Category: diversity

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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 the second part of her “Do’s of Writing People of Color” sub-series, founder Colette Aburime discusses how reading diversity will help us write diversity:

Writers write. They should also read. And if you plan on writing Characters of Color, you should read works by People of Color. More specifically, stuff from authors in that ethnic group. Consider this an important part of your research.

How do People of Color tell their tales, express culture, and represent themselves in story? You may find that—ope! We humans are quite alike in many regards.

It’s those key differences you should learn to add a touch of authenticity.

Whether it’s:

  • Haircare needs & styles
  • How we describe ourselves
  • Microaggressions: the ones we face & how we cope
  • How we incorporate, celebrate and balance culture
  • Fitting in at work and school

When the mods and I give advice on WritingwithColor, we speak mainly from our experiences. Don’t stop at just one book or blog. There are many more voices to hear. Seek plenty of stories by those you hope to represent.

Primary Resources:

  • Fiction – particularly in your story’s genre
  • Non-fiction
  • Blogs and vlogs
  • Articles
  • POC Profiles on WritingwithColor blog (reader submission-based experiences)
  • Autobiographies, diaries and memoirs – particularly in your story’s time period
  • Social media / message boards (Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit can be an open diary!)
  • Comment sections, reviews, and discussions from any number of these.

Remember your goal is to learn and to listen.

Tips:

  • Practice proper etiquette. When entering public or semi-private spaces, provide support without offering unasked-for sympathies or questions. “Thank you for sharing” is a good general way to show support. Or sometimes lurking is best. Regardless, make sure all commentary is welcome and appropriate.

For example: A Black girl venting about getting her hair pet by a coworker isn’t the time to ask “Well, why is it so wrong to do that?” Google is a good, dear friend!  

  • Keep an open mind. Some of these sources may share raw, intimate information. Truths that make you uncomfortable, told in ways that don’t sugarcoat or act nice about it. Time to forget yourself! A person’s personal experiences are seldom written to make others comfortable. Again, you’re here to listen and learn. And you will learn if you listen!
  • Support Authors of Color. When it comes to stories, support the author with a review. And if you liked it, recommend the book to others. You could also buy a copy or ask your library to carry it. 

It’s not all about oppression.

Something you’ll discover from reading our stories, particularly fiction; we want adventures! To fall in love, crack the cold case, and soar from the backs of dragons. Most of our lives are not 24/7 about The Struggle.

In any case, stories that let us play is part of escapism. Allow us these moments. When we’re ready for really tough stuff, we’ll seek the stories that deal specifically with those topics.

And don’t forget all the positive to neutral things. Food, holidays, traditions, music, get-togethers…

Overwhelmed?

Don’t get lost in the details. Not everything you learn will prove relevant to the story, but it could provide some background. In the same way giving your MC the favorite color yellow may never appear on the pages, it gives insight on who they are.

Organize to Success!

Chart your findings in a neat and easy to reference manner.

I’ve created this Character of Color Research Table (Google Doc) to give you a start. Make a copy and fill the chart with whatever information you see fit.

Now, pick up a great book by an Author of Color and get in some research!


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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.

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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, Alexa White gives advice on finding the right voice for characters of color:

The #1 thing I tell people on Writing With Color when they provide a character for review is “this sounds like a white person.”

I don’t say it as a condemnation, but to provide a baseline for what people are working with. They are working from an environment where white narratives, white people, and white-majority countries are the only places deemed “worthy” of their history, culture, and physical location being explored.

As a result, most characters come across as white. Their thought patterns, mental framework, and values don’t feel like they reflect the realities of growing up as someone othered. There aren’t enough details, the priorities feel wrong, and the cultural touchstones are just not there.

Thankfully, the internet is very vast, and has provided people multiple ways to respectfully research everything you could need. Here are three basic steps (in no order) you can take to begin creating characters of color:

1: Listen in on social media

Key word: listen. The goal of this step is to familiarize yourself with communities that are speaking as if white people aren’t around. You can do this on any social media platform. 

How to find these communities can be tricky. A great place to start is going through Writing With Color’s tags meant to gain community commentary (NDN only), following activist accounts (black lives matter), and just generally searching “x activist” (googling Asian activism got me a Wikipedia article on Asian-American activism, with the name of multiple movements, activist organizations, and notable activists. Note: it’s very East Asian heavy, but you can tailor searches for specific groups by name).

The more you listen, the more you’ll start to see what conversations are a priority for these groups. And don’t stop at the big names! Smaller accounts are important to follow, to get the big picture.

2: Read #OwnVoices

The wonders of the internet have provided us with a whole hashtag that centralizes diverse authors as the authorities on their own stories. It’s a built-in reading list for so many groups, and it’s basically guaranteed that you’ll find a large collection of stories that match your demographic.

Reading stories by people of color will help combat the overflow of white-centered stories in mass media, which will in turn provide you with a different framework to work from. Details you hadn’t even thought of (like satin pillowcases for type 4 curly hair) will start to emerge, and you’ll get a window into how someone chose to present themselves (which is a big deal when closed religions start to come into effect, such as many Native religions).

Plus, you get to support authors of color along the way, and have a bunch of new stories to recommend!

3: Google every basic you can think of (and make sure the sources are reputable)

The literal only reason writing Europeans and white Americans is easier is because you’ve had their history spoon fed to you since kindergarten. You’re going to need to start from kindergarten level questions for your characters of color.

As alluded to multiple times in this post, the internet is full of content by people of color. You can find Japanese recipe blogs, Black makeup and hair YouTubers, Native fashion stores—the list is endless. So long as the source is someone from the group, chances are you’ll be getting something accurate.

By googling your questions, you can start to fill up the education cup without demanding any extra labor from people of color. We have already provided the labor for you. All you need to do is find it, and withhold the impulse to insert yourself into the narrative.

This isn’t about you. Learn to let it be about us, before you start writing. 

Good luck on your research quest!

~ Alexa White


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Alexa White, also known as Mod Lesya on Writing with Color, is a Mohawk two spirit person from Southern Ontario, who joined Writing with Color to help educate others. A lifelong lover of storytelling, she dedicates her focus to making characters feel like they come from whatever setting they’re supposed to exist in. If she is not found writing, she is playing with her cat, cooking, or drawing.

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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.

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We’ve officially entered NaNo Prep season, and this week

we’ve asked some participants for their thoughts about building strong characters.
Today, Municipal Liaison Aurora Hurd shares some tips on how to responsibly create diverse characters:
 

So, you want to write a novel and you want it to represent the world around you. This inevitably means writing about characters who may not be like you in their identity and/or background. Below is a list of questions to keep in mind while creating characters different from yourself:

1. Are you using stereotypes without meaning to? 

Sometimes it is obvious if you are slipping into a stereotype, sometimes it is not. The best way to avoid stereotypes is to write well rounded characters. If you know your character’s greatest goal, their greatest weakness, what makes them happy and sad, it is harder, if not impossible, to write stereotypes. But if you are still not sure if you are falling into a problematic trope, research is your friend. There is a lot of writing on what to watch out for when it comes to stereotypes big and small (for example, on the long history of writing villains as gay or gender-nonconforming—equating such traits to being evil). Use your favorite search engine to check and use the tips from the other posts this week to build complex characters.

2. Ask yourself, would you want someone of the background/identity you are writing about to read your book? 

If the answer is no, then you have a huge red flag that a lot of work needs to be done. First, make a list of why that is. Then, it is time to hit the books (or the internet) and it is time to talk to people. Ask people in the community you are writing about what they would like to see in characters. Ask them what they do not want to see. Then go back to your writing.

3. Have you read books by authors of this identity? 

If not, now is a wonderful time! Not only does this support other authors, and authors that are often overlooked by bigger publishing companies, but it is also research, as all reading is. Reading diversely helps in writing diversely. Here are some good places to start: http://readdiversebooks.com/ and http://weneeddiversebooks.org/.  

4. Finally, ask yourself why are you writing this character this way? 

This may be the hardest one to answer, because it may take some digging into yourself. If your answer is that this is just who the character is, you have answered all the above questions, and you have done your research, you are on track. But be careful of falling into roles like that of the white savior. Having good representation is powerful, but having people of a majority identity write about minority characters dealing with racism, homophobia, or ableism is not. This is because not only will it not come off as authentic, there is a high probability of getting things wrong. This is not to say only ‘write what you know,’ but to ‘stay in your lane’ and ‘do your homework.’

I want to finish this by thanking you for writing diverse characters! It is more important than ever for books to represent the world and the people within it. Representation matters, it builds understanding and acceptance which help dismantle systems of oppression when done right. Keep these questions in mind and get ready to write this November!


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Aurora Hurd is a bisexual writer of all things in the realms of the fantastic. She is an ML for USA :: Vermont, and is currently seeking her MFA in Creative Writing. For more writing, visit Aurora on Twitter and Tumblr

Top image licensed under Creative Commons by Edward Peters on Flickr.

x: a variable used to represent something unknown.

We’ve seen an influx of questions about how to write stories based around characters of color, disability, non-binary, etc. when the author does not fall into these categories. Rather than have these posts take over the site, we’ve decided to compile a list of resources to help our fellow writers become more educated about writing what they do not immediately know. However, this list is not the end-all-be-all of knowledge; one should always try to learn from someone with first hand experience in any topic. The world is constantly growing and changing, and because of that, there will always be more to learn. The admins at Plotline Hotline want to help writers form respectful, informed, and realistic characters that broaden the narrow range we see in literature today. 

*Be wary that some of the topics listed below contain sensitive material. Reader discretion is advised.* 

As always, the links I found to be especially apt will be in bold. Topics are listed alphabetically, excepting the “other” section.

Culture

Appropriate Cultural Appropriation

What is Cultural Appropriation? [1,2,3]

Cultural Appropriation Is, In Fact, Indefensible

Voice Appropriation & Writing About Other Cultures

Diversity, Appropriation, and Writing the Other
[List]

Disability

Writing Disibilities [1,2,3,4,5]

Guides to Writing Deaf or Hard of Hearding People

National Association of the Deaf – Resources [List]

World Federation of the Deaf

Using a Prosthetic Device

Prostehtic Limbs (Character Guide)

How NOT to Write Disabled Characters

A Guide to Disibility Rights Law (United States)

Timeline of Disibility Rights in the United States

Social Security Disability: List of Impairments, Medical Conditions, and Problems [List] (United States)

How to Write Disabled Characters: An Opinion Piece

Artificial Eye Resources [List][Various]

Adapting to the Loss of an Eye

Misconceptions and Myths About Blindness

Blind Characters: A Process of Awareness

Writing Blind Characters [List]

Types of Learning Disabilities [List]

Diversity

A Guide to Spotting and Growing Past Stereotypes

How to Prepare to Write a Diverse Book

The Diversity of Writing

Why Diversity Matters for Everyone

Writing a Driverse Book [1,2,3,4,5]

Diversity, Political Correctness and The Power of Language

Diversity Book List [List][Books]

Basic Tips To Write Subcultures & Minority Religions Better 

Basic Tips to Avoid Tokenism

Gender

GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Transgender

Creating Well-Written Trans Characters

A Few Things Writers Need To Know About Sexuality & Gender Expression

Trans (Character Guide & Bio Building)

A Non-Binary Person’s Guide to Invented Pronouns

Gender Neutral Writing [List]

Keeping a Trans* Person a Person  

Suggestions for Reducing Gendered Terms in Language [Photo]

How to Review a Trans Book as a Cis Person

Writing Characters of Different Genders [List]

Understanding Gender

Gender Spectrum Resources [List]

Gender History

Illness 

Writing Chronic Illness [1,2]

The Spoon Theory – Also pertains to disibility

About HIV/AIDS

Sexually Transmitted Diseases [List]

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sex and Gender Differences in Health [Study]

All Chronic Illness Topics [List]

Coping with Chronic Illness

All Cancer Types

A Day in the Life of a Home Health Aide/Health Coach

Fiction Books With Chronically Ill Main Characters- Not Cancer [List][Books]

Neurotype (Including Mental Health)

Writing an Autistic Character When You Don’t Have Autism

Depression Resources [List]

What to Consider When Writing Mental Illness

Stanford Psychiatric Patient Care

Inpatient Psychiatric Questions and Tips

Don’t Call Me Crazy [Documentary]

(Avoid) Romanticizing Mental Illness [1,2]

A Day in the Life of a Mental Hospital Patient

State-run vs. Private Mental Hospitals

Mental Disorders

Mental Hospital Non-Fiction [List][Books]

National Institute of Mental Health – Mental Health Information [List]

Writing Autistic

What Causes PTSD?

Remember, Remember: The Basics of Writing Amnesia

ADHD Basic Information

What is a Learning Disability?

What is Neurotypical?

Race

Writing Race: A Checklist for Authors

Transracial Writing for the Sincere

Is my character “black enough”

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Challenge, Counter, Controvert: Subverting Expectations

Writing With Color: Blogs – Recs – Resources [List]

Writing People of Color (If you happen to be a person of another color)

7 Offensive Mistakes Well-Intentioned Writers Make

Description Guide – Words for Skin Tone

Religion

Religion in Novels: Terrific or Taboo?

How to Write a Fantasy Novel that Sells: The Religion

Writing About Faith And Religion

From Aladdin to Homeland: How Hollywood Can Reinforce Racial and Religious Stereotypes 

Sexuality

Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity [List]

Writing Gay Characters [1,2,3]

American Civil Liberties Union – LGBT+ Rights

LGBT+ Rights by Country or Territory

History of Gay Rights

Gay Rights Movement

LGBT+ Culture

Gay Myths and Stereotypes

LGBT+ Studies Web Sites [List]

LGBTQ Youth Issues

LGBTData.com

Overview of Gay and Lesbian Parenting, Adoption and Foster Care (United States)

Other

How Doctors’ Offices—and Queer Culture—Are Failing Autistic LGBTQ People

Five Traps and Tips for Character Development

Developing Realistic Characters

I hope that this list will provide topics a writer may not initially think to research when writing. If there are any resources that you think would be fitting for this list, please let us know! We want to have as many helpful sources as possible to maximize learning opportunities. 

Stay educated,

xx Sarah

(2/2) and feeling like he’s alone. I wasn’t really revolving my story on the fact that he is transgender, and I know that it would be unwise for me to write about how it feels to be trans because I know that it’s not my place. I apologize for my ask sounding offensive, and I will work on my story again.

Hey anon,

Thank you for checking in about this! We’ve received a lot of responses about your original ask, and it’s always helpful to get some added context behind the questions and the stories we hear about through them.

On a personal note, I’m so happy that you’ve been able to regain your confidence and grow more proud and accepting of who you are. Bullying can leave some deep scars that can be difficult to recover from, and I’m glad that you’re making progress toward that by creating a character that you’re able to empathize with on that emotional level.

Your response here is incredibly sweet and respectful, and I want to thank you for coming forward about your intentions behind the character in question. I genuinely hope that none of the responses we’ve received or given have discouraged you from writing the story that you want to tell— it was never my goal to turn you away from a story you were passionate about, and I hope that you’re happy with the story you end up with regardless of whether or not you decide to revisit your character and make changes.

I would also like to thank all of the anons that came forward with their suggestions for being so respectful to the original anon and offering constructive criticism. This is exactly the type of discourse that we want to encourage amongst our followers, and it’s refreshing to see such honest and helpful voices speaking about a topic that’s on the receiving end of so much toxicity lately. You’re all wonderful, and we’re truly blessed to have such a fantastic community behind us.

Finally, I want to apologize if any of my own responses (either to the original anon or those that have written back) have been at all offensive or otherwise hurtful. I and my fellow admins are above all else dedicated to helping our fellow writers in whatever way we can, and our aim has never been to make anyone feel ostracized, insulted, or discouraged from their stories. If I have made this impression on anyone in the last few days, I am incredibly sorry.

We all know how difficult it can be to bring a story to life, and I believe it goes without saying that negative responses are neither productive nor welcome on our blog. You all have been the greatest followers a girl could ask for, and I thank you again for being so kind and understanding. I look forward to answering many, many asks in the future.

Happy writing to you all!

Love,
Penney

This is also in response to this post. 

Thank you for your insight, anon! I don’t believe the author was trying to imply that discrimination doesn’t happen on Earth, but it’s always good to acknowledge in some way that it isn’t some alien thing that humans are completely incapable of.

One of the simplest and most impactful statements I’ve ever heard about writing is that fiction cannot exist in a vacuum. Everything we write is based on our perspective of the world around us, which greatly affects the way we (and our respective audiences) perceive our writing.

Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, so it’s important to ground the more fantastical elements of our stories in things that we can identify in our daily life. In her essay “Engineering Impossible Architectures”, Karen Russell refers to this as the Kansas:Oz ratio— the ability for us to believe in the rules of Oz because the laws of Kansas can still be followed. There are a number of ways to pull this off, but it’s most commonly done through social constructs.

Every world will have some form of politics, every world will have some form of law system. Every world will have love, friendship, fear, and rivalry. Every world will have some sort of social conflict, which we can identify based on the similarities it bears to our own social conflict. Because these are things we understand, the way they’re handled in a fictional setting can greatly affect the way we react to them in our daily life.

With that in mind, we should always be sure that we approach things like discrimination in a way that our readers can understand. Making it seem distinctly non-human defamiliarises the concept and can alienate (pun intended) our readers, but approaching it in a way that we and our readers can recognise can speak volumes as to its scope, influence, and effects in reality.

— Penney