So, I'm currently engaged in a project that has a large and rather diverse cast of characters, in race, LGBT+ identity, socioeconomic background, and more. Some of the characters I have solid ideas on what parts they'll play and others I may just end up being background friends with more central characters or names to be name-dropped.
Now, I'm a white author and I have a good variety of POC characters and marginalized ethnicities in the mix. What I'm writing is not centered around racism, there's not any worldbuilding centered around any certain culture or any of that. It's a murder mystery set in the modern day US (or some slightly altered version of it; I don't name any real world politicians so to date it so precisely) and many of my POC characters are simply such because there was no reason I had to make them white, and then after I chose races I started thinking about how that would affect them as people. Most of these characters have been in development for awhile because I used to use them for role playing purposes.
However, the reason I made this thread is because, while I like to think I was cautious to avoid stereotyping and did my best to make them people and not stereotypes/caricatures, I'm definitely able to make mistakes and I don't want to step out of my boundaries as a white author. I'm going to try and give a general idea of each of my POC characters and characters marginalized by ethnicity, including their identity, background, interests, and personality. If any more detail is desired, feel free to ask. Just as the title says, I want to make sure I'm not hitting on harmful stereotypes and just want a general sensitivity check.
This is going to be long so I'm going to break it up with a bolded title for each family. There's eleven of them and most of them have one relevant character, except one that has two and another that has three.
Note that these characters are all high school age.
First off, I have three siblings: boy (C, 17) and girl (S, 17) twins with their younger sister (E, 15). They're all white and Jewish, with a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. But essentially, their parents were both single parents who met in the office of their children's middle school and hit it off. The dad is a self-employed artist that has gained a lot of notoriety in the area and the mom works in advertising (very successfully) and they're more than financially comfortable. They have an older half-brother (mom's side) who's a sports journalist and a half-sister (dad's side) who's a robotics engineer that works for the military. Both half-siblings are in their early thirties, and the parents are currently in their fifties. They also have an eight year old sister. They have a history of rather severe mental illness on both sides, with mom's side bringing in OCD and personality disorders (mostly cluster B) and dad's side bringing in bipolar spectrum and eating disorders. Both sides have a tendency for substance abuse.
C and S are very much disasters, similar and different from each other. They're both perfectionists to the extreme and competitive to a painful degree, both between each other and in general. C started out as that type who had to try every activity, keeping certain ones based on how good he was at them rather than how much he enjoyed them. He's got this huge need to feel superior, he's a control freak, and he's an aggressively dominant type for this reason. He's pushed himself into ice hockey, volleyball, debate, and robotics because he seemed to excel at them. His only real 'close friend' is his twin sister because he feels so threatened by everyone else around him and is super afraid of letting them get close. S, on the other hand, has always been the type to follow her best friend of the term to whatever activities they participated in. Her best friend was in ballet? She did ballet. Cheerleading? Girl Scouts? Archery? Same deal. The only activity she actively chose for herself is the school newspaper; she even followed C to robotics club. She also has a really hard time keeping friends because of how irritable and emotionally volatile she is and she's grown really bitter about it. She also has this need to feel superior to an extent, though it's mostly centered around C because he's pretty academically gifted (you know, the one who excels in school without trying too hard) and also because he's her only real 'close friend'. Hell, S considers C the only man in her life that's consistently been there for her (and she wouldn't be wrong; their parents grew lazy and neglectful when presented with kids who weren't as high/easy functioning as their older ones, only bothering to do as much as take them to appointments and buy their prescriptions). They both have issues with self harm, substance problems, identity issues, and I'm fairly sure each have bipolar 1, OCD, and I think they may have a narcissist-borderline dynamic but I'd need to explore further. The relationship between these two is definitely something and I'm sorry that I won't have this much for most of the others but these two being in this together generates more important content to write about. I even have a little bit of writing sitting around to describe their relationship with each other, because they have this bizarre rivalry coupled with extreme closeness. It's a highly dysfunctional and unhealthy dynamic, but an interesting one. Rest assured, though, they are far from the only mental illness representation (they're only two out of seventeen people in my cast selection who for certain have a diagnosable MI, based on character development+research, and the rest of the representation is much less outright negative as well as including bipolar spectrum, personality disorders, substance issues, and anxiety disorders).
The two seemed to have a rocky relationship at best, verbal fights frequently sparking in the halls and petty revenge thrown from one to the other with viciousness that one hardly ever saw in high school kids. However, the two seemed to be inseparable despite the constant fighting. Whether they were drawn together by some shared chronic boredom with the world or they could hardly bear to be away from their twin, nobody really knew. Regardless, being caught behind them within the confines of a congested hallway would prove to be no less than entertaining.
E is markedly different from her brother and sister in that she's notably less stubborn and more open-minded. She's kind of a tsundere type, or definitely has that sort of feel to her? She's a lot more agreeable than she seems and she's definitely got it easier on the functioning part than her older siblings. She started out going on a bad path but was made to choose between her playing sports and her continuing the lifestyle she had going (she was smoking pot and binging and purging, and she had anxiety that was more of a symptom of her bipolar) and she chose sports. She's certainly a sports girl through and through, though she has a fondness for the guitar and piano (the latter more so, as she made friends with her piano teacher's son, G, and has positive associations with it). She definitely had and still does have some identity issues and moments where she questions her interests (for example, if she really likes piano or whether it's because she associates piano with a good friend of hers), but she was sort of made to confront part of this when she had to choose whether or not to get better so she could play sports (she plays American football and softball). She's got a pretty strong network of friends she can look to when she's having symptom flare ups, and she handles things pretty well though she could work on her anger management. She also doesn't like C and S, like at all. She kind of has this resentment toward them because the way she sees it, they're sucking away all of their parents' attention and energy with their behavioral issues and seeming lack of interest in getting any better (S more so than C for that latter one) and she's got this burning need to stand out and shove her individuality everywhere. She's that girl who absolutely resents being asked if she's C and S's little sister. She's also the only one of the three of them who actively practices Judaism. She also sometimes wonders if she would have ended up like C and S if they weren't like that, if she's really in a decent place because she wants to be or because it makes her different from them. I mean, she used to dye her hair dark to look less like them (they all have this sort of gold-toned blond hair) and her favorite feature is her eyes (the twin's have mom's gold-brown eyes while E has dad's blue). And so much of her identity has been constructed around her being her own person before being their little sister.
S is straight, while C and E are both bisexual with a preference for women.
There's only one in this category. F (16) is mixed- Turkish and Greek heritage (her parents were both born in the US)- and she's lived with her paternal aunt and uncle (the more Greek side) since her parents died in a car accident when she was eight months old (she was with a babysitter and they were going on an anniversary dinner). Her aunt and uncle ended up taking her in and raising her very lovingly as their own. Now, they care very much but they kind of have a very loose style of parenting? They're both quirky, artsy types and kind of airheaded and they became more friends to her than authority figures as she got older. Her aunt teaches art at the local elementary school while her uncle owns a bookshop. It's really no surprise these two raised an incense-burning hippie-type Wiccan who indulges in hallucinogens and is very much about free love. F is also a massive creative- her 'thing' is that she's an abstract painter, though she's notably talented in several mediums and styles including realism. And she's definitely a genuinely sweet girl, if a bit erratic, impulsive, and idealistic. She's that one character that everyone who's into girls has probably at least come close to fooling around with. Though it's interesting because, in this particular case, it's just because that's how she currently wants to operate her sexuality. She's confident in her sexuality and if she finds you attractive and you're willing and you're both in the mood, she doesn't see why not. However, she would like in the future to have a committed relationship or two. She's polyamorous and pansexual with no real preference.
This one has an older brother, G (17), and a younger sister, J (14). G is E from Family #1's good friend. G and J are black, with an African American mother and an Afro-Haitian father. Their father came from a wealthier family and originally came to the US for college (he studied computer science, eventually earning a doctorate). He soon ended up teaching computer science at a university level. He met their mother while holding this position. She was a student (a music major) at the time, but their relationship was surprisingly healthy for its type and she never actually took one of his classes. She now gives private lessons for piano, violin, upright bass, and guitar! G and J also have an older brother in his early twenties who now works managing music venues. Both G and J are close with their older brother and parents; they're a very close-knit family and generally happy. G kind of takes after dad and J after mom, but each kind of go their own way.
G is a straight up shy computer nerd with the hacker skillz that he sometimes uses for monetary gain (basically playing illegal online PI). He has a definite code of ethics outlining what he will and won't do, though, and he's more involved in hacktivism than in that sort of thing. However, he uses his computer as a crutch for socializing. Very much the classic appears confident online, absolute shy mess of a boy IRL. This is more to do with his perfectionism than with social anxiety though. G kind of has it in his head that he's just not good at socializing so he shouldn't try it. He's not entirely sure how to just let loose and have fun, not have everything be a pressured race to the top. He's got a really long way to unlearn his "I'm bad at this so it's no longer fun" complex, and I actually have an arc (and ship) planned to help him start to discover he can have fun without being top notch at whatever it is. He's also so painfully a hopeless romantic. Half the time if you catch him daydreaming, you bet it's about a nice boy who's taking him out to dinner and a movie then leading him to bed where his hair will get fingers wound through it and he'll get covered in hickeys. But overall, he's got a burning desire to do the right thing and make friends. He's just afraid of messing up the latter, though he's actually pretty confident in the former. He'll also totally help you fix your setup, get rid of that virus, install your new graphics card. He'll even group up with you on whatever MMO you want a friend to play with.
J is definitely the art and music type. She (and G, though she took to it more) has been playing piano since she was three or four years old, taught by her mother right in the family sitting room. She also developed an interest in singing over the years, this also in part due to how much she looks up to her mother. Eventually, that gave way to dancing which turned into an interest in the drama club. She's a busy bee in the drama club. Another woman she looked up to was her kindergarten art teacher, who kind of inspired her to start painting. She's highly passionate about all of this, though I'd say painting was her number one. She's never been too sure on her ability to use words to express herself, but she's certainly confident in using colors. The girl is perfectly content to act in roles written by others as long as she brings her own self expression to the table with her painting. She often uses these paintings to start conversations, as she has a lot of difficulty with that. She grew up in a family of introverts, with her oldest brother being the one exception, so she didn't have a lot of great examples. Mom and dad are both very kind, accepting, and open-minded people though reserved. But the whole "a picture's worth a thousand words" thing is absolutely certain with her. She's also one I need to develop more, because she only came into things because I ended up wanting to give G a younger sister purely because I thought he would make a good older brother (and he does).
G is gay and J is straight. They often discuss boys together, it's really cute.
Another one with only one. SD (17) is Indian. He was born in India, but his family moved to the US when he was two years old. His father was born into a wealthy family and he always had a passion for animals. It was no surprise that he married a woman who shared that passion. They currently live on a larger plot of land with a larger house. Dad runs a veterinary practice out of the household and mom breeds Great Danes and German Shepherds. SD, as a result, grew up around animals and loves them as much as his parents do. He also participates somewhat in some of his parents' activities, which includes training the dogs for things like agility trials and helping groom them for dog shows. However, as he grows older, he's out of the house more and more. And by the time he's a senior in high school (when the story takes place), he's definitely a stoner. He picked up a part time job at Subway because he wanted to work with his then-friend N, who is now his girlfriend. The two make quite a pair, constantly eating and attached at the hip constantly. You'd swear they made up a secret language between the two of them. Also, N calls SD "Scooby" sometimes as a nickname because his initials are SD and his mom breeds Great Danes, as well as him having one as his own pet. The two spend a great deal of time hiking in the woods and generally relaxing in nature, enjoying each other's company and having long conversations about this or that. Honestly their relationship is extremely healthy. They talk a lot of philosophical concepts and had this whole "what does consent mean to you" talk at one point and they're actually trying to work themselves out of an unhealthy co-dependence they had started to develop. SD is a great listener and he often has a hard time explaining how he feels because vocabulary isn't his strong suit, and he's a fantastic empath. He also wears a beanie constantly and takes excessive selfies.
He's also bisexual and polyamorous, and he and his girlfriend are both open to more partners.
EFV (17) is a gay Mexican American trans guy. He's a quiet type who's tough to be trusted by but once you have him on your side, he's one of the most loyal people you can have on your side. He's very easygoing, despite keeping his distance, and he's precariously stealth at school (he's got a pretty androgynous face and his curves are subtle enough that he can easily mask them with baggy jeans and a big sweater, but he's got a pretty girlish voice that he's got a hard time lowering at times). He's got a lot of good acquaintances but very few, if any, close friends. Very much the talks-in-a-drawl, low-energy jokester with a morbid sense of humor who really likes trigonometry and billiards. He fancies himself someone who studies and watches people, finding people really interesting but being kind of withdrawn and afraid to really get to know people on a personal level and let them do the same with him. He's a large box of secrets in general though, from his talent with trig (which is the big reason he's good at billiards) to his suffering from anorexia when he was 11-13 years old. As far as his home life, his parents aren't in the picture. His father was killed in a car accident and he was removed from his mother's custody for neglect reasons when he was ten years old. He was left in the custody of his older brother, 19 at the time, who dropped out of college in order to support him. And the two brothers are incredibly close and get along extremely well. When EFV came out to his brother, one of the brother's first reactions was to ask him if he wanted to move schools so he could start living presenting as male. EFV was literally raised by his cool older brother, a brother who respects his boundaries and worked with him to come up with secret code words to signify, for example, when EFV was going to get in a little after his curfew as well as different words for why that may be (he thinks he's being followed and is trying to shake them, he had to walk a friend home first, etc). They function like best friends and the older brother has since started taking classes part time at the local community college. The brothers help each other study and make each other flash cards, play study games, and generally encourage each other to succeed. It's really cute. And EFV is actually intended to be G's love interest, with that arc being intended to have both of them develop an emotionally intimate relationship and confront their difficulties with it as well as teaching G to have fun outside of his comfort zone.
T (17) is a black lesbian and only child of a lawyer (father) and an orthopedic surgeon (mother). She was raised in a really positive environment, with very accepting and doting parents that were very helpful when she had night terrors as a child and very supportive when she decided to get into the drama club and marching band. She plays the piccolo in the marching band and the flute in concert band, as well as a handful of other instruments just in her spare time. She also participates in choir and it's uncommon to see her not it the leading role in the school's musicals. She's extremely bubbly and extroverted- classic ESFP- and friendly to a fault. She's everyone's friend if she can help it, and she's very impulsive. She likes climbing trees and being active, really enjoys working with kids, and boy is she a dreamy-eyed romantic if ever you saw one. She'll sit there daydreaming about being carried off bridal style by a pretty girl and being treated like a princess (which is super easy to imagine cause she's 4'9) and she's an extreme lightweight. Give her half a glass of wine and she's a blushing, giggly mess. She's also really hard to lose the good graces of, but once you do then you're toast. She doesn't have a temper, per se, but she definitely isn't afraid to say something is shitty when it's shitty. Overall she's a fairly headstrong and brave girl who's a romantic at heart who just really likes the piccolo and people. Also, her parents are like disgustingly in love, as much as they were when they were in the 'honeymoon' phase. Like they chase each other around the expansive backyard with super soakers for fun and are constantly playing games and trying to think of the next sweet thing to do for each other.
K (16) is a bisexual Vietnamese guy who has been living in the US since he was about seven, and he's very Americanized due to not being very close with his very introverted parents. He's always tended a little more toward extroversion, and he's always had an easy time finding someone to talk to. He's very slick and charming, and he's also very comfortable in his sexuality. He hangs out with the 'delinquent' sort of crowd and he and his best friend have been known to shoplift and con people out of their money by way of hustling them at various games. That's his friend's specialty though. His real passion is cars. He works under the table helping out at a local garage and he's tight with the owner, who's bigtime a mentor of his. Honestly more of a father to him than his own father, who works a lot and is very emotionally distant. His mother is this quietly overprotective type, though, and he likes and cares for her a lot but he's definitely fought a little for some breathing space from her as he got older. He was always a momma's boy when he was a kid, always.
Y (15) is a gay mixed-race (white American and Egyptian) guy who's the son of two college professors with PhDs. His father, an archaeologist, was funded for a dig to Egypt by the university taught at. He was working with some local historians and archaeologists on the dig and this is where he ended up meeting his wife, who's a prominent Egyptian historian. They ended up writing some papers together and she was offered a position to teach there as well. She took a bit to consider it but she eventually accepted, and partnership with her colleague eventually turned into a relationship. Y grew up flying between the US and Egypt, often spending his entire summer breaks overseas and getting to know his mother's side of the family rather well. He's definitely closer to mother's side culturally and in general, as his father is kind of estranged from his family while mom has very strong ties. And Y is as big of an academic as both of his parents, with aspirations in history and archaeology on his mind and a strong fascination for anything dating before 500 AD, all around the world. He kind of takes going to a new place as a push to go look into the history of it, whether it be a town, a country, or what have you. Very bookish, very well-read. And if you let him, he'll go on and on about what subject he's reading up on right now. He's also really fond of swimming, and it and hiking were the only athletic sort of things he ever really got into. He's also a big nature lover and has a particular thing for insects. He has a pet scorpion and he used to have an ant farm when he was younger. He's also pretty anxious, both socially and generally, and has a nervous habit of going on and on about subjects he understands and that interest him.
P (17) is a bisexual black guy who lives with his mother, a registered nurse, as well as his younger siblings (twins, boy and girl, 10). His parents are divorced and when they split up, mom moved herself and the kids away to be closer to her family, so dad isn't close by but he's still in contact and they often spend holidays with him. His mom is really awesome and does well for her kids. It's really funny when she goes out on dates though, cause P plays the protective son and the entire family gets into teasing her and asking the guy's name, where are they going, oh goodness she looks extra pretty, etc. He's a very laid back, low energy sort of person and the way he speaks is kind of like a slightly slowed down normal. He's very, very passionate about singing though. He's basically a rock star in the school choir and he has his own recording set up at home and he does those a capella mixes where he sings four different parts for a song and layers them all on top of each other and mixes them and puts them on youtube. He's also politically active, very avid member of a liberal political club in his school, and is very up and informed. He's also great with kids, loves his little siblings, and is a general little angel. Honestly he's too nice and trusting in a lot of ways; he'll lend you his notes when he needs them too, he's very open ears when someone wants to vent, and he's honestly the type who'd probably invite in some poor, injured stranger and give them a bed and bandages and call an ambulance for them. He's a very clear lawful good, and honestly one big piece of development I aim for him is that he grow a little bit of a backbone and becomes a little less indiscriminate with who he's willing to help because that's absolutely something he needs, sweet a kid as he is.
N (17) is a mixed race (Native American & Louisiana Creole) girl. Neither side of her family was active in their tribe, but she had great-grandparents who were. She's bisexual, polyamorous, and currently dating SD. She lives with her father, who's also mixed (both her parents are), and her mother is a missing person's case, believed to have been kidnapped about ten years earlier. Since this point, her dad has used drugs (mainly marijuana) in order to cope with his guilt surrounding this event (he was in the bathroom when she went out to take out the garbage and was never seen again), causing him to be a fairly absent parent in N's life. She spent most of her time hanging around SD and his parents, which her dad didn't mind at all. The way he saw it, she was definitely going to be safe and watched over there because SD's parents are good and competent people. Not to mention she always had fun with him. Dad cares; he just has a really hard time functioning, though he has gotten better and is making steps toward recovery. However, this doesn't change the fact that the first time N and SD smoked pot, it was pot N had stolen from her father. She's rather sneaky, smart, and very competent when she has the motivation to do anything with it. However, she's famously lazy about a lot of things. She works part-time at Subway with SD for extra cash, never failing to walk out with a sandwich. She has a ridiculously fast metabolism and eats for five of her bean pole of a frame. She doesn't resent her dad, though she's kind of frustrated with him sometimes because of how unreliable he is. She used to play softball, but lost interest in the sport as her dad showed up less and less to her games. She also deals with some guilt from her mother's disappearance, wondering if she could have prevented it somehow despite being seven years old at the time. She not only really enjoys eating food, but is really into preparing it too. She learned to cook at a young age because of her dad's unreliability and really enjoys experimenting with different recipes and cuisines. She often helps her boyfriend's mother prepare dinner, for example, giving her a lot of experience with Indian cuisine in particular. She's a little rough around the edges and over-assertive, and her laziness can get annoying, but I can guarantee that with her around you'll get fed good food and be told dirty jokes (that are actually funny) all afternoon.
D (16) is a bisexual, potentially polyamorous Pakistani guy who lives with a single, physically disabled father. His dad suffered from polio as a child and is mostly confined to a wheelchair as well as having chronic pain. He was born in Pakistan, living there with his mother and father until he was eight years old. His father is an osteologist and a good one at that, so they were very financially comfortable. However, his mother had always dealt with mental health problems and was always afraid to seek treatment due to the stigma. Her husband loved her all the same and did his best to help her in any way he could, but when D was eight she was successful in ending her own life. She never went to seek treatment, but she would have been diagnosed with anorexia and bipolar 2. This seriously affected D, as well as crushing his father entirely. He cared very deeply for his wife and soon after her funeral, he concluded that he couldn't stand living there anymore. It was just too sad for him. So he calls up an old friend from medical school to talk about his situation (he studied medicine in both Oxford and New York; he came from an affluent family and his dad knew he was damn smart), and the friend told him of a job opening that would appreciate having him. D and his father moved to the States soon after.
D himself takes after his father a lot. He's a bright, rather handsome kid with an interest in bones. He's mostly, though, interested in the side job his father has picked up. His father occasionally gets called to the police station to consult as a forensic anthropologist, and this is something D is seriously considering going to school for. He's interested in biology, anatomy, and archaeology as well as forensics, and he's also really into watching cold case and forensics shows. He's not entirely fixated on dead people though. In fact, another big thought he's always liked is the idea of becoming a teacher. He often tutors other kids in math and biology in his free time, and has become a quick favorite of some teachers due to his thirst for knowledge and willingness to learn and push his boundaries. However, he is his mother's son as well and seems to have inherited her bipolar spectrum tendencies. He often self-medicates with marijuana during a high, finding it relaxing and pleasurable when his thoughts finally quiet and his mind can be at peace and he does it while depressed as well, claiming it helps him sleep. His depressive episodes aren't as severe as his mother's at this point, but he's certainly more likely to get help sooner if his dad picks up on these symptoms. He already lost his wife; he doesn't want to lose his son too.
D's dad, meanwhile, is still severely depressed from his loss eight years ago. D will often encourage him to get out of bed because it seems like the motivation helps and possibly makes the difference between him getting up and not (it helps, but he would still get out of bed without the encouragement). Neither of them are really ones to talk about their emotions, but they often find comfort in each other's company and have sort of become a reassurance and a comfort to each other. They get into their disagreements, of course, but love and grief tie them tightly together. D finds it almost impossible to lie to his father, his father is the same way back. I feel a lot of emotions about these two.
As I said, I think I did a pretty good job of avoiding offensive stereotypes or tropes but I wholeheartedly appreciate everyone who reads this and gives me feedback. Thank you!