D is for Diverse Books and Making Steps in Writing Thoughtfully #atozchallenge

I cannot believe I’ve made it to day four! Today’s letter is D, and I’ve decided to address a topic dear to my heart that I care a lot about… Diverse Books.

A quick note at the beginning here to say… I am a white woman who is making an effort at writing about the need for diverse representation in books. I am aware that, as a white woman, I am coming from a place of privilege. I believe that every writer should be thinking about this issue and figuring out how to address it thoughtfully in their own writing. I also believe that writing a wide range of characters is unbelievably important for every writer, and that it should be done with intention and care every time.

The need for diverse books is huge, especially books written by non-white writers. For more information, check out http://weneeddiversebooks.org and the #weneeddiversebooks and #wndb hashtags on twitter.

Diverse books is a giant issue in genre fiction these days. Diversity as a whole is also a giant issue in… well everything right now to be perfectly honest, but I’m focusing on writing in this space. I have had the privilege, growing up as a white woman reading sci-fi and fantasy, to have protagonists that I could see myself in (hat tip especially to Tamora Pierce, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley and Mercedes Lackey). Unfortunately, this has not been the case for many of my friends. There were a few non-white women protagonists (thank you Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson) and almost as few non-heterosexual protagonists among the piles of YA, fantasy, sci-fi and literary books that I read. At the same time, I was growing up in a diverse inner city neighborhood and was very aware of the lack of that varied representation in the books I was reading.

In my years of writing first drafts, I decided that since I was the writer (aka boss of what I was writing) I could choose to write a range of protagonists and characters with backgrounds different from my own. At the same time, I didn’t want to just plop descriptive elements onto characters just to make a check mark on a list. “Diversity added!” No. Not what I wanted to do at all. With every effort, I wanted to focus on more realistic representation rather than the kind of representation I saw in most existing books. And when I decided to have a non-white or a non-heterosexual character, I wanted to do the best I could by that character and not be stereotypical or oblivious in my writing. Some of the many questions that I tried to keep in mind while writing these stories included:

  • Is this choice intentional rather than checking off a box, and how does it affect the story I’m telling?
  • Is this true to the character, her particular life experience, and how she has learned to see the world and herself?
  • Does this particular aspect of this character cause other characters to react in a certain way to her?
  • Is the setting of this novel going to affect how this character is treated or how she behaves?
  • Is this relevant to the story?
  • What research do I need to do to handle this choice properly, and have I done it?
  • And most importantly…am I writing stereotypes?

There are things that I will never understand about not being white, heterosexual, or  cisgender, and that is something I must ALWAYS be considerate of and careful of. And if I get it wrong, I want to know where I get it wrong. But I also believe that I cannot simply write characters that are exactly like me. That way lies a perpetuation of the lack of diverse representation in my chosen genre, and I’m not ok with adding to homogeneity if I have the choice as a writer to do something different.

In a recent panel conversation about diversity at the LSFW Create Something Magical Conference, the author LaQuette made this statement that really hit the nail on the head for me in terms of how to think about race in story (and really any diverse representation in a story):

“You cannot equate race with character traits.”

Which is so true. So true! You also cannot equate ability, illness, a particular gender, or a particular sexual orientation with character traits. These unchosen, and often external, aspects of a character may inform their reactions or thoughts about the world and definitely will inform how that individual is treated by everyone else, but it is not the be-all and end-all of that individual by any means and that must always be kept in mind.

This one went long, but… as always questions!  Did you know about the Diverse Books movement? How are you working to address the need for more diversity in your own writing? And if you’re a reader, what do you look for with regard to diverse representation in genre fiction?

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. artistpath says:

    I am a white woman who grew up in the south. I am pleased to hear about the Diverse Books movement. I address my experience with race and privilege in my memoir. At a pivotal point in early adulthood I chose to move to the Pacific Northwest rather than go back home to the south. These are real issues, with many stories yet to be told. Thank you for shedding more light on this important topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      So glad to share the Diverse Books movement with you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Creative post …
    Love the clicks …
    And Diverse books are now

    @dixita011 from
    Cafenined words

    @dixita011 from
    Cafenined words

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Juli Hoffman says:

    Great post! I love the diversity checklist!
    I often feel that women are rarely portrayed as believable characters in fiction—regardless of ethnicity, race, color, flavor, preferences, etc. Women are often regarded as accessories or playthings, even in novels written primarily with a female audience in mind. I’m a voracious reader. It’s disappointing, in this time in our history, how few books would pass the Bechdel Test. I’ve read a number of books where the protagonist’s female friends could be easily replaced by a houseplant or a pet! You might laugh, but it’s true!!! The Bechdel Test is simple. The movie/book/TV show must have 1.) at least two women in it, 2.) who talk to each other, 3.) about something besides a man. Men in movies/books/TV shows talk about everything under the sun. Why are women portrayed as such one-dimensional beings? Women represent over half of the population. I’m sure they can find something to chat about, besides the men in their lives! LOL
    Incidentally, the books I’ve read that would pass the Bechdel Test will often pass the diversity test as well. I image that this has a lot to do with the writer’s ability to create realistic scenes, characters, and dialog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      True! I still remember reading the FAQ on Charles de Lint’s site where he noted that he was regularly asked how he writes such believable women in his fiction. And his response was something along the lines of “well… women are people and I try to be open-minded and actually listen.” I think he’s updated it since to be more specific but it was the “women are people” part that got to me. Heh.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Juli Hoffman says:

        LOL Yes!!! Women are people, and if more writers understood that, I think there’s be PLENTY of great books to read. 🙂

        Like

  4. Alex says:

    Good list of questions! I do try to include diverse characters in my writing. It’s important to remember that any given person isn’t going to fall neatly into ALL the stereotypes of their race/gender/sexual orientation, but it is worth questioning how their race/gender/sexual orientation has affected their personality and worldview. I once asked someone I know how my character’s race might have affected him as a person and I was looked at as if I were being insanely offensive (mind you, this person was not that race themselves). It’ll be different for everyone based on many factors throughout their life, but of course it’s going to affect them somehow! Because of the culture they’ve inherited from their parents as well as the way they’re treated by other people.

    Liked by 1 person

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