Monday 18 March 2019

Diversity In Fiction - The Creative Process


This has been on my list to write for a while and because of that I've had a lot of time to think about how to put it all on the page. I've talked about disability and writing before. I've talked about why representation matters (found here) and my own thoughts of writing disabled characters (video here). Next week I will be focusing solely on that, so for now I'm going to stick to plain old diversity and why you as a writer, whether you are marginalised or not, should be writing a diverse cast of characters and stories.

When writing you're generally in charge of what the world you're writing about looks like. A lot of the arguments throughout the interweb are that people either don't want to get it wrong, or don't feel like including 'diverse' characters should be 'forced' on a writer. I have to say, if you think the latter, then I gotta wonder what you're doing writing in the first place. I feel like a lot of the time, in that regard it's usually people who've just started writing and are, generally, seeing themselves in fiction constantly. They're usually white, het, cis, abled and male, though of course white woman do the same as well. And I'm not going to say that I got it right first time around. I didn't.

For a long time I didn't really think beyond my characters' names and make up. I didn't think about whether or not they should be gay or straight or trans or non-binary. Disabled or chronically ill, or religious or not. Or non-white or any of those things. Because I was writing what I thought were the stories that I should tell. The stories of, mostly, white, abled, teens. It was really only when I finally got the courage to write Lynne & Hope, that I went all out and made Hope unapologetically disabled. There was no getting around the wheelchair on the front cover. You couldn't argue she wasn't disabled, it was right there.

But I still didn't always talk about skin colour when describing my characters. It's something that I've learned from and something I am striving to do better. And a lot of that was ignorance. It was not knowing any better, or at least not consciously knowing any better. And now, here we are in 2019 and I am writing diverse books. I don't do it because I want a pat on the back. I don't do it for sales, I do it because those are the stories that I want to tell. These are the characters that popped into my head and wouldn't shut up. And it's not about being forced, it's about being aware that there are people who are not me in my worlds. They're not white, nor are they bi, nor are they cis female. The worlds I create are made up of multitudes of people and that's because they are real worlds.

Look at it this way, no one is going to tell you how to write your story, but if you only see the 'default' as the only cast of characters, then your world needs work. As for those who are afraid of getting it wrong, that's a valid fear and one I have come to face myself. But that's why there's research. You can talk to people, get beta readers who are in those marginalised groups. You can contact people you know, and ask, respectfully, about what tropes to avoid and what things to think about when writing this story.

Though, I will say that there are some stories that non-marginalised people shouldn't write. And those are the stories that are about being marginalised. Like I shouldn't write a story about living with racism because I never have and never will. BUT I can write a story about a black or brown kid doing their normal life, because the whole point of a character is for them to be well-rounded and not reduced to one attribute and only that. So if you're shying away from writing a disabled character because you think you need to be disabled, then just remember that you don't have to write a story based solely around disability. I feel like those should be left to the people, like me, who have experienced that kind of oppression. The same goes across the board of course.

So when it comes to planning your cast of characters, just remember that there is no default, and if you think otherwise, then you might need to open your eyes to the actual world around you. Good luck!

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