Romance author Celeste O. Norfleet shares some simple, but essential, advice for creating multifaceted multicultural characters.
RT is and has been a huge part of my writing career. So when I was asked to write today’s blog, I eagerly accepted. When I received my topic - to write about the specific challenges of writing multicultural novels - I said, cool, I can do that. After all, I’m a multicultural romance author of over 25 novels. Passing on what I’ve learned to aspiring authors would be both a pleasure and an honor. But I was also concerned that I didn’t have much to add to the popular topic. We all know the basics, or do we? It occurred to me - maybe we all don’t know the basics. So I thought I might chat a few minutes about learning to keep the real cultural aspect when writing multicultural fiction.
Let’s start from the beginning. Writing multicultural fiction is hot. I think everybody knows that by now. The absurd belief that people don’t read multicultural commercial fiction has all but been completely debunked. It’s a multi-million dollar market that’s been growing continuously for the last few decades. With this realization came a surge of novice and veteran writers beginning to pen more ethically inclusive novels. Believe me, that’s a really, really good thing. Diversity adds depth. Writing a novel driven solely by one ethnicity is like going to a mall and finding only one store. It might be good, but there could be so much more. Look around. This country was founded on the premise of diversity and inclusiveness.
But how these books are being written and how the challenge of writing people of color is being met is sometimes far from accurate. Although it might seem easy enough for some that to write characters of color just substitute alabaster skin for a mocha complexion and change long blonde locks to a tangle of thick curls. But the truth is it really isn’t that simple.
In a more general sense, we get most of our information about different cultures from people and things around us. But in fact a lot of things around us are stereotypical caricatures of cultures. Did all Viking wear horned bowl-shaped helmets like we see in movies? Did they ramble across the countryside slaying monsters and killing everyone in sight while pillaging and raping virginal maidens? No, I don’t think so. But that’s what I generally think when I imagine Vikings. Still, I guess it would be easy to just write characters as we see them or better yet, as we think we see them? But maybe the easy way out isn’t the best way. I can by no way write about the Viking reality as I can write about modern Chinese life. In both cases I’d need to do my homework. Because what I think I know and what is actually true can be and probably is two very different things.
That said, my best advice to write multicultural fiction is quite simple – take the time to develop and make your multicultural characters real. Set aside your preconceived ideas and the popular erroneous beliefs that cloud judgment and further perpetuate stereotypical myths. Do the research and really learn about the culture.
Characterization means giving your characters personality. Good characterization is going deeper to show conflicts, motivation and flaws. Convincing multicultural characterization means doing all of the above, plus bringing them to life. How do the look, how do they dress? What are their fears, hopes, dreams? What are their thoughts, how do they act and react in different situations? How do they sound when happy or angry? A brief note about writing slang - do it judiciously. Not all people speak slang and to put it in thoughtlessly can be both careless and insulting.
So how do you create a three-dimensional multicultural character? You already know the answer - research.
Fictional novels are based on one very important premise – the reader identifies with the characters. Whether they actually look like the reader is immaterial. Vampires, werewolves and fairies don’t actually exist. Still we read and easily believe and identify with them. That means the writer has done her homework. She’s successfully created a credible world with believable characters. The same is true with multicultural characters. Take the time to make them real. Set aside what you think you know about the culture you want to write about. Do your homework. Look around and fill you world more realistically. Don’t miss out on creating a dynamic, richly diversified world in your novels.
Enjoy the process and by all means keep it real.
- Celeste O. Norfleet
You can see the author put her advice into practice in Flirting With Destiny which will be available on December 1st.