Diversity has everyone wrapped up in knots these days, whether it’s the people fighting to find representation, or the privileged trying to find ways to make sure their stories are inclusive. If you aren’t on the diversity train, I would argue that you should be for a number of reasons, but that’s another post for another day. Long story short: understanding and incorporating diversity into your works makes you a better writer, and a better person. Now, I am not an authority on the subject of diversity, I’m in the trenches right along with everyone else trying to figure out how to navigate this space so my stories can be accessible to everyone. Along the way, I’ve noticed a lot of people struggling to get a foothold on where to start, or tripping over assumptions that slip into their writing and undo all of their hard work. Because at the end of the day, for those of us who fall into the “privileged” category, or the “Euro-centric” category, or whatever you want to call it, it all comes down to checking assumptions. Our lives are rife with assumptions, be it the way we understand polite conversation, food, technology, the list goes on. And it is our job to understand where our worlds differ from our neighbors’. But that’s the thing about assumptions: they are often so ingrained into the way we understand the world that they don’t come up when we pull out a list of ideas to audit. But I may be able to help you out with one of them, an assumption that is so profound to the way we experience the world, and yet so fundamentally different depending on where you live: the seasons.
Right now in North America we are enjoying summer. We are posting left and right all sorts of memes about sunshine and beaches. But what about our friends in Australia? They are in the dead of winter right now. How different would your Facebook page look if you had a few more Australian friends posting about how cold their drive to work was this morning?
Here’s another easy one for you: When I say Christmas, what comes to mind? For me it’s presents, snow, and Christmas trees. Thick coats, gloves, and huddling in the warm house with family because the sun keeps going down long before I want it to. But what about people in California? Many of my family members in that state have never seen snow, and to have it on Christmas is completely unheard of. And what about those friends I mentioned in Australia? For them, Christmas falls in the early summer, on some of the longest days of the year. The fact that not everyone gets snow on Christmas is not a novel idea. But have you ever thought about how specific the concept of snow on Christmas is? Only the Northern areas of the Northern hemisphere experience the quintessential “Christmas Weather,” and yet, here in America at least, the theme of Jingle Bells and sleigh rides is a pervasive part of the Christmas experience, one that is seemingly inseparable from Christmas even though about half of America is too warm to get snow at any time of the year.
Christmas is an obvious example, but so often we use other seasonal experiences to draw our readers in. Watermelon and barbecues to mark the summer. The smell of a baking pumpkin pie to mark the depths of Fall. The chirping of sparrows to mark the end of winter days. But not everyone eats watermelon or barbecues burgers. They might barbecue pork, or geese, or any number of other things with any number of other spices that would elicit a vastly different smell. For some people a barbecue is completely unheard of. Not to mention, wildlife sounds that mark the seasons are vastly different from climate to climate. I had no idea what a cicada was growing up. I read about them all the time, but I never knew what they sounded like until I played a video game called Animal Crossing. It’s these little details, these assumptions about what it takes to draw a reader into the season, that can easily kick a reader out if they can’t identify with the experience, or if they feel like they are being force-fed another template that they don’t fit into.
Now, I’m not saying this to say, “Everyone not doing this is wrong!” Not at all. If you are writing about a small town boy trying to play football in Montana, these things may be essential to your character and where he is. But if you’re trying to write broader characters about broader places, these are the kind of assumptions to look out for. Better yet, if you’re trying to write about a character who grew up in a country different from your own, start with these things. Learn what the weather is like. Learn how the climate and culture affects what kinds of food are readily available. Learn what sights and smells are associated with the local major holidays. These aren’t be-all-end-alls for writing diverse stories, you need a lot more than a days’ worth of research to fully understand and write a character different than yourself, but it is a place to start. A foundational brick in building your understanding. These seasonal experiences are so essential to how we grew up, to how we understand the world, and they are just as essential to your characters and your readers too. So don’t just plug in your own experience assuming it lines up with everyone else in the world. Take a step outside of yourself and learn what other worlds are out there. Because the funny thing is, these experiences are no longer “out there.” They are right here. These are the experiences your neighbor had before moving to town. These are experiences your readers on Amazon are living right now. And if you aren’t aware of that, then your writing will suffer for it because you will be operating within a world that is limited to the sum of your assumptions.
By Alex Fedyr
B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree
Amazon Author Page
*Pictures from royalty free images at Pexels.com/Provided by author