Stereotypes: The Asian kid is smart, the black guy always eats fried chicken, the mexican is eating a taco. And probably most prevalent: the romance between two white people, one of whom is perfect in every way possible and the other having every possible thing wrong with his family life (guess who wrote a story exactly like this. /ashamed).
Everyone's been pushing for diversity in recent years, but it's not always handled in the most politically correct or realistic way, laden with stereotypes and generalizations. Of course, there are smart Asian kids (my Chinese roommate has a 4.0 and gives us all hell if she gets any exam grade lower than a 93%), and if you walk into a KFC, you are likely to find at least one black guy eating fried chicken.
But the validity of those stereotypes aren't my concern in this how-to. I'm going to show you how to make your stories a little more culturally diverse and decrease the likelihood that critics will accuse your story of playing on racial stereotypes. The following are simply guidelines, and by no means do you need to follow any of them in your story. But if you've been accused of having un-diverse or stereotypical characters, ponder on these:
1. a non-caucasian MC. It's safe to say a majority of MCs in popular literature are caucasian. Having a non-caucasian MC sets you apart, and it's a great way to introduce a hammerfist of diversity into your story if you find yours falling into the puddle of "average" storytelling. This may or may not take research. You could have a very Americanized (or whatever country your story is set in) MC, so they don't necessarily follow values of their respective culture. Or if they're perhaps the 1st or 2nd generation, they might have strong cultural influences from their parents and other family members. If you're not of the same culture as your MC, RESEARCH! Ask people of that culture of their values and daily lifestyle, habits, etc.
If you're writing a story set on a different world, having a non-caucasian MC would be really easy because you'd be making up their culture yourself anyway. Give them some physical differences such as eyes, lips, nose, skin color, number of fingers, etc. More importantly, give them values different from a stereotypical caucasian.
Another variation could be a multi-racial character--a mix between caucasian and some other race/ethnicity, or two non-caucasian races (eg. Korean and Puerto Rican). These are fun to do because each of the MC's parents could be hammering them with conflicting cultural values (for example, typical caucasian culture promotes dating before marriage, but an Indian family might want their child to focus on studies and get their college degree before thinking about dating and marriage.)
2. non-caucasian friends/love interest. For the same reasons as #1.
3. In your high fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian, any story where you're coming up with cultures from scratch, make them look like one of our real-world ethnicities, but give them values of another. For example, create a black-skinned character who follows a religion reminiscent of Bhuddhism. Mix and match cultures/values/religions and create a more diverse world. Give the Asian-looking guy a redneck background. Be creative!
4. Have a physically "ugly" MC. No, I don't mean an MC who *thinks* she's ugly, while every guy within a 5 mile radius is falling over their feet to date her. I mean, throw her into an accident that gets one of her arms or legs chopped off. Give him really disgusting burn scars on his face. Give them a physical or mental disability. A learning disability. Brain damage. Make them blind or mute or deaf. Or chronically ill. A lazy eye, a skin condition, an extra thumb.
The key is to CHALLENGE YOURSELF with your characters. Writing the stereotypical middle-class white girl is too easy. It's been done by hundreds of thousands of books already, and you could recite that formula in your sleep. We know their "perfect life gets turned upside down by some mysterious, hot, broody guy" situation already, and frankly, we don't care (okay, I can't really speak for you, but I know I'm sick of seeing the same thing over and over again. If the first line of a pitch talks about a person having a normal or perfect life, I don't even touch the book. Give us some MCs who are different, not just in personality, but with their entire situation--their culture, their interests and hobbies, their own physical and cognitive conditions.
Would you rather read about the average (but actually beautiful) white girl with a perfect life save the world, find true love, and make a million friends? Or would you rather read about an amputee with telekinetic powers? How about a pirate who talks to ghosts? (Someone please write these into novels so I can love them forever.)
Your characters don't even need to be human. Look at all the recent Disney and/or Pixar movies for really extreme examples of characters with unique situations:
Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph is the bad guy in an ARCADE GAME.
Toy Story: They're toys. A cowboy and a space man and a dinosaur and Mr. Potato Head.
WALL-E: AI robot trash compactor thing.
Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Monsters Inc., Cars.
You can't find more diversity than Pixar movies, my friends. :)
And one final point from sakura45 on stereotypical family dynamics: "DADS & PARENTS! WHY IS THE DAD ALWAYS THE BAD GUY BECAUSE HE HAD AN AFFAIR OR HE'S A "DEADBEAT DAD".
WHY IS THE DAD ALWAYS BEING EITHER THE BAD PARENT, DEADBEAT DAD, OR THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT WHAT THEIR KIDS DO *Bella Swan, Violet Eden, Ellie Monroe.* I mean come on moms aren't always there for their kids, their daughters.
Sorry Yuffie, I just get really pissed when I constantly read books about the mom always being the "caring" parent and the dad is the bad parent. It's a major pet peeve of mine when it comes to writing."
So that's all I can think of on the topic! If you guys have any stereotype/diversity pet peeves about writing, or your own tips on making a diverse cast of characters, post in the comments below!
YOU ARE READING
Yuffie's Writing How-To'sRandom
A story isn't just a bunch of words slapped onto a page. It's a living, breathing manifestation of your imagination. This guide explores aspects most guides don't touch on such as memorable protagonists, world building, character psychology, and bac...