At one point (or, more likely, at multiple points) during your creative process you will need to consult experts. Experts are people from the same marginalized community (or communities) as your character(s). You can find them in-person and online – on social media, in blogs, in writing communities, through writing magazines.
* Please offer to compensate the experts whose expertise you need. If they decline financial compensation, offer to sensitivity or beta read their work if they are in the same field or offer some other type of trade (gift cards, Amazon wish list fulfillment, etc. *
Here are some situations when you might seek counsel from an expert:
• When needing the answer to a relatively (and, possibly, deceptively) simple question.
Example: What is the Indian word for flatbread?
(This is one of those deceptively simple questions because – like the sub-hoagie-hero-grinder regional names and variations of a type of American sandwich – Indian flatbreads also have regional names and variations. Think chapati-poli-roti-paratha … Don’t despair, though! The complexity of the answer will lead to a more authentic character! To answer the question, you’ll need to consider what part of India your character is from, what language your character speaks, and maybe even what religion your character practices).
• When wondering whether a characteristic or action can be deemed as harmful to the community.
Example: Is is okay to say my Black character has an afro?
• When you are finished with your story and you want sensitivity readers to review specific sections for accuracy and potential harm (to be clear, this harm would be an unintentional author-insert; I am certainly not suggesting that characters themselves can’t have biases/hate/phobia). If your character is intersectionally marginalized, try to hire readers who are similarly marginalized! You can, of course, hire a variety of readers, too, but intersectional experiences tend to be specific to that intersection.
Example: My character is Thai-American, bisexual, and dyslexic. Have I represented their perspective and their interactions with the world (and the world’s interactions with them) accurately?