Writers are commonly taught to write what they know, but in recent years that’s been held up as the reason why we’ve been constantly innudated with stories of white cishet male protagonists. These stories are certainly still meaningful and approachable, but the white cishet male experience isn’t the only experience that counts as human. So, in an attempt to better representation and show that women and people of color are also part of the human experience, many writers are now doing their utmost to write what they don’t know.
But how to do research on experiences which are not your own? This doesn’t just apply to race and ethnicity—what if your character is Catholic but you yourself aren’t religious? What if your character has mental health issues, but you’ve always been pretty neurotypical? Books and other forms of academic research are a great first step. But as with most things, talking to a primary source—ie, a person who has actually lived the life experiences you’re trying to describe—is the best way to go about it. That’s where today’s web crush comes in.
Diversity Cross-Check is a Tumblr started specifically for writers who want to portray the diverse human population in an accurate and respectful manner. As their About sidebar puts it:
While there will always be criticism as to the way marginalized people are portrayed in the media, the answer is not to erase them. This Tumblr is intended as a platform for writers to interact with the very marginalized people they want to write into their stories, in order to minimize stereotyping. Nothing will ever be a 100% perfect portrayal, but this will hopefully open conversations and take us a step in the right direction. Diversify your writing. Don’t be afraid.
How it works is pretty simple: someone who wants to share their experiences with being of a certain race/ethnicity, or being disabled, or being abused, or, hell, having grown up in rural Kansas—whatever the experience is, if they want to share it, they can. Viewers are encouraged to submit their experiences to the Tumblr and include a way for other readers to contact them. Then, if a writer wants to write about a disabled religious Indian-American living with an abusive family in rural Kansas, they can contact the requisite people and start researching. Although Diversity Cross-Check is sure to clarify that “nothing will ever be a 100% accurate portrayal”—or in other words, one person isn’t an accurate representation of their entire group—this is still a great way to supplement the research for your novel, screenplay, video game, or fanfic. (Their tags page has pretty much every category you could think of.)
That’s not all, though. They also have a great resources tag that includes useful information about writing diverse characters, cultural sensitivity, and cultural appropriation, as well as information on where to find TV shows or novels with well-written diverse characters.
Long story short: if you’re a writer who badly needs to make your story more realistic, or if you want to share your own experiences, check out Diversity Cross-Check here on Tumblr. Before you go, though, let me leave you with this important note from them:
It is important to note, however, that these people who have offered to be diversity references, are first and foremost that. People. The marginalized are not defined by their marginalization. This tumblr acts as a messenger of sorts; we connect writers with people who are willing to talk about potentially uncomfortable-to-discuss aspects of their lives. We hope that any exchange that goes on between both parties will be respectful and open-minded.