Friday Speak Out!: Writing Diverse Characters

Friday, October 20, 2023
by Karen Klink

As a white female who grew up outside Akron, Ohio, I found that writing a 19th century historical novel featuring a bisexual young man and a young black slave who he considered his brother to be a fascinating and sometimes risky journey. I wanted to explore the multifaceted aspects of writing diverse characters, the significance of historical accuracy, and the delicate balance between representation and sensitivity.

To lay a sturdy foundation, I first delved into literature written by and about gay and black men, like Alan Hollinghurst, Jonathan Ned Katz, Malcolm X, Robert Jones, Jr., and Colson Whitehead. This helped me to understand the experiences, perspectives, and challenges faced by the characters I wished to portray.

Attending webinars and classes on diversity further enriched my knowledge of diversity. I highly recommend these classes for anyone who wishes to write about diverse characters. Writing groups, such as Authors Guild, offer these and other webinars to their members.

Lastly, I hired sensitivity readers for my novel as a vital step in ensuring that my characters were authentic and respectful representations of the communities to which they belong.

Historical Accuracy vs. Modern Sensibilities

One of the central dilemmas in writing diverse characters set in a historical context is the tension between historical accuracy and modern sensibilities. It’s crucial to portray the attitudes and norms of the time accurately, even if they may be uncomfortable or offensive to contemporary readers. This authenticity allows readers to understand the complexities of the past and how far society has come to the present day.

However, balancing historical accuracy with sensitivity requires subtly. It’s essential to approach sensitive topics with care, ensuring that they are neither sensationalized nor glossed over. By delving into the emotional and psychological depth of characters, I hoped to create a nuanced portrayal that resonates with readers while respecting historical context.

Diversity and Empathy

Writing diverse characters requires empathy. Putting myself in my characters’ shoes, regardless of their backgrounds, helped authentically capture their experiences, emotions, and growth. Empathy bridged the gap between me and my characters, allowing their stories to unfold with authenticity.

Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that narratives surrounding diverse characters have evolved over time. My novel, set in the 19th century, captures a particular moment in history. Contemporary authors may approach similar themes differently, reflecting the progress and changing perspectives of society. As an author, I have the freedom to choose the historical context that best serves my narrative while respecting the past.

The journey I embarked upon through research, education, and collaboration with sensitivity readers underscores my commitment to honest storytelling. By striking a balance between historical accuracy and sensitivity, I allow readers to engage with my characters in a way that both enlightens and entertains. I hope that all my work exemplifies the power of literature to illuminate the diverse tapestry of human experiences across time.

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Karen Anne Klink is a writer based in Tucson. Her debut novel, At What Cost, Silence? (She Writes Press, 10/17/23) is the first installment in her Texian trilogy.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Stephanie Barko said...

Karen -

Thanks so much for sharing your commitment to diversity in storytelling with us. After reading Book One in your Texian trilogy this summer, I couldn't wait to read Book II when Adrien goes off to the Civil War. Congrats on your debut novel!

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