Monday, September 7, 2015

Discussion Post: If we ask for diverse books, do we have a responsibility to WRITE diverse books?


Recently, movements like We Need Diverse Books have taken off, proving that the cry for more diverse books has finally been heard. Diversity is something writers should weave organically into their books, and it should never feel forced. It's also not a trend that will eventually disappear. It's been needed for so long, and we're happy to see it finally taking a pivotal role in MG, YA, and NA fiction.

But, as authors, do we have a responsibility to WRITE diverse books?


Molli

My answer is yes. If you're a writer in this day and age, no matter what age group you're writing for, you must have fair and positive representation of diverse and marginalized groups. We have enough White People Kissing books to last until the end of time. I want so much more.

When I wrote my first book, I was a little unsure how to include diverse characters. My characters form very naturally, and both Jonah and Quinn were white, straight, and able-bodied. That said, Quinn is neuro-diverse (at least in my mind) and I'm planning on editing As You Turn Away to reflect that. I don't believe in making diversity a checklist, and writing a gay man or a bisexual girl or a disabled girl just to say you have. I'll NEVER advocate for that. But I DO believe that if a story speaks to you, if a character forms and has a story to tell, you should LISTEN to that character, and represent them as fairly as you can, if they're disabled, LGBTQ, etc. Diversity can also include things like various ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and more.

To sum up: don't force it, but authors, please, realize that diverse characters deserve their turn in the spotlight, too. THEIR HEA. There are readers out there who have never seen themselves as the main or major character in a book, and they deserve that.

Note: If you're writing outside your experience (ie if you're white and writing a POC), please do your homework. Research. Use beta readers from that group. And so on.


Marie

As authors, we absolutely have a responsibility to write diverse books. I think everyone wants to see themselves represented in books, along with their family, friends, neighbours, etc. There are so many types of diversity, too. People are asking for less white-washed characters (which is fantastic, and so needed - books are like TV shows and movies, where casts are, unfortunately, mostly white), but there's also a need for so much more. We need to see characters who have disabilities, who come from poor families, who struggle with eating disorders or other weight-related issues, depression, grief, religious diversity, and on and on.

As writers, it's our job to represent different types of characters, and represent them fairly and with respect. Something people need to realize is that diversity isn't always loud. It's not always look at this book with a POC character or a Jewish character or a lesbian or a girl who grew up in a trailer park. Obviously those books are incredibly important and needed, but sometimes it's small things that come from your own experience that can be worked into a book. I have a friend who told me once how thrilled she was to find a character with a nut allergy, because she'd never read that before and she's lived with a nut allergy her whole life. As I said, people want to see themselves represented in books, whether it's something big or small, something that leaves you feeling different or isolated or like no one else understands.

If you're a writer and you're afraid to write a certain type of diversity because you're not sure how to approach it or who to go to for help, try thinking of your own experiences, what makes you different, and if that could be written into a character. And if you do want to write outside your own experience, don't be afraid to do research - I know it can be daunting, but I promise there are people willing to help.


Lilly

Absolutely we do! It's something that's always in the back of my mind, thinking about what my character faces on a daily basis or what they grew up knowing. Not everyone is raised exactly the same. Sure, some of us had a mother and a father who stayed together all our lives, but there are so many different kinds of families out there. Take the protagonist in the Resist series. Allegra is adopted by her stepfather after her mother dies, then her stepfather remarries and has triplets with his new wife. Families come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of dynamics.

If a certain form of diversity can be developed organically in a story, you shouldn't shy away from it because it's not something you usually do. Some of my own characters have grown in ways I never imagined when they were first created. They've made me take a step back and look again at the story, mark them down as books to research.

And that's a good thing! Don't be afraid to really dive into research. There are so many wonderful people out there who would be happy to share their story. Ellen Hopkins writes very powerful stories about serious subjects. The reason why her stories are so impressive is because she asks questions. She talks to people to get firsthand knowledge of a situation so that she can carefully develop the story she wants to write. Be brave enough to do the same.


Jessica

Yes, we have that responsibility for sure. When people first hear about diversity, their thoughts roam to a person's sexuality or race, but diversity ranges much further than that. Something I like to see in stories is culture. I'm 50% Polish and my grandma used to use Polish words and phrases, not to mention make Polish foods. Little things like that need to be represented in literature. There are so many different cultures, and a lot of them aren't well-known because they haven't been shared. My own experience is one I'd like to share in a story someday, even more so because I don't think I've seen it before.

Other things with little representation include disorders and diseases that people have to live with every day. I have a friend who has had rheumatoid arthritis since she was 14 years old. I don't think I've come across a book featuring a young person with arthritis. A lot of youth/twenty somethings face disorders that don't usually happen at a young age. If a story can be told to help them cope, it needs to be told. And if I can get the opportunity, I would love to tell it.

Reading is a gateway to understanding. I can't tell you how many times I've read a book that has opened my eyes to the challenges other people face. It's important for this understanding to take place so that people can learn to empathize and not be ignorant to what something really means.


Eliza

Writers have the responsibility to write the stories their hearts want to tell. Naturally, those end up being diverse books because we're all diverse people. Diversity comes from our experience, our need to write books about different characters/plots/settings/etc., our desire to read things we've never read before. When we don't write the stories we feel born to write and, instead, write to the trends of what's selling, we're neglecting our responsibilities.

We don't have to be a certain something to write about that certain something. We can research, learn, and experience in order to write about it. So it's our responsibility to live rich, fulfilling lives to write accurate diverse books. And then it's our responsibility, as writers, to write those stories. So I don't think we're inherently responsible for writing diverse books, but I do think we're responsible for telling the stories in our hearts--and those will naturally be diverse tales, as we're all different.



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4 comments:

  1. I am a writer who has been quietly following along with your blog for many months. I enjoy it very much and think all of you have made some excellent points on various topics.

    Regarding diversity: it is rare that I find myself reflected in books, so I am a big advocate of diverse books and I read as many as I can and promote them also. I appreciate that you ladies do the same. But I must say that hearing one of you say you want to edit a book to add in a diverse character is very upsetting. If you "don't believe in making diversity a checklist" and your "characters form very naturally" changing something that big seems disingenuous. If your books aren't diverse, changing something so that you can -say- you have written diverse books is not something I personally would be able to get on board with.

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    Replies
    1. Hello! Thank you for being a reader of our blog. We really appreciate it!

      We wanted to address your concerns regarding what was stated in the post. First of all, we want to assure you that we don't condone checklist diversity. Molli's character Quinn is already neuro-diverse, so what she meant to say is that she would like to edit the book to better represent her neuro-diversity, not to change the character entirely.

      Thank you for bringing it to our attention. We apologize for the confusion and hope that this clears it up. :)

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  2. This is a loaded topic and there are bound to be people who disagree, but I'm so glad you all did this.

    Sometimes, as writers, we don't see things while writing the first draft and sometimes not even until the fourth draft do we realize something about a character. "Oh! She's got depression. This explains everything!" I still think about my characters, even long after a book has been published. "What if...?" Characters, like people, should be complex and layered. It's our job to peel back those layers, discover those traits, and highlight them.

    I love the idea of sneaking in diversity subtly. That nut allergy is a perfect example of how something small can really speak to a reader. I also love the idea of creating characters with diseases like RA. (I have an autoimmune disease with joint pain, and I'd love to come across a character fighting something similar.)

    And, at the end of the day, the number one rule is to follow our hearts. I think that's the most important aspect of being a writer: listening to the conversations around us and then going with our gut. Readers are asking for more diversity and we have a responsibility to give it to them. We're also responsible for writing the stories that we want to read. When those two stars align, beautiful things can happen.

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  3. I loved this post and my response got a little long so I wrote my own blog post on it.
    http://www.patricialynne.com/blog/diverse-books-and-author-responsiblity

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