Before you say, Write your own! – let me tell you that we do. But this page is a resource for writers, so we thought writers might want to know what kinds of representation would make us more likely to get excited about your book. We don’t speak for everyone in our demographic, just ourselves, but we hope this post gives you some cool writing ideas.
Note: This is additional info writers can keep in mind
when writing characters of those backgrounds. We believe it’s a good
thing to ask the people you’re including what they’d like to see.
hearing from misrepresented and underrepresented people and asking us
what we’d like to see of ourselves is much better than unthinkingly tossing
characters into tired tropes or reinforcing stereotypes that do us harm.
Colette (Black): More Black people doing shit! Going on adventures, riding dragons, being magical! More Black characters in prominent roles in fantasy + sci-fi and historical settings and not always and only as slavess. These stories are important, but they’re NOT our only stories. We were kings and queens too. Let us wear the fancy dresses for a change instead of the chains, damn it!
More Black girls being portrayed as lovely and treasured and worth protecting. More Black girls finding love. More Black girls in general who aren’t relegated to arc-less, cliche “Sassy best friends” and “strong black women.”
More positive, dynamic roles of Black men (fathers, brothers, boys…) More positive, dynamic family roles of Black families as a whole, families that are loving and supportive and there. More Black people from all socioeconomic classes. More Black characters that don’t rely on the stereotypes that the media is currently going full force to reinforce.
Yasmin (Arab, Turkish): More Arabs who aren’t token characters. I want to see Arabs normalised in literature. Arab teenagers in high school, Arab young adults behind on their taxes, Arab dads who cook amazing food, Arab moms who refuse to soften their tongue for others. Arabs who aren’t mystical fantasy creatures from another planet. Arabs in YAs and in dramas and nonfiction and comedies and children’s books. We are human just like everyone else, and I’d like to see that reflected in literature. Often we are boxed into very specific genres of literature and made to feel ostracised from the rest. Let’s see some change!
Alice (Black, biracial): I’m hoping for more Black and biracial (mixed with Black) leading characters in all genres, but mainly in SF/F who fall outside of the stereotypes. Characters I can relate to who love, cry and fight for their ideals and dreams. It would be great if their race would play an active role in their identities (I don’t mean plot-related). Some intersectionality with sexuality and disability is also sorely missed, without it becoming a tragedy or it being seen as a character flaw. More mixed race characters who aren’t mixed with some kind of monster, fictional race or different species. Dystopias about problems usually faced by poc having actual poc protags, without all the racial ambiguity which always gets whitewashed.
Shira (Jewish): More Jewish characters who feel positively about their Judaism and don’t carry it around as a burden or embarrassment. While the latter is definitely a real part of our experience due to anti-Semitism and all we’ve been through as a people, the fact that it overrepresents us in fiction is also due to anti-Semitism, even internalized. (Basically, Jews who don’t hate Judaism!)
More brave, heroic characters who are openly Jewish instead of being inspired by the Jewish experience and created by Jews (like Superman) or played by Jews (Captain Kirk) but still not actually Jewish. I’m tired of always being Tolkien’s Dwarves; I’d like a chance to play Bard, Bilbo, or even Gandalf’s role in that kind of story.
Elaney (Mexican): While we’re discussing what sort of representation we’d like to see, I am using the word “latinista” and I want to quickly address that since you may have not seen it before: “-ista” is a genderless suffix denoting someone is from an area (“Nortista”, a northerner), or who practices a belief (“Calvinista”, a calvinist), or a professsion (you’ve heard ‘barista’). I find it more intuitively pronounceable than “latinx” and also more friendly to Spanish, French, and Portugueze pronunciation (and thus more appropriate), personally, so I invite you to consider it as an alternative. If you don’t like it, well, at least I showed you.
1. I want legal Latinista immigrants. The darker your skin is down here, the more likely you are to be assumed to be illegal by your peers, and I want media to dilute this assumption so many have of us.
2. I want Latinistas who are well educated, not just smart, and I mean formally educated, with college degrees, professional skillsets, and trained expertise. Being in fields which do not require a formal degree is no less legitimate of a lifestyle than being in a field which requires a PhD, but I want you to consider when casting your Latinista character that We, as a people, are assumed to be little more than the drop-out and the janitor by our peers, and People Of Color in scientific fields are mistaken as assistant staff rather than the scientists that they are. I want media to dilute this assumption.
3. I want Latnistas who are not marketed as “Latin American” but as their actual country of origin, because “Latin America” is a conglomerate of individual entities with their own, distinct cultures and if you are, for example, Cuban, then Mexican characters may appeal to you but they don’t have the same relatability as fellow Cuban characters. Wouldn’t you be a little more interested, too, to pick up a book that’s about a character who lives where you do rather than about a character who lives somewhere in general?
4. I want rich or well-to-do Latinistas. Looking back, I notice that several of the character concepts that have been bounced off of us with regards to Latinista characters incorporate poverty despite an astronomical and diligent work ethic. I don’t think this is on purpose but I do think that it is internalized because so often the stereotype of us is poor and uneducated in a vicious cycle (uneducated because we’re poor, poor because we’re uneducated) and I think that there should be more media to dilute this.
Lastly, I personally do not want these tropes to be explored and subverted by people, I want them to be avoided entirely because I feel that normalizing positive representation rather than commenting on negative representation is far more beneficial and validating to the people these works are supposed to help and represent. We don’t need sympathy, we need empathy!
Jess (Chinese, Taiwanese): Stories that don’t center around the identity of being Chinese-American. That doesn’t mean “erase any references to protag’s Chinese identity” but I’d definitely like stories that have us go on awesome adventures every now and then and don’t have the Chinese character being all “I AM CHINESE” from beginning to end.
Please round out the Chinese migrant parents instead of keeping them as strict and/or traditional. PLEASE. I could go into how my parents and the Chinese aunties and uncles here are so awesome, seriously, and we need more older Chinese migrant characters who are awesome and supportive and just people. Also! EAST ASIAN GIRLS WHO AREN’T SKINNY AND/OR PETITE. Please. PLEEEEEASE. And more stories about Taiwanese and Chinese folks who aren’t in bicoastal regions (the Midwest, the Plains, etc.) WE EXIST.
More Chinese-Americans who aren’t necessarily Christian. Maybe it’s because of the books I’ve wound up reading, but there seems to be this narrative of Chinese migrants joining churches and converting when they’re in the US. This doesn’t mean I want less Chinese-American Christians in fiction, mind: I’d also just like to see more Chinese families in the US who are Buddhist or who still keep up with the traditions they learned from their homelands, like me, without having it considered in the narrative as ~old fashioned~ or ~ancient~ or ~mystical~. Tangentially, when writing non-Christian Chinese families, I’d rather people keep the assumption of Communism being the underlying reason why far, far away. I have been asked in the past if Communism was why my family didn’t go to church, and needless to say, it’s really, really offensive.
Stella (Korean): I’d love to see more Korean (and Asian-American) characters that don’t perpetuate the super-overachieving, stressed-out, only-cares-about-succeeding Asian stereotype. These Koreans exist (I would know; I went to school with quite a few of them) but they don’t represent all of us. I want to see more Korean characters solving mysteries, saving the world and having fun. More Koreans that aren’t pale, petite, and a size 2. Not all of us have perfect skin or straight black hair or monolids. And some of us love our short legs, round faces and small eyes!
And fewer stoic&strict Korean parents, please. So many of us grew up with loud, wacky, so-embarrassing-but-endearing parents!
Recently, there’s been quite a few novels with Korean American female protags (particularly in the YA section) that deal with being in high school, dealing with strict parents, getting into college, and boys. Lots of boys! I think it’s awesome that there are more books with KA protags, and I’m so so so glad they’re out there. But I also recognize that those are definitely not the kind of books I would have read as a teenager, and it’s not the kind of book I want to read now. I want to see more Korean characters that are queer, trans, ace, bisexual. More Korean characters that are disabled or autistic or have mental illnesses. More Korean characters in fantasy, SFF, mystery! Heck, space operas and steampunk Westerns. I want it all! :DDDD
A lot of Korean-Americans struggle with their identity. It’s hard to balance things sometimes! But I’d love to see more stories that *aren’t* overtly about Korean-Americans dealing with their racial identity or sexual orientation, but stories about Koreans saving princesses and slaying trolls and commandeering spaceships. I want a plot that doesn’t center on Korean-American identity, but on a Korean-American character discovering themselves. White characters get to do it all the time; I want Korean characters to have a turn.
And honestly, I just want to see more Asians in media, period. South Asians, Southeast Asians, Central Asians! Thai, Hmong, Tibetan, Filipino, Vietnamese characters. Indian characters! There’s so much diversity in Asia and among Asian diaspora. I want us to be more than just ~~mystical~~ characters with ancient wisdom and a generic Asian accent. We’ve got boundless oceans of stories within ourselves and our communities, and I can’t wait for them to be told.
I would also love to see more multiethnic Asian characters that are *not* half white. It seems to be the default mixed-race Asian character: East Asian and white. But so many of my friends have multiethnic backgrounds like Chinese/Persian, Thai/Chinese or Korean/Mexican. I have Korean friends who grew up in places like Brazil, Singapore and Russia. Did you know that the country with the largest population of Koreans (outside of Korea) is actually China?
And while I’m at it, I’d love to see more well-translated works from Asia in the US. Like, how awesome would it be to have more science fiction, fantasy, and historical novels from Asia that are easily accessible in English? SUPER awesome!!
Kaye (Muslim): I am so hungry for Muslim representation, because there is so little of it. You can see one or two (YA) titles I currently think or have heard are good representation on the shelves – notably, Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars – on an AMA I did the other day for /r/YAwriters.
However, I’d just love to see stories where Muslim characters go on adventures like everyone else!
I’ve been saying recently that I’d LOVE to see a cozy mystery. Or a series of Muslim historical romances a la Georgette Heyer (there are a LOT of Muslim girls who love romances, and I’m just starting to get into the genre myself!). I’d love to see Muslim middle grade readers get girls who find secret passages, solve mysteries, tumble through the neighborhood with their dozen or so cousins.
I have a lot of cousins and thus I always have a soft spot for cousins. And siblings.
I’m looking forward to Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham because Jen is writing Scarlett as a detective a la Veronica Mars. And she’s Somali-American. How cool is that?!
Let’s see some classic road trip YA with Muslims. Let’s see comedies with quirky characters – for instance, I know one or two tween Muslim girls who are driving their moms MAD by suddenly turning vegetarian and refusing to touch the celebratory biryani at family Eid parties, who join relevant societies at their schools and start preaching to their extended families about the benefits of going vegetarian and all the funny little interactions that are involved with that. Let’s have a story with some wise-cracking African American Muslim girls.
My cousin is a niqaabi who loves YA and hates that she doesn’t see herself in it. Let’s see some stories with teen niqaabis! Let’s explore the full, joyful spectrum of diversity in Islam. Let’s have stories where we talk about how one word in Bengali is totally different in another language, and one friend is hilariously horrified and the other friend doesn’t know what he/she said.
I want to see joy. I want to see happiness. Being a woman of color and a hijaabi often means facing so many daily, disheartening scenarios and prejudice and hatefulness. So many of the suggested tropes recently in the inbox focus on trying to force Muslim characters into beastly or haraam or just sad and stereotypical scenarios. I know that writers are better and have bigger imaginations than that.
You want angst? Push aside the cold, unkind, abusive Muslim parents trope. Let’s talk about the Muslim girls I know who have struggled with eating disorders. Let’s talk about Islamophobia and how that is a REAL, horrible experience that Muslim kids have to fear and combat every day. Let’s approach contemporary angst without the glasses of the Western gaze and assumptions about people of the Islamic faith on.
We can have Muslim novels that focus on growing pains like Sarah Dessen and Judy Blume (and speaking of that, my “auntie” who used to teach in a madrasah used to press Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret on the Muslim girls she knew because of how Margaret approached growing up and had concerns about her faith and her relationships, etc.)
Having Shia friends, I would like to see more stories that aren’t just assumed to be Sunni. How about stories about Su-Shi kids, too? (Sunni and Shia – the name always surprises me!) Let’s see some Muslim-Jewish friendships. Because they exist.
And of course, I always, always hunger for Muslim voices first. Because it’s so important to have these voices there, from the source, and some of the issues with answering here at WWC is how people seem to be approaching certain tropes that a Muslim writer could explore with the nuance and lived experience of their faith behind it.