Hello Story Empire friends, Gwen with you today.
Last month I initiated a series on including diversity in our stories. I explained that I would address the topic through personal experiences. The first post focused on race; you can read it here if interested.
This post looks at diversity in terms of financial status. Similar to the prior post, I begin with a story.
When I was around ten years old, our family moved to a different farmhouse about eight miles from our other home. It had two bedrooms, but dad enclosed the porch and created an additional room. My three brothers slept in that space, and the four girls slept in the adjacent room. Mom and dad had the third bedroom. I never thought of the house as small when I was growing up, but now I realize how crowded it was for a family of nine.
Because of the move, my sibs and I needed to change grade schools. Mom wanted us to attend the Catholic school in town and not the school just a couple of miles from our house. She was concerned that each of us have a proper Catholic education. At the country school, all the kids came from families involved in farming. We wore hand-me-downs and clothes that our mothers made for us, and our shoes were often covered in dirt. I never thought this unusual until I began school in town.
At the new school, there was an unspoken hierarchy of those from wealthy families and those from working families. My self-consciousness sharpened as I began seeing what I hadn’t seen before. My saddle shoes and homemade skirt were unlike what the other girls wore. I never noticed shoes before fourth grade. But from that time forward, I suffered them.
What does this have to do with our characters?
Each of us recognizes the haves and the have-nots, and that awareness began in childhood. At a young age, we observed the difference and internalized it in unspoken ways. Most commonly, we associated it with self-worth.
If you plan to include this aspect of diversity in your stories, I offer four suggestions to consider:
- Reflect upon when you first noticed the haves and the have-nots. Think about what triggered that awareness. At the time, did you consider yourself rich or poor, or neither? Did you feel that you didn’t fit in? Use those sentiments to give life to your characters.
- Unravel your buried judgments about wealth. When you see someone drive up in a limousine or someone begging on a street corner, do you associate either with intelligence or the lack of it, with privilege or bad luck or laziness? Do these contrasting circumstances, in some small way, affect your sense of the value of a person? How might you use this in a story?
- Research financial disparity. Find out who is homeless and why they are. Look into who is working two jobs. Identify the struggles of a single parent. Review the statistics. If you plan to include the diversity of wealth in your story, it is helpful to lay the foundation through research.
- Walk in your character’s shoes. Whether rich or poor or somewhere in-between, take the time to walk where your characters walk, figuratively or for real. Feel the difference between searching through a trash can for food and ordering lunch at a lush restaurant. Visit a shelter or a soup kitchen, and sit next to someone you might otherwise avoid. Then, bring that experience into your story through your characters.
Wealth diversity is not as transparent as race – except in the extreme. We may notice high-end accessories or the make of a car, but we don’t know what is in the bank. We may walk past beggars or long stretches of homeless lean-tos and tents, but we don’t see the families who have crowded together inside a motel room. If we include wealth diversity, our words can expose the different realities.
That’s it for me today, dear readers. Next month I’ll address diversity in terms of physical ability. Till then, take good care of yourself and find ways to celebrate the wonders of life.