As a language teacher, I really enjoy reading and writing about cultural diversity—across all genres. But while working on my first novel—a YA historical fantasy set in northeastern Africa in the late 1800’s—I became concerned about how to handle stereotypes, particularly because I am not a member of any of the cultures that I wrote about. So I reached out to freelance editor Harold Underdown of The Purple Crayon website through an interactive revision webinar he conducted with colleague Eileen Robinson of F1rst Pages. Harold’s answer is included below, with kind permission.
My question: What if something that might be seen as a stereotype is culturally accurate for the historical period I’m writing about?
Harold’s answer: Your question about including something that might be seen as a stereotype in an historical/multicultural novel is an interesting one, and I think there are a number of issues here. I can’t get into all of them, but here are a few thoughts.
· Provided there’s an accurate historical basis for showing someone behaving in a way that might be seen as stereotyped, I don’t think there’s necessarily a problem. But I would be careful and ask some questions.
· Am I showing this in context, and sympathetically, or out of context, and critically?
· Am I showing behaviors that would be seen as positive stereotyping as well as negative, and in a fully 3-dimensional view, not creating a character who narrowly embodies a stereotype?
· Am I showing the behavior in a way that would be seen as reasonable and sympathetic by a member of the culture, or would they feel that the depiction was that of an outsider, or, worse, that of a member of a group that dominated that culture?
There’s a long discussion to be had about this, but I think those are the crucial points.
Disclaimer: This was not intended as a general comment but as a response to a particular point about a specific manuscript. Some of these thoughts might be able to be generalized, but it would need to be developed and thought out.
For more Children’s Lit revision helps and upcoming webinars/workshops with Harold and Eileen, visit them at Kid’s Book Revisions:http://www.kidsbookrevisions.com/