Writing Diverse Characters – ESP Workshop

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Notes from the MinnSpec ESP Writing Diverse Characters workshop led by Nishi Peters.

There is not a lot of diversity in science fiction and fantasy. The representation doesn’t match the world around us.

Not a lot of people have backgrounds of characters they create, so they create stereotypical characters.

Our responsibility as writers is to show people who have a different way of thinking.

Common themes, or lack of theme

  • Disabilities are rarely portrayed.
  • Heroes are pretty.
  • Villains are ugly.

Consider when writing diverse characters, are they authentic?

  • Merely changing the appearance isn’t enough.
  • Make the character believable and not stereotyped.

As an example, when considering writing Indian people, learn about who they are as people. People from India, and people with Indian heritage raised in America have differing cultures. Even in India, a lot of variable cultures exist.

General Comments

  • Portray the characters as human beings
  • Do a lot of research on them
    • Follow actor training by observing people in public.
    • Read biographies.
    • Talk to people.
  • Begin with the rules, and how your character interacts in the rules.
    • Common, shared experiences can be used as a basis for the character.
    • No one is perfectly representative.
    • After understanding the rules, consider how each person handles problems in their own way.
      • People from the same background can have dissimilar perspectives and preferences
  • Provide the sort of depth you would about any character.
  • We can relate to each other through our differences without making it a big deal.
  • What does your character notice first when they enter the scene? What they notice can provide a clue to their character.
  • What if a character isn’t human and doesn’t have the same primary senses than us?
  • If you are going to write a character that is different from yourself, don’t make the story about that difference.
  • Characterization can be small nuances, how someone holds a fork or slouches
  • Visualize the gestures and actions in the story
    • Imagine acting out the gestures can help write them, and flesh them out.

Resources

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