So, now you are forewarned, I'm going to get straight to the point.
One of the first things you learn as a writer is to do everything you can to keep the reader submerged in your story. This means quadruple checking your manuscript for anything that might make your reader pause in consternation, confusion, or general WTFery. It's solid advice, but it has a built in error because the world is filled with people from different cultures with differing norms and standards and concepts of what constitutes Normal.
But Facts Are Facts
YA set in the USA always makes me pause when the teens climb into their cars. My mind goes: 'Wait, what, they stole their parents' car or something? What's happening here? Oh yes, America.'
That was a silly example, but I used it specifically to show you how even the small things matter.
Take my own books for example. There's a scene in Scar where a main character walks past some hobos sitting on the side walk while smoking meth through an old lightbulb. Locally, meth is called Tik, and this how the character thinks of it--as Tik.
My best friend told me I should cut the scene because only South Africans would understand it. I told him that I didn't care, and I don't. The druggie homeless aren't an integral part of the plot so, sorry world, but I'm not going to rinse all the flavour from my writing.
Part of my motivation for writing The Celestial Talisman books is that I wanted to read a book that captured the uniqueness of South Africa. I'm tired of reading books set in places that feel nothing like home.
In part, I think this may be one of the reasons why I appreciate Fantasy so much. At least the culture shock is expected, and there's usually some exposition or explanatory dialogue to ensure you piece things together. That being said, Fantasy has its own problems...
The Pseudo European Fantasy World Where Everyone Has A Welsh Name
Hands in the air if you mentally groan every time you read a book with characters called Bryn or Tyvern or anything similar. And how about grand castles? Knights?
There's a mental advantage to using these vaguely Medieval European settings in that the reader is a familiar with them. The same goes for popular mythological creatures and gods. Who hasn't heard of Odin, Pegasus, or fairies?
But oh my soul, I'm over it. It's reached a point where I approach new books with a sense of trepidation.
Are You Still With Me?
I have no idea if you've been able to relate to any part of this post. If you have then I want you to consider what it must be like to read thousands of books and never find a single character or situation that truly resonates with you. Imagine longing for a hero with the same skin colour as you, or the same sexuality.
As I see it, books are fulfilling in two ways: on one hand, they give us a sense of belonging by letting us escape this work through characters we identify with. On the other, they trigger our imagination and curiosity by presenting us with things we know nothing about.
If we don't embrace diversity in literature then we'll always be failing somebody in one of those aspects.
Regulars and passers-by, please drop a comment if you can recommend a great diverse book