Our world is diverse, and readers want to see diversity reflected in the stories they read. Writing diverse characters isn’t always easy. It's time for writers to think hard about how they write characters that don’t look like them. Here are some tips to help.
Remember to R.E.A.C.H.
Research – Research before you write about a marginalized community. Writers need to make sure they understand the people who live in these communities. Also, remember Google is not your god. Web searches are a great place to find a wealth of information, but not all the information is accurate. Make an effort to connect with people from the marginalized communities in your story.
Empathize – To empathize with someone is to imagine or try to deeply understand what they're feeling or what it's like to be in their situation. The key word here is to try. Think from your character’s point of view and consider their likes, dislikes, fears, desires, hopes, and dreams. Don’t think of them as a stereotype and don’t pass judgment on their differences. Improving your compassion will allow you to write more diverse characters with authenticity. Read about the history of these communities (specifically ones written by the communities themselves). As you read, be empathetic and try to recognize the biases you have. Rather than passing judgment, try to learn and listen.
Acknowledge – You don’t know what you don’t know. Not knowing what the marginalized community is feeling is okay. Consider having someone from the community read your work, discuss your writing to gain their perspective, or hire a sensitivity reader.
What is a sensitivity reader? Someone who reads for offensive content, misrepresentation, stereotypes, bias, lack of understanding, etc. They create a report for an author and/or publisher outlining the problems they find in a piece of work and offer solutions on how to fix them.
Characterize – Make sure your diverse character doesn’t exist to serve the plot or fill a checked box. Show subtle yet clear descriptions, but this doesn’t mean stereotyping.
Humanize – You know what you go through as a person in your everyday life, infuse some of that daily routine into your characters wherever it makes sense. Morning routines, relationship interactions, conflicts on different levels, emotions of frustration, fear, anger, joy, and success, are a few of what everyone faces in life.
Writer's Nibbles and Nuggets
If you apply R.E.A.C.H., you’re more likely to represent well the authenticity of marginalized communities.
Never include a character because you believe you should or because it's what's selling. Your writing can and will influence others reading about marginalized communities. What kind of impact will you have?