On Diversity in Writing Fiction Or Step Away From The Fail

So, you’re a member of X group and you want to write fiction that includes people who are different from you. Possibly they have a different racial background, sexuality, religion, gender identity, or are disabled in some way. First things first, why are they in your story? Aside from being different, what purpose do they serve to the plot? Is there an actual role in advancing the plot that they play? When you Google a phrase *like “stereotypes about FatLGBT, disabled, African American, East Asian, Southeast Asian, West & Central Asian, Native American, Latino people” and read the resulting links does your character fit into those stereotypes? If so, why? Is that characterization necessary to advance the story? Or did it just seem like an easy way to include some diversity in your work?

Despite the hype, no one is saying that you cannot write the Other as part of a story. What is being said is that you need to write the Other as a fully fleshed character instead of a convenient plot device or prop. When you are talking about people (of whatever background) you need to remember that they may well be in your audience. And they’d like to see themselves in the works they are reading, but they don’t want to see bigoted caricatures as that representation. The first part of being a good writer is being a good reader. That includes reading about the lives of the people you’re writing about (preferably in their own words), and really honoring their experience instead of ignoring their reality in favor of reflecting whatever biases might be convenient to your plot line.

Will following these guidelines guarantee you immunity from criticism? No. Anything you write will be critiqued by readers. But, putting forth the effort to try to get it right may well change the tenor and content of those critiques. We all have to do our research & there’s no guarantee that any of us will get it right the first time or even the first 50 times. That doesn’t mean we stop trying, but it does mean that trying to get it right includes listening when you’re told that you’ve been getting it wrong. Personally I’d rather be critiqued for my unfortunate habit of splicing commas, than for writing something horribly offensive about a group of people because I couldn’t be bothered to do some basic research.

 

 

*I am well aware that I didn’t list every possible permutation of a person that may be included in a story. Presumably anyone reading this can do some research of their own, and can take a moment to learn about concepts like intersectionality.  Also my use of Wikipedia does not indicate a belief in its constant veracity. These are basic examples & any readers should definitely do more research. Also, books like Writing The Other are an invaluable resource.

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