A long time ago (back in like, 2004) I took a women’s studies course called “Girls, Women, and Popular Culture”. I remember little about this course, other than it seemed to like judging works by their promotional materials (instead of, you know, watching/reading the example in question) and I received a crappy mark for a project I spent weeks working on because I don’t even remember why.
The other thing I remember, quite clearly, was the declaration by one of the few men in the class that no one, under any circumstances, should ever write characters that are in any way different from them.
I’m not going to tell you why I think this person is wrong and that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, because anyone, writer or not, should be able to give me several reasons why it’s wrong and a dumb idea. What I will say, though, is that I think this person’s comment is pointing at a bigger issue:
People (but especially people who belong to a majority group) are generally terrible at writing characters who are different from them (especially if they happen to be part of a minority).
Seriously, go look at a website like Fangs for the Fantasy, which reviews urban fantasy books from a social justice perspective. They have dozens of examples of straight, white authors who attempt to write POC and GLBT characters and completely, utterly FAIL at it. If your bookshelf is anything like mine (stuffed to the gills with mainstream fantasy titles) you will have seen this: characters who are annoyingly stereotyped who have a habit of dying by the end of the story.
I would like to take a moment to say that I don’t think white people, or straight people or whatever shouldn’t write POC or LGBT+ characters. I think, if anything, we need to see more of these characters in mainstream titles. What I would like to see is a lot less stereotyping and actually LISTENING to minorities when they have issues with how you portray your characters.
I know your first instinct will probably be to jump to the defense of your babies, crying IT’S NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL YOU HAVE IT ALL WRONG! Don’t do this, for the love of everything, it won’t help your case if you pitch a fit. It’s easy, as a member of the majority (and I myself am a member of several majority groups) to forget about how we are privileged in so many ways, and not just when it comes to characters (are you a white author? Congratulations, you stand a much greater chance of ever being published by a mainstream publisher than your POC counterparts!).
At this point, some of you are probably wondering why an unpublished aspiring author is lecturing published authors about writing, but the thing is, I’m not just a writer, I’m a reader, I’m a prolific reader, and I do care about the kinds of characters that I see published authors putting out day after day, and I see fellow readers going “OMFG SO INCLUSIVE AND AMAZING!” and I say “Really, fellow readers, really?”
On the subject of publishing, I’m writing a short story that’s a cynical look at vampires in urban fantasy. I’d like to post it here, so that
everyone can see my terrible writing everyone can see that, yes, I don’t just write these blog posts, I do “real” writing.