I received very encouraging and thoughtful feedback for my last post, so I decided to write a second one about some approaches to writing diversely.
I’m just going to put this out there that if you want to write characters who are outside your lane for ANY reason, you should at least make a fair attempt at getting it as right as possible. You won’t get it perfect and that’s not even the point, but you should at least try to instill as much empathy and compassion into your character as possible. I want to try and outline an approach to this using the case study of an asexual (ace) main character, but I’m hoping this can be used for other types of characters too.
So you’re not ace…but you want to write an ace main character…Great! But how do you craft your character so they read as a living, breathing person on the page and not a one-dimensional, problematic stereotype?
Learn the Stereotypes and Try Your Best to Avoid Them
One of the first things you should do is take an inventory of your own personal biases and think about all the stereotypes you might know about aces. Just a few: all aces are prudes, all aces are overly logical, all aces are cold and unloving and all aces can’t be in love in love. Okay, so those are character traits that you’re not going to want to throw into a character with little to no explanation, backstory or development. Think about it this way: how would you feel if you read a character that was just a re-hashing of every stereotype about a part of your identity? Pretty crappy, right?
Do Your Research
That brings me to this step. Research the actual community and the people in it, no matter what diverse identity you’re trying to portray in a character. This seems to be common sense, or should be, but I think a lot of people get hung up on where to do the research and how to do research. After all, you’re researching people so you can fictionalize them and bring them to life in a story. This ain’t a tenth grade history paper.
So…where do you go for research?
A. Your First Stop is Google
This should be your starting point. Get some history. Get some information. But keep in mind that Google isn’t the most reliable source in the world and there’s some wrong and downright hateful material that you can stumble upon. Still, it’s a good place to start and get some educated questions ready for when you get to the next step.
B. Talk to Real People from the Community
If you have friends in the ace community, great! Talk to them! Be warned-not everyone in a community is super willing to be a fountain of information and you’ll find that out very quickly. That’s okay. It’s hard to constantly churn out information about your identity, insecurities and vulnerabilities. But don’t lose heart. There are always a few people who’ll be willing to help you out. Just remember: be polite, be courteous and be wary of asking over-personal questions. Respect peoples’ boundaries.
C. Scope out Online Communities
For the ace community, this is HUGE. Some great resources for you to check out are the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), The Asexuality Blog on tumblr and Fuck Yeah Asexual on tumblr. There are also some Twitter accounts that tweet about asexual issues and interests like @asexualpride, @FYeahAsexual and @asexualnews.
Also…keep in mind that the ace community is hugely diverse in itself.
Make sure you also educate yourself on aro spec identities, romantic spec diversities and all the different nuanced ways aces can identify themselves if they choose to do so.
D. Tune in.
What are some of the issues they discuss? What challenges do aces face? What is being ace like emotionally? Just a disclaimer: do NOT go into an ace chatroom or community space and proclaim yourself to be an “Observer of the Asexuals.” You will be mocked and you will deserve it (This has happened!!!!). If you want to approach someone and talk to them about their experiences, be kind and be empathetic. Remember: you’re basically ringing someone’s personal doorbell. Don’t attack them when they open the door.
See how other people are doing it and writing about aces so you can get a sense of what works for you, your character and your story and what doesn’t. Read to learn, read to write. If you don’t even know where to start with finding a book with ace characters, check out this list.
Write your story. You’re going to make mistakes, but these can always be fixed later. You’re not perfect and no one expects you to be.
Edit, edit, edit, edit! Edit again!
When you have a good, solid manuscript done, try and find some sensitivity readers from the community. They’ll be able to give you some solid feedback. You can’t 100% satisfy everyone, but you’ll be able to iron out any glaring, problematic issues.
Learning to incorporate diversity into your writing is a process. It takes time and it takes effort. No one is going to teach you everything you need to know about the community and spoon-feed you, but if you show an interest and an open ear, I think you’ll be surprised by how open and willing to help people. So get out there! I want to see more ace characters, well written and well researched of course.
I’ve seen a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of emotional damage being done on Twitter these past few days. To reiterate, people are inherently diverse and diversity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s here to stay. And whether you decide to write in or out of your lane, everyone needs to be compassionate, empathetic, kind, patient and respectful. It’s easy to take these issues personally, it’s easy to assume that one misstep comment makes someone a shitty person and it’s easy for these arguments to get out of hand, but remember: everyone has feelings.
So again, let’s work together. Let’s fill the bookstores and the libraries with so many well written diverse stories so that future readers won’t know any different.