I am the Executive Director of StageSource, an arts service organization for the theater community. One of my recent projects was writing a report about diversity, inclusion, and gender parity in the the theater sector, based on several conversations we held last fall. (Here is the report, if you are interested.) One of the metaphors I used (actually, that I borrowed from someone else) is the desire to have theaters (onstage, backstage, in the offices, in the audiences, and in the board rooms) look more like the MBTA during a daily commute.
During this complicated, complex, fascinating, frustrating series of conversations, I thought a lot about stories, and storytelling. The difference of telling a specific story verses a global story. What it means to have a person see himself or herself on stage. And who should tell what stories, and who should dictate how they are told. Lots of layers of conversations.
This made me think about my writing, and the world I am creating. Where can I work on diversity and inclusion in my writing? (I do pretty well with gender parity.) How do I create believable characters who have traveled completely different paths than I have? I know that is my job as a writer, but how can I make sure a character feels real, as opposed to the perception of a middle aged white woman?
I used to think it was enough to create a rough sketch of a character, and then let the reader fill in the details. And that could include race, or cultural heritage. But now, I wonder if that is true. Or is that just lazy? And how do you create a character, but avoid stereotypes or cliches? Or avoid looking painfully politically correct?
And does it matter? I actually think it does. I want the world in my books to look like the world I live in, and that world is a rich mixture of people. One of the suggestions that came out of the report I worked on for the theater community was, when faced with a choice, to always ask yourself “have I considered a woman for this job/opportunity? A person of color? Is this opportunity accessible to everyone?” For my character building, the questions are similar, with one more step.
“How do I make this person believable?” I look forward to figuring this out. And I am committed to trying.