Sometimes as writers, we naturally lean towards characters similar to ourselves, our family or friends, and other people around us. As creators, however, I believe we owe it to our readers to show an accurate portrayal of real life, from angles that aren’t our own, and submerge our readers in ideas and perspectives that challenge stereotypes and give space to the marginalised voices in mainstream society. This can include characters of different race, gender, sexuality, religion, wealth, class, health, disability and more. Here is some advice on how to ensure your writing is diverse and inclusive.
Do Your Research
When looking to write a diverse character into your plot, it’s important to do enough research so you truly understand the issues the character faces on a day-to-day basis, things that have happened in their past, and so you honestly depict what life is like through their eyes. Research can include looking at charities and forums that support real people facing the same issues as your character, finding online personalities similar to your character who document their lives and, of course, meeting real people to talk to about their life. Each branch of diversity has many more stems too, and therefore it’s important you are specific with the character’s identity and sculpt specific traits and issues from this. For example, if choosing to write a deaf character, there are many paths you can take and many questions you need to ask yourself: Were they deaf from birth? Can they speak? Do they sign? Do they suffer from tinnitus? How do they feel about being deaf? By really delving into the specific traits of your character you can build a more realistic representation and tackle issues beyond those widely known in society. This ensures your representation is inclusive and can help you avoid stereotyping based on your own understanding.
Intersections of Oppression
Intersections of oppression mean that people can face oppression from different layers of their identity, and that these people often have several different things that they have to face on a daily basis. This will often include how race, gender, sexuality and disability are all connected and bring different yet intersecting forms of oppression. This is so important to consider when including diverse characters in your writing, as again it ensures they are multi-dimensional, and that each vein of their identity is taken into consideration when dissecting their internal and external conflicts. For example, if choosing to write a black, lesbian woman as a character, ensure you understand the layers of identity here with race, sexuality and gender. This will mean that this character faces different challenges, has grown up with different perspectives and is involved in different circles due to the intersections of their identity. It’s also an opportunity to understand that characters do have many layers, and developing the other identity facets of a gay or disabled character for example, can again ensure a realistic and inclusive representation of the character and help develop their identity further. Don’t shy away from this – it’s important these ideas are given a platform and voice and your writing can help this!
Give Them a Personality
The most important thing to remember when writing diverse characters is that they are real people and their race, sexuality, disability etc. is a part of who they are, but not their whole identity. These characters should have flaws and interests like every other character you write. They should have conflicts separate to those stereotypical of their identity. Their actions should remain relevant to the plot, help move the story along and be crucial to their characterisation (i.e. not something redundant to prove their diversity). Try to avoid cliches and stereotypes – from the token gay best friend to the brainy Asian – and ensure your characters interact in a natural way that doesn’t marginalise diverse characters or show conflict between them (unless of course it’s significant to the plot). Showcase your characters in a positive light and remember their plot lines don’t all have to be tragic! Be diverse, be inclusive but above all, be real with the representations you choose in your story.
Diversity in your story can also include where it’s set, who your protagonist is and the culture that the story focuses on. We hope this advice can spark your interest in creating new, inclusive characters and helping to promote diversity across the creative platform of writing.
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