Share it Please
I've talked a lot about problematicness and things that I don't want to see in books this week.
I'm a firm believer in offering constructive solutions, so I brought YA Author Miri Castor on the blog to talk a little about how to write diversely.
I think “Write what you know” has become one of the most misunderstood phrases in its existence, with regards to diversity. Diversity and representation are well-needed in the predominately white world of story-telling.
So I find when it comes to more diverse representation, some writers are scared to jump in. They don’t want to offend a marginalized group and be deemed a racist, or transphobic, etc. As a cis-gendered, straight writer, I understand and live with these fears all the time!
These are some tips I like to keep in mind when I write “what I don’t know.”
1. Research is everything
As PhD candidate, my life is my research. I find it holds true as a writer as well. If you’re a cis- hetero writer that wants to have characters from the LGTBQ community, read LGTBQ blogs and books. Same goes for writing characters of different races and ethnicities. It also helps to talk to writers of said marginalized group and ask them questions if they’re comfortable with them.
While real people are the best resources, they’re also real people and are not obligated to explain themselves to us.
2. Look Up Harmful Stereotypes
A major part of my first point.
Maybe most writers know black women to be belligerent, obnoxious, and sassy, and then might be tempted to portray their black character this way. But again, do research and avoid portraying the harmful stereotypes of a marginalized group.
Speaking as a black bookworm, negative racial stereotypes are the fastest way to turn me off. Tvtropes is an amazing site to read on tropes that’s been used for marginalized groups in all sources of media! I practically live on that site.
But also realize that stereotypes are not all bad, as long as they don’t make up the entire character. In other words, there has to be more to the character than their stereotype.
3. Avoid the Clumsy Inclusion
“Show, don’t tell” is key here, which is Writing 101. I’ve created my Black lesbian character created, backstory and all, and now it’s time to introduce them:
“I’m a fat Black lesbian in a wheelchair with PTSD” (yes I’ve seen this in real, published books before).
This sort of inclusion isn’t necessarily bad, but the “checklist” and “telling” style may be perceived as clumsy. My preference is to have such descriptors (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.) seamlessly woven into a story as opposed to reading a Tumblr header.
4. Do it For the “Write” Reasons
(Sorry for the lame pun.) If you’re coming from a sincere place, and genuinely want to create beautiful, complex marginalized characters, then I believe it’ll come through in your writing. At the end of the day, “writing what know” means you’re imbuing your humanity into your writing. Take your joys, fears, and pains and embed them within characters to create something amazing.
Nobody’s perfect, and everyone (me included) makes mistakes in this process. And there’s a good chance we’ll get called out on our problematic mistakes.
What really matters is how we take it – do we throw a social media tantrum?
Or do we listen, learn from our mistakes, and from there write spectacular stories with diverse characters that marginalized people can see themselves in?
I like option 2 better.
Miri Castor is the author of the Opal Charm series, She has written for Black Girl Magic Literary Magazine and was featured as a Spotlight New Author in January 2016