Let’s talk about diversity in fiction. Now I realize a topic sentence like that might frighten those of weak constitution, but rest assured, you have nothing to fear from me. While a diverse cast is by no means a requirement to tell a good story, it must needs be remarked that having a diverse cast can provide a myriad of viewpoints from which to examine your story, and as a result, make it deeper and richer. That’s the core of what I’d like to say, but this would be an awfully short post if it ended here, so let’s set up and knock down some strawmen, shall we?
“The world of my story is diverse, but my main cast is homogeneous. That’s fine, right?”
Kind of. Like I said, there’s no reason you can’t tell an amazing story with a homogeneous cast, (hell, Lord of the Rings is about a bunch of white dudes), but if you don’t have a diverse cast, you should probably have a good excuse. If your story is specifically about one group of people, maybe an oppressed minority, that could be super interesting.
“I can’t have ______ people in my story, it wouldn’t be historically accurate.”
Okay, I hear you, but assuming you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, you built the world and the entire story. You created the history. The only thing stopping you from writing a diverse cast is that you don’t want to. And if you don’t want to, I recommend examining yourself and seeing if you can figure out why it bothers you so much.
“Okay smart guy, but I write historical fiction. They didn’t have _______ people in the part of the world I’m writing about.”
Okay, so, if you’re talking about LGBT+ folks here, you’re wrong. The Gays™ have always existed and up until relatively recently, no one really minded them. If you’re talking about people of different races, I’d like to show you something.
That’s a picture of the Gibraltar area. Down south is Africa, and up north is Spain. Europe and Africa have been so close for so long that unless you’re writing fiction set before we as a species left Africa (which if you are, cool cool), there’s no reason to leave dark skinned people out of your european story or vice versa.
“My story’s set in Asia, it’s much farther away from Africa, that’s why there’re no black people.”
Yasuke. Never heard of him? I don’t blame you. My point here is that all sorts of people end up everywhere, and I have no doubt that other people of various races ended up all over Asia and we just don’t hear about them too often. Now, as for writing a story set in ancient America, you’re kind of on your own there, I know next to nothing of the many groups and communities that lived here before Europe showed up and ruined everything.
“Okay, whatever, but I’m not going to include pointless diversity to pander to the SJW crowd.”
Hoo boy, there’s a lot to unpack there so let’s get started. First, have you ever gone outside? Diversity is all over the place for no reason. Like I said, people end up all over the place for all sorts of reasons. I live next door to a gay couple. Why are they there? I don’t know, they just are. Next, I’m going to take a slight leap and say that I disagree with the premise of the previous statement. In real life, diversity is very much the norm. Framing it as abnormal raises a concerning question. Why would anyone think that many different kinds of people living in proximity is abnormal, and for that matter, why would you consider one category of people normal as opposed to another? Finally, in addition to my previous reasons, I’d like to present another reason that diversity is never pointless. Assuming you, like most of us, are writing for an audience, having a diverse cast of main characters increases the number of people who find a deep connection with your story. And I should think it goes without saying that the more people who like your work, the more moolah you can rake in. If you’re lucky, you might even make enough to survive long enough to write your next book.
“Okay, fine I’ll write a diverse cast of characters for my story, but I won’t enjoy it!”
I’m glad you’re trying Mr. Strawman, but I feel everything I’ve said should come with a warning. Don’t take the kitchen sink approach. Too much diversity can come across as insincere and pandering. When you do find your cast, make sure they actually have some sort of chemistry. Also, make sure that you don’t write fake representation. The only thing worse than no representation is fake representation. This most often happens with LGBT+ characters and leaves the reader feeling like they were tricked and were being pandered to. Don’t queerbait. If you say a character is gay, back it up with character actions or motivations. Next, don’t kill the diversity. Don’t put together a diverse group of characters, and then kill them off so that the straight white guys (and maybe a girl) live and the people of color, and the queer-coded villain all die. Oh, and I’m sure it goes without saying, but don’t kill off the only gay character. People hate that. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone can only live one life and it’s impossible to know everyone’s experiences. For example, I am not trans. I am at home in my body and feel it represents who I am perfectly as is. So if I was going to write a trans character, I would do a shit-ton of research and ask people who have transitioned questions to help create a more authentic character. That said, I realize that there are some stories that I can’t tell. As a cis guy, I don’t think I could or should ever write a story about someone’s struggles transitioning, or someone’s struggle growing up in Nazi Germany. Those are someone else’s stories and it would be offensive if I tried to tell them.
With my final thoughts out of the way, I wish you luck on your writing journey and hope that this long, rambling essay helped you to see the merit in writing a diverse story, and maybe avoid some pitfalls as you go on.