~ By Meka James
So, if you read my title and thought this would be some odd post on financial portfolios you would be mistaken. First you do NOT want me giving financial advice. LOL Numbers seriously make my head hurt. Secondly, this is a writing blog, so you probably know where this is heading.
Have you ever thought about adding some diversity to your writing, but then didn’t because you were “scared to get it wrong?”
You wouldn’t be the first person. I’ve had writer friends close to me say the exact same thing, and my general thought is, “it’s really not that hard” and here’s why:
They (we) are people same as you.
Seriously, that’s the golden rule.
If you can have Betty, Frank, and Jo all be characters of the same racial background but lead different lives so can your non-white characters.
Betty is a salon owner, comes from a loving home with four siblings and married her high school sweetheart. She and hubby live in a nice three bedroom home with an expansive backyard and even has a picket fence.
They are a comfortable middle class family.
Frank is a fireman, has a vast network of friends to make up for the family he maybe lost at an early age.
He volunteers at the local Boys & Girl’s club.
He lives in a nice two bedroom townhome and is part of the HOA board.
Jo is a banker trying to climb the corporate ladder.
He is focused on his career and only makes connections on a surface level. He is all about looks and loves to host lavish parties at his penthouse which overlooks the city.
They are varied. The rest should be as well. This applies to more than just the racial make up of the character.
If you want to venture into adding LGBTQ characters, or disabled characters, the same would still apply.
So let’s add Diversa to the cast with Betty, Frank, and Jo.
She’s from a broken home, maybe lived on the streets because her mom was a druggie and the dad is unknown. Now she lives in some rundown place on the other side of town. Everyone knows her, because Betty, Frank, and Jo all have breakfast at the small diner where Diversa works because she dropped out of high school and this less than minimum wage job is all she can get.
Diversa is a stereotype. Don’t rely on stereotypes. And if you go there first, ask yourself why? Why must this character stand out so differently from the rest?
The character’s ethnic make up and/or sexual identity is only part of them. It shouldn’t be the sole focus. Their entire purpose in your story should not be to gain diversity points.
Another question, is Diversa alone? And what I mean by that is she the sprinkle of different in town? If so, why? Did you add her because diversity is the new buzz word? Is her purpose solely to be a learning/growing opportunity for Betty, Frank, and Jo so they can later feel better about themselves?
When looking to possibly add more diversity in your stories, don’t make your diverse character the only one in the book. And please PLEASE don’t make them the only and the VILLAIN. It’s seriously not a good look.
Also ask yourself how have you described your cast? Have you left Betty, Frank, and Jo vague? Not gone on and on about their skin tone or hair, but went out of your way to let the world know that Diversa has skin as rich as mahogany. Talked about her Afro-centric hair, probably in braids or some sort. In doing so, you’re drawing more attention to her for being different, a token, and less of a person as stated in the “golden rule.”
Writing about people that are different from you doesn’t have to be hard or scary. If you are still nervous about the representation, find a sensitivity reader. I have played this role for some and while I don’t speak for all Black people, I can point out issues that could be perceived as negative to help the writer.
And while adding diversity to your story, if that’s something you want, can be a good thing, keep in mind to not “tell their story.” What I mean by this is, I recently wrote my first f/f romance, but I’m a straight woman. I wrote a story about this couple, but it was focused on them falling in love and not the hardships and struggles of being a lesbian. That story is not mine to tell. There’s a difference.
Just remember, everyone is a person. Look at your characters as a whole and that’ll be the first step in adding some positive representation into your stories.
Meka James is a writer of adult contemporary and erotic romance. A born and raised Georgia Peach, she still resides in the southern state with her hubby of 16 years and counting. Mom to four kids of the two-legged variety, she also has four fur-babies of the canine variety. Leo the turtle and Spade the snake rounds out her wacky household. When not writing or reading, Meka can be found playing The Sims 3, sometimes Sims 4, and making up fun stories to go with the pixelated people whose world she controls.