“Well, what CAN I write?”

I often hear that question in all book community circles. in replies of tweets or in Youtube and Instagram comments sections. I’ve heard it during panels at conventions, talks, and interviews.

Publishing is changing. The Young Adult community is growing and becoming more vocal, including the voices of marginalized groups such as POC and LGBTQ groups. Publishing thrives on readership and what people want to read. There’s a rise in vampire romance readership? More vampire romance novels gets printed. This is more or less the same in any publishing departments, but Young Adult communities in particular are thriving on the need for change. But, in all forms of it, there are some that don’t really understand the change; they may find it hostile or angry or even radical.

But questions like these, questions from white writers posed to POC readers and writers are important in our understanding or what it means to write diversely and how important it is.

I’m a white writer. As in, I’m white and a writer. Those two things do not usually correlate, but the more we talk about race and privilege, the more I and many others can see how these two things do affect one another. As a white person, I am more likely to identify and relate to a white character, maybe on a more subconscious level. I don’t exactly exclaim “Huh, she’s white. I like her.” I also see people like me in fiction; in movies, television and of course, in books. As a writer, I may find it automatic to write about white people (though definitely what I aim for). And hey, a white person writing about white people is fine, normal in fact.

But as publishing progresses, as writing and reading change, it is obvious that an all-white cast of characters, especially coming from a white person, is unrealistic. The world is not white people, it never was, but now that people are listening, now that POC writers are finally getting a chance to publish their work, it’s more important than ever for white writers to not get stuck in the old ways, to not see their worlds as all white people, to understand that white stories are not the only stories.

However, there is a difference between writing diversely and writing the stories that are not yours.

Ownvoices emerged as we began to celebrate the stories of gay teens by gay writers, about black teens and their struggles with racism written by black writers. Ownvoices was and still is a rejection of white stories being the only story. And yet, many white writers will have a POC protagonist with racist portrayals and dangerous depictions.

You see Twitter threads and blog posts and articles, explaining why an all-white cast won’t do, and how white writers writing ‘outside their lane’ won’t do too. And it’s where this question comes from ‘Well, what CAN I write?’, but this question is redundant.

Writers, ultimately, can write whatever they want. But it does not mean they are free from criticism. If you are getting annoyed that you cannot write an all-white cast but also cannot write a poorly researched, problematic depiction of a black, gay, disabled, mentally ill etc. protagonist, then should you really be writing at all?

I don’t think anyone has ‘the answer’ to what you can and cannot write. You’re going to mess up, and you’re going to have criticism. It’s normal and should be welcomed. Only you can decide what to write, but I think it’s important to understand that if you write a story about POC, as a white writer, you’re going to be picked to get published over a POC writer with a story about POC.

And is that right?

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There’s Your Representation! Diversity & Responsibility

Earlier in the week, #JKRowlingisoverparty began trending on Twitter.

It seems that Twitter loves having parties celebrating the ending of a famous person’s relevancy. Which is ironic in itself, considering they’re partying to celebrate said person. But anyway.

Rowling (haha) my eyes and clicking on the hashtag, I wasn’t too sure what the topic was. I found myself liking a few conflicting tweets, and it wasn’t until some time later I realised what the reason for the hashtag actually was.

Sirius Black is not gay.

We’ve all done it; we’ve all had our fill of Harry Potter fanfiction. Whether it’s Dramione, Drarry, or Sirius/Lupin (Sirupin? Lupius?), we’ve all taken from the books we loved and shared our own little head canons together. I’ve always seen fanfiction as a celebration for works, and while many authors do not agree with that, it comes across that J.K. Rowling does agree.

A very common concept within fandoms is changing the sexuality of a character. There are many reasons why this may happen or why readers do this, but one glaringly obvious reason is the lack of LGBT representation within the majority of fiction. While I find YA in particular might be progressing towards a diverse community of characters, Harry Potter is still a hugely popular series with little to no diversity. It is literally a school of straight, white people. It’s not as if every character was described as white, but after almost all (bar 5, one of who was in one scene, and two who were hive mind love interests) characters in the films were cast as white, it hit the nail on the coffin.

Harry Potter is not diverse.

And so, Twitter. J.K. Rowling, in her Twitter bio, wrote an implicit answer to the question everyone was asking; is Sirius Black gay? It seemed the Twittersphere was split between praising an author for doing what she wants with HER characters, and the anger that an author, already with a series with little to no diversity, wants to deny even just a little bit of representation in her own works.

And it’s conflicted me too.

I read the books, watched the films, consumed every medium that had the words ‘Harry Potter’ in them. It wasn’t until I was older that I became disappointed that there were no Hogwarts students like me, or, in fact, like many other people apart from the obvious that dominates books and shows and movies. I still really enjoyed them, and that will not be taken away.

The outing of Dumbledore made it worse, because while people like to pipe on that there IS LGBT representation in HP, it was revealed that Dumbledore was gay after the series was over, in passing, during an interview. I’m sorry, but kids will not read that interview, and there is nothing in the text that says he is, or even hints at it. He obviously wasn’t gay when it was written, but maybe Rowling had been pressured to give representation, and instead of saying she would do better in the future, yelled “Here is your representation!” and gave us useless information that did nothing to contribute to the text.

As a reader, I am disappointed at all the opportunities that J.K. Rowling decided to side step for no reason.

As a writer, however, I pose a different argument.

Here you are, the writer. You are writing a story that is both epic and character driven. These characters are what you like to call ‘my babies’. They’re carefully crafted and you’ve thought of everything. Yes, many things are up to interpretation, such as skin colour maybe, or a character’s accent. You haven’t thought of each characters’ favourite types of cheese, but that’s OK.

You release said story into the world. People love it, and they create art and write stories and build a fandom surrounded by your work. The love is a gargantuan size and your so happy that people have found your work to be the grounding for how they connect and share. Your readers like to interpret the characters how they want; sometimes they make a straight character gay for their fanfiction, or draw a white character black.

But then, someone directly asks you if a certain character is gay. You’ve written the story, and you know they’re not, and that’s what you say; no, they’re not. Your readers get angry at your refusal to acknowledge their headcanons of your straight character. How dare you deny them the right of fair representation? And you’re there, stunned, because it’s not like you’ve refused them anything; they’re your characters as much as theirs…but the text. You’ve written the text, it’s done, that’s how you saw them. You appeal to them; the character is in a heterosexual relationship, maybe they’re bisexual instead? You talk about it, hoping they’ll get off your back for not including LGBT characters in your story.

It’s enough for some, but the rest are still disappointed.

You realise that you have to stick to your guns, because you can’t please everyone. This character is straight, you wrote them straight, and this is Word of God.

As a writer, I find representation is a given. I would not praise a writer for being diverse, but I do find it a bit weird when they’re not. While I wouldn’t do it to just make sure I’m inclusive and just for the sake of it, I would still feel a bit shitty if I made all my characters white and straight (and talk about boring too). But, at the same time, I can’t get too annoyed at a writer who has written a character a certain way. It is their character, and there are many other, more important reasons why you may dislike something in a book.

For example, the queerbaiting of Scorpius and Albus, which I’ll talk about in another post.

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Ms. Snarky Sword Wielder: The Strong Female Character

Have you ever thought to yourself that YA needs more female main characters?

In recent years, no, not really.

in 2016, the YA genre is chocker-block with female heroines. They’re strong, brave, relentless, and good with a bow/sword/gun/magic power.

There are MRA’s shouting across the nation; “You’ve got your strong, independent women! Now stop talking!”

Oh, if only I could silly little human, if only I could.

It turns out, some writers are still struggling to write women in a realistic way. It all comes down to story, to where a woman is, who she is, and how she is there. It depends on her back story, the people she interacts with, and obviously, ingrained personality traits that all humans have.

One day, my well intentioned, book-nerdy boss comes up to me and walks me to the sci-fi/fantasy section of our store. This happens at least once a week and we talk about books we’re loving and what we look for in a story. At one point, I pick out a book that looks good and he says “Oh, you won’t like that one.”

“Why not?”

“The female character isn’t that great. She’s not very strong, really boring. This one however,” He says, pulling out another book. “This girl is a badass!”

I get what he means; a girl needs to be shown as strong, as willing, as important to the plot because it is these things that a woman is assumed is not that has built centuries of misogyny and sexism. These women do not wince in the face of danger, they stride towards it, kicking everyone’s ass and being just generally super amazing *explosions and gunfire*.

There’s a difference between poor portrayal and diversity, and I think a lot of people tend to get them confused. For obvious reasons, females and female identifying people are more able to decipher the differences because they understand the motives and actions and thoughts female characters have. It doesn’t mean that female characters are inaccessible to male readers however, but there is a general consensus that because we are females, we can generally spot a poorly written female character, and a character that’s well written but not exactly what you would call a ‘strong, independent woman’.

When women say they want a strong female character, it doesn’t always mean strong as always able to physically over power someone, it doesn’t always mean having a sharp tongue and an even sharper weapon, it doesn’t always mean being so void of emotion, said character becomes akin to a robot.

Strong female character means real.

I like to cry. Ok, I don’t like to cry but I do cry, a lot. I cry when I’m angry, when I’m sad, when I’m incredibly happy, and when I’m annoyed/impatient. This is a very stereotypical trait for a woman to have, I know, but it’s who I am. I’m not great with extreme emotion. Some females do not cry, of course, not everyone is as empathetic (and self-involved) as I am, but to brand a female character ‘rubbish’ or ‘boring’ because she does cry?

You’re denying her the basic human emotion of feeling.

It’s the same with fighting, with not feeling intimidating, with feeling apathetic towards violence, to be able to inflict violence. Not having these traits, or even having these traits, does not make a female character bad. You don’t know how many times I’ve done/said something stereotypically girly (cry, talk about makeup, not able to chase a shoplifter (??)) and been told I’m letting down all those ‘strong, independent female characters I always ask for’. What we’re looking for is diversity.

Some girls cry. Some girls suck at shooting. Some girls can’t do sports on their frickin’ period (I’m talking to you, tampon adverts). Some girls scream and get giggly when One Direction comes on stage. NONE of these traits make them any less strong than Katniss Everdeen or Celeana Sardothien.

Some girls are also nasty. Where are the female villains? The girls who are awful and rude and downright villainous towards our main character? And hey, she wasn’t wronged by a man in her past to make her that way, either?

I think a great way to sum up this blog post in one sentence is; Look at the male characters in YA, the nasty one, the emotional ones, the scared ones, the funny ones. We want that.

I would include examples of well written female characters, but I feel like I’d be including almost every single book in the YA genre. If you’ve found a book with excellent female characters, mention them in the comments!

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