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Writing Diverse Characters

The diversity of characters in a novel should represent the diversity of one’s surroundings. If I’m writing a historical romance set in a provincial village in the English countryside, I’m probably not going to include a Vietnamese person. But if I’m writing a story set in modern-day America, things get trickier.

A typical trip to the grocery store in many cities in America will mean encountering people of various backgrounds. People are here from every country, and every religion is represented. And the people born and raised here have blood that’s been mixed by the generations coming to these shores. The culture of America is as diverse as its people.

What does this mean for the writer?

What is has always meant for good writing.

KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS, inside and out. Where do they come from? What motivates them? What do they feel? What do they know?

To do your character’s justice, it’s best and easiest to base them in reality. And avoid stereotypes, please. Enough with the Hispanic and Black drug dealers and Arab terrorists already.

For example, my novel, The Mark of Moses, is set in the Levant countries of Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. My characters are Muslim, Christian and Jewish. Lucky for me, my husband is from the area and I have visited it many times. I know many people of these faiths and I did a huge amount of research. My protagonist, Mariam, is a young American, whose father was born in Lebanon, so she has some of the second-generation immigrant experience.

During the pitching process of this novel, I can tell you I ran headlong into the personal bias of agents and editors. People, who didn’t believe my characters, because in their world, women don’t go into a mosque, for example. What? Really? Been there, done that.

That’s for another blog, another day on how personal bias and stereotypes make it hard to get your marginalized characters published.

Remember, your character’s world is as diverse as their world really is.


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