Adding Diversity to Your Writing:
A Few Simple Strategies
A huge shout-out to Madhuri Blaylock for hosting this awesome blog series. Thanks for inviting me to add my two cents on this incredible topic!
Literary diversity has been getting a lot of press lately.
Near as I can tell, it all started when NaNoWriMo announced its 2014 partnership with the organization We Need Diverse Books. While WNDB’s stated mission is to “address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature,” many writers of adult literature (including me!) have also elected to hoist the flag.
And it’s about time.
I had been doing some soul-searching on the subject of literary diversity even before I became aware of the NaNo/WNDB partnership. More and more, I’ve been noticing the marked cultural uniformity in genre/pop/mainstream fiction. It’s high time we as writers lead the charge for change.
I’m fortunate to live in one of the most diverse places in the entire country: California’s San Francisco Bay Area. I was born and raised here, so I’ve literally been marinating in other cultures my entire life. This diversity transfers to my writing in a very organic way; it’s simply the fabric that makes up my human experience.
Unfortunately, not everyone has it as easy as I do.
If you’ve lived the majority of your life surrounded by people who look and think like you (insert Pocahontas music here), diversifying your fictional worlds can pose an intimidating challenge. Where do you start? Perhaps more daunting, how do you portray diversity in ways that won’t debase, alienate, or offend?
I humbly submit that the surest way to offend any group of people is to leave them out entirely. With that in mind, here are a few strategies I’ve found helpful when adding diversity to my own work…
1) Turn off the movies.
Hollywood is great for lots of things, but a sound cultural education isn’t one of them. Sure, there are movies that do a great job portraying other cultures, but those are the exception, not the norm. Why rely on someone else’s interpretation of a culture when you can make your own observations?
2) Eat something.
Even traditionally white-bread cities have their pockets of multiculturalism now. Go crazy! Order food you’ve never tried, bonus points if you can’t pronounce it or any of its ingredients. Lost? Ask the server their favorite dish, and make it clear you’re an adventurous eater (if you weren’t before, you are now).
3) Vary your playlists.
Your characters might not listen to the music you like. In fact, they probably shouldn’t. I’m a die-hard classic rock girl, but my musical library includes R&B, rap (no, they’re not the same), merengue, banda, manele, jazz, classical, and Islamic and Buddhist chant. And who knows? You might find you actually like Elvis Crespo…
4) Get out of your comfort zone.
Go to that dim sum place down the street and order by pointing at the pictures on the menu. Check out the salsa club across town and let an old Hispanic gentleman teach you how to dance. As a white woman, a big part of writing diversity for me involves going to places where I am “the other”. Such experiences not only make me a better writer, they also make me a better human.
You’ll notice a lot of these suggestions involve sensory experiences. I’m a very tactile writer, and I’m convinced the more of my senses I involve in the process, the richer my writing becomes.
If you’ve been contemplating infusing more diversity into your work, hopefully this at least gives you a place to start. If you’ve already started the journey, what has your experience been? What are some strategies that have worked for you?
Please consider assisting our efforts to diversify everyone’s bookshelf by donating to We Need Diverse Books fundraising campaign by clicking —> HERE – it’s vital, folks.
When not sweating blood over the keyboard, Laura Oliva is a full-time mom, wife, amateur chef, gardener, and (non)recovering chocaholic. Laura writes noir romance, romantic suspense, and urban fantasy. She lives in Northern California with her young son and her remarkably patient husband.
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