There has been a recent call for diversity in Young Adult literature, which is amazing.
But it has also raised a lot of questions as to how to approach writing diverse characters that are not the authors’ gender, sexuality, race, etc. It’s unfair to say that there are “rules” per-say, because I hate saying there are rules at all in writing, but here are some widely agreed do’s and don’t’s of handling diverse characters.
- Add diverse characters for the sake of diversity. This is one of the worst things to do. Don’t throw in an unnecessary side character that differs in sexuality, race, etc, from the other main characters. The call for diversity isn’t to simply add female characters in the background, for example. If these side characters have no development or baring on the plot, not only has the author missed the point of the call for diversity, but those characters are probably useless in the first place.
- Let them fall into stereotypes. This should be relatively self-explanatory. Long has Hollywood had black men as comic relief and Asian characters as brainiacs. Break boundaries. Show that all people are the same deep down and have similarities despite their different backgrounds.
- Write their story for them. Now, this is one of those where I refuse to say “never do this”, because I think there are some exceptions. Just be aware that if you’re a straight author writing a non-straight character and their struggle with their sexuality, the story will be under heavy criticism from the gate. I’ll admit myself that I’ve dove into this myself in Trust Me where a male character questions his sexuality. The entire story is not centered around his struggle, however, and his mental angst is more hinted at than delved into because I understood that I would not completely understand what his mentality would feel like. There are ways to mention a character’s struggle without going into much detail. I personally encourage writers to experiment, however, because it leads to better understanding and broadens the author’s writing.
- Mention their background. This is more of a take-it-or-leave-it, but it’s interesting to see the characters even briefly mention their background. Maybe a Mexican girl mentions her Quinceañera or a character from a different country briefly recalls their background. This will add depth to the character and help keep the author from adding characters simply for diversity with no actual stake in the story or characters.
- Research. Research and more research. Talk to people from the ethnic backgrounds you are writing about. Look up countries and their customs. Make sure facts are correct before adding characterization.
- Take risks. Don’t be afraid to write a certain race or sexuality simply because you don’t fall into the category you are writing. Writers need to take risks, otherwise they will never learn, and this will make diversity in books expand.