I know it has been a while since we had an author speaking to us about the craft of writing and we have Beatrice who will talk to us about a topic that is very relevant today – writing diverse characters and poverty as a diversity factor.
I will let Beatrice talk now!
Say hello to Beatrice!
Beatrice De Soprontu began writing at the age of four, when she scribbled on the walls with a crayon. Now an adult, she mostly scribbles on her home computer surrounded by her noisy children and their less noisy father.
Born and raised in New York City, (which includes: Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, maybe even Staten Island – a.k.a. the real New York and not the tourist trap that is Manhattan), she enthusiastically travels the world on a budget whenever she gets the chance.
Let’s get on with it shall we?
One of the greatest tenants of fiction writing is that a strong character needs to overcome major adversity. In modern literature these hurdles can stem from identity markers such as race and sexual orientation, or they can be of a more fantastic nature such as aliens or monsters. Oddly however, being impoverished is rarely depicted as a problem.
Roughly a third of the world live in poverty and that’s not just in the “third-world”. In the arguably wealthy United States, roughly 40 million people are impoverished. That’s a lot of poor people. All of them differ in their backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles, yet they face a common foe: grinding day-to-day poverty. Their stories are important and should spur us as writers to represent them in our tales.
Hence, for authors who wish to incorporate the struggles of being destitute into their fictional works here are 5 easy suggestions.
Separate poverty from race
In many fictional works race and/or ethnicity are linked to poverty, especially “urban” poverty. It’s understandable given that disproportionate numbers of minorities are poor. However, the problem is that this merging of class and race easily leads to stereotypes.
When poor characters live in rural areas, they become hillbillies, when they reside in urban areas we get a scene from “Boyz in the Hood”. Please just don’t.
Separate poverty from crime
Newsflash: lots of rich and even middle-class folks commit crimes. While poorer areas might be affected by higher crime rates, illegal activities don’t have to define the characters’ lives.
Remember the very admirable Evans family from “Good Times”? The episode titled the “Debutante Ball” is all about how the older son J.J. tries to date a young woman whose family feels his is not good enough for her. Their opinion isn’t based on anything he’s done, but solely on the fact that he lives in the “ghetto”.
Voila! A plot that tackles urban poverty minus the gangbangers!
Poverty is relative
A person might not even realize how poor they are. Curious but true, if everyone around you lives a life just like yours, you probably won’t know life could be different. Especially when you are young, it’s easy to imagine those wealthy people you read about or see on television are fictional. (I’m a grown woman, yet I still find it hard to wrap my head around the flying airplane suites of “Crazy Rich Asians”.)
Likewise, you might have quite a number of conveniences (clean water, free schools, tv, cell phones, microwavable pizza, really fancy sneakers, etc.) and still consider yourself to be quite poor, leading to the next point…
Poverty can damage a person psychologically
The impact of poverty in a character’s life doesn’t have to be confined to the tangible here and now. Psychologists have written extensively on how prolonged impoverishment results in long lasting detrimental effects.
Increased stress and internalized shame are just some of the possible legacies. It’s juicy stuff for an author, real psychological foes that need to be vanquished. Why not mine the possibility?
Characters are more than identity tags
We are all more than our identity markers. Never trap a character in a label. Your poor character is more than that, he or she also has feelings about religion, sexuality, and ethnicity. This person may be irked by the incorrect positioning of toilet paper. (What’s best rolling over or under?)
Write to all of it. Don’t feel you have to explain every decision they make. Fictional characters, like all people, are mysterious creatures and that complexity is part of their beauty.
Make your characters diverse. Make them interesting. Make them struggle. It’s easier than you think. Just rob them. Take away all their cash. You’ll find that when resources are scarce, your characters become richer.
Thank you, Beatrice
And I am back to thank her for taking time off her busy schedule to write us a guest post. You can follow and contact her through these links.
If you have something to add to Beatrice’s story, drop a comment here or send him a word of thanks on the social media. Both of us would love that.
Also, if you are interested in writing a guest post for the independent publishing community, write to me right away. I am still accepting guest post submissions.
Let us chat
What books according to you portray poverty realistically? What makes a economically poor character more appealing? Let us talk.