Diversity in Character and Setting
One of the first pieces of advice writers get is write what you know….where’s the fun in that? If we don’t expand our horizons, research new things, then how are we to grow as writers and as humans? Still, if you are going to be more diverse in character or setting, do your research.
I found this article on ProWritingAid.com. It addressed many of the issues with writing about a character from/in another land or differences in social status, income, caste, color, sex, creed, religion, dialect. The story can present endless diversity factors but they should be presented with truth, respect, and authenticity.
The article posits several points. The first is—Are you the right person to tell the story? In my opinion, it is better to leave a story alone if you can’t tell it properly. Even though I am one-eighth Cherokee and proud of it, I doubt I could do justice to a story about a Native American without extensive research and interviews. I’m more familiar with Narcissus White, the Irish lass that married my Cherokee Great-grandfather, John Silverthorne.
The second is to take time to talk with the members of the group you are writing about. It’s a shame I didn’t ask my grandmother more about her parents. The story of John and Narcissus is gripping. She, an immigrant, and he, left on a white family’s doorstep to be raised by them and then later reuniting with his biological family, definitely had a story to tell but all who knew it are now gone.
Next, check your sources carefully. I have an upcoming novel, Madreth’s Rock, set in Ireland. I have read dozens of non-fiction books on Irish culture, lifestyle, dwellings, and people in the rural countryside. Matter of fact, it’s been a while and I will review them again before picking the story back up.
Accuracy equals Authenticity. Sure, part of your audience may not catch that flashing a ‘thumbs up’ in parts of the Middle East and Mediterranean is a huge insult, but you can bet a percentage will. And people LOVE to point out errors. Be aware that statements you make may be picked up by others as fact and propagate misinformation.
Be specific and avoid generalizations. If your character takes drugs, so be it, but don’t paint that character’s race, economic strata, as all doing drugs. One thing I learned from the Navy years is that there are no absolutes when dealing with people.
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Show respect. If you are capitalizing on stereotypes and prejudice for a quick buck, you probably don’t care about this step. I don’t know much about Judaism. If I created a Jewish character, one whose religion is a part of his story, it would be paramount that I research and interview so I understand the complexity of how his beliefs affect him. You wouldn’t wish for your belief system to be misrepresented.
As for setting, the streets of Cairo range from modern office buildings to areas where the heat blends with the local ambience to stimulate the senses. Not always in a good way. It is home to thousands of people who love this city on the Nile. If you are writing about it, you may not be able to visit in person but you can Google Earth the streets for an accurate view. Again, do your research. Get online with people who live there. We live in an age where so many things are possible, utilize what you have.
The scenario where several diverse individuals are in a setting none is familiar with requires not only research but an understanding of how their beliefs affect their psychology and how they interact with others. It has the potential to be a fascinating read. Approaching such a project means a dedication of time, a willingness to learn, and, most of all, a belief you can do justice to the story.