On writing diverse characters

Children's hands on globe.

Photo by flickr user Sweet Trade [Photography]

I’m a huge proponent of diversity in literature. I love that many of the Pitch Wars mentors expressed interest in diverse characters. I love that authors and librarians have been championing diversity and the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

And I love writing diverse characters. My problem (and I know there are plenty of people who disagree with me on this) is thinking of them as “diverse” characters. My characters come to me as people with stories to tell; the protagonist of one of my works in progress is a black lesbian inventor, but I don’t think of her as black or a lesbian, just as the character this story belongs to. It’s when I start thinking about her as black and a lesbian that the writing starts to feel fake and forced. The less I think of her as a “diverse” character, the more naturally her voice comes to me.

And yes, I write white, cisgendered characters, too. I don’t write for diversity; I write to tell the stories that come to me as best I can. I don’t ever want to write a “token trans” or “token Asian” or “token” anything character just to make my book diverse. I want my characters to be authentic. Sometimes that means they’re black, or gay, or handicapped; sometimes it means they’re white cisgendered people with unique backgrounds or outlooks on life. Does diversity of experience still count as diversity if a character is white and straight but grew up as a member of a repressive cult? Where do we draw the diversity line?

Writers, how are you responding to the We Need Diverse Books campaign? Are you trying to incorporate more diversity? Do you find yourself struggling with “token” characters? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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