Last week we spent quite a long time talking about how to use diversity “correctly” in our writing. All to often when we try to be inclusive we end up being judged as pandering, detrimental to the cause or just plain wrong and even offensive to the group we are trying to convey.
We went over using race, economic background, disability, sex, religion, cultural differences and more but one thing we did touch on was age.
Writing about an age that you aren’t anymore of haven’t been yet can be very difficult. As someone creeping slowly toward “middle age” it hurts my heart when the 20 somethings assume that life ends at 30. They assume you’ll never have kids, love or success if you haven’t achieved them before the big 3-0.
How then would a person in their 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s feel if they too are misrepresented?
One group that is often portrayed and misunderstood are teens. Most literature for and about teens and children is written by people who are far removed from this time in their lives. Not to mention that even if you, a 30 something, could accurately recall the emotions and thoughts you experiences as a younger person the times have changed drastically. The world is a very different place and today’s 15 year old will be very different than you once were.
So how do we accurately portray others? How can we ever hope to write stories that are inclusive and not offensive?
We talk to one another.
If you want to write about what it’s like to be a Native American living in Rural Pennsylvania, a 14 year old teen mother, a 80 year old WW2 veteran, a Virginian farmer, a Buddhist monk, any other person you should seek to understand them by getting, if possible, first hand interviews with the people you wish to accurately portray. If you are unable to talk to a person similar to your character, maybe the astronauts aren’t returning your calls, or you know, you have yet to meet a real 400 year old vampire; you can read. Read broadly. Read memoirs. Read everything.
Analysis how other writers got it right and what maybe they got wrong.
I think the important thing to remember here is that we are having this conversation and that’s a start. We are trying to create worlds and be better at representing the reality of living in such a diverse world. We aren’t always going to have our intentions turn out the way we envisioned but we are trying.
Please tell me in the comments how you write characters that are different from yourself and what you do to add diversity to the worlds you create in your writing.