Amber Skye Forbes

Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes

Guest Post: Writing Diversity in Fiction

Since it’s been difficult trying to keep up with my blogging lately due to being so burned out from technical writing because of my senior thesis (can I hurry up and graduate already?), S.A. Starcevic, author of Untouchable, was kind enough to do a guest post for me. By the way, if you would like to do a guest post for my blog, simply e-mail me at thedancingwriter@gmail.com. My blog receives a few thousand views each month.

So here is his post on writing diversity!

A lot of writers think there’s some magical formula when it comes to representing minorities in fiction – whether it’s same-sex relationships, gender non-conforming characters or PoCs, or something else. But the answer is a lot simpler.

Just write.

That’s not all there is to it, of course. I’m paraphrasing. You still need to do research and explore the experiences of minorities, especially if their trials and tribulations are a driving plot point. (You should be wary of doing this unless you’re really and truly well-versed; if you’re not careful, you could be exploiting their struggles, even if you don’t intend to. Just look at the hot mess Kathryn Stockett landed in.)

But the point I’m trying to make is representation should come about as organically as possible. That means not inserting token characters for the sake of being token characters, but because it fits the character, like a puzzle piece slotting into place. Bonus points for writing complex characters with clear motives, personalities and purposes.

To an extent, I’m guilty of this. UNTOUCHABLE is short. It’s a novella that tops out at 50 pages. And there’s a lot packed into those 50 pages. It’s fast-paced. It kind of reads like a comic book – lots of explosions and fight scenes and some light humour. Which means I had limited air time to flesh out characters and their backstories, especially the less important side characters.

Nevertheless, one thing reviewers seemed to agree was that while the diversity was there, it wasn’t forced. It was taken in stride as a part of the world I created – a world which is an accurate reflection of our own, albeit with added superhero awesomeness. And that’s saying a lot considering that UNTOUCHABLE features a same-sex relationship between the main protagonist, Ethan Elliot, and his love interest, as well as an agender character, a Latina swordfighter, a black lightning-generating superhero… You get the picture.

Another thing I’m guilty of? Tropes. I incorporated the hell out of tropes – partly as a form of subtle satire, since the superhero genre is chock-full of them, but mostly because it was convenient. Tropes can be an effective story-telling tool. Of course, when it strays into the realm of bad clichés, well, then I’d need to rethink my approach. But most YA these days incorporates the same tropes. Why? Readers identify with them. They function as a kind of anchor, and help make the story more readable.

So in short, don’t be afraid to write diverse characters. But whatever your reasons are, make sure they’re the right reasons, as outlined above.

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