Representation in my fiction, both what I read and what I write, is important to me. I’m not the best at it; it’s a thing that I still struggle with, but I’m trying to improve. If you’re in the same boat with me, here are a few tips that I’ve found to up the diversity of my characters.
Now, before I start, what do I mean by diversity and representation? Exactly what it says on the tin: having characters that fall outside of the straight, white, able-bodied, cis, male default setting. I love having complex female characters. I love having Black characters. I love having gay or deaf or trans characters, and I feel like they add a layer of realism to the text.
Which isn’t to say I don’t also love Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or any number of others. It simply means that I recognize those characters don’t embody all or even most of today’s readership, and it’s time that our fiction reflected that.
That said! On we go–
- When including characters who are from a marginalized community–be it race, religion, sexuality, so on–go for quality over quantity. Make them complex; make them capable; make them feel like a real person. They should feel just as distinct as any other character with wants and wishes and a personality that can’t be summed up by “He’s the Black one.”
- Avoid tokens. This is sort of a continuation of the above. Tokenism is when an author doesn’t do what I described above. Instead, they give you just one character of a given minority so they can point at it and go, “See? I gave you a gay character? Happy now?” More often than not, it ends with a slew of stereotypes that nobody will thank you for. It’s also how you end up with a story that looks like someone’s been playing Diversity BINGO.
- There doesn’t have to be a “reason” for a character to be Black or trans or blind, and the story doesn’t have to revolve around their “deviance” from the norm. The most beautiful moment I’ve had with a story lately was when I realized the character I’d been reading about was a lesbian. No big deal was made of it in the text; it didn’t become a huge plot point or a soapbox for the author. The story would have worked out just the same if the love interest had been a man. And THAT was what made it so memorable and so lovely to read.
- Do your research. Read about the kind of diversity that you’re trying to bring in. Read books by authors who walk those paths. Read blogs and autobiographies. Follow social justice sites. Talk to people who have experienced the things you’re trying to bring to the stories. Do the legwork to be sure that your representation is one that does them justice, most especially if you’re writing a group that you don’t belong to. Seek out beta readers who will call you on it when you make mistakes.
- Be respectful. Above all else, keep in mind that you are writing about people, probably from a group that you yourself are not. If someone who actually has lived in the experience you’re trying to convey tells you that your representation was offensive to them, listen. Ask yourself how you can do better. Because you’re not doing this so you can point at it and be proud of how much work you’ve put in, not so you can brag about Oh How Inclusive you are. Do it so your readers can see their own experiences in your stories. So they can see something of themselves in your heroes.
As always be sure to check out Undivinelight for the brilliant Rachel’s take!