In order to represent the diversity of our world, writers should strive to try to increase the diversity in the casts they write. It’s not that every story ever written from now has to be about a certain marginalized group, it’s just something the literary community needs. This is especially true in genre fiction. Fiction doesn’t always need to accurately represent reality, but being able to see a reflection of yourself in fiction is a powerful and gratifying feeling. Writing outside one’s own experience is quite a challenge. So here are some basic, but always helpful tips for writing about characters of marginalized groups.
Avoid stereotypes at all costs. Stereotypes are a form of lazy writing, unless you are writing satire or parody. But even then, it’s best not to rely on them. Eliminating them for your writing in general, is the best choice. Stereotypes are usually pretty negative, and ugly, and they often lead to flat, unrealistic characters. You don’t want this in your writing. You want to create characters that your audience can relate to, but also be complex and unique. If you rely on stereotypes to portray characters of a marginalized group, then you are just going to continue to perpetuate the negativity associated with those stereotypes. You’ll want these characters to be realistic, so don’t go for the flat, cardboard-cutout approach. Try to figure out what makes them tick as a person and go from there. Don’t focus too hard on the fact that they are from a marginalized group. Sure, that knowledge should inform your character writing, but it shouldn’t completely influence every step of their development, just something important to keep in mind when creating characters. This is especially true when they reflect experiences that you aren’t familiar with yourself.
Research is honestly your best friend when it comes to writing almost anything. But that goes to double for writing about characters of other races, nationalities, sexualities, religions, etc. You don’t need to know it inside out and backwards, but you should have an understanding of what you’re going into. With the internet now, there are so many great sources out there at your fingertips. It would be silly not to use them. There are blogs and websites out there dedicated to learning about other religions, sexualities, ethnicities, etc. Even Wikipedia can be a good place to start, but don’t rely on that as your only form of research. Some good examples of resources are Mediadiversified.org which contains articles and academic pieces on diversity in media, ranging from books to television shows.
Do: Listen to Others
If you can, and this is related to research, find out what people in those groups have to say. Don’t just go up to people and ask them for their life’s story. You’ll probably just annoy them; they have lives too! But if someone is holding a panel or a discussion and it’s relevant to your writing, take advantage of that opportunity. Many out there want to tell their stories, share their experiences. Go to readings, participate in rallies, watch/listen to interviews or documentaries online. Check out the local library, some books there might be of use. You can listen to the voices of people from marginalized groups in so many different ways. It’s easy to do this to flesh out your writing and really bring your characters to life. Books written by people who use their own experience to back up their writing are a good source. One of my recent reads that I think does this really well in exploring cultures not usually seen in fantasy, my favorite genre, is N. K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy.
Meet the blogger:
Anna Krenz is a fiction writer and occasionally a poet, hailing from Wisconsin. She is currently a senior working on her bachelor’s in Creative Writing and English at Hamline University. She loves writing in any genre, although fantasy and horror are her two loves. Besides cats, of course.