So, I am going to clumsily lay some thoughts down here – clumsy, because I am still learning myself and am always open to interpretation and education.
When I talk about brave character choices, I mean those who don’t fit into automatic assumptions by white readers. So those on the LGBTQIA spectrum, those who are not white, or those who are on the spectrum of Asperger’s/autism.
First of all, if you (the author of the work) are not LGBTQIA or are white, but want to write a character into your novel who is bisexual, say, or Asian, have enormous consideration and sympathy. Do your research. Talk to people. Hire one of the enormously talented sensitivity readers who are able to consider whether you have captured the true essence of those characters.
For the love of God, don’t follow horrible cliches – the gay best friend, the Tourette’s sufferer who merely shouts out swear words. Use these characters as characters – they need to drive your plot forwards, not just be ‘oh woe is me’ about how gay they are. They need to be three dimensional, and representative of real people.
Understand that with this character, you are representing a vast amount of people who live that life ALL THE TIME. They want to feel that someone has ‘got’ them, has shown them well, not that the author has missed the point and hammered home the same old points they see all the time.
I have made this post because I am editing a novel with an autistic character, and the symptoms have been shown subtly as part of the plot itself, but are clear enough that anyone reading it who is autistic would be able to say, ‘this character is like me.’ Their autism isn’t the plot device, it is an incidental part of a well-rounded character who deals with social situations in a different manner to which others might do. It is not played for laughs, or to show how traumatic it must be to have to deal with life as an autistic person. It is to show that there are autistic people in all walks of life, and they should therefore be represented in fiction as well.
Don’t ever be so scared of misrepresenting an alternative character that you just don’t bother – these characters need voices in literature as well, they need to feature on the page. If you’re worried, then do the aforementioned – read and research, talk, use beta readers who are more than aware of what it means to be asexual, or live as a black woman in a CIS white male dominated environment.
Try to avoid having your black characters (for instance) being the evil people. Especially avoid having people being able to identify the place where people come from by the colour of their skin.
Use the correct pronouns in novels, if you are going to include trans characters.
If, after your beta readers have read it, they feed back negatively i.e. you haven’t achieved a sensitive portrayal, then be prepared to pull a project – or accept that it needs a great deal of work to make it acceptable. And be prepared for people to see points that you might not have intended but that inadvertently cause offence – sure, you managed to create a very acceptable polyamorous, feminist society in your novel, but you didn’t realise that your Asian characters were described as exotic, or with almond-shaped eyes. To you, that seemed acceptable, but your sensitivity reader informed you that it could be considered deeply offensive – pay attention! Don’t think to yourself that most readers won’t notice it, because enough will and they will call you out.
It is scary to try to represent characters in your novels that are not like you – the fear of getting it wrong can make anyone pause – but it is desperately important to challenge yourself to think sympathetically about how life might be like. It is even more important to show a full range of characters in your novels. We live in a world with gay men, with asexual women, with black people, with trans people – how can your fiction not represent the same?
Alright, I’m done. And I would love feedback here, concerning anything I have misrepresented or any edits I ought to make because I am also scared about putting a post out there of this nature.