A large number of authors, romance or otherwise, are what used to be called WASP – white, anglo-saxon, protestant. You can add in able-bodied, cis-gendered, and middle class. Relax, this post is not going to be what you think. I’m writing about how more and more authors are starting to write outside their “box.” They are crafting characters different from themselves. This is happening for a variety of reasons, in some cases a sense of social consciousness, in others an attempt to attract new readers and audiences to make more revenue.
This can be a good thing for us readers. Many of us hunger for stories that are different from the normal fare flooding bookshelves and eReaders. We want stories about “others” and, in some cases, stories about ourselves if we are members of a group that has been historically excluded from romance and other novels. Romance Slam Jam (https://rsjconvention.com/), a convention for readers and authors of romance books featuring characters of color, will celebrate more than thirty years this June in Kansas City, Mo.
The writer who uses reality instead of his or her imagination when portraying someone different makes the real difference. I’m talking about writers willing to push aside Google or Yahoo (they are good for facts and figures, but understanding different people and human sub-cultures are beyond a search engine’s capabilities) and spend time and energy doing primary research with the groups they plan to write about. When they try using their imagination, or the things “everyone knows” they risk putting readers off.
If an author is writing about members of a group they do not have intimate knowledge of, their obligation extends to more than just making sure the hero and heroine have a happy ending. I use the work obligation deliberately. When writing about fairies or goblins, aliens or were-creatures, feel free to put your imagination on overtime. But once you touch on real people, imagination is no longer a big asset. Our imagination are cluttered with stereotypes and clichés, caricatures and problem tropes. Unless controlled, these can push away readers you might have hoped to attract.
If you are trying to be inclusive in your writing, it’s not enough to make a character deaf and use sign language if you don’t understand deaf culture. You can’t just write about a character’s “almond-shaped” eyes or have them mispronounce the letter r when you don’t understand their upbringing and backstory, or the difference between Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian or any of a dozen other Asian and Asian-American people. It’s not enough to chose between calling an African-American’s skin color “coffee” or “chocolate” while being color-blind and not seeing the world through their eyes. Just as I could not create a credible white character by deciding if I should describe them as milk or cauliflower. (Trust me, I love both milk and cauliflower, but I hope you understand that neither choice would help me create a multi-dimensional, non-cliché character. Instead, they might turn some readers away from my writing.
http://chicagospringfling.com/) in April. There I will be helping attendees uncover techniques for crafting characters different from themselves.
After all, everyone deserves a little romance.