Writing with Color – Representation in Writing

As a writer, I get asked about whether or not I think representation in novels is important A LOT. It’s second only to the question “Where do your ideas come from?” <– (Answer: EVERYWHERE.

As a writer, I get asked about whether or not I think representation in novels is important A LOT. It’s second only to the question “Where do your ideas come from?” <– (Answer: see the previous blog post!) To answer the first question you need only read one of my novels, all of which include POC and LGBTQ peoples in important roles. While some writers (generally white-cis-writers) may shy away from writing people from other backgrounds and cultures I think it’s of the utmost importance. Why, you ask?

Because I write to reflect the world around me, and that world is full of diversity. Even in my upcoming series, The Bonegates Series, which is set in Faerie and therefore I could literally make the world as I wanted it, I could not conceive any other way of writing. In fact, in The Bonegates Series, I took it a step further, giving unnatural hair, skin, and eye colors to certain characters because- why not? It’s fantasy!

The argument is constantly brought up that writers do not want to offend those of other cultures by portraying them incorrectly and while I see where they are coming from I believe it far more offensive to delete them entirely. A monochromatic, cis world, where everyone is able-bodied becomes unrealistic. Perhaps for historical fiction or very, very small town settings, it could work but overall, the world is full of color and writing should be too.

Now, as for portraying people incorrectly/rudely/stereotypically, there’s a really simple way to avoid this (if that is your intention). Ask someone from whatever group you’re writing about and talk to them. ASK if what you are writing is offensive. I recently had this experience with a fellow writer who uses a wheelchair. I asked her to read my work and pay special attention to how I portrayed the character in a wheelchair (Alistair from The Starseed Trilogy). She was very pleased to read and was a great help at giving me insight into how a person using a wheelchair may take one of my character’s dialogue. Don’t know anyone from the particular group you are trying to include? Find a writers group on social media and put yourself out there. I’m sure someone will be happy to help.

Another reason I believe it’s incredibly important writers write a diverse cast is because what we write trickles into other industries. If my books ever get made into a movie, I want there to be no question that certain characters look a certain way. If the cast is white-cis-washed it will not be because I didn’t do what I believe is right.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, I believe there need to be more characters of color/minorities because I’ve had the experience where a reader of color actually said “I don’t think any of these people are dark skinned” when I used the term “tall, dark, and handsome.” Well, actually, one was. He was even described (briefly-but I don’t believe in banging the reader over the head with such information either. That’s annoying as heck!) as such, but that did not register. I don’t blame the reader for this, I blame our culture. We’ve been white-and-cis-gender-washed for so long, that now, readers simply insert cis white man/woman in their mind even if the author explicitly wrote the character as a POC/minority/perhaps has a prosthetic limb. This tells me we need MORE diversity and we need to say it OUT LOUD, not just in our mind or imply it softly. We need to make this mainstream. To do that, more writers need to get over their fear and simply write the world as it is. Big, diverse, full of color and love for all.

Where do you get your ideas?

Where do you get your ideas? I think it’s kind of a funny question, to be honest.

Where do you get your ideas? This has to be the question writers, and probably other creatives (a term I define fairly broadly), get most often. I think it’s kind of a funny one, to be honest. For me, I never feel a shortage of ideas. I’m currently only three books (of five) into writing The Bonegates Series and already I have another fantasy-dystopian-esque series, concerning Portland, witches, a plethora of tattoos, and talking crows brewing in the back of my mind!

But still, people ask it, so I’d like to try and answer where my ideas come from. Clearly, this is different for different people, so don’t take this as prescriptive advice. It’s merely my situation.

  1. My most influential source of ideas is other books. Or audiobooks (found for free at your local library or pay for an audible subscription) for those people who are about to tell me they don’t have time to read but have a commute and a smartphone. Guess what? You also have time to read! Personally, I believe to be a writer, especially a fiction writer, you have to be a reader and you have to read widely. That being said, many people disagree with this idea. They claim that if they read other people’s works they won’t be able to come up with original content. To that I say, “Do you really think your work is that original?” I can’t think of a single book, show, movie, etc that is NOT derivative of SOMETHING. Let’s cut the BS. It’s all been done before, stop being so precious about being creative. What hasn’t been done is your (or my) particular spin on what has been done before. No one other person on Earth has had your exact life experience and you bring your particular experience to your story. Your experience, your words, your life, and your spin are what makes the story special.
  2. Film is another hotbed of ideas. Sometimes, when I’m actually trying to study pacing (which I think film gets right more often than novels because they have to) or a character I know is particularly well done in a film and I want to emulate I’m all attention, taking it in. I’ve even been known to take a note or two. Most of the time, however, when I watch a movie or show my brain is off. I read all day and to just be able to sit back and not actively work to take in a story is a really nice reprieve. Still, my brain is working when I’m trying to be a vegetable! In fact, just recently, I watched a movie and a single line said as a joke by one particularly annoying character spawned an opening scene of a novel I’d like to write one day. A single line out of thousands! That’s pretty amazing and I bet that if you let your mind wander where it will on whatever interests you in a movie/show you too could easily find inspiration to create.
  3. Folklore/religion/myths are personal favorites for sources of inspiration because I try to inject a little bit of them into every project I write. Even my most urban and contemporary ideas will have something, a line, a subplot, a character which harkens back to one of these cultural aspects. It’s how I make my world richer, more full. I may never tell the reader explicitly that is what I did (though I often do), but I’ll know, and perhaps a few very perceptive readers will catch it. In some of my works like The Starseed Trilogy, my love for mythology and studying religion is quite obvious.
  4. Writers can often be known for being hermits, and I’m not going to lie, I do like being at home, alone, in the quiet and writing. I like it a lot. But if that was all I did how would I ever be able to accurately represent the world around me? You could say other books and film but those are only a person/person’s spin on what is around you. Easily manipulated, just as your worldview is. And maybe that’s OK to write from another person’s worldview, but not for me. I want to write from mine and to do that, I have to get outside. Walk your neighborhood, go to a coffee shop, watch and listen on the metro instead of staring at your phone, do whatever is accessible to you! The outside world is rife with inspiration, but you have to get out there to find it.
  5. Podcasts are a wealth of inspiration! Even after I listen to the purely informative/business ones I usually come out with an idea for some sort of project (it may veer more towards marketing – but that’s still creative right?). If you don’t listen to podcasts specializing in the industry you are interested in, you are really missing out on a wellspring of free, accessible if you have a smartphone, usually well researched (do your homework people, don’t just listen to any Tom, Dick, or Henrietta), and you can listen on the go.
  6. Kids. I don’t have kids, but I do watch children at a daycare occasionally. Not to mention, many of my friends have kids and let me tell you, they are never without some sort of crazy inspiration! If you’re uninspired sometimes it helps to look to someone who is inspired. Look to your child, go to a park and sit on a bench and just listen to what they are saying (in a non-creepy manner please). You can find some gold nuggets in those tiny-humans because their imagination is limitless and often, they have little filter. If you’re not into the idea of hanging around kids, perhaps try to invite a sense of child-like wonder into your day. Do a cartwheel just because. Color. Sprint down the street grinning. Do anything you’ve ever seen a child do, perhaps it will spark a bit of inspiration in your own life.

I could go on, but those are definitely my tops sources of inspiration. I think the key is to keep your eyes open. LISTEN more than you speak because if you’re busy talking how are you ever going to notice anything else happening around you? If you listen now you can use your voice later, like when you want to launch your awesome new creation into the world.

Now, go forth and create.