Discussion: Writing diverse characters as a white author

Today’s discussion post is a little more focused on the writing side of bookish things. 
I’m participating in Camp NaNo in July, and am super excited for my story idea. I plan to write several interlinked short stories based on fairy tales, set in an urban fantasy/paranormal romance AU. The common link is some interaction with Straw  & Spindle, a nightclub owned by Rumpelstiltskin. Each story will be a romance, some with the character traditionally considered the villain of the story as one of the romantic leads, some gender bent or gender swapped. I’ve got plans for M/F, M/M, and F/F couples. 
Here is where the discussion topic comes in: I’d really like to include a diverse cast of characters in my universe. I’d like to include non-white characters, but as a white woman I don’t want to mess it up. Is there a right way to do this? Do I just write an all white cast so I stay in my own lane and don’t step on toes? If I try to write PoC characters is that taking up space an #ownvoices author should have?
I see a lot of blog posts, articles, tweets demanding more diversity in the media, and I am all for that. I am making an effort to expand my own reading choices to include books by diverse authors – though looking at my reviews for the past few months, I know I can do better at this. As a reader, I feel like I have at least sort of a handle on what I can do to help promote diversity in the book world. As a writer, I’m not sure what’s the right way to do this… 
I want to do the right thing (if there even is one…) but you know what they say about the road to hell and good intentions… 
It probably doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, as these stories will probably never see an audience wider than the few people who read them on my blog. But even if nobody ever sees them but me and my NaNo writing buddies, I still want to do better and be better. 
SO! I am asking you, Blogiverse, to share with me your knowledge!! Link me to resources, leave your opinions, let me know if even writing this post has infuriated you… 😉

10 comments

  1. Good luck with NaNo! I think all you writers are crazy to write that much in a month. I’d probably drop dead if I tried. As for the diversity thing, I don’t think it’s possible to “win” at it. No matter what you do, someone will tell you that it’s wrong. I like the idea of hiring people from the groups you’re writing about to edit your work and point out any glaring mistakes.Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. Thankfully for Camp NaNo you can set your own wordcount goal, haha. I WAS going to aim for 50k, but with some other events, conventions, author book signings I want to go to… I might aim lower for 25k. ;P

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  3. Good luck with Camp NaNo Elley! I love the idea of trying new things, new characters of all races and diversity. I think the best thing is to give it a go. You may find you enjoy and identify with a POC more than a white character! You may find you don't and both are okay. Even some #ownvoices don't always want to write their ethnicity and I think that's okay too! The best thing is to not try to force diversity where you aren't feeling it because it comes out in the writing. ❤️

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  4. Thanks for the encouragement, Dani! Most of the characters are white in my head, but a few have formed up there with other ethnicities… I think my plan will be to try to write them as I imagined and not try to force a different vision of them, either towards being more diverse or less? The setting is an unnamed urban city near the ocean, because living in land-locked Minnesota I don't have a lot of first hand experience with coastal cities either, haha. I guess I'm winging it all over the place?

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  5. I don't normally read short story collections, but yours sounds awesome! I don't have a good answer though since I too am white and wonder the same thing sometimes. It seems to me like people aren't happy when a white author doesn't write about POC characters, but then they also aren't happy when a white author does. You're never going to please everyone. But if your characters are POC without the story being about their experiences as a POC, then that's probably ok.

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  6. Thanks for your comment, Kristen. And I kind of agree on the damned if you do, damned if you don't feeling on white authors writing POC characters. I also don't usually like short story collections, but I'm hoping this won't feel like a collection of disjointed short stories because they're all set in the same world/city, and there are interlapping characters (like Cinderella's \”evil\” stepsisters are the witch in Rapunzel and the witch in Hansel & Gretel, for example).

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  7. Thanks for the comment (and encouragement!) Nicole. 🙂 I have decided not to worry about it TOO much because most likely my stories will never go further than my own computer and maybe the eyes of a few of my fellow NaNo campers, but I've decided to write what feels natural. For example, my vision of my Snow White character is of her being Chinese, so I'm just going to write her as she seems in my head. I am taking time to Google some stuff, like at one point I was going to have her say a prayer over the dead and then I was like \”Wait a minute, what is her religion? Would she say a prayer? Is she a Chinese Christian vampire? CAN you be a Christian vampire?\” It's certainly making me think about some things I just take for granted. I'm also writing several GLBTQIA+ characters, which for some reason I'm more comfortable writing that slant of diversity than racial/cultural diversity. Probably because I have friends that can be beta/sensitivity readers for that and it's less scary to ask a friend to read something and tell me if I'm out of line or way off base, haha. …That ended up being a long comment! LOL

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