Writing With Diversity
We all want our writing to be authentic. I have heard all of my writing life “write what you know.” While this is a great guideline, I think it is important for our writing to appeal to a diverse group of readers, while being sensitive to cultures, races, religious groups and sexual identities not our own. “Write what you know,” to me, is insufficient. How do we walk this line carefully and include diversity in our characters? Here are a few guidelines to consider while developing diversity in your writing.
- What is your purpose? No one wants to read “token” characters that are thrown in merely to achieve a diverse character line up. If you are truly committed to adding in these characters, or making them your protagonist or antagonist, proceed with caution. You do not want to produce a book that feels “inauthentic” or “forced.” Feel the characters and develop them with a genuine care for your readers. All of your readers…not just the ones that look, sound, and love like you. A genuine care for your readers will spill over into your writing.
- Do not over do it. You do not want to include such a peppering of diverse characters that you are losing your focus on character development. Each character needs to be real, relatable, and come alive to your readers in such a way that they are enjoyable, memorable, and entertaining. Readers do not want to feel like they are reading a melting pot of jumbled characters simply for the purpose of including diversity.
- Choose a diverse feature or two that you want to include and be thorough in your character development. DO YOUR HOMEWORK ON THIS. Go to websites. Watch videos of the people you are portraying. Read some samples or blogs written from the perspective you are going to include in your writing. Scroll through pictures. Learn all that you can about that culture so that you can describe your characters with ease. Put yourself “in their shoes” as much as you can.
- Ask questions. Talk to your friends, coworkers, Facebook friends that are similar in some way to the culture you want to include. Do this with care and respect. Share with them that you have a character you are developing and would love to have their perspective, input, and opinion so that your writing is believable and so that you do not accidentally include statements, phrases, or descriptions that would be offensive or divisive. Most people will appreciate your intentions to be inclusive and will be happy to help. Again, be careful with your approach so that people understand you are not just trying to “use” them, but to honor them in your efforts. Learning colloquialisms, character traits, hearing personal family stories, or learning about grooming habits that may differ from yours…can all be very helpful in your understanding of the characters you are creating. Also, Ask a few people if they would mind reading a passage if you need feedback, so that they may help you to weed out any potentially troublesome areas, but reserve this approach for people who have responded to you with support and understanding.
- This may go without saying but be VERY careful if racial slurs must be included in your writing. Some storylines simply may require it to truthfully tell the story. But be well-educated on how to do this properly. Your audience must not feel like these are included merely to offend and shock. Make sure the purpose of including them is from an attitude of authenticity to the story.
- STAY AWAY from STEREOTYPING your characters. Really, don’t we face enough of this in society? Personally, I attempt to push these societal stereotypes in my characters, and I encourage you to do the same. Gently or with ferocity is up to you. But take a good look at your characters to be sure you have not inadvertently stereotyped them. Ask for feedback from trusted sources to be sure that you are not falling into the trap of supporting inappropriate, racist, homophobic, sexist ETC. perspectives. Take a moral inventory here. Readers do not want to feel the author’s voice is judgmental or biased (typically referring to fiction here as there are many genres for opinion-related non-fiction.)
- Describe your characters with ease as a PERSON, not a representative of a certain culture or race. We are all human beings with great diversity even amongst our own race, religious background, sexual preference…and we all share certain human characteristics. Find the common ground that makes your characters HUMAN to your reader. Trying also to not interject yourself and your own personality traits and human experiences into your characters will naturally make your characters have a vast array of qualities. This will help your writing to have variance with a flow that seems natural and does not detract from the story. Remembering that your readers do not all look like you, sound like you, worship like you, love like you will help you to vary your characters honestly.
Writing to appeal to a wide audience, without offending, alienating, excluding, or labeling can be tricky and intimidating. Writers who are committed to being inclusive can, and often do this well. Find novelists that do this well and study their work. I wish you the best in your writing and thank you for reading. This list, by far, is not comprehensive, but it is a good start. I welcome your thoughts, comments, and varying perspectives.
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