Reading & Discussion: It’s Not Just Skin Deep: Creating Diverse Characters in Fiction
I am what we often called in L.A. a ‘weta’, or ‘wetita’. A white Mexican. I’m blonde and blue eyed, and next to my father I look like a flashlight. But looking White often meant I didn’t have to deal with the racism many of my family and friends had to deal with. There was an element of privilege involved, and it’s something I’ve always been aware of. Still, my heritage was, and is, important to me. (I love Mexican food so much, and if I could live on one thing for the rest of my life, it would be tacos.)
In my second novel, Fury’s Choice, Kera Espinosa is part Mexican, part Haitian. And I included a lot of the diversity I saw on a daily basis back in L.A. I think it makes for a richer, more interesting novel. But when writing it, I was extra aware of how I was writing it; I had to make sure they were simply real people, fleshed out and complex, as opposed to someone I needed to fit into a box. That’s often where a writer gets into trouble; they try to make a character an example of a culture, and end up with either a cardboard cut out or, potentially, an insulting caricature.
It’s a fine line, right? Bringing diversity into a story and including the various elements that simply make us human, but remembering that culture and background are part of what create who we are, too. A question I’ve asked just recently of another author is why (a question I ask all the time about everything, much to other’s dismay); why is that character another ethnicity or religion? Why do they have that particular disability? I’m all for inclusion, but I also think you need to know what that character is bringing to the story; don’t drop them in because you feel you should, but rather, because it brings something to the story and you want to play with someone from a different background than your own.
There is so much to learn from writing outside our immediate comfort zones. We learn from our research, from our characters, and from the journeys we take them on. Join me in Lesvos as we discuss how to create diverse, interesting characters who enrich the stories we write.