Writing Diversity

I’m combining notes from “Diversity, What Is It Good For” with panelists Devin Jackson Randall, Ken Schrader, Michelle D. Sonnier, Scott Roche, and Jennifer Povey
and
“Avoiding the ‘Representing the Entire [X] Trap” with panelists Day Al-Mohamed, K. M. Szpara, Stephanie “Flash” Burke, Ken Schrader, and Christie Meierz

Diversity is a big thing in writing these days, especially in the Young Adult section of genre fiction that I typically hang out in. There are long, on-going conversations that I’ve tried to provide context for in my notes.

Remember, even if you disagree with some of the thoughts below, these people came together to have a conversation in good-faith. They love what they do and are working hard at trying to do BETTER. No one is perfect, we’re all people. If you have criticisms, try to make them constructive.

Why Do We Write Diversity (besides representation)

[Context for people who aren’t familiar with the conversation. The biggest reason people suggest writing diversity is to be representational: to allow people to see themselves in unique characters.]

  •  The world is naturally diverse, this way our worlds reflect creativity. – Scott Roche
  • So we don’t limit ourselves. It’s like using 8 crayons instead of all 64. – Michelle Sonnier
  • Not doing so is doing yourself a disservice. If you aren’t diverse? Do your research and fix your world. – Ken Schrader
  • To learn about other types of peoples through writing and research. – Devin Jackson Randall
  • Some people ask “why include this” and call it pandering. Because we exist! Even the uncomfortable bits! – Stephanie “Flash” Burke

Tips on Doing Diversity Right

  • Remember, it’s a character… who is ALSO a [minority], that’s not their defining feature. – K. M. Szpara
  • One person can’t (and shouldn’t) represent a whole group. – Christie Meierz
  • Acknowledge the differences, and then move on! – Stephanie “Flash” Burke
  • Ignoring it limits your writing. – K. M. Szpara
  • Paying attention to it makes them real people. – Christie Meierz
  • Don’t skip marginalized characters in short stories because of ‘space’ – Day Al-Mohamed
  • Don’t just point out skin/orientation when it’s different than expectations. If you’re going to do it for some characters, do it for all. – K. M. Szpara
  • Don’t slap the audience with the difference in every sentence. – Stephanie “Flash” Burke
    • “Almond eyes, pale skin/chocolate skin… now I’m hungry”
  • Don’t describe other races with food terms. That’s overdone, a definite trope, and turns that character into a fetish.
  • Don’t hand me a book and say ‘you should read this, it’s about queer people.” If the answer is ‘yes’ when I ask, “Oh, do they die?” Kill the straight people instead! – K. M. Szpara

Intersectionality

[Context for people who aren’t familiar with this term:

Google defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”

In other words, a queer, white, woman with disabilities will have a different experience than a heterosexual, white, woman without any disabilities. And as you layer in other levels of social categorizations, the experiences will continue to diverge.]

  • It’s currently a buzzword, but it’s recognition of pieces we’re mislaying. Paying attention to it makes characters less 2-dimensional. As M. Evan Matyas says, “We want to walk all the way around the character.” Day Al-Mohamed came from a place where everyone looked like her. When she moved to America, she met whites and blacks and learned that blacks have their own culture and they don’t all have the same one. – Day Al-Mohamed
  • Look at it as subtracting monotony from world. – K. M. Szpara

What Are Your Pet Peeves About “Accuracy” Limiting Diversity?

  • There were blacks in medieval Europe. – Jennifer Povey
  • Fantasy as a genre. Your fantasy has no minorities to be realistic, but DRAGONS? – Michelle Sonnier
  • Westerns should have Asians, blacks, and natives. They’re typically FAR too white washed. The man who inspired the Texas Ranger? WAS black – Scott Roche
  • People using a single minority character – Ken Schrader
    • Either their only reason to be in the story is to make it ‘diverse’. They’re not given their own personality, wants, or needs.
    • Or the writer doesn’t do enough research so the character is 2 dimensional
  • Continually stereotyping a minority character – Devin Jackson Randall
    • Thai has a 3rd gender, but in media, the standard is to make the character’s gender the butt of the joke
  • All [minority] have the same political views. (Blacks? Dwarves? People with disabilities?)  They need reasons for their views!

How to Handle It When The Diversity Matters

  • Remember that who you are effects how you approach things. And things effect you differently based on who you are.
  • Point of View is shaped by the character’s history.

Examples of Diversity Done Right and Wrong

  • A fantasy movie about the Great Wall of China was marketed to have white main characters. In reality? The main characters were Chinese.  Pacific Rim, Luke Cage – both good representations of the world they’re supposed to represent. – Scott Roche
  • Star Wars and Star Trek – in every iteration strive to be more inclusive and diverse. – Michelle Sonnier
  • Often done wrong – Only villains (and often) are disfigured and/or injured. Heros are typically neither. – Ken Schrader.
  • (Except Fury Road, she was missing an arm from here *gestures to elbow* down. Well, here up would be hard.) – Scott Roche
  • Firefly was getting it right-er – Ken Schrader
  • ‘Ten Count’ (yaoi), ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ – both try, but often stop at 2-dimensions and don’t make excuses for themselves. ‘Sensai’ is good, but has issues.  – Devin Jackson Randall
  • Lois Bujold, especially her VorKosigan series handles disabilities well. – audience

Diversity used to be dubbed as ‘not marketable’, but that’s changing. – audience

Social media is helping [or hurting, when it doesn’t do its research]  – Devin Jackson Randall

Tricky Things – How To Make A Marginalized Antagonist

[Context for those who aren’t familiar with this trope: Very often, marginalized is used as shorthand for bad-guy. We don’t want to do that! For starters, it’s lazy. Secondly, it’s over done. You can’t say “there’s plenty of Russians in genre fiction” when they’re all drunken, bad-guy soviets.]

  • Backstory. Villains can be teachers. – Stephanie ‘Flash” Burke
  • No one (well, very few people) are villains in their own minds. They usually have very well-loved (if not good) reasons for doing what they do. – Christie Meierz
  • Ask if [marginalized] antagonist needs that [marginalization]. If not, you might be doing the wrong thing, for the right reasons. (ie – adding diversity, but accidentally falling into the stereotyping tropes). – Ken Schrader
  • It’s overdone. In James Bond, nearly all villains are disabled. It’s too cliche. – Day Al-Mohamed

Closing Thoughts

  • Don’t make sacred things casual. – Audience
  • Don’t forget mental illnesses. – Scott Roche
  • Don’t have people just brush off trauma. – Michelle Sonnier
  • Do your due-diligence, but don’t shy away from diversity. – Ken Schrader
  • Support good diversity, so we’ll get more.  – Devin Jackson Randall
  • Do your research. – Jennifer Povey
  • Don’t just observe other types of people, talk to them, if they’re open to it. – audience
    • You can usually ask friends for recommendations or
    • There are online groups for writers with people who volunteer
  • Checkout disabilityinkidlit.com – Day Al-Mohamed
  • If other characters don’t harp on differences, it won’t be a big deal. – Stephanie “Flash” Burke
  • There’s a difference between diversity being a coat of paint on a character, and it being a PART of a character, rather than their defining trait. – Audience
  • I don’t think the future is white. – Christie Meirz

These are just some people’s opinions!

What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?

Any other things writers should keep in mind when creating diverse worlds?

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9 thoughts on “Writing Diversity

  1. In my novel most of the characters are young gay men, but there is almost no trace of homophobia. This is done by design, because I wanted to focus on a human story within the LGBT community. I suppose if I’ve done my job correctly, people outside the community will be able to relate to my characters, while still seeing them in situations that might not as easily present in a heterosexual world.

    Time will tell. I think a lot about this, and in my future writing I think I am going to try to highlight difference a little more. This is great food for thought. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting and constructive. I definitely like the theory of assimilating diverse characters, but think writing becomes a different thing when we start piggy backing social agendas on to it. I’m not against it, just a complex and interesting subject. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    • There are so many reasons listed above about why diversity is NOT simply a social agenda. Avoiding diversity, unless you have a reason for it, is denying how diverse and different the world we live in is.

      Even if you live in an area that’s predominately one race, there are going to be disabled people, gay people, people with mental illnesses… Leaving them out of your story makes your world that much more 2-dimensional.

      Liked by 1 person

      • For sure, I was ready to get my cackles up, but you definitely noted some great points. Makes me thing of Detta in The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King, granted that character my border on a stereotype, but I thought having a wheel chair bound character really added something to the story. Helped to add the layer of “real struggle” in the fantasy realm, which provides a grounding effect I think.

        Liked by 1 person

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