Diversity takes many forms. Racial, cultural, ethnic, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, economic class, and more. While some are obvious – racial or LGBTQ+ groups – others are less so: survivors of abuse, those with possibly ‘invisible’ disabilities like chronic pain or fatigue, etc. In all of these cases, discretion and sensitivity is an expectation.
As our server is very large and has a player base that spreads across the world with a multitude of personal histories and experiences, we strive to avoid harmful stereotyping and foster our community. While writing and RP with fictional characters may not seem to affect real people, remember that the readers and your RP partners are real people.
We have certain expectations in place for those who are writing characters which are part of a group or groups that the player is not; and also for writing about/ interactions with other diverse characters in the RP itself:
- DO YOUR RESEARCH. Movies and pop culture are not research; well-cited and reliable sources should be consulted both when creating a character and as you continue to write them. Mistakes happen; but we should see clear evidence you’ve done due diligence on this.
- AVOID STEREOTYPES. Part of the research above will be familiarizing yourself with common stereotypes related to the diversity axis being explored in your character. While there might be times when a stereotype has some basis in truth, boiling a character down to only a stereotype is not only lazy, but offensive.
- AVOID MICROAGGRESSIONS. What is a microaggression? An everyday, subtle, intentional or unintentional interaction or behavior that communicates bias toward marginalized or diverse groups. This might be something like assuming a character from the rural American south has not had higher education; or commenting that an Asian American speaks good English, with the implication being that they can’t possibly have been born in the US.
- MAKE YOUR CHARACTER WELL-ROUNDED. No one is only one thing. While a minority or other ‘diverse’ identity is very likely to be a core part of who someone is, it’s not all they are, and focusing solely on that diversity axis can be othering and ultimately a rather shallow characterization. Hobbies, interests, education, friends and family – everything that makes up a daily life.
- LISTEN TO YOUR COMMUNITY. You’re going to get it wrong sometimes. We all do. Part of exploring a diverse characterization – and existing in a diverse community – is setting aside any personal insult or upset when we’re called out on what we’ve done wrong in our IC portrayal or our OOC communication alike. If someone tells you something hurt or offended them, take personal feelings out of it and listen – and use it as an opportunity to learn. No matter what, you’ll never fully understand what it is to live as a member of a possibly marginalized group; but it’s still worth trying. Then go back to step one.
HOW TO WRITE DIVERSE CHARACTERS
The first question you should be asking yourself is why you are choosing to write a character whose experience widely differs from your own. Diverse characters should never be included as a gimmick, as a token, to fill up some perceived quota, or just because writing about some oppression or other seems ‘cool’ or edgy. If, however, you have a genuine interest in understanding and exploring a different perspective, and in understanding the ways in which a diverse or minority status (or the intersection of several) might shape the experience of a character, then you’re starting from the right perspective.
If you’re playing a character who is a member of a group with which you do not have first-hand experience, research is your best friend, and something we will expect to see reflected in your portrayal. Take the time to consume reliable, well-cited information about the group(s) in question.
Hollywood, big media, and other pop culture sources are generally extremely inappropriate for this research, as these sources rely heavily on cliches and stereotypes; if all or even most of your information about the time period or culture in question comes from a movie, it’s likely to be cliche and inaccurate at best, actively offensive at worst. Avoid this!
Reading multiple accredited or peer-reviewed sources, if possible written/produced by those who are members of the group in question, is recommended; as is researching any historical background relevant based on the character’s age and region of upbringing.
For example, If you’re creating a Black American character from Chicago born in the early 1900s, it’s useful to first begin reading about the baseline history of the area on Wikipedia. Wikipedia provides source links at the end of articles; following those sources will provide fuller context and more information, more sources, in order to build toward a realistic and accurate background for the character. (This sort of historical research is particularly helpful when creating Neonates and Ancillae.)
Part of your research should be centered around educating yourself on and understanding the common stereotypes associated with the group you’re writing about. Especially if most of your prior information about the group came from pop culture, you’re likely to have internalized some stereotypes without realizing that’s what they are. This could be something like: assuming that any Russian or Italian character must have connections to organized crime, playing a Black man as violent, playing a Romani person as a thief, playing a lesbian as sexually aggressive, or playing a pretty woman as unintelligent (the bimbo trope).
Reading up on stereotypes should help you to understand how to avoid them, and the ways in which some stereotypes might in fact be externally-misunderstood facets of the internal experience of the group. For example, there is a harmful stereotype that Jewish people are bankers or good with money (often sliding into false accusations of greedy or miserly behavior); this stereotype springs from the historical fact that due to antisemitic laws in place throughout Europe, Jewish people were not allowed membership in trade guilds or to own land, and were thus in many cases forced to work as merchants or financiers instead. Sometimes the “stereotype” has a basis in fact, but you have to understand that basis for what it is.
Just like race and ethnicity, disability is often very offensively or inaccurately represented in pop culture and media. Whether the disability is physical, mental, emotional, these are the lived experiences for these characters and should be researched, understood and handled appropriately. Mental illness is very much not as Hollywood tends to depict it; as with everything, do your research and understand the sources of the knowledge and unquestioned assumptions you may have.
While it can be tempting from the perspective of an abled person to assume anyone with a disability wants it to be ‘fixed’ or otherwise removed, in reality this is not so simple! Some people do live with a disability (like chronic pain, for a possible example) which they’d love to have ‘fixed’ for themselves, and can find depictions of this ‘fix’ empowering and satisfying. Others, like many of those in the Deaf community, absolutely do not feel that way and have in fact built a community identity around their shared experience. Do your research and familiarize yourself with the experiences of multiple members of the disability community in question.
Trauma, traumatic experience, and direct abuses can be common themes to explore in writing. If you take this approach with a character, it’s valuable to first ask yourself (much like introducing other diverse qualities) why this is important to you. Trauma which comes directly from abuse, whether emotional or physical or a complex variant of another kind, leaves long-lasting impressions and should not be used for dramatic effect, or only when convenient to your character’s story. There can be physiological and psychological impacts from these lived experiences which inform everything from the way a person interacts with others to how they stand in a room. To avoid othering people in our community, please be careful with how these topics are handled.
When it comes to gender and physical expression, it is important to remember this is the character’s experience. Their body parts are no more remarkable to themselves than yours are to you. In all cases, describing bodies/body parts should be done in moderation and in appropriate contexts, rather than in every other post. The objectification of the body shouldn’t be their whole personality.
See r/MenWritingWomen for examples of what not to do when writing a female character; the “tits boobily” approach to writing about women is an obvious one, but the inappropriate fetishization and/or objectification of women goes beyond this and can be subtle, just as any stereotype or microaggression can be subtle. Do your research, read about the experiences women have in their daily lives with being objectified, and strive to do better.
This advice also applies to trans characters and their own complex and diverse relationships with their own physicality. Even in cases where a character is struggling with their gender identity or they themselves are trans, there is more to who the character is than that, and grappling with gender identity also includes one’s own relationship with how the world perceives gender. Remember that people of a different gender than your own are people too, and while their gender will in fact affect their experience in the world (how they’re seen, how they’re treated, how people understand their role in life), it is not their totality and should not be the sum of everything you write about on server.
In a more general sense, be careful of the words you choose and the way in which you describe not only your character, but others. One way this might manifest is an unspoken assumption of whiteness as the default. For example: on meeting a new person who happens to be white, your character’s inner monologue makes note of physical characteristics, outfits, and other non-racial descriptors; but then only makes note that a Black character is Black.
Do not use food words for skin tones (i.e. chocolate brown); and comparisons to animals can often be offensive for both racial groups and those of LGBTQ+ backgrounds. (These animal comparisons can imply, variously: hypersexuality, low intelligence, and generally subhuman status.) Be wary of the stereotypes and try not to describe characters in ways which feed into those stereotypes.
Many words that are or have been slurs used against a particular group have been reclaimed by some or all members of the group; and using them in this fashion in your own depiction requires nuance and understanding of both the reclamation and the historical context of the word. Do your research, understand that these words are often controversial or charged, and ask your writing partners, where appropriate, if they are comfortable with your use of them in the RP in the reclaimed sense.
While these words may not inherently be slurs, using them as slurs is never appropriate, even IC.
- ‘Is it a Microaggression?’ https://www.academicimpressions.com/blog/is-it-a-microaggression
- ‘You’ve been called out for a microaggression; what do you do?’ https://hbr.org/2020/07/youve-been-called-out-for-a-microaggression-what-do-you-do
- ‘What is: Intersectionality?’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEeP_3vmdBY
- ‘How to Write Diverse Characters’ https://www.goodstorycompany.com/blog/how-to-write-diverse-characters
- ‘Why write diverse characters and how to do it well’ https://leighshulman.com/writing-diverse-characters/
- Writing lessons on avoiding stereotypes in fiction: https://writershelpingwriters.net/category/writing-craft/writing-lessons/characters/stereotypes/
- ‘Writing the other: resources’ https://writingtheother.com/resources/
- ‘Writing with color’ https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/Navigation
- ‘Cis, trans, nonbinary: a guide to gender terminology’ https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/lifestyle/2018/12/cis-trans-nonbinary-a-guide-to-gender-terminology.html
- ‘Antisemitism uncovered: a guide to old myths in a new era’ https://antisemitism.adl.org/