Diversity: Not What You Think It Means

Diversity. Sometimes writers focus on it, carefully bringing out all the unique angles and potential of their story. Sometimes writers don’t even consider it, happily nabbing the first face-claim that comes across their Pinterest feed. Guess what really excited me about diversity? Lin-Manuel Miranda. Before listening to his musicals, I’d progressed to the point of consciously making diverse choices in my casts. Afterwards, I was so dang excited about bringing my story cast to life in all sorts of different ways. It goes way beyond skin color and gender, which excites me very much.

Point #1. Please do not shame younger/newer writers for their lack of diversity. Do me one better and don’t shame any writer for their lack of diversity. Guess what? My first few novels were all about white people. Big deal. I wasn’t racist, or purposefully excluding people of any other shade. I was merely pulling from what I saw around me, since I live in a very, very predominantly white area. Now that I’m aware, I can make casting choices that are more true to life. More than that, some writers/authors have been dragged under the bus for misrepresentation that they can be gun-shy. “If I only write introverted white females, I’m safe, because I am an introverted white female and know how to represent them.” The fear is real.

Point #2. Do what works for your story! But don’t use it as a ticket to excuses. If your story takes place in upper-society Victorian England (hello, Jane Austen), your characters may very well be white. That’s more than fine! But no excuses, kids. Do none of your characters have hay fever? Allergies? Scars? Live in a wheelchair? Allergic to dairy? Gluten? Is no one overweight? I think diversity is not about running as fast as you can ahead of mud-slingers. I think diversity is about portraying real life. If you live in downtown LA, guess what? Your story is probably going to have so many beautiful skin shades and religions and ability levels and just yes. If all your characters are miraculously problem-free, then is that real life? Can we have a story where the ally refuses to skip through the flowers because guess what? They have allergies. Can we have stories where the quest is on halt because the MC binged on croissants when they know that gluten is bad for them? Please.

Point #3. Use their clashes to further your story. Religion, man. It’s so often glossed over in books or not even mentioned, period. You don’t need a specific religion to have a good theme. But if your characters have a certain religion, they may clash with each other at times. People have so many different faiths and religions and ideals and virtues and views of God. Sometimes, religion isn’t a necessary part of your story. Look at The Hunger Games. Sometimes, you definitely need it.

Point #4. Hello, token characters. Say you have a predominantly white cast. And one black character, thrown in there for the sake of mixing things up. Please don’t go “well, I have too many white male characters, so … here’s an Asian female! I’m diverse, look at meeeee!” Write the person first. Not their gender, nationality, skin color, or anything else. Writing them as a ‘diversity token’ is a one-way ticket to 2-D characters.

All that being said, diversity is not about one skin color being ‘bad.’ It’s not about it being ‘bad’ if you have a white character. That’s ridiculous! Diversity in stories is about challenging your imagination’s default settings and adding layers of real life to your stories. That’s all.

What aspects of diversity did I miss? Which are your favorite to include?

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