I’m eagerly awaiting the next book from this morning’s Teachers Write guest author. Christina Diaz Gonzalez joins us today! She’s the author of The Red Umbrella, A Thunderous Whisper, and the upcoming MG novel Scholastic is calling “Percy Jackson meets The DaVinci Code,” Moving Target. Christina’s guest post today is all about writing authentic diverse characters.
Write what you know. It’s sage advice passed on to writers at every level. But look closely at those words. Some people interpret them to mean that you are limited to writing about people who share a common background with you. That diversity is a minefield that is best avoided.
Well, I think that’s all crazy talk!
We need books that reflect all the faces and facets of the world we live in and you should be writing about them. (And yes, I’m speaking directly to you — the one reading this post while sipping some coffee and contemplating that story with diverse characters who may not share your heritage, race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, galaxy, dimensional strata etc.— you can do this.
By the way, your hair looks really cute today, but I digress.)
You should write whatever comes from your heart, your head and your imagination… but (here’s the key) you must do it well. Look again at that sage advice. It says write what you know, not write who you are. This means that you should be able to write about anything and anyone. You just need to know what you are talking about and make those characters and their experiences authentic.
This then begs the question, how do I create authentic diverse characters? Well, since you need to write what you know… get to know more about these diverse characters in your head by learning more about their real-life counterparts. Here are some basic steps to get you on your way:
1) Interact! You know about the little piece of the world you live in because you interact daily with the people around you. If you want to truly know about other people’s experiences, talk to them and, more importantly, listen to them. Ask questions. Become friends. Observe. There is nothing like a direct source to give you information. Nothing!
2) Research! Look for primary sources that give you a deeper understanding of what your character might be experiencing. Read secondary sources to further your knowledge. Just know that the internet and books will only give you a limited perspective.
3) Review! Have your writing reviewed by several people who have a familiarity with the experiences of your character. Make sure that you aren’t unwittingly writing something that might be construed as offensive, inaccurate, or demeaning. (Note I said several people because one person is not an accurate representation of any group. The more feedback, the better.)
Thanks to social media, you can connect to a wide variety of friends from all walks of life… make use of this resource!
4) Universality! There are universal experiences and feelings shared by all people. Put a little bit of you into your characters. This is not an “us versus them” situation. We are linked by common needs, desires and fears. Find yours and then find them in your characters.
5) Re-check! When you think you’re done, think again. Go back and think of how a child who is similar to that character would see him/herself after reading your depiction. Is the character nuanced like your reader? Are you promoting a stereotype? Are you happy with how you just made that child feel?
Imagine writing about a “diverse” character (someone unlike you or your background). Make a very basic checklist of their attributes (name, age, gender, race, ethnicity etc). Go to the list above and decide how you can learn more about this character. Think of the people you can approach in real-life (or even online) that will help you further understand how your character relates to the world you will be creating. Share with me your thoughts on this and I hope you will all be including nuanced, “diverse” characters in your stories, so that our books reflect the reality of our world!
Note from Kate: In addition to sharing your reflections on this activity in the comments, feel free to ask questions about this topic as part of Q and A Wednesday! We’ll have other authors popping in to chat along with Christina. Please remember that comments from 1st time commenters need to go through moderation, which can take a little time – anywhere from a minute to a couple of hours, depending on my access to my computer to approve them, so please be patient & only post once. Thanks!