One thing that’s starting to annoy me in a lot of recent YA literature is the complete “white bread” cast. It seems like minorities just don’t seem to exist in most of today’s youth lit. There is a major lacking in African American main characters, as well as Latin/Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, etc. I’m not sure if it’s because people of those minorities aren’t writing YA novels or because people feel like they don’t know how to represent people of other ethnicities well enough.
It’s not just other minorities that are missing, but people of different religions or with mental and/or physical handicaps. Characters with diseases that don’t end in supernatural powers and characters with differing sexual preferences are next to non-existent as well.
As authors, we want our writing to be realistic (even if it’s fantasy) and that means our casts should be varied with all types of characters. Not only will it add to the story, but it lets you work in aspects of different cultures and love and tolerance towards all. There’s no reason why the hot “white” jock can’t fall for the stunning African American girl on the dance team. No reason why the cute red headed Irish guy can’t fall for the exotic new Asian boy in school.
Don’t be afraid to make your characters realistic with disorders and disabilities, these are things real teens deal with everyday, whether it’s Diabetes, ADHD, Autism, depression, eating disorders, etc.. Just be sure to research the affliction first so you know some of the symptoms/characteristics and treatments. You can’t be realistic going on hunches and what you “think” you know. Look it up.
I think to diversify our characters allows us the chance to introduce different types of people and cultures to parts of our audience that may not see such things outside of their own communities. I think we have to be careful as well not to make those characters a walking stereotype. I think that is something a good beta reader can help alert you to.
Take a chance and round out your cast. It will make for a better story and appeal to a larger audience.
Have you written characters who are different than you?