After several lovely comments and my own need to put something in my blog I am going to expand upon my eight steps towards adding more cultural diversity into your life and your writing.
Tip one is all about perspective and cheating. My YA series Phoenix Child has many characters from different cultural backgrounds and as the series continues they will be traveling all over the world. So how will I deal with all of these different POV’s, different cultural backgrounds, and how it affect the characters?
I won’t. I cheat. My book is written in first person which means I only need to write about the world and people from one perspective. My main character, Sara, is culturally bland and standard American. Sara, was raised in group homes in San Francisco, so she has been exposed to many different cultures but doesn’t have a specific one of her own.
For those writers concerned about offending people but who want to have diverse characters first person is a great compromise.
I hear the wailing in the back- but I hate first person I can’t write in first person!! Don’t worry, calm down, its okay this idea can also apply to third person. I am currently writing an adult romance, in third person. My hero is half Japanese and half Native American. He also grew up in a big city. While he grew up in a rich cultural household he also grew up in a large American city which lets me show that he has cultural knowledge and influence, over a basic ‘bland American base’.
Bland American base- this is the basic thought patterns, morals, goals and lifestyles shared by the majority of Americans. It is true everyone is different, and yes this can change significantly depending on where you grew up. I use San Francisco as a base because I spent my teen years there so I’m familiar with it. Think of a Bland American base as a 5×9 square canvas and lets say all Americans, raised in America, have this basic canvas. It’s what we use to paint and what we paint that shows the difference in us. Someone from another country might have a round canvas, or a huge canvas, or pottery- and these are much bigger differences in perspective and outlook on life. Okay so this analogy is really lame- but I hope you get the idea.
And yes even in America people can have different canvases. They can live in a place with a strong cultural influence, or with parents whose beliefs and morals are different and are passed down to their kids in way that creates something different. If you feel you know a different culture well enough then write them. This post is about cheating and one way I cheat is the Bland American Cultural Base.
Some stories take place over a short period of time. Sometimes we only get a small glimpse into the strong beautiful cultural background of a black woman raised in Harlem when our exposure to her is short. We don’t need to know her favorite jazz singer, the racism she suffered, or her family’s secret soul food recipes. If she’s on a one week cruise and falls in love then that is the base of the story. While her background may show in how she acts it isn’t who she is.
Another great cheat, “It’s not a real Universe”. Do you write fantasy, sci-fi, or steampunk? If yes, there is no reason you can’t have diversity of characters. It is simply a matter of having them, and showing their differences without it being an issue. But Alica, we can’t do that- um yes you can, go back and watch Star Trek. Roddenberry wrote characters, and they were different, unique, and equal all at the same time. You don’t have to bring our social issues into your fantasy world. Why the hell would you want to? Although you can in creative unique ways that won’t step on any toes, again watch star Trek.
These tips are not for someone wanting to show how prejudice still runs through our society or the difficulty of an immigrant in America. These tips are for adding diversity to your writing where the persons skin color, sexuality, religion, etc. isn’t the dominate force in the plot, but simply a part of who they are.
Here’s a funny video by Henry Cho as an example of what I’m talking about.
Now for the Music section of my Monday blog. I’m sticking with Korea as a theme- so today you get Rain- he’s the lead in Ninja Assasign’s 🙂 This is a love song from a boy band in Korean. It’s slow and I guess sweet- but I don’t know Korean. There are sequence and if you wait it out he takes his shirt of and does a very lovely body roll. 🙂
You definitely covered my own little cheat for handling diversity. The nice thing about writing a lot of fantasy and science fiction in a different world is that you can reflect real-world issues with a certain comfort zone of your own construction. But I do feel it’s incredibly important to have those issues imbued into your fantasy/sci constructs. Certain aspects of the different cultures reflect different cultures in our world as a wider reflection that humanity, no matter where it exists, share some of the same joys, fears, problems, loves, etc, etc, etc. : )
What a great post, Alica! And I agree with the last bit, that the best way to add diversity is just to have the varying factors just be a part of who the person is, part of their character, though not necessarily a key point of the plot.
Thank you so much I’m glad you enjoyed it. I agree exploring our issues is important. In fantasy worlds you can explore them in a unique way that help to open people’s eyes in a new way that doesn’t directly challenge beliefs they grew up with.
What a beautiful musical video. His voice reminds me of someone and it’s bugging the **** out of me because I can’t think of who it is. Absolutely lovely voice.
Thanks AGAIN for introducing me to something NEW! Yippee!
And I loved your explanation re: integrating other cultures into one’s writing.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it- he’s very fun and he does have a great voice.
Glad you liked my first tip- more next week!
A beautiful post, and well-stated! It can be hard to decide when to bring specific issues over into a fantasy world and when not to. Terry Pratchett once had a fantastic quote that I’m going to paraphrase: “Why would black and white fight when they could band together and go against green?” I think it’s definitely something to think about!