In this age of absolutes and extreme opinions, it's hard to write diverse characters...
...which means you should write them anyway.
We live in an age where the most dramatic opinion always gets attention:
Right now, writing about other cultures and backgrounds feels like a minefield.
So, how do you do it?
These guidelines will enable you to respectfully portray “other” characters - without making them plain, boring, or predictable. In this article, I’ll give you a few guidelines to navigate through the minefield.
My gut reaction to this is "Yes, obviously!"
But the answer isn’t so obvious to everyone, so let’s dig in:
And I’m incredibly fortunate to live in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.
Most of my friends look, sound, and come from entirely different backgrounds than me. They naturally enter my stories - because I believe in writing what you care about.
So, how do you do it?
How do you write them in a way that enriches your stories - without horribly offending other cultures?
Let’s say you want to write an Australian character - but you’ve never met an Australian.
Your Australian character should at least start with a seed of truth.
Talk to some people from Australia:
Before you talk to them: study up on the differences between their lives and your own.
Then, you'll be prepared to ask them useful questions:
The only thing all Australians have in common is that they live (or used to live) in the same country.
That’s where the generalizations should end.
You are writing an individual, not “the entire population of 'Straya jammed into a single human body.”
Your living, breathing, fictional Australian will have...
...that are absolutely unique to them.
Build your Australian hero out like you would any other hero:
Sometimes, stereotypes - or rather, other people’s perceptions of your characters will affect their daily lives.
For example, this poor
Australian New Zealander:
Is your character treated differently because of where they come from, or who they are?
How do they react?
The conflict generated by external perceptions (that is, how your character is percieved by the world of your story) is a great way to develop your characters.
Find the main point of tension between their demographic, and other demographics in the story.
For example, I'm writing a science fiction novel set several hundred years from now. Racial issues have disappeared, but poverty/wealth issues have reached a boiling point.
One point of tension centers on quality of life, and the lack of opportunities to improve your situation. This allows me to build a spectrum for all of my characters, and explore how their relationships grow when I throw them all into the same spaceship.
I’ve never met an Australian pioneer from the 1800's.
And I’m probably not going to find them on Facebook.
Reading about them is my only chance to get to know them. Even if you can talk to them in real life, you should take any chance possible to read about your demographic.
I’d be doing Australia a huge disservice if I only read books with titles like:
“Australia: One Great, Big, Stinking Penal Colony.”
Probably written by some snooty England aristocrat.
The fictional Englander, in this completely hypothetical situation, is going to give you the worst, most-biased opinion of Australians. I'm pretty sure this is how stereotypes are born.
You must hear the Australians' side of things.
You want to hear what they love, what struggles they face, and how they see themselves.
Beta readers will tell you if they find anything:
For example, my Australian Beta Reader might be able to tell me that it’s unreasonable to have my Australian character say “Shrimp on the barbie” 46 times in one chapter.
Or maybe not. I’ll ask my Beta Readers and find out...
How do you know can create “other” characters in a respectful, well-written way?
One very simple test:
Write a villain of another demographic.
If they are compelling and hateful because of their deeds - and not because of what makes them different - you pass.
Diversity is interesting.
Hopefully, these tools will allow you to create captivating characters who come from different walks of life.
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