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How can you write diverse characters without using obvious diversity cues?

 
Physa/ Guthington/ Amy
(@physa)
Bronze Member
Posts: 50

It seems like it is more and more important to write about diverse characters and to provide representation to a wider audience. I'm all for that. HOWEVER in describing a character, how can you do that in such a way as to avoid saying out right that they are "black" or "brown" or "lesbian" or "transgender"? How can this be accomplished without leaning on cliche' descriptions? Any thoughts or comments are welcome.

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Topic starter Posted : September 26, 2021 6:40 am
AlexH
(@alexh)
Silver Member
Posts: 255

Don't do a Disney: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/why-star-wars-kiss-is-a-step-back-lgbtq-representation-rise-skywalker-1264180/

All main characters should be well-rounded, and their skin colour, sexuality or whatever else shouldn't define them.

To be inclusive, you should describe every main character e.g. if you mention the skin colour of a black person, do the same for white characters. Inclusion should be part of the story rather than being the story.

Another thing to avoid: there are so many stories/films where the only person of colour is a character who is killed off. Avoid "white saviour" e.g. Avatar and Green Book: https://www.businessinsider.com/white-savior-films-green-book-hollywood-racism-people-of-color-film-2019-3

I think being aware of stereotypes is a good start. There is plenty of information online. For example, avoid using chocolate, coffee or brown sugar to describe skin colour: https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/post/95955707903/skin-writing-with-color-has-received-several

I don't think there are any issues using the colour name itself or describing someone as a lesbian or transgender. That isn't considered cliché. This site is again your friend: https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/post/96830966357/words-for-skin-tone-how-to-describe-skin-color

Watch and read widely. These books were recommended by Jayrod Garrett in a "Worldbuilding for Inclusion" talk I attended at Fyrecon last year:
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
In One Person by John Irving
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Loads of online magazines publish stories from a diverse range of writers, including special issues by under-represented writers. Apex Magazine, Fireside, Clarkesworld...

In the talk I mentioned, I liked Jayrod's comparison of Big Bang Theory (appropriating, as nerd culture is the butt of most of the jokes) and Community (they're celebrating nerd culture). Jayrod said the nerds laugh because the nerds themselves think they're trash. I wondered why I never liked Big Bang Theory, and I think I realised why when Jayrod made that comparison.

He said to think about your characters: "Am I honouring the culture this person belongs to with what I am writing?"

There can be cultural differences with how people resolve things, and this should be consistent with your character's background.

Jayrod was encouraging and said to start with an experience you understand. When have you felt excluded? He said to pick one element and focus on that, and as you grow as a writer, you will address inclusivity in bigger ways.

Inclusion can be so many more things - political or religion, for example.

Anyway, I'm no expert, and I would like to do more and do better with inclusion myself. The above is some of what I've picked up over recent years.

35: - R R R | 36: R HM R R | 37: HM HM HM SHM | 38: HM HM

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Posted : September 26, 2021 5:12 pm
czing
(@czing)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 209

I follow a diverse group of people on Twitter and I really feel that has helped me to see things more broadly and with much more nuance than I used to. Things I haven't considered before are opened up to me in new ways.

Writing the Other is another resource I've heard good things about http://writingtheother.com/ although I haven't taken one of their courses yet. 

v36 Q1, Q3 - HM; Q4 - R
v37 Q1 - R; Q2 - SHM; Q4 - HM
v38 Q1 - HM; Q2 -SHM; Q3 - P

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Posted : September 26, 2021 7:09 pm
Morgan
(@morgan-broadhead)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 154

"Every character is the hero of their own story." I have no idea where I heard or read that, but it's something I try and keep in mind whenever I'm writing any character. I don't know the specifics of the character you're writing or the obstacles you'll be placing in front of him/her/they/them, etc., but it may be helpful to remember that characters don't see themselves as being necessarily diverse or different. We all have at least two definitions of ourselves: how we see ourselves, and how we think other people see us. We all tend to associate with or hang out with people of our own values, beliefs, cultures, religions, financial class, status, etc.

Basically, this is a long-winded way of saying you have ample opportunity to show who/what/how your character is by the way other people interact with them, specifically other people who are outside their immediate circle. Or something like that. I hope I'm expressing that thought adequately. Internal thoughts and dialogue can also offer clues. How does this person view himself/herself/themselves in contrast to others? For example, if you're writing a female character and she is attracted to or thinking about another female, we're gonna get that she's a lesbian or bi without you ever saying it outright. Culture and race clashes happen all the time in every country, so you can also show how someone of a different culture interacts with your character to help us see both the struggles your character is facing and also help us understand his/her diversity.

"If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."
- Stephen King
Drop me a line at https://morganbroadhead.com

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Posted : September 27, 2021 6:04 am
storysinger
(@storysinger)
Gold Member
Posts: 916

The way our society is these days I avoid mentioning anything that would be offensive to anyone.

In my short stories it's very easy to skirt the issue.

In my novels I do have interaction between races and even creatures such as trolls, goblins, and other interesting critters.

 

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
HM-V32/Q3
HM-V36/Q4
HM-V38/Q1

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Posted : September 27, 2021 7:59 am
Morgan
(@morgan-broadhead)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 154
Posted by: @storysinger

The way our society is these days I avoid mentioning anything that would be offensive to anyone.

In my short stories it's very easy to skirt the issue.

In my novels I do have interaction between races and even creatures such as trolls, goblins, and other interesting critters.

 

One of the nice things about being a storyteller is you can make your characters get away with things that you personally would NEVER do! You are right though, storysinger, there's always someone who will choose to be offended about something. And often they will confuse the author for the character. I remember Stephen King talking about an angry letter he received from a fan who accused him of animal abuse because his Dead Zone character (spoiler alert! AWOOGA AWOOGA!) kicked a dog to death. Whaddya gonna do? Characters have to do and say and think things that are true to themselves. But there should always be consequences for their actions; characters don't get what they want — they get what they deserve!

"If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."
- Stephen King
Drop me a line at https://morganbroadhead.com

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Posted : September 27, 2021 8:31 am
Cray Dimensional
(@craydimensional)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 171

Thank you to everyone replying here.

Small steps add up to miles.
V38: R, R, P

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Posted : September 27, 2021 9:58 am
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