Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Insecure Writers Support Group IWSG (July 1)


Welcome to Insecure Writer's Support Group, where we all confess we don't have the biz figured out and commiserate together. For more mental support, check out the IWSG Facebook page.

I follow and support #WeNeedDiverseBooks, an initiative to promote and encourage more diversity in childrens's literature (and beyond). As I'm currently struggling with questions of authenticity in writing diverse characters different from myself, these recent tweets struck me:

I agree. Writers who are themselves diverse, whether that's a non-majority race, sexual orientation, or disability, should not be pigeonholed into writing only characters who are like themselves.

For me, being white, hetero, able-bodied, I also do not want to write only characters who are like me. But what does that mean? 


 (by the way Sona Charaipotra's book Tiny Pretty Things is a fabulous YA spin on Black Swan at an elite ballet academy.)

I wrote a manuscript with a character of a different heritage than myself already, but I'm currently working on a young adult story where the lead character is biracial, half-Korean. She spends part of her summer with nearby Korean grandparents. It's a point of stress and worry that I get the details right. So far, interviewing and having readers with the same or similar heritage has been invaluable. Google can only get you so far. And even then, I still have doubts. 

Because there's no checklist to complete your diverse content. There's no stamp of approval a reader or diversity expert or resource can give you to "approve" your content. Experiences will differ. 


Creating layered characters should always be a focus, but I think even more so with books targeting diversity. A fellow Bloomsbury Spark author Valerie Tejeda often discusses how she wrote the upcoming Hollywood Witch Hunter because she always wanted to read about a Latina urban fantasy heroine who looked like her. If readers are looking to see themselves in your story featuring a character like them, only to find stereotypes and lazy writing, that's a huge disappointment. 

There's no one right way to do this. And ultimately, me as a white writer am not doing anything groundbreaking by writing a non-white character. So while I may worry, I also aim to be an ally by purchasing and promoting books by diverse authors. I request their books for my library. I give money to We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit, to support programs that give visibility to authors and scholarships to bring interns into publishing who view diversity as necessary.

How do you support diversity in books? Have you written characters that required interviewing or searching for readers outside of your race, religion, or beyond? If not, what stops you? Please share in the comments! 

Don't forget to stop by the other IWSG linked blogs or visit twitter #IWSG.

20 comments:

  1. I found writing a historical novel a big challenge because even though the main character shares my race, she wouldn't share my way of talking, interests, clothes, experiences, and on and on. Trying to get into her head is hard, but maybe that's the point. We have to imagine ourselves into these other people. It may not be perfect, but that's okay. Everyone is different and there's no one right way to portray a race or a disability or anything else. True diversity is an author's best friend that way.

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    1. Yes--historical requires so much research!

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  2. Great post! I have always loved what is known as "African-American fiction." I read a lot of it, from Toni Morrison to Richard Wright.

    Lately I've written two books with black protagonists or major characters. For one, I needed to hire a personal researcher because my character was a slave in the 1600's Dutch Caribbean. But for the other, I just wrote him like I'd write any other guy. There were a few little details that were different, but for the most part, people are people. That's one way to avoid stereotypes.

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    1. People are people, though we also bring our own bias on board from our experience. I think making layered characters means taking those universal people behaviors and blend them with unique characteristics. I love the idea of hiring a pro for historical research. That sounds so next level author to me :)

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  3. My teenage boys have always been friends with kids of other races and from other countries! I just watch and learn from their interactions and relationships. Kids of other ethnic races are some of the smartest, funniest, coolest kids I have ever known:)

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  4. I love #WeNeedDiverseBooks and have taken part in a few twitter chats about it. Like you, I'm white, straight, and able bodied, but that doesn't stop me from having a character who isn't any of those. Especially if that's how the character comes to me. Hopefully, the characters come across as real people.

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  5. I'm biracial (Japanese and Irish) and so when #WeNeedDiverseBooks came along, I was like yes! It's important to have diverse characters in books. For me, it's particularly important to have mixed characters. I think it's great that you're going for it and it is important to find readers similar to that characters' background look over it. I write historical and my novella's heroine was a former enslaved black woman. I got tired of reading historical fiction without much diversity in them.

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  6. We write what we know, we research what we don't, eh?

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  7. I really love #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I enjoy reading from all sorts of different viewpoints and believe only that will open some people's minds. I've written diverse characters, too, but indeed research and interviews are needed (and then still it feels false sometimes). I don't want to represent badly :(

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    1. I've found some great books to read with the initiative. I'm really glad to see so much of the publishing community spreading the word.

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  8. Thanks for the varied viewpoints. I shall ponder it a while.

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  9. What a great post! This is something I struggle with, but not in the way you might think. I grew up surrounded by wonderful diversity. So much so that I didn't even "notice" it. Sound weird? When I write I don't think I even consider that different backgrounds make people different. I just figure we all have the same basic needs, desires and emotions. Which is true, but I need to dig deeper on how experiences might influence their world view. Sadly, I can't say my writing feels very diverse. Human dragon hybrids don't count, do they?

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  10. That tweet about 'Write what you know is BS' - YES. That.
    We CANNOT keep expecting people of color to be the only ones writing about poc. As white folks we NEED to incorporate poc (and other diverse groups) into our writing. It is only by being visible allies that we can really help make the change.
    Glad to see another person writing about this topic for IWSG this month :)

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    1. I was glad to see your post too. I know sometimes there is discussion if white (or able bodied/hetero etc) writers get showered with glory for writing diverse, or how that could take away an opportunity for a writer who is diverse themselves. I think noting those possibilities is important. I will still aim to write diverse, but how we approach and take "credit" for that is something to be aware of and consider. I definitely do not have all of this down, but my hope is that being mindful of differing opinions will keep writers respectful. It's all really simple and also really complex.

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  11. I love writing sci-fi romance because my characters can be of different races and species and nobody thinks anything of the diversity. Love how Gene Roddenberry tackled social issues on Star Trek--issues that people were afraid to deal with on regular TV.

    Diane IWSG #99

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  12. I write science fiction, so they are as diverse as I can make them.

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  13. My first children's book is based on the Underground Railroad and I needed to write about a boy living on a farm with his abusive pa. I did a ton of research to get the language and time period correct.

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  14. I was really excited when I read PERFECT CHEMISTRY trilogy because half the cast was Latin, more specifically, Mexican. My ms has a lead Hispanic character because I want to read a book that lets me know I am acknowledged. I search for diverse books when I'm at a bookstore. Diversity is a beautiful thing. Should be celebrated.

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  15. This post really resonated with me.
    I'm from the rainbow nation of South Africa, and always refer to myself as the quintessential multi-colored individual.
    We Need Diverse Books sounds great - I need to check out the site.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog.
    Writer In Transit

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  16. Excellent post today. I have been wondering about these very things. I'm in the same boat as you are. I feel like there is backlash for trying to write outside your ethnic group, but there is criticism for writing what we always see. I guess you just have to do your best. Your research and interviews will give your characters so much more authenticity, and layers. Good work.
    Play off the Page

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