Writing diversity as a white author

by Katherine

Hi! I'm writing a story that focuses on a mother and her three daughters as the main characters. I've always seen these characters as Caucasian mostly because I am a white woman and I don't want to butcher another culture in order to seem "woke."

I'm trying to add supporting characters who are POC. I currently have a Jewish man, an Asian man, a Hispanic man and his sister, and possibly an Afro Latinx family (if I can fit them into my plot elegantly enough.) These characters are all important to the plot because of who they are, not the color of their skin. Any advice on writing about these characters' ethnicities that I'm not familiar with? I don't want to bash readers over the head with diversity, but it is important to me that I have representation.


(P.S. I also have representation of non-racial things like sexuality and mental illnesses. These are things that I have some experience in so I don't need help with these. Just adding this so that no one thinks that the only representation I care about is race!)

Answer: Just a few bits of advice...

1. Become familiar with the ethnicities you are writing about, especially if that identity is important to the story. You want your characters to seem
authentic even to readers who share their ethnicity. It's best if you know some people in real life you can use as models.

2. It sounds like you are doing this already, but remember you are writing about particular people, not generalized representatives of ethnicities. Write about a person who happens to be of a certain ethnicity, rather than an ethnicity who happens to be a person.

3. How authentic your characters' ethnicities should be depends somewhat on your genre. In character-driven, literary fiction you may be able to devote more pages to a character's upbringing and personality than in a plot-driven thriller. But even if you are writing a short, plot-driven story, a few telling details help to bring the characters to life.

4. Don't be afraid of writing about people unlike yourself. All writers do this.

5. Sometimes imagination can make up for gaps in knowledge, when you are writing about specific people who don't fit the stereotypes.

6. This may seem obvious but... don't just include characters for the sake of diversity. Try to choose characters for the unique contribution or role they make. If you could easily replace one character's ethnicity (or gender identity) without changing the story, then you may not have found the best character to play that role.

Best of luck.

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