I saw some posts on Twitter recently about writers from non-marginalized groups being afraid or unsure about writing POC characters. So I decided to make blog post on the topic. This post applies for any marginalized group though. I may not mention it explicitly but that included POC characters, LGBT, disabled, neurodivergent and plus sized. Other POC or marginalized writers feel free to chime in and add to the conversation.
I will say I’m not the most qualified to be talking about this topic. I am Black, queer, mostly neurotypical and I am able-bodied. That being said I don’t have every possible right way to do everything and mostly this can be just considered an opinion and what has helped me. So feel free to correct and educate me! Add to the conversation! Dm me on Twitter if you need me to go into further depth on any of these points! Or if you have questions about things concerning this topic!
- First, realize every book is different. There are no steadfast rules of writing diversity. Some books are heavily focused on a character’s marginalized identity or their cultures or their experiences. And some aren’t. And that’s okay. Marginalized people are not monoliths and can exist in multiple spaces. In some cases identities should be talked about and in others it’s not. Characters who are marginalized will have different experiences and not all of them experience the same things.
- Ask yourself why you are writing this character. If you are adding this marginalized character because you want to hit a diverse quota then it’s probably not a good enough reason to do so. And you don’t have to! If you want to write a marginalized character just do it! You can only learn by doing. Don’t just add diversity for the sake of having hit your check boxes. And don’t not write diversity because you are afraid of being canceled or hated on. There are plenty of authors who have written a variety of books with a diverse cast who everyone loves. You could be the next one!
- If you are writing a character who’s marginalized identity you are not a part of, ask yourself why? Why is this your story to tell? If you can’t think of a good reason then it’s probably not. Don’t just give marginalized identities to characters because it makes them have tragic backstories. That’s not a good reason. These identities need to fit who these people are.
- If you want your story to contain moments about those characters’ marginalized identities then go for it! If not you don’t have to! Treat them like any other character! Especially if you are not a part of that group. A character’s story arc doesn’t have to revolve around their minority identity unless you are a part of that group and feel confident in telling that story. If not, it’s okay to have minor details about their marginalization come up. Tie in their identities with their characters if it fits your story.
- Do your research. Find out how people in those minority groups might be affected differently in different situations. This makes your characters more authentic without having every situation focused on their marginalization. Read diverse books. Read from POC, Nerodivergent, or LGBT, disabled, etc writers. Learn from them. See how they live and write. This will make your characters so much easier to write because your world is broader.
- Get sensitivity readers! If you feel you are unsure! A marginalized person may be able to view your story better. I know this is obvious but my take is just write the characters and listen to your sensitivity readers. If they are saying what you have written is incorrect it’s okay to just write what you know. There are people who read everyone’s stories and if you aren’t confident or willing to listen to others then maybe you shouldn’t be writing those kinds or characters.
- Are you creating a token character? Are you writing this character so you don’t get backlash for not having diverse characters? Then probably. But tokenism is also putting stereotypes on the character while also being the only marginalized person in the room. That’s a caricature and not a person. Just because that person exists doesn’t mean they are the spokesperson for that identity. They can be the only marginalized person because it happens. But make them three dimensional just like everyone else.
- If you have a character with a marginalized identity you do not have to single them out. If your story focuses on flushing out each character’s marginalized identity then you should have characters mention the things about themselves that are important to them! Especially if your story is set in the modern world! Because in modern times someone’s marginalized identity is often called into conversation. However if your story doesn’t have conversations such as racism or discussions on how disabled people are treated then you don’t have to. It’s okay to write stories with levity. Not every story has to be a think piece or have social justice commentary. It is okay to leave the in depth writing about marginalized groups to those marginalized groups.
In addition to all this: It’s best to remember a tip I heard in Jenna Moreci’s video about diversity that I fell describes a lot of this perfectly! It’s okay to write about a lesbian fighting to save her princess! But if you are writing about the struggle of a lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality if you are not queer then maybe you shouldn’t.
People who are smarter than me about this topic:
- This tumblr pages goes further in depth in so many topics concerning race: https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com
- Francina Simone is a YouTuber who talks about this topic: 📝 How To Write Diverse Characters 🤓 | NaNoWriMo
- Jenna Moreci is another Youtuber who talks about writing and tips for writing but has a video on this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPc2p6cHvz
Authors who have books with effortless diversity:
All of these books are written by either white or POC authors. Each has large friendship groups or cast of characters with a variety of different people concerning race, gender, mental health status, and disability. Some of these have diverse side characters where race isn’t the focus while it is for the main character. I highly recommend them all especially if you want to see how others did this before you.