Writing Diverse Characters
Occasionally, someone at a book event will ask how I write diverse characters for my novels that sound so authentic, seeing that I am a predominantly straight European-American male. The books they are referring to are Buddha’s Wife, whose heroine is a woman who lived in India in the 5th century B.C., and The Last Conception, whose primary character is a lesbian Indian-American embryologist.
This question is often asked of writers who move outside of their individual cultural background. The best answer is that a good writer can get under the skin of anyone, anytime, anywhere, and make their character’s dialogue, thoughts, feelings and actions realistic and relevant. I don’t claim to be that good of a writer.
My ability to write women character’s comes from a variety of sources and events. For Buddha’s Wife, I researched the heaven out of the time period and customs of India, and accumulated everything written in English that was known about Yasodhara (Buddha’s Wife) at the time. With Savarna, the lead in The Last Conception, I visited a fertility clinic and interviewed the head embryologist, spoke with Indian-American friends and colleagues, attended Indian festivals, and watched lots of movies (of Indians living in The States).
The main ingredient however, for both novels, was personal experience. One of our daughter’s is lesbian and had children, and our heterosexual daughter had children using IVF treatments. I also grew up with nine sisters, worked primarily with women, and been witness too, or assisted with, six different births. In addition, I worked with Hospice off and on for about thirty years, and observed hundreds of families from around the globe.
In my case, writing authentic and believable characters is a combination of good writing (hopefully), personal experience, asking questions, and looking at life through others’ eyes.