Moira here again, welcoming you back to another #SensualSunday post. This week I could not figure out what to post. Then I saw something that got the wheels turning. I still hesitated, and you’ll figure out possibly why as we go along, but I figured I should post it anyway. After all, when we seven decided to go all in on this site we had some loose, unspoken rules.
- Provide help to the new, or soon to be authors;
- Share what we’ve learned, often the hard way, to ease that journey for the new comers;
- Be honest, be blunt, and don’t sugar coat anything – it might hurt, but it’s better than the alternative;
- If something needs to be said to keep others from falling down that same hole, we damn well say it.
Now, I’m not saying that we have all the answers. We all wish we did, but we don’t – I don’t think anyone does or ever will. But if something we discuss, share, or explore helps even one author to avoid a similar pitfall, or recognize the signs of danger ahead then we’ve been successful. I don’t think any of us could ask for more than that.
Which leads us to the point of today’s post, and here you thought I didn’t have one didn’t you? HA! Today I’m going to discuss author’s who write stories with characters of ethnic backgrounds unlike their own and some of the ways this can go horribly wrong. This would be the “something” I saw, on social media, that got my wheels a turnin’.
We as authors are taught to first “write what we know”. That’s great, for the first couple of books. After a while though our muse starts to stretch, and grow, and we read a story that makes us wonder if we could do something like that, but in our own way. This is the “growing” portion of our career, the very first steps anyway. Which means now we’re starting to mix things up, writing characters who have jobs maybe we once dreamed of doing ourselves (doctor, astronaut, rancher, historian, anthropologist, etc.) and this is when “researching” becomes extremely important.
It’s pretty easy to research doctors, nurses, dentists, police officers, firemen, and even the military. There are unending resources out there including within our own circles of friends, and publishing houses. The one thing an author ALWAYS SHOULD RESEARCH BEFORE WRITING is anything involving a race/culture not their own. If you are Caucasian of European descent for example (ie: your forefathers came over on the Mayflower type of deal) then you probably don’t know (not saying you don’t either) a whole lot about Native American Indian culture, African American culture, or Asian culture to name but a few. You want to write a character for one of these, or another, race/culture. DO YOUR FUCKING RESEARCH!
The fastest, or one of the fastest sure fire ways to lose readers is to misrepresent an entire race of individuals. For the love of all that is shiny and sparkly in this world, do not fuck this up. If you are writing an African American individual you need to understand their rich, vibrant, diverse and sometimes tragic history. You also need to know that using certain terminology in regards to someone of African American descent might not be the smartest thing you did. Every culture/race has words, terms and phrases they consider derogatory, demeaning, and straight up belittling. Using them WILL LOSE YOU READERS. It will also lose you the respect of your fellow authors, and put a huge dark stain against your name which will never come clean. It will also garner you plenty of negative feedback, and horrid reviews.
You can save yourself from this by doing the easiest thing ever. ASK QUESTIONS. Make an inquiry letting folks know you’re writing this story, that you’re using this character or characters, and that you’d like some assistance in ensuring said character(s) are factually accurate. This is especially true if you are writing something historical in nature. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, but don’t be a dick about it either. Yes, there are some subjects in all cultures people don’t like speaking about, but you can still discuss them if they are relevant to your character(s). Just remember that you can ask probing questions without sounding like a jackass, and don’t ask anything that is not relevant to your particular character(s). There’s inquisitive and respectfully researching, and then there’s being a nosy parker.
So, let’s recap here. Research, research, research, find someone that actually knows about the culture/race you’re writing about to ask well thought out questions of, and don’t be a douche. Yup, that’s about it. Which means this post is done and you all can now go and enjoy your Sunday.
XO Moira Callahan