NB I am leaving gender for another posting – not enough space!
Since October is Black History Month, I’ll start with race. There are fabulous resources all over the net – but check out these on Making Britain: How South Asians shaped the nation 1870 – 1950 from the OU and the Asian and African Studies blog from the British Library if you fancy something a little different. Full of amazing stories and images. Whether you work in fantasy or if you’re a ‘realist’ – how about researching a back-story for one of your characters?
Clearly, there’s a lot more than sticking a wheelchair into a crowd scene that we can do. One of the most entertaining sites I know of is Ouch! from the BBC. It isn’t worthy and the blogs are fascinating – plus there are more links. (Illustrator friends – there are stills, an archive, and a great article about the disabled icon further down). You get to hear things from the viewpoint of the people involved.
Personally, I think this is far more important than the shade of a person’s skin – for writers especially. What can a character’s heritage bring to their way of thinking? What about practical things like food and drink (I hate generic stew in fantasies – it’s just lazy), what you sit on, how things are celebrated? Clearly, dress, artefacts and colour choices for example, will fascinate illustrators too. Lots of lovely materials available at ethnographic museums like the Pitt Rivers (the Explore section is chock full of online resources).
A special plea
Don’t forget the glorious riches of the British Isles (and Europe, for that matter). Look deeply into our regional customs, dialect and visual traditions. Standard ‘white’ characters are SO dull. Everyone comes from somewhere, has history (I speak as an adoptee).
Investigate a range of possibilities to make your character specific and memorable. If you make the effort to research with respect, you will be paid back a hundredfold. If you stick to what you think you know, you’ll get stereotypes.
With apologies from the soapbox by Philippa R. Francis (who writes as K. M. Lockwood).
K. M. Lockwood is a writing name of Philippa R. Francis. Once a primary school teacher, she became a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at West Dean College in 2011. Her story The Selkies of Scoresby Nab was short-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition and long-listed for the Times Chicken House in 2012/13. She was born in Yorkshire but now lives by the coast in Sussex. Her writing shows her deep fascination with British folklore and the sea. Her interests include reading, scuba diving and belly dancing, though not at the same time. She also blogs at the-wedding-ghost.blogspot.co.uk