Writer's Mind

Struggles of adding diversity to stories

There’s a reason I took a brief break from R9. I introduced two new characters, Nailah Barika, a black woman who is a former MMA fighter, and her nephew, Waitt Frode, a service tech for low-rent service-bots and who is on the autistic spectrum. There is also Esmay Kort, who is of Asian descent and Royce’s best friend. These three characters are my first attempt at adding people of color to my stories.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, normally I add people of color to my fantasy stories, but that is because I can make up their heritage as they aren’t from a real world setting. But R9 is different, the story takes place in the future of our world, so there is a rich heritage or an existing world history to take into account for characters of color. So I’ve been asking myself a few questions during the development of these three characters.

How much of their heritage should play into their character design and interactions with others?

How important is the character’s heritage to the overall story?

Can I, who identifies as a white female on her taxes, write about people of color?

Technically, I’m half Hispanic, my mother being from El Salvador, but I can’t speak Spanish and I don’t know much about the culture beyond Google searches. But I digress.

I did some research, curious about how other writers handle the feeling of being disingenuous to writing characters of colors. Some of them say, “stick to what you know,” while others say, “just write it.” On the reader side, they express the frustration of cliches and stereotypical characters like the angry or sassy black woman. More than once I came across articles and friend’s Facebook status stating, “white people shouldn’t write about [insert race].” And now with the growing racial tension in America, the words racists, and racism are thrown around daily. It makes me nervous to write Nailah, Waitt, and Esmay for fear of having the entire internet come after me because I horribly misrepresented a culture/race/group.

For years, I’ve wanted to see a girl like me, who wasn’t about make-up and boys, who took charge and punched people’s faces in. I longed for a story about a female knight that rescued the damsel in distress. When asked what kind of stories I wanted to tell, I said stories that promote diversity, and yet here I am, opportunity knocking and I’m afraid to answer the door.

There is a large discussion about diverse- sometimes accurate – representation in narratives (this meaning any form of media storytelling). I don’t know if what I do with these characters will sit well with others, or if my approach is the right one. But I am not going to just settle for white characters. I want my stories to be populated with so much diversity and color when you open the book it spews rainbows!

A penny for your thoughts?

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