You want to include a diverse character in your new novel but you are not a POC (Person Of Color)? First of all, well done. I strongly believe that we need more diverse characters in what we read for a huge amount of reasons and hopefully (being optimistic here) you do too.
These are more of just some guidelines that can generally be used for all non own-voices but hopefully this will be a regular feature on We Are All Critics. Through this blog series I will break down different groups of people and what sort of things that we’d love if you didn’t do while writing them.
If you want to help me do this with a group you feel more comfortable or identify with please contact me!
So let’s talk about how not to write POC characters.
DON’T make them just the villains
You see this time and time again from The Continent all the way to Carve The Mark. White authors describe exclusively the villain or the monstrous group as a POC and exclusively the hero or the better group as White. Whatever your excuse, this blatant division is something that isn’t appreciated. Of course, it is absolutely fine if you have a Black villain but make sure there is at least one POC character that is somewhere else on the scale or you have a risk of looking a little bit racist.
DON’T describe them weirdly
How would you like it if we described a white person as having the skin colour of a marshmallow? Therefore don’t describe your POC as having chocolate or honey or caramel (and so on..) skin. Use the proper word for the skin tone and don’t lazily reduce your character to your kitchen cupboard. [Pet hate]
Also blue eyes on a POC character (especially any form of ‘Asian’) is done so much for absolutely no reason that it just looks stupid now. Why can’t a black or brown human being be beautiful and have brown eyes? I definitely don’t see a problem with white brown-eye girl representation especially considering more POC have brown eyes.
DON’T make them just about their race
For some reason, a white author’s perspective on POC characters often ends up being just about their race. No one is just the color of their skin and using that as the sole substance of a character’s arc and dialogue is not only lazy but unrealistic and consequently boring.
And if anything don’t center your novel on a Black or Brown main character’s race struggles because however hard you try you will probably get it wrong. Unless you really feel you know everything to know on the subject, leave that platform for the authors who know what they are talking about like Angie Thomas.
DON’T use them as your token POC
You don’t get out of being called blah for creating one secondary Black character who you later go on to kill early in the book for absolutely no reason when everyone else alive is White.
So it’s very obvious when a character is created simply for ‘Diversity Points‘. There is often no actual passion within that character, no overall reason for them to exist and they are almost always overshadowed by all the other White people.
If you are only creating this POC character just to be congratulated by bloggers, I for one would rather you just didn’t even bother.
DON’T play down their race only to use it when called out
Please don’t make the mistake of claiming that your character is a POC at a later date when you obviously described them as ‘tanned’ in the novel or perhaps didn’t even mention race at all. I’m all for race not being a problem and being open to interpretation but we very much need more POC characters. If you openly tell the reader that this person is Black or Brown that’s another bit of representation that the world could do with- that’s another little girl or boy who can finally see themselves in what they are reading.
DON’T give into stereotypes
Lastly but most importantly let’s talk about stereotypes- these are all just general ones and I’ll go into detail into the specifics of the roles diverse people usually end up with later on.
But please don’t make your POC woman’s sole character arc as the helpful maid or the sassy friend who has so many comebacks that she must have a book of them somewhere. And no, please don’t make your POC man’s sole character arc as a strong, violent and inherently evil man or make him just good at sports or the one who is just an example of someone who’s been to jail. It’s not that you can’t have a sassy POC female character, it’s that we’d like it if ‘sassy’ wasn’t her only personality trait. She needs to exist outside the White characters as her own person, not just as a plot device or for ‘diversity points’.
If you are a little bit stuck and don’t quite know what to do I dare you to try something else and switch around your character’s skin colors.
Or comment below if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my abilities.