Thursday, February 12, 2015

Writing Diverse Characters

After posting sporadically a blog for a year, I'm gonna give you two in one week (shhh, I wrote this one on Tuesday but figured out how to schedule it for later--I'm learning!).

There's been a huge push for more diverse characters in stories. *Gasp* There are more types of people in the world than white, blond people--who'd've thunk it! It may be easier to write that because it's what you know (if you've seen my picture you'll know I'm a white, blonde person). But you don't go to school with people of one race or hair color. You don't work with people of one race or hair color. Your friends aren't all the same race with the same hair color. I think you get what I'm saying. Adding people from different races or cultures has been intimidating for me--more because I don't want to ignorantly offend someone. In the tradition of paranoid writers everywhere, I'm not going to tell you what ethnicity my new MC is--I don't want you to steal my idea. The very most important thing you can do when writing a character of a race or ethnicity you're not afraid of is to find someone who is. I'm very fortunate that I have a friend who's of this ethnicity and she's even picked the brains of her family members for me.

The internet is a huge, massive resource for writers. There are websites dedicated to certain ethnic groups with common phrases and cultural breakdowns. Get on message boards, reddit or twitter and find someone who's willing to help you learn about a group of people different than yourself.

Is it bad to write about blond, white people--no! But when the community is inundated with stories about the same types of people, they start to run together and can become boring. I'll start envisioning Jennifer Lawrence as all the main characters (I may read your character as looking like Dakota Fanning, but my mind always pictures someone else--I'm just strange that way).

Perhaps the best way to get more diverse characters is to encourage more diverse writers, but there's nothing stopping me from learning and writing about a culture or race I'm unfamiliar with. And just remember, any mistakes or stereotypes are completely my own fault--and remember, I'm human and I'm learning.

1 comment:

  1. Great topic! And with it comes complications. I have a passion for writing characters that stretch beyond white, straight, able-bodied, and with that comes the larger responsibility of doing the work necessary to create characters beyond stereotypes. I saw some heartbreaking tweets just yesterday by a writer who read a yet-unpublished YA/kidlit book by a white writer with Korean characters and culture featured heavily. And to the Korean writer, this book got it wrong. Really wrong. Their take, was that if you're going to write about another culture from your own, it's not enough to rely on only TV and Internet. Reading books by authors of color and having people of color or experts on whatever aspect you are writing on is imperitive.

    I think it's good to be worried whether you're getting representation right. And hopefully the worry leads to research and meaningful writing connections to get it right. I know I am working toward the same goals, and I carry the same worries.