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Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With Diverse Characters

Wanted: Diverse Characters

Diverse Characters were in demand in my latest experts panel … Producers, Agents, Publishers, Script Editors and Script readers all said they wanted more of them in the year to come. This is no real surprise, since ‘more diverse characters’ has been on the the industry’s wish list for a good while now.

I am pleased to say most Bang2writers have picked up the mantle on diverse characters. Whilst there is a contingent of writers who believe diverse characters are a ‘fad’, they are mostly confined to ranting on Facebook. In the past two years in particular, I am seeing more and more diverse characters … Not only in produced content, but filtering through the spec pile. Yay!

But we’re not out of the woods yet. Where there are changing minds, there are inevitable mistakes. But that’s okay … Fromn mistakes, we learn! Here’s the Top 5 mistakes writers make with diverse characters …

1) Kick-Ass Hotties

Let me say first I have zero problem with the so-called ‘Kick-ass Hottie’ trope. This can be a fun character, plus many of my favourite movies have featured her. What’s more there have indeed been some great Kick-ass hotties who are also BRILLIANT characters. The issue is only that she turns up TOO MUCH … Not only in produced and published content.

Too often, female leads are in their teens to late twenties (occasionally their thirties and beyond). They’re also usually white, heterosexual, able-bodied and kick-ass. In other words, they’re just like their male counterparts, especially in the action genre. Time for a change!

HOW TO TWIST IT: What if she wasn’t white, heterosexual, able-bodied and/or kick-ass? Just a few small changes on this tried-and-tested trope could mean all the difference. MORE: How NOT To Write Female Characters

2) ‘Sad Trans’

In the past few years, many writers have become fascinated by transgender people. Unfortunately, those same writers seem to have become fixated on the notion that a character is automatically in emotional crisis by virtue of being trans.

Now, it’s definitely true that drama is conflict (and that drama = STRUGGLE). That said, writers are viewing the notion of being transgender as being *the problem*, usually because it is outside the scope of their personal experience. The reality is, it’s society that is more THE PROBLEM. We need only take a look at the transphobic British Press and the accusations trans people have to deal with daily to get a hint of what they go through.

The sad irony to all this is, transitioning is often a source of immense joy and self-acceptance for trans people. Finally, they get to be their authentic selves! How wonderful. So why not look at that instead.

HOW TO TWIST IT: What obstacles might a transgender person may have to face from OTHER people, instead of themselves? What if their story wasn’t a transition tale? Also, whilst we have seen quite a lot of stories about trans women now, what about trans men? What about non binary people?

3) Wise Gay Best Friends

We are at a stage in society now when most writers appear to recognise there is a difference between gender identity and sexuality. However, there are ‘classic’ character tropes that writers keep writing and just won’t go away, especially in certain genres … And none are more obvious than the Wise Gay Best Friend, AKA ‘the magical queer’.

Secondary characters help or hinder the main characters. Again, there have been some great, nuanced characters of this ilk: George in My Best Friend’s Wedding  immediately springs to mind … But so does the outrageous Tommy in Friends With Benefits (which intriguingly, assigns a mentor function to ALL the secondary characters. This neatly sidesteps the notion it’s ONLY Tommy who knows where it’s at).

This character usually performs some kind of mentor function in the romantic comedy. I’m not sure why being gay would make a character automatically wise. But writers are obsessed with this notion and it’s time to bring something new to this character.

HOW TO TWIST IT: What if your ‘Gay Best Friend’ was not wise, but a hindrance *for some reason*? Or what if s/he was wise in some OTHER way – ie. not about love or relationships? What if s/he was not in a Rom Com or comedy, but another genre, like Horror (only they don’t die!!!)? Better still, what if your gay character was the protagonist, instead of the secondary? What if their sexuality was not the driving force for the story, too? (For once!).

4) Stereotypical BAME Characters

Whether you are a person of colour or not, most writers can recognise the ridiculous assumption that black characters are ‘either’ gang members or police captains in stories. They also realise that Muslim characters are not all jihadists, or that East Asian characters are all ninjas. It’s boring, it’s lazy, it’s racist. Simple as.

But of course it’s possible to write stories with the above … They just can’t be steroetypes! They need to be nuanced and to feel 100% authentic, such as …

  • Captain Holt in Brooklyn 99 is a black, gay police officer in charge of his first precinct of officers. . He is no stereotype … Because he defies stereotype on every single level of his characterisation, rejecting all the ‘usual’ tropes audiences have come to expect.
  • In the novel The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe, she wrote about an attack on a train that was similar to London 7/7. Whilst a young jihadist committed the atrocity, she did not present him as ‘evil’ like the tabloids. Staincliffe not only humanised him, but his family too and what happened to them afterwards. She also presented a young Asian hero who tried to stop him and saved many lives. What’s more, she contrasted the jihadist with a white man whose inherent racism and xenophobia essentially helped facilitate the attack.
  • In Pacific Rim, female lead Mako Mori has essential fighting skills – she needs them, she is in the military! But we see her fight with a staff in just one scene. Like Captain Holt, she defies the ‘usual’ stereotypes: she is neither submissive, nor sexualised.

HOW TO TWIST IT: Consider the issues characters *like* yours too often run into … Then do the exact opposite. Yes, it’s a lot of work in terms in research. But it’s the only way forwards. Start with my book on Diverse Characters, I’ve done a lot of it for you! There’s also tips on how to do your own research >> Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, TV Or Film.

5) Missing Characters

Where are all the disabled characters (who aren’t evil or suicidal)? What about the BAME characters in historical dramas (because they were here!). How about the MALE ‘unreliable narrators’ (because 9/10 they’re female!)? Where are all the FEMALE ‘everywomen’ (because usually it’s ‘everyman)? And all  the men who need rescuing (because they do, from time to time … And for good reasons, like natural disasters – The Day After Tomorrow did this and that was back in 2004)!

The above is just for starters. There’s loads more. So where are they all? Well, hopefully in your screenplay or novel!

HOW TO TWIST IT: Research your genre, tone, or ‘type’ of story thoroughly. Watch and read everything. Consider the types of character that NORMALLY appear. Is there room for a diverse character? Why/why not? If there is, what type?

Good Luck!

Don’t Forget To Grab Your Free Book!

Grab your free book on how NOT to write female characters … CLICK HERE or on the pic. I’ve rounded up all the ‘classic’ mistakes writers make with female characters, plus what to do instead. Enjoy!

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5 thoughts on “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With Diverse Characters”

  1. I loved what you said about sad trans characters because I wanted to write the opposite of that with my novel-to-screenplay series project. More so, I wanted to share a transgender woman of color in a relationship with a straight man and the issues she had to face in maintaining their relationship that wasn’t based on sex. Thank you again, for what you wrote.

  2. Griselda Nguyễn Phạm

    To be fair, the “wise gay best friends” are admirable in real life because of their wisdom. Therefore, we can use the above trope as a basis to create a three-dimensional protagonist in a gay-centric story. The protagonist in question is C. Pin Lin.
    C. Pin Lin is a Taiwanese teacher who works in a Vietnamese school. Hence, his wisdom makes sense. His other virtues and vices are not revealed yet.
    What do you think about it?

    1. Yes, barring the most toxic tropes **any** familiar trope can be updated, subverted or twisted (as the post demonstrates). This means that if you can twist ‘Gay Best Friend’ to feel more fresh, relevant and/or relatable then obviously that’s great.

      1. Griselda Nguyễn Phạm

        Here is CPP’s backstory:
        C. Pin Lin starts as an average boy like 80% of his friends. However, after the Internet begins becoming popular on the entire Earth, he seeks Mr Huấn, a well-known preacher in Asia. Thanks to Mr Huấn’s teachings, C. Pin Lin becomes smarter and wiser over time. On the dark side, he starts constantly bragging about his achievements, looking down on other people and social climbing. As a result, these habits leading to a toxic friendship with Aiguo and Duyên and making enemies quickly. Thankfully, he nearly ditches his over-boasting behaviour and starts using his intelligence for good; therefore, he lives up to the “wise gay best friend” title.

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