Writing diverse characters

Hello, my pretties! How are you all doing? Well, I hope!

Here I am again talking a bit about writing. Bear with me here, will you? I’m by no means an expert on writing, or anything of the sort. Others know a lot more than I do. I simply enjoy sharing my thoughts about writing and talking to others who enjoy literature – either as consumers or creators, or even both.

Diversity.

We hear it a lot nowadays, in several spaces and ways. We talk about diversity in the work place. In friend groups. In society in general.

And, as it can’t be prevented, it’s something that’s discussed when it comes to art as well – more specifically, for this post, writing.

I know writers from both sides of the argument. Some of them believe that diversity is just ‘politically correct bullshit’ some people demand in the books they read. Others believe it’s extremely important to include diverse characters in their books, in order to get closer to their readers.

As for me, I believe diversity is a very positive thing, as long as it makes sense inside the universe people are writing about, and as long as the writer wants to put it in their stories. I know this second point might be a bit controversial for some people. But honestly, I wouldn’t want to see myself represented by a writer who doesn’t want to put me there, and will simply put me there as a token Black character in order to say ‘see? I write diverse characters, now shut up’. That’s not what I want.

But let’s assume people actually want to represent diverse characters in their works. How should they go about it? 

Please note that these aren’t rules, but suggestions and musings.

  1. Do your homework. If you want to write about someone who’s not yourself, do some research. Google things. Use Wikipedia. Watch videos on Youtube. Read books. Watch documentaries or movies. There’s a wealth of information out there.
  2. Treat your subjects with respect. Remember that, despite the fact that it is a character, some real, living people, will see themselves in that character.
  3. Remember we’re all human. We all feel hungry, tired, stressed. We all want to quit our jobs and go sell paintings on the beach or start our own business. We all have money worries, family troubles, and what have you.
  4. Talk to people. If you’re representing real people in your characters, why not talk to them? Once again, the internet is your friend. I have answered long interviews myself in order to help other writers place women like me in their works. Not everyone will say yes, but not everyone will say no.
  5. Use a sensitivity reader. I’ll talk more about that in a future post, but it’s a very valuable resource for any writer.

Well, I guess that’s all I have to offer now. I wish I had some resources to share, but I really don’t have any right at this moment. I will share them if I find something in the future.

For now, though, that’s all I can offer.

And it’s your turn now, dear reader! How do you include diversity in your writing? Is there anything I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

See you all on the next post!

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4 thoughts on “Writing diverse characters

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought about diversity when I write. It’s not that I’m racist or closed minded. I typically write sci-fi/fantasy when I write stories or game adventures. Diversity, for me, is just an inate part of the content. My fantasy stuff most always includes different races/species. My sci-fi stuff usually includes different races of man and different alien species. To me, it’s not realistic to not have such things in those stories. To your point, though, I probably could do better researching and then portraying the differences better. Your list is definitely something worth considering and following to get the good depth for diverse characters. As usual, good stuff :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally get you. I guess we’re at a point where people are going to either extreme, all or nothing, when it doesn’t have to be so. Of course when you work with other non-human races, it’s more of a grey area, and at the same time it’s easier to have diverse characters due to the nature of the setting itself. :) And I think we could all do better – isn’t that part of the magic of being a writer? ;)

      Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with the first three points, and I am a promoter of diversity. My characters (be they in RPGs and stories) are of different religions, ethnicities, races. Sometimes they get along, sometimes they hate each other, prey to prejudices they have learnt at home (at least until some of them get convinced by the contrary through actually knowing closer persons from the other side).

    Now (not referring to your points. About your points 4 and 5, I’ll talk a little farther below, now I am following other points I disagree with in writing diversity), I disagree also with the term of cultural appropriation, even if it is in so much fashion now. If a culture exists, that culture can be written about freely, with proper research, by anyone. (Again, what I was telling you somewhere else – not write what you know, but know what you write. Research! Your no.1 and 2). Nobody but me can write the stories in my mind. Other writers, of other religions/ ethnicities/ races, or of the same like me, can write only the stories in their minds. There is an opinion that if you don’t write that story, a person of that ethnicity/ religion/ race will. It is wrong – they can write their own stories, not mine. So, if I don’t write the story I have in my mind, nobody will. I don’t need anyone’s permission to write my story.

    In addition, each person (of colour, of x religion/ ethnicity) has her own opinion, and isn;t an advocate for the others’ opinions. For some people from India, an European woman dressing into a sari is cultural appropriation. Others from India offer saris as souvenirs to their European friends and teach them how to wear it, and are delighted to see them dressed in a sari from them at a party. The same is valid for many other kinds of examples, so I think the intention counts in this case, nothing else. If a person uses in mocking a certain cultural feature, that might be cultural appropriation. If it is used in admiration/ promotion of that culture, then it is not. It might be even educating other Europeans about that culture, people who don’t have the opportunity of seeing in person any Indian.

    Stereotypes? Those features are stereotypes for a reason – because they are / have been often encountered in reality. As long as a character isn’t only a stereotype, such features can be included. My Irish characters are Catholic, do speak Gaelic, do get into brawls if insulted for being Irish, and like whisky/ guiness. These are stereotypes. But they are more than this, and they do more. They are kind or cautious, good professionals, they have their own history which shaped them into the present, they have friends of different ethnicities, they can be loyal, can make mistakes and heroic deeds. They are themselves, beyond being Irish.

    Some people also said that if writing persons of different races, the white one shouldn’t be the “saviour”. The persons of another race should be the main characters, solving the problems. I disagree to it, in some cases. 1) If the white person happens to be the main character, it is natural to see the whole story from his eyes. 2) While the local people know better their environment and can help with this, the whites have (historically) got the better weapons and technology, and a more advanced science. In a war, those with rifles and enough ammunition will win (albeit with losses) against those with arrows and spears. An advanced technology or medicine might save some lives.

    Back to talking to people representing that race/ ethnicity/ religion – sometimes it isn’t as easy as you say. Yes, I have told about Romanian culture several people who were writing in RPGs with Romanian vampires :( It is all right to ask… if you have whom.

    Yes, it is Internet… but you wouldn’t approach random people to ask them “Hello, are you Venezuelan? May I ask you something… I am trying to write about a mestizo mercenary from Nueva Valencia, who lived in the 18-th century”. How can I know that person is a fan of history of his own people? Or that has interest in reading, in general, and the needed culture, no matter that they are from the same country? And what if I don’t find people from the same country – and a mestizo experience from Mexico 2015 isn’t the same with my mercenary’s? I still think, for this matter, that taking my research thoroughly from several books is more important and easier.

    Also, sensitivity readers – you can ask someone of that ethnicity/ religion/ race to read your story… if a) you know a person from that demographic, and b) if that person speaks your language fluently and c) is interested to read your story. 3 aspects which usually don’t meet. I don’t know foreign students, nor refugees (which would be the blacks in my country). And if I knew them, they wouldn’t be fluent enough and interested to read my stories. Also, the experience of a Congolese student, of a diplomat’s son from Guinea Bissau and of a refugee from Eritrea (ie the kind of black people one could find in my country) would none match the characters’ in my story. So… why?

    Like

    1. Hey there!

      First of all, thanks for the comment. Second, I agree with people writing whatever stories they want as long as they do their homework and ‘know what they write’. It’s not that hard nowadays as long as people are willing to learn and do their research.

      As for cultural appropriation, from what I’ve seen generally it seems like it’s only (the true sense, not the sense most people think it is) when that cultural element is ‘cool’ when taken out of its origin and ‘bad’ when used by the original people. One example would be dreadlocks. If it’s ‘cool and edgy’ when used by a white person and ‘messy and dirty’ when used by a black person, it’s appropriative. Since appropriation takes things away from people, something admiration doesn’t. It’s a hugely long subject, so I’m giving a very short bit of context here, as this kind of appropriation does happen a lot in my country.

      I also fully agree about stereotypes. The main problem with them is when people get lazy and write nothing but the stereotype, creating a shallow and caricatural character. Then again, any lazy character creation will result in a bad character, even if the person is depicting something they know well, so it might be more of a matter of poor storytelling there.

      As for sensitivity readers (I will actually post about it very soon), I do agree that it’s not always possible, especially when you’re talking about something that isn’t ‘here’ anymore. So that comes with some caveats, but I do defend that, when the people you’re writing about can still be found (and it’s possible), it’s a good thing to have that little extra glance. I tend to equate that to asking someone who knows physics to take a read and tell you if that scene is possible according to the laws of physics. It’s more of a glance to see if there’s nothing blatantly wrong than having someone read your entire book and giving a complete lesson in it. And, of course, not everyone from that group will want to provide this service, and that’s okay.

      Liked by 1 person

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