What have you learned about writing diverse characters in today’s cultural climate?
This piece originally appeared on Quora. You can find a link here.
Tremontaine is the critically acclaimed prequel to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside novels, which developed a cult following beginning with Swordspoint in 1987. The “Fantasy of Manners” focuses on decadent world building and interpersonal intrigue, and has been noted for its progressive expression of gender and sexuality. Team-written by some of today’s most exciting authors, Tremontaine season 3 is brought to you by Ellen Kushner, Joel Derfner, Karen Lord, Delia Sherman, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover, Tessa Gratton, and Liz Duffy Adams. The first episode is available for free at Serial Box and can be found here.
Writing diverse characters is about craft.
You take the time and do the work to get it right. That means research, that means practice, that means reading widely, that means consulting experts. It means building diversity into the foundation of your story, from the world to theme to plot. It means finding empathy for people who aren’t you and prioritizing their needs. It means getting out of the way. It means putting down a project or character because it’s not yours, and you can’t do it without harm. It means examining yourself and your position in power structures, your privileges, your prejudices. It means making yourself sit the f*ck down to let somebody else talk. If you want to write a good book, you practice your craft. It’s that simple; it’s that complicated.
Writing diverse characters is political.
You are political. You have a unique political position with regards to power structures, community, and marginalizations. We live in society, we write in society, we sell books and talk about them in society. You can’t escape political space if you want an audience, if you want your stories to matter.
So you have to accept that writing is political. If you can’t accept that you will never “get it right.”
There is no magical advice for writing diversity, just like there’s no magical advice that will teach you to craft a world or connect plot holes. It’s hard, because writing is hard. My best advice boils down to: write with empathy.
Empathy shouldn’t be hard, but we’ve made it so over centuries of story-telling that prioritizes and promotes a single story. We’ve normalized white patriarchy and not only neglected but systemically punished and destroyed any person or community that deviates. We’ve erased them.
To write with empathy you must put aside your ego. You have to strip away your privilege, even if that means you have to let somebody else have the space to tell the story. Empathy is supposed to be an equalizing force, but power ruins that by centering some experiences, and pushing all others to the margins. If you exist toward the margins you’ve been forced to empathize with the center all your life. If you exist toward the center you’ve been taught your story, your problems, your aspirations and goals are more valuable. That you yourself are more valuable. You’ve never needed empathy to survive.
Well, you need it now.
That is what I mean by saying you must build diversity into the foundation of your story: you have to knock down your own foundational prejudices and privileges, and then rebuild your own foundations. Because the story comes from you, and you are a political creature.
Reach for empathy. Tear down your privileges. Write a story.
Tremontaine Book Description
Author: Ellen Kushner, Joel Derfner, Karen Lord, Delia Sherman, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover, Tessa Gratton, and Liz duffy Adams.
Pub. Date: October 11, 2017
Publisher: Serial Box
Formats: eBook & audiobook
Find it: Season 1 Amazon, Season 2 Amazon, Season 3 Episode 1 Amazon, Season 3 Episode 2, Season 3 Episode 3 Amazon, iBooks, Season 1 iBooks, Season 2 iBooks, Season 3 Episode 1 iBooks, Season 3 Episode 2 iBooks, Season 3 Episode 3 iBooks, Serial Box
Since launching last year, serial fiction startup Serial Box has been featured from coast to coast including stories on NPR, Wired, BuzzFeed and i09. Serial Box was called “a godsend for a niche market of readers” by The Chicago Tribune.
As one of the flagship serials from Serial Box with tens of thousands of readers across multiple platforms, Tremontaine has made waves in the serial, LGBTQ, and fan fiction community.
Tremontaine introducers readers to a world where ambition, love affairs, and rivalries dance with deadly results. In this serial, Ellen Kushner and a team of writers return readers to the world of scandal and swordplay introduced in her cult-classic novel Swordspoint. Readers familiar with the series will find a welcome homecoming while new fans will learn what makes Riverside a place they will want to visit again and again. Tremontaine follows Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; Rafe Fenton, a handsome young scholar with more passion than sense; Ixkaab Balam, a tradeswoman from afar with skill for swords and secrets; and Micah, a gentle genius whose discoveries herald revolution. Sparks fly as these four lives intersect in a world where politics is everything, and outcasts are the tastemakers.
Team-written by some of today’s most exciting authors, Tremontaine season 3 is brought to you by Ellen Kushner, Joel Derfner, Karen Lord, Delia Sherman, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover, Tessa Gratton, and Liz duffy Adams.
About Seral Box:
A new kind of publishing company for a new age.
While technology has rapidly evolved, the way publishers and writers bring books to readers really hasn’t. Storytelling in TV has become more sophisticated and multilayered, podcasts have risen to mainstream media status—but ebooks are just books on digital devices, not easier, more fun, or more social than they were before.
Serial Box is here to change all of that: artfully blending together the best of series television and the convenience of ebooks and audiobooks to bring readers a new form of story telling. Releasing fiction serials over the course of 10-16 week seasons, Serial Box is about delivering addictive episodes straight to the user’s digital device to be read or listened to anytime, anywhere.
Taking a few pages from the world of television, Serial Box hires a team of a talented and award-winning writers to collaborate on each serial, pulling the best ideas to develop great characters and craft a narrative that captivates readers over the course of the season. A new ensemble of writers works on each series, so each will vary in genre and length, but they’ll always be entertaining page-turners that keep you wondering what will happen in next week’s episode.
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