Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Diversity in writing

Today I read an interesting article about diversity in Young Adult novels. Here is an excerpt:

Here's one of the great circular conundrums of our time:
We need more characters of color/LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren't the default white, able-bodied cis male in speculative literature.I, a speculative fiction author, am afraid of writing characters of color/LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren't like me or from my cultural and social understanding because I might get it wrong, and if I get it wrong people will be angry at me and yell and also ruin my career.I've seen and heard writers (mostly white) express some version of that at least a hundred times since RaceFail 09. The point to that discussion or any number of other public Fails since then and go: SEE?! You see? That's what happens when we try!
There are a few things about this that need addressing. First, large, public Fails actually happen when authors don't try. Second, the problem is rarely that the author tried and didn't get it exactly, 100% right. It's that they failed and then acted like an ass when someone pointed it out to them. Third, avoiding author Fail isn't as hard as some people make it out to be.
Most importantly, the consequence of being ruled by that fear is that you aren't helping with the first problem. And if I may be so bold, I think the issue of representation is far, far more important than individual fears of getting it wrong. I also know that it's hard to tackle that first issue without addressing the second. Luckily I have the solution.
Unfortunately the solution is a $500 workshop in Chattanooga next July!

But I think there's an even easier solution. How about we all write about all kinds of people?

I'm a 42 year old, white, middle class, married, mom. But I live in the world, and am aware of the people around me. I have friends and neighbors who are different races than I am. I know people who were born in other countries. You probably do as well. Why can't more of us draw on our normal experiences, and write characters that are every shade, from any country?

In Planted my character's best friend is bi-racial. Her mother is Gullah and her father is white. I don't have to beat the reader over the head with THIS IS A BLACK CHARACTER. But she's there, and I've written her as exactly what she is to the story: The best friend who loves her friend, and happens to be black.
There's another character who is from Scotland. Again, he's a normal person, he fulfills his place in the story... he just happens to be from another country.

Something I was careful to take into consideration is the setting of the story: Savannah, Georgia. Savannah is a beautiful old southern city. It is a very racially and culturally diverse place. It has people from all walks of life, and there's no way I could have written a believeable story if I had omitted people of color. It would be impossible, flat, and it never occurred to me to even try. All I did was think about my character, think about her life. I got to know her and looked around her world. What I saw were people who were black, Asian, Scottish, and many others.

What are you writing? Where is your character's story set? Unless it's in a white's only country club, there are probably some people of color. Let them in your story! Let them be a part of your character's life. You and your writing will be richer for the experience.