Diversity is important.
It’s what drives our world. It makes things exciting and adds richness to our experiences.
We can have diversity in everything: the food we eat, the shows we watch, our hobbies, our friends. But what I’m talking about is diversity in our writing.
It’s easy, as an author, to stick to what you think you’re good at: Just YA fantasy. Just romance. Just….you get the idea. Sticking with the same tropes. The same story lines. The same ingredients. The same voice and writing style. But that makes for a lack of diversity in your writing and in the content for your reader.
It’s also easy to have a lack of diversity in the cultures and characters you write about. And that’s understandable. I’m someone that grew up in middle-class America. My experience is what I’ve lived. By default, I will write about what I know, and that is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to write about other things, it’s that I lack the understanding or knowledge to do so.
So, what do you do if you really want to write characters that are diverse from you (and I'm not just talking about the color of your characters' skin)? Or set your next WIP in a different culture or country?
There are several different articles and resources out there about this very topic, and I suggest you read them to get an idea of the responsibility your desire carries with it. Writing outside of your experience (and I’m talking about cultures, religions, experiences, ethnicities, traumas--anything that is not your own) carries with it a great responsibility to be accurate, respectful, diligent, and patient. You can’t just read a few blog posts by a random person and then think you are equipped to write a novel about it. You want to make sure you do it well. And to do that, you need to do it right.
I'm not saying this to deter or discourage you. Again, it is to impress onto you the importance of what you are about to undertake. Don't do it flippantly. Don't do it lightly. Take the time that will be needed to do it right and to do it well.
So, how do you do it right so that you can do it well?
Understand the why you want to write about a culture/experience/religion other than what you know. Is it because it interests you? You want to give it a stronger voice? You have a story that needs to be told? Make sure you fully understand your why, vet it, and have confidence that it still needs to be told and it needs to be told by you
Do your research. When you’ve decided that you need to write that story or include that character(s), you need to make sure you’re doing it right. Always go to the “source”, if you can, for information. Writing a story about a transgender girl you should be talking to several. Find out their fears about who they are, how they think it makes them different or not. What they deal with on a daily basis. How they act (hint: normal), etc. If I’m going to write a Buddhist character, I’m going to reach out to Buddhists to find out what their religion is about so that I can write about it factually and accurately and respectfully. If my setting is in Japan, I’m going to find out from people what it’s like to live there. Daily life, political life, culture and traditions. I am always going to first try to find someone to talk to and then supplement with books or articles. When you are done writing, it’s also extremely important to find the right sensitivity readers so they can read your section or book and tell you what you got right or what you need to make more accurate
Remember that just because the setting or the character is different than you or what you normally write, you don’t have to treat them in a “special” or different way, just make sure that you represent the diversity accurately. After all, they’re still people.
I am no expert in writing diversity, so please don't think I am or that what I'm saying here is the only way to be diverse in your writing. I’m trying to write more diversity into my books--I'm working every day to learn and grow more. Do you own research, be diligent, and mindful and share what you've learned.
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