Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 22, 2022

Diversity and Inclusion In Writing

By Megan Ganesh

Why write books with diverse and inclusive characters?

The world is made up of many people whose diverse backgrounds, quirks, experiences, dreams, and interactions with others shape their lives.

Everyone is unique. However, we all have things in common, whether they are things we have witnessed or experienced.

One book I love that does this well is the Victor trilogy, by Theodora Taylor. In the book, the son of an organized crime boss lost his tongue as a child and must use Chinese Sign Language (CSL) to communicate. The book shows the implications of how others in the world perceive him.

He meets the heroine when she teaches him American Sign Language (ASL) and of course a dark romance ensues.

What is diversity and inclusion in writing?

Writing multi-faceted, diverse characters that aren’t stereotypes or just there to tick a box means more to those who can see themselves in a book.

Did you know that there were black pirates? What about female pirates and women who snuck into the royal navy? Of course, I’m not saying that any of us want to be pirates now, but how far would someone go knowing that more was possible for them? We come in many colors and that does not prevent us from breaking into any field.

What about writing a character with a disability who finds love? There are so many real-world examples of these experiences happening and few of them are being shown in books.

As authors, it is our job to do better.

One author who has done this well is Alyssa Cole. In Can’t Escape Love, the heroine is in a wheelchair. In the book, the wheelchair isn’t something that is there to scream, look I’m different, but instead it becomes a character itself and we can see how the experiences of others who are differently-abled from ourselves go about everyday tasks and find love and sexual fulfillment.

What do those stories mean to those that have been included?

  • Seeing oneself in a book
  • Watching a character go through shared experiences or backgrounds
  • Seeing how the character handles a situation

All these mean the world to a person who has only seen themselves as a flat stereotype.

As writers, we have the power to create change. We can show a better world, a full world, instead of perpetuating misinformation. We can use our words to show that no matter the physical or mental abilities, gender identity, race, culture, language, sexual preferences, backgrounds or experiences, there is something shared that connects us all.

In A Girl Like Her, By Talia Hibbert, the main character is an autistic heroine. Talia Hibbert shows how autism manifests for this specific character. (I mention to show the way your character reacts to being differently-abled or a certain diagnosis is unique to them and we must remember to make that clear in our stories, not use generalizations to paint all people with the same brush.)

Who should write these stories?

Own voices are important, and I think if you are a writer and happen to have a story, by all means share it.

But what if you don’t? Can you still write it?

Yes.

But how?

How to write those stories?

  • Create full, multi-dimensional characters who are more than their skin color, orientation, background, etc.
  • Take the time to get to know your character. Let them speak to you and tell their story. (For plot/event driven writers, dig deep into who would experience these events, how would it change them, what type of honest conflict would drive them to behave as they do? Is it the same reaction or have you taken the time to recognize another path?)
  • Research your character using sensitivity and beta readers (more than one).
  • Do your best and know, as with any book, no matter how hard you try, you will find that some people hate it. (3% haters are always going to find you and that’s okay.)

I know some of you might still be unsure if you can do this.

You might think what gives me the right to write this story?

What if I mess it up?

What if this isn’t my story to tell?

And to that I say, the calling to be a writer makes you capable of telling this story. Fear of messing up means you want to do a good job. You know it might not be perfect and you might make mistakes, but you will keep pushing even if it’s hard and you have to start over.

It’s when you don’t question yourself and feel fully confident that you might want to get more eyes on it. (Hello, do you remember your first novel when you thought you knew everything ... yeah, kind of like that.)

And lastly, what if this is exactly the story you need to tell? What if your readers are waiting to see themselves in a book? Waiting for someone to write that story for them, and you are the one to do it?

Don’t let them be forgotten. Not letting them be forgotten is a big one for me and if you made it this far, you might wonder why this is so important to me.

Why this is important to me?

From a young age, I was an avid reader of all things and I got bitten by the romance bug. I was voracious and, like most readers, loved picturing myself as the heroine and being swept away. (I’m probably dating myself, but in the early 90s there were not a lot of diverse or multicultural romances available.)

I was stuck. I wouldn’t stop reading, but in my heart I yearned for characters who looked like me. I wanted to see how they found love and what their lives were like. I wanted to be inspired. It happened when the lines Arabesque by BET and Kimani Press from Harlequin were created. These books were windows into me, what I could be, and what I could do. They introduced me to new concepts, professions, and to family dynamics that were different from my own, It allowed me to dream and hope and see what is possible.

I still have a lot of my old novels. Books by Francis Ray, Rochelle Alers, Brenda Jackson and more. I treasure books that have characters of color who can be main characters, not the sidekicks or those never seen in books at all. They can be prominent characters who are fully recognized and living their lives on the pages.

I’ve found my own hero, and we share two beautiful children. We are a multicultural family as my husband is Sri Lankan. I want to write books where my children can one day see themselves in the possibilities and dreams of the characters.

This is bigger than Race. Francis Ray was one of the first authors that introduced me to a heroine who had a traumatic past and was able to find love. In her book All I Ever Wanted, she showed it was possible to learn to love again after a traumatic experience.

Books can transverse so many things. Touching on mental health, race, class, gender identity, and sexual orientation. As authors, we can introduce our readers to different cultures and more through the stories we write and share with the world.

What story do you feel called to tell? What are your thoughts on diverse and inclusive stories?

I look forward to connecting with you.

Happy Writing

* * * * * *

About Megan

Megan Ganesh

Megan Ganesh is a stay-at-home mom of two littles. She is a voracious reader and enjoys crafts, cooking, and working out. You can find her at home writing inclusive stories, because we all fall in love. Sign up for her newsletter on her website and follow her on InstagramFacebook and Twitter

Top Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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20 comments on “Diversity and Inclusion In Writing”

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Megan. I really like this thought:
    My current WIP has a mixed race hero, but I still fear I don't have enough diversity in my books. Baby steps...I'll keep working on it, and thank you for this powerful reminder!

    1. Oh - it cut out the section where I quoted your words: And lastly, what if this is exactly the story you need to tell? What if your readers are waiting to see themselves in a book? Waiting for someone to write that story for them, and you are the one to do it?
      I love this!!

  2. I just finished a book published in 2002 by a very prolific author. There were two characters described as little people who communicated using sign language. I was enjoying the book until he referred to these characters twice in different places as deaf and dumb. A slur as offensive as any slur can be to someone who is deaf and uses sign language to communicate. As writers we need to include diverse characters, but as you say there is responsibility to do so with respect. Thank you for the reminder.

    1. Lori,

      Thank you for sharing and what horrible stereotypes to continue to spread. Hopefully you have found other authors who do a better job at inclusivity and diversity.

      Megan

  3. Thank you for this, Megan. I find it encouraging. Because I've questioned whether I should write some of my characters, and yet... to tell the stories I want to tell, I need to include people that aren't all like me! The world seems so much brighter when it is made up of variety.

    1. Lisa,

      This is so true and is the same thought I have when I write a male character or even a White or other Race character. I never want to get it wrong and I think one thing we as writers are good at is research!

      Megan

  4. Hi Megan! I agree, we can and should do better. Our characters need to reflect our diverse world.

    Thank you for your suggestions, and welcome to WITS!

    1. Thank you Ellen and including diverse characters allows our readers to sometimes experience people and other situations that they might not get to do in real life

  5. Welcome to WITS! I really appreciate this article because this has always been such a conflicted subject for me. I grew up in a Los Angeles neighborhood where no one look like me. People were either of color or Jewish. I was neither. I was the shiksa, the goya, the honkey, the white girl, and (finally) the friend.

    The result is that I was most deeply influenced as a child by the Jewish and Black cultures (this was the 70s, before African-American became the reference of choice). Plus my mother was the head nurse of Oncology at Cedars Sinai, so every party at pur house was a rainbow of color and identities.

    This cast of characters shows up in my stories. Always. And in the current writing environment, it's a concern. Like, 'who does this boujee white woman think she is, writing a vibrant Black family?" And the answer is, those vibrant black families raised me.

    But still...

    1. I love that Jenny. You're writing what you know and what you learned from others. I think that is one of the bests ways share with others what we've learned and experienced and Thank you for having me!

      Megan

        1. Hahaha, it totally can be. I think the biggest aid is the sensitivity readers who will be the biggest help after the story is written and be open to their feedback.

  6. I have a WIP where a MC is Latinx. I am not, but I studied Spanish and Latinx culture for nearly a decade and grew up knowing many different Latinx people--I hope I'm doing it right. My cousin is Latinx. I'm writing what I know is true without appropriation.

    denise

    1. Denise,

      That is awesome that you have so much knowledge to pull from. I think the biggest thing to remember is that we are creating one unique character. Our character will have varied traits and represent a certain community, but we can't know everything that is true.

      We need to lean on our sensitivity readers to make sure we are giving a full and genuine picture that doesn't perpetuate stereotypes. Your cousin could be one of those readers for you, but it's important to have more than one.

      Megan

    2. If you've studied Latin culture then perhaps you might know that (if they've even heard of it) most Latino people won't use the 'x' at the end of the word. It is a mangling of a beautiful language invented by busy-body white activists. Latin languages are gendered--full stop. It's a linguistic thing--nothing to do with non-binary people.

      1. Nathaniel, thank you for your input. I think of course some people won't use Latinx for various reasons and this is why we want to make sure not to generalize whole groups.

        What you say about gender and Spanish is true, however lanagues change and adapt it would make sense that since people can identify differently than just male or female that language would change to follow.

        Megan

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