Many of my friends and family live diverse lives. Yeah, I have the cis-gendered, heterosexual, white and able friends/family, but also those of different backgrounds, sexualities, gender identities, ethnicities and abilities/disabilities. So my writing reflects that. Here are some examples.
In The Daisy List, the main character’s mum suffers from cancer. Her best friend Kevin is half-Taiwanese, and her friend Niff has African heritage.
In The Ballerina Painting/ Blind Spot, there are two main characters. William is blind, and white. Ashley is deaf, and Indian. One of their friends (I can’t even remember her name!) is a lesbian.
In Wanderland, the story I’m plotting right now (the name might change), Alice is Asian and is paraplegic, meaning she gets around in a wheelchair.
I’m not listing these things so I seem all noble or anything (although that’s true as well).
Most of the time, these characters occur to me as they are – I don’t change them just so that they can be more diverse.
I totally understand that writers are afraid of writing diverse characters. Afraid of offending particular groups, or not getting it right, or portraying it incorrectly. But I’ve always thought of my characters not as a product of their “diversities” but as, first and foremost, people.
My characters aren’t just deaf or blind or Indian or gay or paraplegic or sick or Taiwanese or fighting depression. They’re also complete people who live with these things, who deal with these things – often, they’re not a huge part of who they are. I mean, being white is not something I think about every day. It just is.
I have the luxury of not being a published writer. I can write what I want without fear of offending everyone. I know that’s a real pressure on published writers.
But as readers, we have a certain power. Readers are just as diverse as writers. If authors get something wrong in a book, we can speak out and say hey, this isn’t right. We don’t need to condemn writers for getting things wrong, because at the very least, they’re paving the way for more diverse characters in the future.
And it helps to research as well – not just to look things up on the internet, but talk to people similar to who you want to represent in your stories. That helps with authenticity. Hazel Grace was inspired by Esther Earl, but Hazel is her own character.
We are not our labels. Diverse people are just people.
And if we write them that way, that will shine out. We might get things wrong – I’m sure I’ve got things wrong even in this post, which I’m really nervous about. But if we can help correct and expand knowledge, then that will show in YA fiction. Hopefully.
Writers! Do you write diverse characters? How do you do this sensitively?