- Tuesday, February 26th

How to get help when writing characters of color

I just wanted to address that last Ask with some general tips. I’m a writer of color (Japanese-American) and I often write characters of color outside my own ethnicity and race in both fanfiction and published original fiction. I’ve solicited advice and also offered advice. I think it’s great when we write outside our own ethnicities and races, especially when it’s POC writing other POC, but sometimes we’re quite capable of falling into the same pitfalls as white people writing POC. 

Here are my tips for writers of any race or ethnicity:


- Do lots of research and find out what previous writers have done wrong and done right, as based on criticism from people of the same ethnicity/race. Try to do as much as possible on your own, without taking up other people’s time and emotional energy. 

- go to your friends first, but realize they might not be the best at advice. They’re your friends first, after al, and they might not be comfortable with doing this. It might worry them that if they’re too hard on you, you can’t take it—that you’ll freak out and stop being their friend. Or they might just be bad at giving writing advice, as many people are. Or they might fee uncomfortable talking about some kinds of racism because it brings up bad memories. Just try to be diplomatic and give your friend an out when you bring up this stuff. “If you’re not comfortable or just don’t feel like it, I totally understand.”

- Go to writing communities where people specifically offer to edit each others’ work. For example, at the absolutewrite.com forum there is a forum for POC writers where people offer their time to do cultural beta for works in progress. Offering to do this stuff for free is a big favor, but we wouldn’t do it unless we had an honest desire to do it, both to help out fellow writers and also to increase non-stereotypical representation of characters of color.

- If you can’t get people who are inspired to do this for you for free, pay for it! Either barter (offer to help edit their own work in your own speciality, for example) or just plain spend money. There are many professional freelance editors advertising on the internet. Some of them are POC who would be happy to do special cultural editing work for a reasonable rate per word.

Here are some Don’ts…

- don’t try to guilt people into doing this for you. It’s a favor and a service, not an obligation. Ask politely, take rejections politely, thank people who do it, and don’t demand more time than they have to offer.

- don’t request help in spaces where it’s inappropriate to request help. A group for black writers only, for example, would be a terrible place for a non-Black person to request help. A group dedicated to positive Black characters in a specific genre, on the other hand, might be a good place. If you’re in doubt, don’t request.

- don’t turn cultural beta work into a psychotherapy session. I once had an instance where a white person seemed to want to use my cultural beta offer as an opportunity to get catharsis for white guilt issues. We never even got to the stage of them sending me their work, because they were just too weird and insecure about it. I felt like all my polite communication with them was wasted. Stay focused on the work, please.

- you might get a bad beta/edit/advice. This is a risk for any topic; it’s not a problem specific to ethnic or racial representation. Be humble but also use your best judgement. If your beta who says they are Asian tells you that all Asians have nictating eyelids or something, you might want to back off and find someone else.

- don’t treat a thumbs up by one person as a tacit approval by ALL members of that entire ethnicity/race. They might have a different threshold for what’s stereotypical and offensive than someone else of their same ethnicity/race. Like everything else in writing, it’s a calculated risk. If you get criticized for being stereotypical or appropriating, please don’t say “BUT MY BUDDY SO-AND-SO GAVE ME THE GREEN LIGHT ON THIS” and hang them out to dry. Doing your research and trying hard doesn’t make you immune to criticism. No one should be immune to criticism… even POC writing our own ethnicity and race can and should be criticized when we engage in stereotypes. 

I hope these are helpful!

And please check out our resources and reference tag. Also, we have a tab/link thing on our page that has a plethora of resources for writers.

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  15. connoririshwright reblogged this from ohmygollygarsh and added:
    Awesome advice for writers