Do you want to write your best story yet? Dive into our tips on one of the most crucial elements of your story: characters. Characters are the emotional core of your story. They are who your readers want to root for, who they might see themselves in, and whose journey they are eagerly following along with.
A quick note on diverse characters: At Wattpad, we are always trying to uplift diverse stories with diverse characters. We know that our creators can write amazing characters but we also know that it can feel a bit tricky and overwhelming to write diverse characters. We know this can be a hard path to navigate but we encourage you to channel those feelings into writing diverse characters responsibly and with care.
We’re here to help you start thinking about how to conscientiously write diverse characters. Read on to learn some dos and don’ts of writing diverse characters.
DO match your character to the tone of the story
When writing diverse characters, it’s important to acknowledge how they may navigate your story differently than other characters by incorporating elements of their lived experience. It’s also important to ensure the way you’re inserting these differences matches the tone of your overall story.
If you are writing a lighthearted, fluffy rom-com, it would be jarring to the reader if there was a sudden tone shift to discuss the brutal societal injustices this character faces, and then continue the lightheartedness with other characters. This others diverse characters rather than properly including them. Instead, you should acknowledge the inequality they may experience in a similar tone to how you write struggles that your non-diverse characters face.
Think of Steven from The Summer I Turned Pretty. Steven is not just a copy of the white, wealthy characters in the series. The show acknowledges that as a half-Asian man from a working class family, his experiences will be different. We see this through his internal struggles about fitting in and by overhearing microaggressive comments spoken by other characters. These moments are given the attention they deserve, but do not make up all his character is. He still enjoys life like other characters and goes through similar lighthearted relationship struggles and school dilemmas.
DON’T depict diverse groups as a monolith
Take care when writing a diverse character to not make it seem like the experience of one will be the experiences of all within that group. The way that people exist within their identity often differs, which is why including a variety of diverse characters can help show the different ways people live.
Even though Devi and Kamala from Never Have I Ever are cousins, the way they relate to each other and their cultures greatly differs. While Devi struggles more with her Indian culture at the start, Kamala fully embraces and thrives in it. While Devi grows to embrace her culture by the end of the series, Kamala’s presence is there to show Indian heritage is nothing to be ashamed of. The narrative is clear: Devi’s initial distance from her culture was just a manifestation of her insecurities at the start of the series. Having both characters helps provide a more nuanced portrayal of the experiences of Indian women living in America.
DO give your characters depth and flaws
While it’s important to approach diverse characters with sensitivity to ensure you are not unintentionally reducing them to stereotypes, it is also important to give them depth and allow them to be flawed. If your characters are perfect and make no mistakes, there is no story and nothing for your reader to root for. Instead, create complex characters that make mistakes in order to bring authenticity to your story.
A helpful example of this is Pope from Outerbanks. He is a likable but complex character, and the narrative acknowledges the unique differences he experiences as a dark skin Black teenager living in the South. This acknowledgement is important as it helps provide context to some of the frustration and anger the character exhibits in the show. This doesn’t make Pope an unlikable character but rather makes him a more interesting character that the audience can better connect with.
DON’T villainize diversity
It’s important that you do not make your diverse character a villain because of their identity, especially if they are your sole representation. The character may have struggles within themselves that causes them to act out, but it is important that the narrative empathizes with this experience rather than villainizes them for it.
Leighton from The Sex Lives of College Girls is flawed and can be snarky but this is separate from her identity as a lesbian. While the show makes it clear how her struggles with being a closeted lesbian has affected her relationships with others, there is a focus on how this is affecting her internally as well. This portrayal makes the audience sympathize with what Leighton is going through rather than demonizing her for sometimes treating her friends poorly. It centers her experiences to explain why she may act the way she does and gives her experience the attention and sympathy it deserves.
DO your research
It may seem obvious, it is crucial that you do your research on the complexities that exist within the identities of your diverse characters. It is not enough to just look at one source. It is important to look at specific information that speaks to the different intersectionalities of your diverse character in order to give an authentic portrayal. Otherwise, you may fall into stereotypes that do not accurately represent your character or what their experiences would really be like.
Eric from Sex Education is a gay Nigerian man with a religious upbringing living in the UK. Instead of focusing only on what it means to be Nigerian, what it means to be a gay teenager in the UK, or his religion, this character shows the complexities of being British-Nigerian, gay, and religious all at once. For example, the LGBTQ+ community is not accepted legally in Nigeria, but there is a community for LGBTQ+ Nigerian youth that Eric finds comfort in while visiting home. This helps Eric come to embrace all sides of his identity. Authentic portrayals like this are only possible with thorough and careful research.
Do not treat your diverse characters only as a way to earn “diversity points”. Your readers can tell when you have awkwardly inserted a character in the story just so you can check diversity off on an imaginary story checklist. Even if the diverse character is a supporting rather than main character, they still should receive proper attention in the story while incorporating traits from their identity to the story.
Malakai, an Aboriginal-Austrailian teenager, is a supporting character in Heartbreak High. He begins mostly as a friendly side character but after he experiences anti-Aboriginal police brutality, there is more emphasis put on his experiences as an Aboriginal teenager in Australia. Rather than centering how his non-Aboriginal friends, who are more prominent characters in the show, feel about it, the focus is rightfully given to him and his experience. Additionally, the writers had clearly done their research on Aboriginal healing practices as this is seamlessly incorporated through his character’s healing arc.
DO embrace, rather than shame, your character’s identity
Too often we see diverse characters depicted as if their identity is a burden. You can show how society makes life harder for people with diverse identities while still writing a character that is happy and confident with themselves.
Garret from Superstore being in a wheelchair is simply just something that is a part of him. The show acknowledges the societal limitations he faces as a disabled person, but it is not the most important part of his character. In fact, the show makes a point to never reveal why he is in a wheelchair. Garret tells other characters he does not feel the need to expose that in order to satisfy their curiosity as he has never wished to not be in a wheelchair. This comfort within who he is helps normalize disabled characters in stories.
Wattpad stories with diverse characters
Now that we’ve gone through the do’s and don’ts of writing diverse characters, check out some of our favorite stories with diverse characters:
From the Other Side by ccreator
The Irresistible Mickey Holly by ASMorrow
Painting The Bad Girl's Portrait by uvonnewrites
The Rockstar Who Loves Me by Hubrism
Situationship by Orchid_27
The Tragedies in San Pablo by therealestpotato
We hope these tips help you feel more confident with writing authentic diverse characters.
Learn from Wattpad Creator Chantelle about the importance behind writing diverse and inclusive narratives.