secrets Jul 22 at 11:07
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    Welcome to Writing SE. This is a thoughtful and interesting question, but it falls into the "what should I write" or "please critique my manuscript" categories of questions, which are considered off-topic according to the community guidelines. Is there a way to rephrase the question so its relevance to other writers is more apparent? – rolfedh Jul 22 at 11:08
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    Hi! Thank you for commenting! Sorry for the mishaps, I'm new to this :D I think I could rephrase it by asking about where to draw the line between world building and culturally sensitive interpretation, I'll edit my post. Thank you! – desperate_student Jul 22 at 11:23
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I’m a Korean person and I think I might be able to help answer the second question, regarding the name of the love interest.

One thing that really stands out to me is that Koreans tend to have a somewhat negative feeling towards the Japanese, ever since the Japanese took over our country for a bit. We also are pretty bitter about the fact that they are trying to take over our land and claiming it to be theirs (this is a very shortened version and I won’t go too deep into it).

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t necessarily think you should use Sora as the name. If the meaning of the name Sora (which means “sky) has to do with anything, you could use Ha-neul, which directly translates to “sky”. (There’s also the fact that “Sora” directly translates to “conch shell” in Korean hehe)

I hope this helps!

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I'm not Korean; I'm a white minority culture inside wider white society in North America. This makes me conscious of cultural differences and sensitivity about these differences. Not that I can speak with regards to the Korean language or religion at all. However, in my culture we speak a different language and have a different religion, both of which draw much public attention.

When people from the larger public misuse words from our language, we laugh at their crazy ideas. It just proves to us how stupid outsiders really are--something we've always known, anyway. They can't pronounce the words correctly. No matter how often we get them to repeat the word or words, they still say them with a very heavy English accent. I mention this so you can decide if you might want to use the English translation "Moonhair" for your character's name, unless you get input from a knowledgeable Korean source.

For your second question regarding the man's name. You appear to be on solid footing regarding it. Your question is whether you should use a Korean or Japanese name in that part of the continent. At the same time, you want to show that Asians are not all one monolithic culture, which I take to mean you want to show that crazy family traits wind their way through the continent. A Japanese tradition may have found its way into Korean territory.

I understand these are nomads among settled peoples. If so, that would make a lot of sense. Being a man with a woman's name surrounded by a very traditional patriarchal society would make an important part of the story; he would be treated differently. It would definitely be a character-forming part of his personality and create awkward social situations for those times when he had to interact with the local population. I just got done reading a book dealing with the nomads of Europe and their difficulties fitting in.

In case you're interested, I read so many books I get things mixed up but I think it was Phillip Rock's Passing Bells Trilogy. The story was a family saga set in English high society, but it followed a variety of family members in their adventures throughout Europe, including a nephew (cousin?) who married a servant girl from the nomadic Roma people. The author tried to understand the nomads and how they related to the settled people.

What I'm trying to say with all of this is that in my opinion, the line between world building and artistic freedom should be in such a place that it preserves that part of real world reality you want to preserve in your created world. It appears, from your description, that you want to preserve the real world Japanese and Korean cultures, as well as a real world nomad culture. That is why I focused my answer on cultural representation. In my personal experience, correct and accurate representation constitutes (is what makes for) sensitivity. I am thinking Rock's trilogy might provide insight on how to represent a nomad culture.

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