April is National Poetry Month! At our next meeting, Monday, April 8th at 5pm, if you have a favorite poem or find one you like over the course of your reading this week, please bring it along to share with the group. We’ll also do some found poetry exercises—words and materials will be provided, so no pressure!
On Monday we wrapped up our diverse fiction discussion by pointing out that no one discussion is going to do the trick. The topic is vast and complicated—we’re talking about the full range of human experience, after all. We picked up a few threads from last week and resolved to keep the subject in mind in future discussions.
“Sincerity” was the word of the hour regarding writing marginalized characters—readers can typically tell when a writer just wants to score points or fill some kind of quota, especially if the writer has skimped on the research. It’s important not to boil a character down to one facet of their identity, but identity absolutely makes a difference in how a person moves through the world, and failing to factor that into your storytelling can make a character’s identity seem like an afterthought.
Research is everything when it comes to writing well. It fills in the gaps in your experience and shows that you’re serious about representing your subject fully and respectfully. Thanks to the internet it’s easier than ever to research how other people live—and the things marginalized people wish were better represented or understood—without making anyone feel like the subject of a nature documentary.
In addition to targeted research, ensuring that your reading (fiction and nonfiction) includes many different voices and perspectives will help prevent stereotypes and biases from working their way into your writing and help undo any you may have already internalized. (A lot of writing advice can be boiled down to “Just read everything.” When it comes to writing marginalized characters, it’s also important to question everything. A quick internet search can reveal much more complexity than you may have been taught to assume.)
All that said, it’s important to remember that you likely won’t get everything right, and good intentions won’t negate the impact of a mistake or shield you from criticism. Just be graceful about any criticism you may receive and resolve to do better each time.
Speaking of research: a question was raised about writing unfamiliar settings, sparking a brief conversation about the tricks we use to craft scenes that feel real. Once again the internet is the best thing ever to happen to writers. Noelle recommends using sound archives (like these) to put yourself into a setting, and Thomasa recommends Headspace and other sources of ambiance tracks. Other writers have recommended using GoogleMaps for reference when using a contemporary setting in your fiction, and of course there’s Wikipedia et al. for visual aids and descriptions of pretty much every place under the sun. Nature writing, documentaries and travelogues may also come in handy if you want to explore a specific location or setting in depth. If traveling is within your means, it’s a good idea to take notes anytime you find yourself in an unfamiliar setting. Practice observing not just the sights but the sounds, smells, etc. After a while you’ll have your own dictionary of sensory details to draw from, whether for inspiration for a new project or simply to enrich a scene.
Have a favorite research tool or any advice for us? Feel free to comment!