Whether it’s the hashtag du jour or not, all authors need to think about diversity when writing. There’s a whole range of people out there and, as you might have heard, representation matters. Here are some tips to think about.
1) All Books Can Be Diverse
Black people existed before slavery, gay people were around even when it was illegal and women were involved in far more stuff than just making babies. You might think that the setting or time period of your book will preclude diversity, but that’s unlikely to be true. Even in a WW2 submarine filled with white blokes you can have neuro-diversity, different sexualities, classes, religions, body types – diversity, like people, comes in all shapes and sizes.
2) Challenge your unconscious bias
Now I’m not advocating crow-barring in a diverse character as a tick box exercise, but we all have unconscious bias whether we like it or not. All societies depict certain demographics as the default and anything outside of this is therefore ‘other’. This has an impact on all of us, especially if you fall into any of those default groups. We all have to question ourselves to reveal those biases, and if you’re a writer that extends to your characters.
3) Avoid tokenism
Remember what I said about crowbarring? We’ve all read the sole female character (who’s just a love interest), the sole Black dude (who’s just a sidekick), and the gay best friend (who’s just here to say “yass Queen”). Don’t just chuck in a few paper-thin stereotypes to fill a quota. All your characters should be full-fleshed out with their own arcs and storylines, not just a conduit for the main character or point you’re trying to make.
4) You can have multi-diverse characters
Some people joke about “political correctness gone maaad” by claiming the next Dr Who/Bond/Marvel Superhero will have to be a “Black, trans, lesbian, disabled woman”. Which ignores the fact that will be many Black, trans, lesbian, disabled women out there. It’s perfectly possible for humans, and therefore for your characters, to sit in more than one minority group. Just as long as they’re, you’ve guessed, real characters.
5) A characteristic isn’t a character
Just because you have a diverse character, doesn’t mean their whole story needs to be about that characteristic. To be honest, if you’re not from a particular marginalised group you need to think very carefully about writing a storyline for a character based solely upon their experiences. People have done it and it can be done well, but equally, it can be done very badly and take up the space that a writer from that marginalised group could occupy to tell their own story.
That said, you shouldn’t ignore this part of them completely. It will have had an impact on how they grew up, and the way they experience the world. It is a balancing act, but one you should practice. And don’t think you can only include diverse characters in “real world” stories either. They belong in sci-fi, fantasy and related genres as much as anything else.
6) Do your research
This will doubtless be in your writing toolkit anyway – if you’re going to write about something that you don’t have personal knowledge of, you should do research. You don’t have to make a song and dance about it, but it’s important to know how different people experience life.
7) Consider a sensitivity reader
I think some people view a sensitivity reader as a Millennial “snowflake” thing that inhibits creativity. But I see a “sensitivity reader” as just a specialised Beta reader, who can provide informed feedback on things outside of your lived sphere. Essentially it’s part of your research and a way to filter unconscious bias. You don’t have to change your work simply because of what’s flagged. Some things are subjective after all. But it’s useful to make you think and none of us should be afraid of that.
So there are a few tips when writing your own diverse stories. Do you have any of your own? Please share in the comments!