I #SupportWNDB – The Series: ADDING DIVERSITY TO YOUR WRITING

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Adding Diversity to Your Writing:

A Few Simple Strategies

Laura Oliva

 

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.

#SupportWNDB


 

LauraOliva

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.

 Want to connect? Laura regularly haunts these places on the Internet:

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LJK Oliva Books


 

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14 thoughts on “I #SupportWNDB – The Series: ADDING DIVERSITY TO YOUR WRITING

  1. Love this post! But a part of me disagrees with the movie comment. There are a bunch of movies I’ve watched that captured experiences of let’s say Asian American men and women that were totally amazing and showcased those experiences in a way you don’t normally see in media. Certainly not talking the stereotypical sh*t though.

    • Interesting read of that part of the piece. For me, the word “Hollywood” evokes a certain type of film; Hollywood has a terrible track record when it comes to depicting diverse characters and their stories. When you step outside the very limited realm of Black Hollywood films, you find “Gandhi”, “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Joy Luck Club”, to name a few. If you know more, please add them.

      Of course, there is always the combo of India and Asian in “Harold & Kumar”, which totally appeals to the ten year old boy inside me.

      And Hollywood’s portrayal of Hispanics – correct me if I’m wrong, but all I can think of is “Scarface” and “Colombiana”. Really??

      This list is abysmal!

      Of course, I am no film scholar, but I tend to agree with Laura with the films. For films on other races, I always step outside of Hollywood to find my “In the Mood for Love”‘s or “Y Tu Mama Tambien”‘s.

      I’m thinking you read “Hollywood” to mean films in general…right?

  2. You know, this was a great for me. Diversity is something I love and wish others would embrace. I think when I started writing again, I’ll go out of my way to add diverse people living together or something.

    • Exploring and adding diversity to one’s writing is both incredibly important and should be delicately handled. As Laura’s post suggests, it’s important to step out of one’s comfort zone and learn about who you’re writing, explore the “other”, embrace the difference as that is what makes all of us so interesting. Best of luck in your endeavors and happy diverse writing!

      #SupportWNDB

      • YES about getting out of your comfort zone. I write so much about that because it’s the key to defeating stereotypical thinking, embracing diversity.

    • Totally, but I’ve been around Indians who balk at the “Asian” tag and perhaps Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians (am I missing a group?) also balk at it (although none of my friends do, and interestingly enough they never call me Asian), so I probably should have said Indian and Korean combo. I just googled it and noticed the American press takes the easy way out and calls them Asian-Americans…a term I have never once used to define myself.

      Now my head is spinning…must get more coffee.

  3. And all my british homegirls say Asian is what they call people of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan (etc…)ancestry. They claim the East Asians get called specific to their culture like japanese, or korean and the like. Like when Jay Sean blew up over here, everyone was saying, “Oh he’s the first Asian to have a number one single in the USA.” So I always grouped South Asians and East Asians under the same umbrella. If it’s lazy please let us aspiring writers know!

    • Girl, puh-leez! Based on this conversation, you KNOW I am the wrong girl to answer that question. HaHa. All I know is that I don’t think Indians call themselves Asians, at least those of us in America. Oh! Like on a form, where one of the boxes is “Asian”, I never check it. I either check East Indian or Other.

      I’m thinking this conversation also shows how silly the classifications are…

  4. Love this! So many articles on “adding diversity” focus on the obvious no-nos (adding token characters, tapping stereotypes, etc.). You’ve provided us with practical, simple things anyone can do, that will also enrich our lives. I especially love the idea to “let an old Hispanic gentleman teach you to dance.” I think I’ll have to go down to Taste of Havana for their salsa nights and find me a sweet old guy to dance with. Love it!

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