Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Outside Your Comfort Zone



You may have seen the stats that tell us there's an overwhelming majority of YA stories and covers, featuring white females. Kate's recent POST breaking down the percentages, is especially surprising (and then she got all famous for her charts, here).

And yeah, there's more to this equation--like publishing, gatekeepers, the reading public, and subjectivity--but I'm just focusing on the writing end.

I've written my share of middle class white stories. Because it's what I know. And when you're first learning how to write, you need a cushion of comfort through which to practice the mechanics.

But I have many more stories in me. And so do you.



 I love writing from the male point of view. It didn't come easy at first, but now, smoother sailing. My newest YA features a gay male teen. And another that I'm outlining features a black male teen. But that's writing what I know, too. I have gay friends and family members. I was a social worker and special education teacher for fifteen years, working with kids and families from many different cultures.

So, I KNOW. And you know, too. You have experiences you can draw on. To make the YA experience more diverse. So teens of all backgrounds can find themselves in our books. 

And even if you don't know, there are basic human needs that we all share. Belonging, fear, love, respect, vulnerability. Research like heck and ask questions. If the worry is that you can't pull off the voice or the story, there are plenty of betas and CP's to check us. And I bet you'd surprise yourself.



So, if you've been tinkering with one diverse idea or another, I encourage you to leave your comfort zone, too. Even if it's a side character or a super secret practice book. Do it. You'll feel richer for it.

Let's change the tide. Let's create a tidal wave of diversity.

14 comments:

Matthew MacNish said...

I started writing the manuscript long before I knew a single thing about publishing, but I'm proud to say my first book features a protagonist who is white, Asian, AND African, who falls in love with a white girl, and has Chinese, Japanese, Jamaican, white, Jewish, and British/Ex-Pat Indian friends.

I didn't set out to write a cast of diverse characters on purpose. Those were just the characters that came to me, because those are the kinds of people I know.

My next book, well ... it does something very interesting (I hope - I pray) with ethnicity.

Christina Lee said...

So awesome, Matt (and I though you were cool before...)!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm the same as Matt. I've had books with different ethnic groups in them, but I don't make a big deal about it. They're who they are, and their ethnic background doesn't drive the story. I'm also for letting the reader fit the person they want into the role. If it's important to the story that the person is from Japan, then I would mention it, otherwise it's up to the reader to decide.

Christina Lee said...

Important points, Stina. I like books that have a diverse cast of characters, whose cultures aren't pointed out, it just is what it is. But I'm talking about main characters here, and people taking the chance to write them, even if they are scared to. Practice with your diverse side characters, sure. GREAT idea.

storyqueen said...

Just this. YES!

DL Hammons said...

Laying seige to my comfort zone is a theme for me this year, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to make this leap quite yet. I consider it a huge responsibility to do it accurately! :)

Christina Lee said...

I hear you, DL, but that fear will only hold people back. Nothing is cookie cutter anyway, not even the characters we are comfortable writing!

JEM said...

Very interesting. I definitely love writing from the male perspective, since my brain works much more along logical and less emotional lines. My female characters end up coming off cold :), but my male characters are hilarious. Go figure. Moving into other races would be hard for me at this point, though, because I really don't have that experience. I would hate more than anything to come off as inauthentic. I obviously need to diversify my friend group.

Christina Lee said...

YAY for male perspective, JEM! But what about if it was less about being "authentic" and more about being "matter-of-fact"?

Meredith said...

Such fascinating statistics! I definitely need to push myself out of my comfort zone. Thanks for the inspiration, Christina!

Laura Pauling said...

It is a good idea but at the same time I don't want to end up white washing an ethnic character. I live in the most white part of the country so my experience is nil and the last thing I want to do is fall back on stereotypes or insult anyone. I guess that would be my fear. Just being honest.

Christina Lee said...

I hear you, Laura. Honesty is good. And I think you should only do it if you’ve been interested in trying it--just giving a nudge to those on the fence! I think there are lots of us.

Lourie said...

I always remember hearing: write what you know. Which of course, is easy. But as I got older, I realized that as the writer you are, the "creator." It's your world. Star Wars, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter...on and on.

Theresa Milstein said...

I was just discussing this with my daughter yesterday. She was saying how much she liked Katniss as a character because most of her books about strong, fighting main characters were boys. Usually the female was the friend. She also knew about the movie controversy over Rue and the other African character. I told her about Kate's discovery of YA covers. The manuscript I'm about to query has a half-Asian, half-caucasian MC. Hope it gets published. And if it does, hope the cover reflects the diversity.