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.
- 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.
- Fiction – particularly in your story’s genre
- Blogs and vlogs
- 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.
- 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…
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!
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.