Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and comment on my short story last week! All of the feedback was helpful.
This week I'm going to focus on a writing dilemma I've been pondering for a while now, and the diverse books I'm reading for the RESIST! Challenge are only making my questions deeper, and the need to get it right more important.
Let me explain: I have a few (I hope strong) ideas for new books floating around in my brain, all of which I've gotten a small start on. For two of these, I think I want to write my main character as non-white. This wasn't something I necessarily set out to do; as the ideas were developing, I was drawn in a certain direction, and it evolved organically into me thinking: Wouldn't it be interesting if she had this other background instead of one just like mine...
In one book idea, my character evolved into an Indian American woman who has a mother from India and a father from Norway. My backstory concept is that her parents met as grad students at UW-Madison and fell in love. I see grad students from all over the world every day in the halls of the chemistry building where I work, and this was my inspiration.
In the other idea I'm working on, I want to make one of the two main characters a Hmong American. It, like most of my writing, is set in Wisconsin, which has one of the largest Hmong populations in the U.S. (third, to be exact, behind California and Minnesota). Again, I hadn't planned on it when I began writing, but the inspiration came naturally and struck me as an interesting place to take the character.
So my big question, after all that babbling, is this:
How do I make sure that I get it right? I can polish up my library card and research, of course. That's a given. I can talk to people who have the same ethnic and cultural backgrounds as my characters. I can scour the internet. Despite all that, there's still a nagging voice inside me that whispers: Who are you to be writing people of color? You don't know their lives, their struggles—all the things that make them rich and interesting.
But there's another little voice that answers right back: Do it. Take the risk. Don't choose the easy way and write another straight white woman.
So I've decided that I'm going to try. Try writing a book or two with a diverse main character. And I'm going to try my best to get it right, doing my homework and focusing on the shared things that make us all human while celebrating the special things that make us all unique.
Have you ever written a main character that is different from you?
Have you ever read an author who did and may or may not have gotten it right?
I'd love to hear your thoughts!