writing minority characters


#1

so, this is a bit of a sensitive topic, but i feel like it’s important for myself and other authors to understand the pov of different minorities when writing minority characters. i myself am lgbt, nonbinary, female at birth, poor, and physically/mentally disabled, so i understand a lot of struggles and can accurately write characters with those similarities. however, i don’t understand them all. basically, in this thread, i want to better understand what’s offensive, what people want to see more of, and how i can accurately represent other minorities whose cultures i don’t understand as much, etc. this is also a space where people can ask their own questions and seek understanding about how to better incorporate minorities into their stories without being offensive or going off of stereotypes.

for example, as a nonbinary person (agender, to be exact), i would love to see more characters like me who don’t have short, brightly colored hair, who don’t dress androgynous and aren’t what people see when they think of nonbinary people. some nonbinary people only like one gender, some nonbinary people are more feminine or more masculine, some nonbinary people don’t actually have a pronoun preference. all nonbinary people are different and it’s a spectrum, and even though i’m happy to take whatever rep i can get, i want to see a nonbinary character who isn’t someone you’d immediately think of as nonbinary.


#2

i love this! i think key to this subject is thinking of your characters as real, three-dimensional people; to have fun making them diverse in terms of gender, sexuality, race and everything else and don’t overthink it. enjoy weaving it into their history, but stop yourself making it the one defining characteristic of their personality. craft the character.

i think if that is focused on, stereotypes won’t necessarily be jumped to, because it’s not like the writer is sitting there first and being like ‘right, i want to make a nonbinary character. that’s their first trait. how will i build outward from there?’ in my current novel, i don’t have a nonbinary character but i do have a few characters with a myriad of different sexualities. when i was planning them out, i remember writing a lot of background, personality and appearance stuff for a character called albie, and then i was like – “right, who is albie going to be interested in, if anyone?” and the answer just came to me. my starting point was not the thing that made him a minority.

does any of this make sense? i hope so! :tired_face: not like i’m an expert! i’m just muddling through too.

i also think talking to the people you’re trying to represent, if it isn’t something you’re familiar with personally, is also really cool and helpful; especially if you want to go in-depth with culture.


#3

I know this is a liiiiiitle off-topic, but I hate when people assume non-binary = vaguely masculine. Like, non-binary ppl can have boobs. They can wear skirts + dresses. And they’re still nb.


#4

YES

i’m nonbinary and tbh i love using makeup, lol


#5

big agree. characters shouldn’t be defined by their sexuality, race, and gender. however, those things are often a big part of what makes a character who they are, so they shouldn’t be pushed down, either. but yeah!!! i 100% agree.


#6

When you’re writing a character, write them as a person. There is no one right way to write any type of person, as you actually pointed out in your OP. You’re non-binary, and you don’t enjoy seeing non-binary people represented all one way b/c there is no template for nonbinary people. You’re a person, point blank, period, full stop.

The same applies to everyone else. The key to writing outside your own personal experience is to remember to be considerate, thoughtful and ready to make changes should something turn out to be majorly offensive. Write people with dignity. Don’t assume b/c they’re an “inner city youth” they’ll speak with slang. Further, don’t assume slang is simply garbled English that flaunts grammatical rules. If you’re not familiar with a particular subset of a particular minority group–say, the inner workings of Mexican doulas–then perhaps consider meeting and connecting with one rather than seeking a quick run-down of dos and don’ts. It’s just so much easier to write a character based off a real person than one made up all wrong of misconceptions and Google search results.

So, if you decide to write a person of color in your story, I would say to remember the following:

  1. No token or bit characters and no token or bit tropes. If best friend happens to be black, she doesn’t have to be sassy black best friend. She can be, you know, just a best friend.
  2. No obviously offensive descriptions. This may seem tricky. I mean, EVERYTHING is offensive these days, amirite? But, seriously, if you wouldn’t want to be described as mud brown, then why would anyone else? Stay away from animal metaphors (monekys, cats, ferrets, rats. yeah, no. just don’t do that), slurs or racial nicknames, fetishizing a group based on their ethnicity or physical characteristics, or othering.
  3. Write the character like any ole person. I’m a 30-something black lesbian mom of 4. I’m no monolith. You could write me from any average direction–as a mom, as a lesbian, as someone not in her 20s–and I’d still relate, and the character would still be believable. The caveat is if you’re writing about a specific population, in which case it’s your job as a writer to get out, research, and develop a robust character. Think about it. Tolkien invented a whole language in the interest of writing realstic faeries. Surely you can make friends with your neighbor who may not look like you.
  4. Most importantly, get out and meet different people. Like, really talk, go to dinner with them, hang out online, discuss books and movies, ask them their favorite, song, etc. Within a short amount of time, many of your questions will be answered, and I wager the answer will look something like:

In the end, we’re more alike than different.


#7

thanks for the advice! i love getting perspectives from everyone, so i can be as sensitive and understanding as possible.


#8

I wouldn’t say I’m a minority per say, but I’m very petit, I’m 4’6" which is the size of an average 12 year old but I’m 20. I felt like a minority while going to school with a very tall population. I find small people are usually portrayed as very bubbly, happy go lucky people, but that isn’t always the case. I experienced a lot of discrimination because of my height and I find that it’s never shown in Media.

Good luck with your story! I think this is a great idea!