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Diversity in Writing

 The world’s full of amazing inspiration. Just take a second to look around you. So many shapes, sizes, colors, and beliefs. To capture a real glimpse of the world you likely want to include that same vibrant image. The most common fear in reaching outside of your own bubble is often that a writer worries they won’t portray a certain ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion correctly--instead of highlighting the difference, they’ll insult it (trust me. I’ve worried over it, too). But fear shouldn’t keep us from pushing for more diversity in our work, it should drive us to reach out and learn.

Worried it’s an issue? It doesn’t have to be. Just because you’re including something that can be an issue, that doesn’t mean it has to be in your work. For instance, not all gay teens are bullied (thankfully).  If the Shiny New Idea you’re plotting doesn’t include that specific element, that’s fine. This isn’t to say they aren’t topics worth exploring! Only that it’s completely believable and acceptable to have an array of different characters even if your book’s central plot is about a wizard lost in a dystopian world. HOWEVER, though it might not be an issue, to fully understand your character—their thoughts and actions—you need to see the world absolutely through their eyes which means while they may not be experiencing teasing or harassment, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen in the past or isn’t something they're constantly hyper-aware of. These are all things that can play a part in a character’s, well, character.

Feeling like you just don’t know enough to include something new in your work? Well. That’s an easy fix.

There’s a difference between ignorance and stupidity. Neither is an excuse. Do your Research!
A search engine will pull up a multitude of information. Is all of it correct? Nope. But some will be, and it’s a great place to start. Between there and the library, you could easily learn a lot of surface information. If possible, dive deeper and try to find someone to interview or even observe (in the least creepy way possible) for a real glimpse. Find out what tops interest in their world—read newspapers or articles aimed at the community you’re researching. Of course, nothing would compare to actually submersing yourself in whatever culture it is you’re writing about if that’s a possibility!

It might feel like a lot of work for developing a background for one simple character. What you take away might only result in a sentence or two in the entire book. But readers do notice it and appreciate it. (Not to mention, you’ve learned new stuff as well!)

Even after researching, make sure to address things with sensitivity.

I was brought up strict Catholic (in a town that was strictly Baptist). Trust me when I say Mary Katherine Gallagher was one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits. But it was hard to laugh as much when it was a classmate poking fun of my religion. Characters comfortable in their own skin might be quick to poke fun at themselves, but remember this could be a first impression for some readers. Think about what you want them to walk away remembering.

And lastly, try your best to avoid the stereotype. Before our move to Spain, I did some light research. Things to do, places to see, cultural differences. One thing I wasn’t prepared for was to see so many fair complexions and blue eyes. In my mind, I imagined all Spanish people with gorgeous olive skin and dark hair. If I’d done just a little research into the history though, I would easily have seen how they’re very much a mixing pot like the US.  Needless to say, whatever image you’ve already formed in your head, might not always be right.

Have any advice or tips for enriching diversity in a story, list it below!
Amanda Hannah

Amanda grew up on a big farm in a small town with one stoplight, one school, and a handful of imaginary friends.She would’ve gone to college forever, but eight years and five majors tested her advisor’s patience. So she moved to Germany to explore creepy castles before landing in Spain where she’s perfecting her Flamenco.

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  1. Oh I have felt like this before. I get the idea for a character with a specific past or characteristic but am unsure if I'll offend anyone or even have people read and then say I have no idea what i'm talking about. I like the idea of finding someone whom fits that category and possibly asking them some questions, haven't done it yet but thankfully because my WIP took my attention back whenever my mind drifted too far. And Google is a life saver for quick info.

  2. "Majority" writers will often face criticism for including minority or marginalized groups among their characters. There are a lot of tropes and stereotypes to avoid. It's quite a minefield in fact. But then there is also demand for more protagonists of color and more multiculturalism in YA. I think as writers of any color we just have to do our best and not be douchey about it. Not everyone is always going to like what you write.


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Item Reviewed: Diversity in Writing Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amanda Hannah