The Do’s of Writing People of Color:  Start on Easy Mode

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Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In this post, founder Colette Aburime gives advice on how to begin incorporating diversity into your writing:

When you write with racial and ethnic diversity, you hear a lot about what to avoid. Now, it’s not without good reason. The road to good representation is paved with harmful stereotypes and worn-out depictions of People of Color. Advice-givers, like me and the rest of the folks at WritingwithColor, put up caution signs and leave the rest of the journey up to you.

Still, there are some do’s that make for both good writing and good representation.

Writers tend to think big. Our craft demands that we keep our brains fired up with ideas. 

I’m asking you to think small.

You wouldn’t set out to climb Mount Everest your first day as a climber. No way – you’d train first! It’d take loads of exercise, you might scale some indoor climbing walls, and perhaps stock up on wisdom to apply to your own form.

When approaching topics you have little experience with, no need to go the biggest you can go from the start. Train before tackling the full-length novel or dealing heavily in tough topics like racism. Start with a hill, not the mountain.

Benefits of starting small:

  • Smoother writing process. The writing process can be a bit stop-and-go if you’re, say, constantly checking that your Black character descriptions are on the right track. You’ll feel more focused if you’ve described Black characters countless times before. Get the stumbling out on the training grounds.
  • More confidence as a writer. The stakes of writing a group outside of your own can feel like mountains looming overhead. The more practice you have, even from writing snippets and scenes, the more confident you’ll become.
  • Better representation. With all that practice prose in, combined with research and feedback, your diverse writing will only get better. You’ll learn what works, doesn’t work, and tackle stereotypes and blunders early on.

Ways to start small:

  • Character profiles 
  • Character descriptions (physical and personality)
  • Dialogue
  • Third person POV
  • First person POV
  • Write a secondary Character of Color
  • Write a Protagonist of Color
  • Scene with CoC during an ordinary moment 
  • Scene of CoC during an emotional moment 
  • Scene of CoC facing a micro-aggression
  • Scene of CoC facing blatant racism or discrimination 
  • Scene that casually shows culture (e.g. dinner, clothing, family interaction)
  • Scene that prominently shows culture (e.g. holiday, cultural event)
  • Fan Fiction (Good source of feedback if published!)
  • Flash fiction
  • Short story

This list progresses from easier stuff to more complex means of practice. Try a variety of methods and practice as much as it takes to feel comfortable on a certain task. Exercise those diverse-writing muscles!

I’ve practiced a lot. Now what?

  1. Research what you’re writing. If you didn’t do it before or during writing, now’s the time to research. Check out those writing guides on describing skin tone and physical features, dialect and speech, handling stereotypes, and so on. Writingwithcolor is a good starting place! Check out the WWC FAQ and explore from there.
  2. Get feedback. Preferably from the groups you’re writing on. Again, Writingwithcolor is a resource for feedback but so are beta-readers, writing groups online and in-person, etc.
  3. Improve your practice pieces. Don’t lament too much on perfecting it but do apply research and feedback to polish them up. Remember the relevant advice for future reference.

It’s great that you’re writing with diversity! Now that you’ve got the small stuff out of the way, pull out those big plans you kept tucked in your back pocket. You’ll stumble a lot less with all the practice you’ve already clocked in.


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Colette Aburime is the founder of WritingWithColor, a writing advice blog focused on diversity. She studied creative and professional writing in college, and writes (or rather, dreams of writing) in her free time. Colette is a big fan of romance and fantasy and lives out her fairytale in a humble cottage in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. She spends happily ever after with her prince, plants, and a feisty cat. Check out WritingWithColor on Tumblr and Twitter.