That’s how Kenzie usually opens these things, right?
*puts on fake moustache*
What am I saying? I AM Kenzie!! Haha, of course I am!!
*rips off fake moustache*
OKAY SO I’M NOT KENZIE ALRIGHT?? Sheesh! You Followers Of Kenzie are a suspicious lot. Relax a bit! It’s not like I’m going to put you under a spell
so that I can eat you for my supper that will make you abandon Kenzie and start following me instead ha, that would be weird. *shifty eyes*
Aaanyway. The lovely Kenzie whom you call your Queen has generously allowed me to borrow her audience and shriek at you about a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.
Diverse characters yay!
Except not when you do it wrong. Which is all too easy, thanks to
the government human error.
So I will guide you all with my wisdom and teach you how to be like me. Because I am flawless.
Ahem. Shall we begin?
1. Crush All The Stereotypes!
This means that every female character should not be talkative and every male character be Silent At All Times. This means that “strong females” should not always beat up a Roomful Of Men whilst wearing high heels. This means that not all the parents are dead, not all the black people talk with a drawl, and not all romances are falling apart or patterned after a certain geometric shape that I despise.
Yes, stereotypes are grounded in some kind of truth, but let’s face it – breaking stereotypes is too much fun not to do it, amirite?
Another idea is to play with the stereotype (read: mock the stereotype). Bring back a stereotype that has been dead for a long time. The Talkative Female I mentioned earlier? Has not been done in ages. Because Broody Girls Who Kill People are all the rage just now. Do not obey The Rage, sir. If you can make that chatty girl relatable and fun and not-as-shallow-as-everyone-thinks, my hat is off to you. Think of it as a challenge! Or what about High Heel-Clad Woman who unrealistically defeats all the men ever? Hmmmm. What if… what if she wasn’t wearing them at all but instead used the high heels as her only weapon, hm? Wouldn’t that be fascinating.
Excuse me while I go write this. Don’t steal it, it’s mine! *wrestles shiny idea out of your grip*
2. Research, Research, Research! (Maybe Via Human Interaction?)
Research is hard, dude. I know it, you know it, we all know it. Let’s go eat ice cream instead, yes?
Research is essential to writerly existence. You must do it. Bite the bullet, my friend! Bite it. Chomp down nice and hard.
So obviously check out the background of a certain ethnicity, or if your character has a disability you do not personally have, do extensive research on treatment and symptoms and all that fun stuff.
However! It would be even better if you did this research in person. Terrifying idea, I know. Like, leaving the house? Talking to humans? What is this madness?
Well, before you charge at me with your pitchfork for suggesting it, let me just point out that if you base your Russian dude or your New Yorker or your Autistic child on someone you know personally, critics can’t say “Oh, that is so unrealistic!”
Or, at least, if they do, you can slap them with a jellyfish and say, “Oh yeah? Cuz I happen to know someone just like that! So there!”
And then slap them a second time just for good measure.
Besides, how hard can it be, really? We are all surrounded with humans of various skin colors and accents and disabilities and religions and beliefs. My grandmother is deaf. I have a friend with cerebral palsy. I know a little boy with Autism and a little girl who has cochlear implants and people with depression and a man who is paralyzed and a woman who is a burn victim and more war veterans than I can name. I know African American, Asian American, Vietnamese, Japanese, Haitian, and Chinese families.
That’s why we call America the great melting pot, right? (And yes, I know some people reading this do not live in America. But chances are you know lots of diverse people, too. How can you go through life without bumping into people who are different than you?)
3. Remember: People Are People
What I mean by this is that all people are essentially the same. I believe so, anyway. I mean, we are all human and our skin color doesn’t change that and our beliefs don’t change that and our physical abilities don’t change that.
There are these cute sayings like “everyone smiles in the same language” and “everyone laughs in the same language” and I think that what they’re trying to say is that at our core, people are all the same.
We all want to connect with other people to form friendships and we all want to be accepted and to feel like we are a part of something greater than ourselves, we all pull for the good guy in the story, we all hunger for justice and we all want love, we’re all on a search for meaning and purpose and we all love food. Which is important. Food is, I mean.
Am I making sense? Probably not, I rarely do.
What I’m trying to say is this – when in doubt (about what your character [who may not be anything like you] would say or do in a given situation) remember that people are people (and specks are specks [#savewhoville]) and some things are universal. Profound, no?
4. Don’t Force It
Writing diverse characters is a great and lovely thing, but seriously, do not force it where it will not go. Like a puzzle, right? Sometimes things just don’t fit. Be aware of this fact and respect it.
Probably someone is really mad at me right now for saying this like, “how can there ever be a time when you should not be writing diverse characters, you fool?!”
Let’s just say you are writing a book set in Yugoslavia in the first century. That would probably not be the best time to throw in some Mexican characters.
Sometimes a story is set somewhere that the characters will be predominantly one race. One of my novels is set in Africa, which means there aren’t tons of different skin colors present. How dare me, right? Other people focus on a different part of the world, like Russia or some other cold European country, and most of their characters are pale. That is okay!
Sometimes a book will be about mostly-healthy people. Some people are, in fact, healthy and they deserve to be represented too. That is okay!
Sometimes a book will be about a group of people who all have the same religion. That is okay! (Also it irks me severely that religion pretty much never makes its way into fiction but it influences literally 100% of humanity?)
This is all okay.
Do not ever feel guilty about “not being diverse enough.” That is ridiculous. You novel is amazing, just the way it is.
Diversity has become kind of a checklist, like “your book is no good unless you check off all the checkable boxes.”
Do not fall into the Checklist Trap. It is evil.
Some books are naturally more diverse than other books. This depends on a lot of factors, like setting and time period.
Don’t let anyone impose their ideas about what a book should be on you. Tune out all the people who say your book has to be a certain way to be good.
Tell stories. Tell good stories. That’s all.
5. Too Much?
How to say this delicately…?
I believe there is, in fact, such a thing as too much diversity. (Kind of like too much birthday, amirite?)
For example, let us say that your main character has a major disability that affects every part of their life (most disabilities do). That is awesome. Go you.
But this is not the time to lay it on thick. So their best friend does not need to also have a disability and the main character does not need to also be Latino and the best friend does not need to be Buddhist and the main character does not need to be gay.
See what I’m saying? You can’t have it all in one book or it is going to be too much. Too confusing, too overwhelming, and so beyond unrealistic. People are diverse. But people are not that diverse.
6. Ignore People Who Shout, “We Need More —-!”
I am guilty of doing this. You probably are too.
Don’t feel bad!
I’m not saying you can’t whinge (that is the British version of whine, isn’t it so much more fun??) about wanting more assassins, more dragons, more ALIVE parents, more happy couples (something I personally have whinged about on more than one occasion), more sassy boys, more actively-involved dads, more sweet boyfriends, more, more, more!
By all means, keep whinging! Keep wanting better fiction to read, keep those standards high, keep demanding more diversity and less stereotypes.
But, writers, ignore them.
If you’re anything like me, you have seen someone else’s whingy list of things they want to see more of and you have thought, “my novel doesn’t have any of that! Does that mean… it’s no good? Should I rewrite the whole thing to incorporate what people want more of?”
Your novel is amazing and unique because you are writing it, dude. Don’t you change it for nobody!
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to write outside your comfort zone and stretch yourself every now and then. Something I enjoy doing is making my own list of things I want to see in fiction more and then writing them.
So! Next time you write a nice, whingy list, remember that the best way to get more of whatever it is you personally want more of is to write it yourself. “Be the change” and all that.
Next time you see a nice, whingy list – think of it as NOT ADDRESSED TO YOU but rather a note to the person who wrote it.
7. Kind Of “Write What You Know”?
You’ve probably heard the writing tip “write what you know.” This kind of bothers me because what I know is pretty boring and no one would want to read about it. So I write about warfare and mental illness and evil hospitals instead. And probably get all my facts wrong, but who cares?
The cool thing about being a writer is that you make the rules. Which means that you know more about your world than anyone else does. So you are not, in fact, writing what you do not know, you are simply writing what ONLY YOU know.
But I digress muchly. Forgive me.
We were talking about how to write characters of all colors and religions and other stuffs. And as much as I dislike the “write what you know” tip, it actually makes sense here. Write people the way you know people to be and you CANNOT go wrong.
Allow me to recall to your mind the jellyfish with which you shall slap all the hateful critics. That jellyfish will come in handy here also!
Because if you know one of those awesome black grandmas who says things like, “Y’all need to stop looking at them phones and start praisin’ Jesus!” or a Chinese woman who pronounces the word “little” like “leetle” or a Mexican family who lives in a tiny rowhouse with their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and you base characters off of them no one can say “That’s stereotyping! African American grandmas are sophisticated! Chinese women have perfect American accents! Mexicans don’t all squish into one house!” you can pull out that jellyfish and, that’s right, slap them with it.
Because you know actual humans like the ones you are writing. You know for a fact that stereotype is not dead. And as long as you don’t generalize and say “all black grandmas, all Chinese women, all Mexicans are this way” then you are doing just fine.
By the way, all three of those examples are drawn from real life. Those people exist. And there is nothing racist about celebrating the culture or roots of the people around us!
8. No Cardboard Representatives, Please
I feel like I’m just repeating the same basic principles over and over again like a broken record, but if I haven’t made this perfectly clear already, my main point is that all characters should be real. Not necessarily based off of one person, but based on what you know about aaaaall people.
Every single individual in the world is unique, yes, but we are all human. Write that! Write characters that are unlike anyone else because they are themselves, but write characters that are human and therefore relatable no matter how different they are from you or the reader. Every. Single. Character. Should be relatable. There are no exceptions to this rule!
And please, please do not settle for a cardboard representative of a certain race, gender, religion, sexuality…
This is my big issue with the “Diversity” agenda. In making writers feel like they MUST include one female, one black person, one Muslim, one LGBT+ character, we are begging for these groups of people to be misrepresented or represented badly. Because the story is complete without them! They are just there to fulfill the quota, see?
All because of that darn Checklist.
Let me illustrate with an example. Johnny likes to write stories. Good for you, Johnny! But Johnny thinks everyone will hate him if he does not include women, black people, and homosexuals in his stories, so he goes back and changes all his stories to include these “diverse” characters. But they are stiff and awkward because they are only there as a REPRESENTATIVE of their Diverse Group.
Johnny’s story would be faaaarrr better off without them!
Basically: do not tack on “diverse” characters as an afterthought. If they are not necessary to the story, if the story is complete without them, if they don’t add anything meaningful, they. Must. Go.
Goodbye, Diversity! *waves pleasantly*
9. Person With ——, Not —– Person
You’ve probably heard this before. Instead of referring to someone as “the Autistic boy,” you should say, “the boy with Autism.”
This is more sensitive because we are all people “with” something. And no one likes to be labeled.
This applies very nicely to writing. You don’t introduce a character as African American – “The African American woman walked across the street briskly.” That would be weird. Instead you’re your best to describe the color of their skin at the same time as you describe other outstanding features like high cheekbones or a hawk nose. Ivory, chocolate, tan, marble… there are an abundance of lovely words that can be used to describe all the beautiful shades of skin people have!
Even the gender of a character can be implied instead of announced. “She walked briskly across the bridge” – pronouns tell us it is a woman without a flashing neon sign.
I would definitely prefer a disability to become apparent in the same way. Don’t announce it, show it. Or… describe it?
10. Unite And Conquer
I know we’re not supposed to tell other writers that their way is wrong. Because there is no “wrong” way to write a book. You have to do what you want to do – no one can make you do any differently
except the government obviously. But…
I’m going to break the rule and tell you that if you don’t follow this step, your book will be awful and no one will like it and J. R. R. Tolkien himself will frown upon you.
Write stories that bring people together.
Okay? That is my rule. You can do whatever you want – whatever floats your cute little boat! As long as you follow this rule.
Truly great stories bring people together. Never, ever seek to divide. That isn’t what storytelling is about.
I know I said this before, but it’s worth saying again. People are essentially the same and there are things we all have in common if we would just look a bit closer. Write that.
In America, race once divided people in a terrible way. But all of the great literature about that miserable time has been great because instead of widening the gap between black and white, slave and free, they made you realize just how similar we all are.
To Kill A Mockingbird is about segregation in the South after the Civil War had been over for years. It deals with racism. You would think, then, that it would intrinsically isolate the two races from each other. It would paint their differences starkly. But it doesn’t. Scout and Jem – white kids – are raised by Cal, their hired black cook. She is the only mother figure they have ever known and no one loves those kids more than Cal. Cal is part of the family, loved deeply by both children and their father.
Woodlawn is a film about racism at a school in Alabama. You would think that it would only serve to remind people of their differences and of the history of slavery in this country. But it doesn’t. The white coach of the football team doesn’t see the color of his players’ skin. He sees hurting boys who are desperate for someone to look up, to be a father to them. This need transcends race.
Even more controversial stories like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn seek to bring people of different races together. Evangeline didn’t see the color of someone’s skin. Huck and Jim were best friends and Huck risked his neck to save Jim even though it was illegal. Because beneath their skin, they were two runaways who didn’t belong.
Write stories about people who are different from each other. Different races, different religions, different morals. But don’t forget to write the resemblances as well. The underlying influences that make us all the same.
Okay that got really deep. I’m sorry, Kenzie. All your followers seem to have fallen asleep?
WAKE UP, YOU PEASANTS!
How can you possibly be dozing off at a time like this?
*slaps you all with a rotten biscuit*
There. Now that you are all properly awake again, please allow me a moment to squeal and fangirl for eternity because KATE ACTUALLY WROTE A GUEST POST FOR MY BLOG
WHILST STUFFED IN A BROOM CLOSET (#technicalities) I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS ASDFGHJKL!!!!!
Seriously, guys. This is like a dream come true for me. If you happen to be among my Ultimate Stalkers, you should already be aware that I have never ever had a guest post on Smudged Thoughts before.
Until now, that is.
And my very first guest post was written by none other than my smol twin, Kate, who, if you are currently unaware, is literally the coolest and funniest and most amazing person to ever have existed in this galaxy.
(can you tell how much I adore this human? CAN YOU???)
I am on a cloud, folks.
And for those of you who don’t already know this, Kate is THE MASTER when it comes to writing diversity in her stories.
thus the reason I asked her to write this post. Obviously.
It’s like she has a magical superpower, or something. I–being the extremely lucky bean that I am–have gotten to witness this first-hand
(because I am a special snowflake, obviously). And let me tell you–Kate never ever ever writes boring, stereotypical stories. Her ideas and plots are so unique and original and just so beautifully dark and soul-crushing that I am honestly in awe at her brilliance.
And her characters?
There is always diversity. And not just your run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter diversity, either.
I mean authentic diversity. Diversity that is so beautiful you can’t even comprehend it.
So for those of you who might be sitting there thinking, “But Kenzie! What could possibly qualify this human to teach us how to write diversity???” my answer to you is–
Everything, dear beans. Everything.
As I said, Kate is the master of diversity. And for a limp noodle like myself who can’t write a single sentence of diversity without feeling like I’ve botched the entire thing up, I am just so eternally honored that she has written this masterpiece for my blog.
and also taking notes like the ferocious chipmunk that I am because I NEED ALL THE INFORMATION, PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
So I would just like to say the hugest of THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!‘s to my fabulous friend and twin for writing this brilliant post for my smol blog. I honestly cannot thank you enough, Kate! You are literally the bestest person/writer/blogger/friend/twin of ever!!! *squishes you in a hug*
And as for all you beautiful peeps still standing there, WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU EVEN STILL DOING HERE, SIR. You should be over at the Evil Overlord’s blog so that you can punch that follow button in the face and stuff cookies into the comment sections and also read my guest post that I wrote for Kate, which was posted on Sunday.
(in which I stuff her in a closet [#oops])
SO STOP LOITERING AROUND, MY MINIONS.
Go. Follow her blog. Shove cookies in her face and tell her Kenzie sent you
because that sounds really cool and I like sounding like a gang leader apparently. if you do not do this, I will probably murder you with a pitchfork. #fearme
talk to us, peasants!
So, Cyberspace! What did you think? Are you good at writing diverse characters? Did you absolutely fall in love with this post like I did? Did you learn something about writing diversity? (or a million things like me?) What are some of YOUR top tips for writing diversity? And most important of all. . .
ARE YOU FOLLOWING KATE’S BLOG???? Because if you are not, my dear bean, I shall STAB YOU WITH MY RUSTED PITCHFORK AND SLAP YOU WITH THE JELLYFISH (who is already very tired from being slapped around so much, obviously). So go be a good bean (for both me and the jellyfish) and follow her blog immediately, okay? Okay.
(I’ll stop shoving links in your face now.)