How To Write A Diverse Character
It’s a fact that audiences want a greater variety of characters in movies and television that feel both fresh AND authentic. But as writers, we are also told to ‘write what we know’ … And we can’t KNOW EVERYTHING. Supersadface.
This is why so many Bang2writers say they would LOVE to write more diverse stories and characters BUT …
- … They ‘don’t know where to start’ and
- … They’re ‘afraid of getting it wrong’
So now what???
Well, start here with the B2W flow chart … And to avoid ‘getting it wrong’, pay close attentions to what it asks of you as a writer. LET’S GO!!
Emotional truth is the first stop on the B2W flow chart. Authenticity is the antidote to samey tropes and stereotypes. True fact! Start with these questions, below.
1) Why this story?
This part asks the writer to consider WHY they feel the need to tell this particular story. It helps us connect with our own motivations and identify that element that really connects us to both the story and our target audience. However, sometimes we have to face we are not the best writers for the job.
- What is my motivation and/or background?
- What is the point, theme or message I want to explore here?
- How can I bring authenticity to this story? How can I access this world?
- What research do I need to do? What do I already know?
2) Why this character?
Note the character spotlight on the B2W flow chart. Connection is key to a diverse character feeling authentic.
- Is this character like me? Why/why not?
- How can I make this character’s struggle or motivation meaningful to the most people possible in my target audience?
- Can I bring authenticity to this character? How can I access his/her world?
- What research do I need to do? What do I already know?
TOP TIP: Writers fall into the ‘same-old, same-old’ when they don’t SCRUTINISE their ideas and assumptions at foundation level. If you do the above however, you can find a fresh take.
Next on the flow chart: check your initial logline/idea, with the following questions in mind.
3) What is LIKE this story?
- What has gone before in this genre, style, tone in various mediums?
- How is yours the same … but DIFFERENT? What is your twist, or unique selling point?
- Who is your target audience? (It’s not ‘for everyone’!).
- How do you know they will like YOUR story, or at least are likely to pay $$ to watch it?
- What does your target audience want? What research do you need to do on this?
4) What type of diverse story do you want to write?
- Diversity as catalyst. The most common type of diverse story. The main characters’ diversity serve as the REASON for the story occurs (ie. had they not had some kind of ‘difference’, they would not be part of the story). Examples: GET OUT, MAD MAX FURY ROAD, THE HANDMAID’S TALE.
- Diversity as backstory. In this story world, diversity is the standard. The lead characters and their secondaries are not the REASON for the story. Instead, characters live in a diverse world where their individual heritage may or may not be important eg. PITCH PERFECT, OCEAN’S 8, EMPIRE, THE 100 , GRAVITY, BROOKLYN 99 etc).
Back to characterisation on the flow chart, with the following questions in mind:
5) What is LIKE this character?
- Who is your protagonist? What does s/he want? Why?
- Who is your antagonist? Why does s/he get in your protagonist’s way?
- Who are your secondary characters? Are they ‘Team Protag’ or ‘Team Antag’ – Do they help or hinder your main characters? Why?
- Are your characters archetypal? Cross-reference with your story notes. Are your characters a fresh twist on those ‘usual’ archetypes we see in their story’s genre/type, or rehashes of what we have seen before?
- Where does your protagonist live? What is the status quo in his/her storyworld? Is this a world where diversity is typical … or untypical? Why?
TOP TIP: Actors want to do good work too, so this means they choose roles that seem fresh, innovative and authentic. Too often, secondary and peripheral roles often get overlooked completely by writers. This means only the two main roles may seem interesting. They should ALL be interesting and add to the narrative as a whole!
6) Type of Protagonist You Are Writing
Next up on the B2W flow chart … Protagonists are most often the character driving the story, making them vital to the success of your story.
- Protagonist as The Educated – the most common. This type leads to the protagonist changing his or her viewpoints via her actions in the narrative, thanks to the actions and teachings of other characters (usually secondaries, but also the antagonist. B2W calls this ‘The Transformative Arc’). ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is a classic example of the transformative arc, so most superheroes follow this route.
- Protagonist as The Educator – There are many ways to do this, but here are 3 of the most common ways to write a protagonist who does not undergo a transformative arc:
- ‘The Change Agent’ is when a protagonist does not change him or herself, but may inspire other characters to change, such as the antagonist or secondary characters, ie. Forrest Gump, Mary Poppins. MORE HERE.
- The Voyager. This is a character who is already capable and doesn’t need to change so much, as solve a significant problem presented with skills and attributes they already possess, ie. John McClane, Ellen Ripley, Furiosa, John Wick. Secondary characters may have to decide to ‘fall in’ with the protagonist and see the mission his/her way … They must help the protagonist, or they are the enemy. You could say The Voyager’s motto is ‘join me or die’.
- The Passive Protagonist. A passive protagonist will resist all efforts to make him or her do ANYTHING … which is why a secondary character or antagonist MUST ‘take the reins’ FOR the passive protagonist and drive the story forwards. Usually, a passive protagonist will take some kind of last-minute action in the final moments of the story *for some reason*, often under sufferance (especially comedy), ie. THE BIG LEBOWSKI.
7) Write A New Logline
Now return to your notes/ original logline / outline and use what you have broken down here to INFORM your story in a NEW logline … with your diverse character at the heart of it!
- Try the 3 Cs – clarity, character, conflict. The B2W model reminds us a good logline makes it obvious what is at stake for a character by using clear language, such as active verbs and focusing on WHO does WHAT. This prevents us from describing ‘around’ the story and/or falling back on cliched language.
- Another good model for loglines to use in conjunction with the above:
When (inciting incident occurs), a (specific protagonist)
must (objective) or (this happens –> stakes).
This post originally appeared at Writers Helping Writers
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