So, you want to add diversity to your story. That’s a good thing… if you are doing it for the right reasons and in the right ways.
What are “the right reasons?” Well, because you want to be inclusive, reflect an increasingly diverse reality, and give a voice to under-represented people. The “bad” reasons? Because it’s the cool thing to do now.
Here are my thoughts on do’s and don’t’s for this topic. These are just one person’s opinions, so feel free to add your own in the comments!
1. Don’t… add diversity just to add it, as an afterthought.
For instance, if you’re trying to add characters from all sorts of economic backgrounds, but the kid from the lowest-income household is running around with the latest Samsung… people are going to notice you made him from a different background as an afterthought. The character was already set in place, and he was changed at the last minute because “diversity.”
Instead, do… add diversity to reflect our reality.
I live in the United States. I have lived on the East Coast, West Coast, down south, and further north. I can tell you, there are lots of different people everywhere! Okay, California was more diverse than Florida, and Texas was more diverse than West Virginia. So, wherever your story is set, add diversity according to reality.
2. Don’t… run off of stereotypes.
Especially harmful stereotypes. My husband is from down south, and he loves gumbo and the Saints (football team). Those would be great to show a character’s origin and their love for where they come from. But try not to fall for making people look stupid, like SNL often does with Southerners…
Instead, do… base diversity on real people that you know.
I’m currently writing a romantic cozy mystery set in the south, and while my characters do say “ya’ll” and “fixing to,” those are quite popular sayings where I grew up. I actually still say them. A best friend’s mom and a boss have inspired some of the characters, so that I am left with characters (not stereotypes) that I know exist. The diversity in my story is based on my own real-life experiences.
3. Don’t… write about a culture you are not familiar with.
For instance, “Hispanic” is not really a homogeneous culture. If you have a character from Mexico he or she has to be different from a character from Puerto Rico. If you’re not familiar with the differences, it’s better to skip it than to get them mixed up (which might cheapen your story).
Instead, do… a bit of research.
Staying with the Mexican/Puerto Rican example, let’s say your Hispanic character has a hat that belonged to his great-grandfather. Now, you could Google any old Hispanic hat, but if you research it a bit more, you’ll find differences, such as…
A bit of Googling goes a long way.
4. Don’t… pull a JK Rowling.
“And he was trans all along!!” Oookay, then why didn’t you just tell us that? If you’ve been online in the past few weeks, you’ll know that a lot of people feel cheated by Rowling adding diversity to her Harry Potter series as an afterthought. (Told ya that’s a bad idea.)
Instead, do… be descriptive and straightforward about who your characters are.
There comes a moment in every story where you tell the reader what your character looks like. If they’re black, tell us they’re black. If they’re gender fluid, describe their gender fluidity. Paint a picture with your words.
Here’s a cool one: If your character is a first-generation Dominican immigrant, give them an accent or Spanglish. But if they’re struggling with their Dominican identity because they were raised in the U.S. and now are “Americanized” (an issue often seen in immigrant households), then give them a perfect English accent that doesn’t match their parents’.
So now it’s not just “diversity,” but there are different conflicts and attributes depending on when and how long a character has been in the U.S. Lots to consider.
The possibilities for making a good diverse cast of characters is there… if done with care.
And this isn’t about being overly PC or wanting to please the Twitter mobs. This is about having a really good story with genuine characters. Nobody likes stereotypes or quickly-thrown-together characters, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic background, gender, etc.
Those are just my thoughts and how I approach diversity.
Let us know what you think in the comments 😊
(Okay… we do drink out of mason jars in this house, like on that SNL gif… but still! Hehehe 😂)
Take care and write on,
🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜