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Avoiding the Quota Character: Choosing Quality Over Quantity

Updated: Apr 2

The purpose of this blog is to encourage writers to be inclusive in their writing, to include more marginalized characters in the stories you create. Yes, there needs to be more diversity in writing but it needs to be done thoughtfully, with purpose and intention.

A common mistake I've seen from authors is what I like to call the Quota Character. A quota character is usually a static character with a marginalized background who was thrown into a story for the sole purpose of having a marginalized character. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, I start to see problems with the character when their identity hasn't been well thought out and adds nothing to the character's voice.

If no one has ever told said this to you before I'll happily be the first: just having characters with marginalized identities isn't enough. It doesn't matter how many diverse characters are in your story if they are written as afterthoughts you have a greater chance of offending your readers by carelessness.

For example, an author sent me a manuscript which included this description:

We walked past the big black security guard...


As I continued to read it became apparent that the character didn't re-appear elsewhere in the manuscript, didn't have any dialogue, and was primarily used to describe a setting. When I approached the author she readily admitted she added him in because she didn't have enough black characters and it necessary to add someone black. I challenged her, is this even a character or is it simply a box you checked off? She ended up eliminating race from the description which is okay for such a static character (although I don't prefer it because when race isn't mentioned readers usually default to white).

Characters with marginalized identities have been dismissed, dehumanized, belittled, stereotyped and disregarded making the contemporary call for more nuanced diverse characters consequential. When readers see a character that could be themselves, their relative, or someone in their community it affirms them. They feel like they are seen. That they matter enough to be written about. It's equally important for people in the majority to see characters who aren't like them. Who aren't in their family or communities. It affirms that all kinds of people deserve to have stories too.

The quality of a character is far more important than the quantity of characters. Even if the author had 45 black security guards it would be diverse but it wouldn't be equitable. This author had nuanced, unique and thoughtful white characters but her black characters were as important as a lamp.

Each and every post in this blog can help you write more distinct characters and fight against the Quota Character. Adding more diverse characters is worth it, you'll have a richer, more interesting story but make you marginalized characters rich and interesting and you won't regret the effort.

#characters #descriptions #tokenism

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