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Can diversity be "forced" in fantasy literature?

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Most of us here presumably would welcome more diversity into the fantasy genre with regards to characters and settings. But do you believe there can be "forced" or "too much" diversity in a fantasy story? As in, do you think there can be so much diversity in a fantasy story that it stretches credibility for you?

 

Personally, given the "anything goes" nature of fantasy, I find the idea of a diversity "tipping point" rather disagreeable. I believe one can set up their fantasy world however they want as long as their world-building is consistent. However, I've noticed some people get ticked off if they see characters of a certain race in a time and place (or a fantasy world based on such) where that race is not indigenous. Below are a couple of examples I've observed.

 

1) Way back when the Eragon books were still topical, I saw critics complaining about the presence of two African characters in a world otherwise styled after medieval Europe. These critics felt that, if African people would be present at all in medieval Europe, they wouldn't be simply accepted by the local society the way these two characters were.

 

2) More recently, a good Facebook friend of mine objected to an Afro-British guy being cast as Achilles in this BBC television show about the mythical Trojan War. He felt it was nothing more than an example of pandering to diversity activists. Elsewhere on the Internet, I saw people saying that, instead of portraying the Greek Achilles as African, the show should have given prominence to an actual African character in the Iliad mythos named Memnon.

 

Of course, there have always been individuals getting around throughout world history. There is a record of an African guy serving as a samurai under Oda Nobunaga, for example. And, of course, it's been a long-established trope in fantasy as well (e.g. Conan the Cimmerian's adventures in the Hyborian-era progenitors of Africa and Asia). However, I will admit that if you want to plop a character from one nationality into a very faraway part of the world, you might have to explain both their means and motivation for getting there in the first place.

 

What do you guys think? Is there a point when diversity in fantasy or other fiction might exceed its plausibility within the world?

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I roll my eyes at just about every argument against having more characters who aren't white straight men. These are different worlds with different rules. You can't just import the rules of our world when arguing about what's realistic. Like the argument you mentioned about Eragon. It needs to be about the world that was presented to us. Is it necessarily one that would discriminate based on race? It's possible that there's a history that would lead to them having different attitudes about that.

 

The arguments tend to be based on a very cynical view of humanity that I don't share, one that expects people to hate more often than not. I do agree that we have a natural tendency to categorize people on whether they're in our group or not, but there's no reason to assume that would manifest the same way in every society.

 

I also don't really get the whole "forced" thing. Isn't everything we decide to put in technically forced there by us? That attitude also assumes that having characters that aren't in majority groups doesn't happen naturally, that you have to consciously decide to put them in, more so than with other characters. But that's not how it works for me. Most characters I create start as some kind of queer brown woman. For whatever reason, that's become my default and I have to decide if I'm going to change from that. If anything, it's anyone other than that that I would be "forcing" into the story.

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I do have to admit that whenever a character stands out by their race or sexuality, I often expect it to have relevance to the story, whether by having an impact on the plot, on another character or by creating some sort of conflict because of the uncommon trait.

...which only proves that we definitely need more diversity in literature. I've never read a story and thought "Oh, that character has red hair, red-heads are not that common, that character's hair color must be relevant to the story in some way." Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Yet, I often think the very same thing when it comes to skin color or sexuality.

 

1) Way back when the Eragon books were still topical, I saw critics complaining about the presence of two African characters in a world otherwise styled after medieval Europe. These critics felt that, if African people would be present at all in medieval Europe, they wouldn't be simply accepted by the local society the way these two characters were.

As soon as you throw fantasy races into the mix, the differences between human races get smaller. Even if someone argued that humans are racist by nature - their racism would be directed towards the fantasy races, and not towards humans with different skin color. Of course those two characters would have been accepted, they were humans after all.

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Most characters I create start as some kind of queer brown woman. For whatever reason, that's become my default and I have to decide if I'm going to change from that. If anything, it's anyone other than that that I would be "forcing" into the story.

I've gotten flack in the past for having African characters so often in my stories. One critic said it made me a "one-trick pony". And it always seems to be the people of European descent who have a beef with this. I think that reveals a lot more about them than it does me.

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People complain about non-white characters in supposedly white-majority settings as if travelling wasn't the very first things humans did. I mean, boats as a concept are old as anything, having to justify an Asian character being in a Scandinavian setting or a Black person in ancient Greece (despite the fact that Greek countries were known to trade with African ones) barely even needs justifying.

 

It also seems that the people who complain about things like this are always the first people to defend a white person being cast as a samurai or as a main character in a Chinese story. They'd probably also be the type of people to complain if a show about Alexander the Great made him bisexual because "history wasn't gay".

 

Diversity can't be forced because history is diverse.

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Diversity can't be forced because history is diverse.

 

Exactly.

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From the majority of arguments I have read that claim, "history isn't as diverse as a fantasy world would be", seem to stem from ignorance of actual world history. While it's not my place to say everyone should learn world history, I think it's fair to point out one should fact check a historical claim or statement before deciding to argue said claim or statement.

 

These are different worlds with different rules. You can't just import the rules of our world when arguing about what's realistic.

 

Agreed. A fantasy world has its own realism. Whether or not real-life should even be applicable is another story.

 

More recently, a good Facebook friend of mine objected to an Afro-British guy being cast as Achilles in this BBC television show about the mythical Trojan War. He felt it was nothing more than an example of pandering to diversity activists. Elsewhere on the Internet, I saw people saying that, instead of portraying the Greek Achilles as African, the show should have given prominence to an actual African character in the Iliad mythos named Memnon.

 

I agree with your friend and those who say Memnon, an actual African character in the Iliad, should have been given more prominence if the producers of the show (which I have watched) wanted to represent the African community. Simply combining a POC character with a non-POC character does a disservice to both characters. Memnon is simply pushed to the side and Achilles is seen as either a pander to diversity activists or an insult to the original character. My two cents.

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Forced? Yes, if someone is writing for the purpose of hitting diversity checkboxes and has no idea what they are doing. Characters of races other than the authors could be written without sensitivity. But as everyone else has noted, history is diverse and humans range far and wide and if the author respects that history then it isn't forced to include other races.

 

If anything fantasy should be MORE diverse, you have the freedom to do anything with the worlds you create. So why does everyone have to be straight and white?

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I believe that yes diversity can be forced.

 

The question is often raised as "Why can't there be people of diverse racial heritage/appearance in fantasy stories?", but surely an equally important question is "Why does there have to be?"

 

Why is it a flaw in writing or drama that a character is any colour? If it's not relevant to the story why bother one way or another? Moreover, the minute you start to focus on race or gender or ethnicity, you automatically risk offending a minority group.

 

If I decide to make my story more diverse and put a non-white character into my story then I risk being criticised for keeping him in a minor role - why wasn't he in a more prominent role? Aren't I just implying that his race is inferior, since the hero is white?

 

If I make him the villain, an equal to the hero, then the question becomes - aren't you implying that people of colour are morally inferior? Aren't you implying that all people of colour are somehow evil?

 

If I make him the hero outright then the question becomes - what about cultural appropriation? Isn't it morally wrong for you, as a white author, to imagine that you have the right or understanding to write about a protagonist of colour?

 

And why isn't he a woman, or gay, or transgender? And if they are all these things, how dare you as a CIS, white, heteronormative male write these things as if you understand them, thereby disempowering and denying agency to those people?

 

Forced diversity and diversity in general are highly problematic ideals. Rather take the author as an honest actor and allow them to write the story they want to write. If it speaks to you, then author's work has more worth. Humans are better when they remember what they share in common rather than fixating on the boundaries we can draw to separate ourselves from each other.

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Ok, let's break this down.

 

The question is often raised as "Why can't there be people of diverse racial heritage/appearance in fantasy stories?", but surely an equally important question is "Why does there have to be?"

 

There are people of diverse racial heritage/appearance everywhere in the real world and they want to see themselves in fantasy literature, too. Anywhere you go on the internet, you'll find people talking about representation, and how important it is that people of non-white ethnicities can see themselves in their heroes. I didn't understand this at first, until I met a character who was a neuroatypical female artist who got to kick butt and be in love even with a mental illness. She was me, and I loved her, and I suddenly realized that something had been missing from my reading experiences. I see white, cishet women in fiction all the time, but seeing this one character who shared something with me that I'd never seen before was something special. How do you think it feels for say, a black neuroatypical bisexual woman to see herself in a fantasy story? Three things that it's hard enough to find separate, all together? I don't know, but from my own experience, I'd wager it feels absolutely amazing.

 

 

Why is it a flaw in writing or drama that a character is any colour? If it's not relevant to the story why bother one way or another? Moreover, the minute you start to focus on race or gender or ethnicity, you automatically risk offending a minority group.

 

If it's not relevant to the story, why bother one way or another? Your argument cuts both ways. If it doesn't matter, why not make your characters every race and ethnicity imaginable?

 

The moment you start to focus on race or gender or ethnicity, you do run the risk of offending a minority group. But if you've done your research that risk is slim and none. Find out how Chinese people, or people of the African diaspora, or Jewish people, or women, or nonbinary people want to be represented and pay attention to that in your writing. You'll find the risk of offense goes way down.

 

For that matter, in a fantasy world with zero connections to our world, there's probably no such thing as China or Judaism, unless you've coded a culture to correspond to a real-world culture. Which eliminates half your problems. You don't have to worry about portraying Chinese culture respectfully; you just have to worry about respectfully describing your character who looks like they could be Chinese, and making sure you don't fall into any major stereotypes.

 

If I decide to make my story more diverse and put a non-white character into my story then I risk being criticised for keeping him in a minor role - why wasn't he in a more prominent role? Aren't I just implying that his race is inferior, since the hero is white?

 

If I make him the villain, an equal to the hero, then the question becomes - aren't you implying that people of colour are morally inferior? Aren't you implying that all people of colour are somehow evil?

 

One: you will run into these problems if you're engaging in tokenism. If you have one character who is a person of color, they have to speak for their entire race. So if they're a minor character, or a villain, then yes, you will get complaints along the lines of what you've described, and rightly so. Don't put token minorities in your stories; fill your stories with minority characters.

 

Two: you will run into these problems if every important good character in your story is white. You can fill your supporting cast with POC characters, but if they exist as satellites to a white dude, you have a problem. Why can't major characters be people of color? Why can't you write a POC love interest with their own character and character arc who takes names and kicks butt and rescues the hero as often as they get rescued? Why can't the hero be a person of color?

 

If I make him the hero outright then the question becomes - what about cultural appropriation? Isn't it morally wrong for you, as a white author, to imagine that you have the right or understanding to write about a protagonist of colour?

 

Yes, some people will say that under no circumstances should white authors right POC protagonists. A whole lot of other people will say that white authors should definitely write POC protagonists as long as they do it respectfully. Just because your protagonist is a person of color doesn't mean your story has to be about racism or being a person of color. In fact, I've seen people say they want stories where POC can just do their thing without worrying about racism. White authors can't write about experiencing racism or the experience of being a racial minority. They can write about characters who are racial minorities.

 

Second, cultural appropriation involves (from what I understand) either misusing/misrepresenting parts of a culture not your own, taking those pieces out of context, or, as a member of a dominant cultural group, claiming part of a culture that the original owners were forbidden to practice. Simply writing a POC protagonist (especially in a world that's been entirely divorced from real world cultures) is not cultural appropriation, unless you break the rules listed above.

 

And why isn't he a woman, or gay, or transgender? And if they are all these things, how dare you as a CIS, white, heteronormative male write these things as if you understand them, thereby disempowering and denying agency to those people?

 

Are you writing about a woman, or the experience of being a woman? Are you writing about a LGBTQ+ protagonist, or about the experience of being LGBTQ+? Are you writing about a transgender person, or about the experience of being transgender? Because yes, you as a cishet white male can write about women, and LGBTQ+ folks, and transgender individuals. They're people. They have personalities, dreams, goals, likes, loves, and everything else, just like cishet white men. If you understand those things, you can write a woman, or a bisexual man, or a transgender individual (providing you've done your research on tropes and preferences).

 

No, you can't write about the experience of being a woman, or bisexual, or transgender. But you don't have to do that in order to write a character that is any of those things. Write about the character, not what groups they belong to.

 

As a side note, OwnVoices are absolutely important. Women and LGBTQ+ folks should definitely be able to tell their own stories, and write about their own experiences. That doesn't stop you from telling a story with them in it.

 

Forced diversity and diversity in general are highly problematic ideals. Rather take the author as an honest actor and allow them to write the story they want to write. If it speaks to you, then author's work has more worth. Humans are better when they remember what they share in common rather than fixating on the boundaries we can draw to separate ourselves from each other.

 

"If it speaks to you, then the author's work has more worth." Stories speak to people when they see themselves in them and empathize with the characters and their feelings and choices. So a diverse story (well-done) is more likely to speak to people than a non-diverse story.

 

I do agree with your last sentence. Humans are better when we focus on our commonalities, not our differences. But your entire post has been focusing on the boundaries we draw to separate ourselves from each other and why you as an author shouldn't be required to try to cross those boundaries. Now you argue that readers who are POC, or women, or LGBTQ+ should be required to cross those boundaries in order to see themselves in white cishet male protagonists. No. The author creates the imaginary world and the characters and stories within it. The burden is on the author to meet the audience where they are, or at least meet them halfway.

 

Note: I am a neuroatypical, white, cishet female. I'm writing from my personal experiences and my research on the internet. I strongly recommend this website (http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/Navigation2) for further research on diversity from the perspective of non-white individuals. Most of what I've said here was inspired by reading done on that blog. It is an invaluable resource for writing diversity.

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You know what? I change my answer to the question to "yes". When a writer conceives all of their characters as white, straight, etc and really doesn't want to change that or understand why people might want them to then it will be forced if they try. I'm not all that interested in making that happen.

 

What I've realized is the thing that bothers me is when these people look at writers who do want to make their writing more diverse and assume they're just forcing it out of a sense of obligation and try to talk them out of it. Or when they make specious arguments about "realism", but we've covered that.

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I pretty much agree with mathgnome[/member]'s response. I'll add that avoiding any form of criticism of your work will be next to impossible no matter how you handle the diversity theme. Writing only straight white dudes isn't necessarily a safer option than writing characters outside that demographic intersection. Even if you succeed in writing well-rounded diverse characters, you'll still get trolled by, say, alt-righters who think any diversity in literature or entertainment media is "cultural Marxism".

 

Point being, there's no use in trying to please everyone out there.

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How do you think it feels for say, a black neuroatypical bisexual woman to see herself in a fantasy story? Three things that it's hard enough to find separate, all together? I don't know, but from my own experience, I'd wager it feels absolutely amazing.

 

Haven't got a clue - which is my point. Why do you think an author should have to know this before they're allowed to tell the story they want to tell? And is your experience as a black, neuroatypical bisexual woman the same as another person's experience of those same categories? Are all black, neuroatypical, bisexual women the same as each other. What if I befriend you and faithfully base my character upon you and then find that I've offended another woman with all the same categories but whose experience of life is different? People aren't categories and identity is not a collection of categories.

 

I'm not an Ancient Greek who became a king, but that doesn't mean I can't understand the point or the value of a play like Oedipus.

 

If it's not relevant to the story, why bother one way or another? Your argument cuts both ways. If it doesn't matter, why not make your characters every race and ethnicity imaginable?

 

I know my argument cuts both ways; I was trying to point out that your argument also cuts both ways.  Because the minute I mention racial characteristics readers will start making assumptions - because the minute my story includes a person of colour, or a group of people of colour, then someone's looking to see how well or badly I do it - because if my story includes race to any degree I open it up to the entire gamut of racial issues. And at a time where new gender/sexuality approaches appear every year (LGBTQII+), sexuality is even more fraught than race as an issue.

 

Even advocates for every little distinction can't agree with each other.

 

Diversity is a myth - because the thing that truly makes us diverse, our individuality, is being ignored in favour of ticking boxes for race, sexuality, gender etc. We are not collections of categories.

 

I get that finding a character you can identify with is exhilarating. But I'm not about to tell authors to write something different, or that they have to tell different stories, just cause I don't like their work. You want to write about black neuroatypical bisexual women? Go for it. If you're writing is good and speaks to more than just your main character, then more than just your little corner of humanity will embrace it. If no one likes your writing but you, more power to you. Write what you love - leave the reader to get it at their own pace. Kafka never published a word in his life - his genius wasn't recognised until after his death. The novel Watership Down was a huge success, but it had to be submitted to publishers over a hundred times before it was accepted. Let the author write what they know and love and want to write - they must be loyal to themselves first.

 

And to all you people who want to force the author to change; who want the genre to fit them because it doesn't service their ideological bent; begone. You don't like the stories on offer? Tell your own. Can't find enough readers? Welcome to the club. This is writing - geniuses in this field have died never finding enough readers.

 

If the greatest criticism you can level against my story is not enough of the characters had the skin colour you want to see, then you aren't a reader I need. If my story can't reach past the superficial and the mere categories to touch you personally, then I have failed so badly that just changing the skin colour or gender preferences of my characters won't save it.

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Haven't got a clue - which is my point. Why do you think an author should have to know this before they're allowed to tell the story they want to tell?

 

My point (in that quote, at least) was about giving other people that exhilarating feeling of recognizing themselves in a story, not about having to understand every minute experience that they have.

 

Also, for the record, I am neither black nor bisexual. That was simply an example of intersecting marginalized identities that I was using.

 

because if my story includes race to any degree I open it up to the entire gamut of racial issues. And at a time where new gender/sexuality approaches appear every year (LGBTQII+), sexuality is even more fraught than race as an issue.

 

You can write what you want. Nobody is telling you that you can't. (see CorianderLeaves[/member] response above). But ignoring race/gender/sexuality isn't going to make the critics go away, if that's what you're worried about. It will probably make them worse, especially when people question the existence of a world where everyone is white.

 

Diversity is a myth - because the thing that truly makes us diverse, our individuality, is being ignored in favour of ticking boxes for race, sexuality, gender etc. We are not collections of categories.

 

Yes, our individuality makes us diverse. Interestingly enough, the groups that people belong to influence their individuality and identity. It's a not a question of ticking boxes; it's a question of what makes us individuals and yes, identities we assign ourselves and categories we identify with are a part of that.

 

And to all you people who want to force the author to change; who want the genre to fit them because it doesn't service their ideological bent; begone. You don't like the stories on offer? Tell your own. Can't find enough readers? Welcome to the club. This is writing - geniuses in this field have died never finding enough readers.

 

I believe we're all aware of the difficulties writers face. There's no reason to be condescending. Also, no one told you you had to change your story. No one told you you had to write diverse characters. I simply deconstructed the reasons I found your arguments faulty. You can take that or leave it.

 

This has nothing to do with changing the genre, or ideological bents. It's about human need and what people want to see in books.

 

f the greatest criticism you can level against my story is not enough of the characters had the skin colour you want to see, then you aren't a reader I need. If my story can't reach past the superficial and the mere categories to touch you personally, then I have failed so badly that just changing the skin colour or gender preferences of my characters won't save it.

 

Being touched by a story and being annoyed with the lack of diversity are not mutually exclusive. In fact, wishing for more diversity doesn't even mean being annoyed. It can just mean saying, "Wow, this book was great! But it would be even better if..." We've all had moments where we've enjoyed a book but had a few complaints. (Example: I deeply enjoyed the Powder Mage trilogy, but thought Taniel's powder addiction wasn't really addressed well. It didn't stop me from liking the books.)

 

I may not be the reader you want, but maybe people like me are the readers you need. Because writing is about understand people and their wants, needs, hopes, and dreams. All people. It's hard to write well if you can't do that.

 

 

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I simply deconstructed the reasons I found your arguments faulty. You can take that or leave it.

 

I may not be the reader you want, but maybe people like me are the readers you need. Because writing is about understand people and their wants, needs, hopes, and dreams. All people. It's hard to write well if you can't do that.

 

Now who's being condescending? :)

 

Your point seems to be, if I understand it, that lack of diversity, as currently defined by the score cards of race, gender, sexuality etc. is a flaw in writing. I claim it is not.

 

Poor characterisation, muddled themes, poor plot or storytelling - I believe these are flaws in writing. Not having enough of a certain group of characters is not a flaw.

 

My purpose in all this is to point to the possibility that the progressive attempt at inclusivity can slam the door in the face of the writer who doesn't have a progressive story to tell. Writing is tough enough without being told that there's too much whiteness and heterosexuality in your story.

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Your point seems to be, if I understand it, that lack of diversity, as currently defined by the score cards of race, gender, sexuality etc. is a flaw in writing. I claim it is not.

 

Poor characterisation, muddled themes, poor plot or storytelling - I believe these are flaws in writing. Not having enough of a certain group of characters is not a flaw.

 

My purpose in all this is to point to the possibility that the progressive attempt at inclusivity can slam the door in the face of the writer who doesn't have a progressive story to tell. Writing is tough enough without being told that there's too much whiteness and heterosexuality in your story.

I believe I created this thread not to chastise people who didn't include this or that demographic in their work. I was responding more to certain claims that people from certain groups didn't belong in certain stories or settings and that the presence of those characters in those stories or settings was necessarily "forced".

 

In other words, I wasn't reacting to authors who didn't make their worlds diverse. I was reacting more to complaints about authors that did make their worlds diverse. Funny how the discussion spun around, isn't it?

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The reason it's harmful to see book after book and movie after movie with only straight white cis men is because it sends the message that these are the only people in the world--or the only ones worth noting, anyways.

 

Maybe one or two of these books wouldn't hurt, but this is how history has gone. People have ALWAYS written their own stories, but if no one will publish your book because you are a woman, who will it affect? If you might get lynched for even picking up a quill, how can you spread your story? We have always been here. White men have historically refused and still usually refuse to hear us. Why do you think so many Egyptian statues have been defaced of their African noses? Why is it I go to computer classes and everyone thinks a man invented the very concept of computers when it was Ada Lovelace? Why do famous men get lauded for their genius when it was women and slaves taking care of the dishes, the children, the laundry, the book- and housekeeping so they literally had nothing else to do but write--even if those men stole words right from their wives' diary?

 

And why is the onus always on the historically oppressed to educate the historical oppressor, especially now when people are one google search away from educating themselves? When writers have access to sensitivity readers for their books?

 

If you have to "force" yourself to put diversity into your books, I would be concerned that you have to "force" yourself to see diversity in day-to-day life. Am I invisible to you because I have breasts? Would you rather your children die because you don't want them to get autism? Is being me so bad? Books--even fantasy--have a real impact on the world and how people see other people. How people treat other people. If you don't want me in your story because it's too much work, I don't want to read your story.

 

Maybe if we had more autistic heroes, people wouldn't see me as something to fix. Maybe if we had more autistic heroes, people would vaccinate their children and measles would still be extinct.

 

Let that sink in: People die from the things other people read.

 

Denying diversity is denying that people have suffered at the hands of others. It's pushing assimilation and trying to erase history. Denying diversity is denying the rich and wonderful complexity that comes from different cultures and experiences. Denying diversity denies us amazing and moving stories.

 

I'm tired of the narrative that there's there's only men. I'm tired of the narrative where no one has autism, anxiety, adhd, depression, ptsd, dyslexia, seizures, lameness, deafness, blindness, dumbness, etc. I'm tired of the narrative where everyone is one skin color. I'm tired of the narrative where there are no gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, transgenders, or otherwise queer folk.

 

That narrative is old. That narrative has been done over and over, and usually at the expense of the original characters. A black man replacing a white man in a historic retelling is not a problem because white men are not oppressed and never have been. How many times have white men erased the role of black men or other minority men? (Cowboys were mostly hispanic gay men.) How many times has a man replaced a woman in history? (Ada Lovelace, Sophia Tolstaya (wife to Tolstoy), Zelda Fitzgerald, the women who sent us to space.) How many times has a white cis character replaced a not-white trans character? (It almost just happened with Scarlett Johansson.)

 

I'm tired of the narrative that, if women are involved, they're boobs and love interests. I'm tired of the narrative that I have no common sense or thought of my own because I have a vagina. I'm tired of the narrative that the token Black dies first. I'm tired of the narrative that foreign women are 'exotic' and otherwise sexualizing women.

 

Finally, why is it easier to write elvish than black characters?

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ADMIN NOTE:

 

Okay, so I have read through the responses in this thread. We are going to keep this thread open, but we will be keeping an eye on the responses, and would ask that everyone please keep their tones in mind when responding to each other.

 

If this thread gets out of line, we will not hesitate to lock it. Thank you.

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For me, I don't like things that feel forced. Like I might be reading a novel and it's made really clear that a character is black/gay/transgender/female etc. but it actually has zero relevance to the plot - it's like the author threw it in there to prove that they are so open-minded or to try and appeal to a wider audience, when actually it's just lazy writing.

 

It kind of makes me think about Harry Potter and the whole 'Dumbledore was gay' thing. I can honestly say that while reading the series, Dumbledore's sexuality never even crossed my mind. It has no relevance to the character or the plot in any way... so why come out with it after the books are already published? I suspect because she was criticised for only writing straight characters so she threw that out there to try and prove something. I never thought she was a great writer, but I lost a bit of respect for her after that.

 

In my world, personally, the majority of humans are fair-skinned. The majority of people in power are male; with women taking a more submissive role. That's how my world ended up and I won't apologise for that. However, half of my main characters are non-human and several do have various degrees of mental health issues. One character is autistic. One is basically a psychopath. Another has PTSD and psychotic episodes. As far as sexuality goes - I have characters who are straight, gay, one who is pansexual, and two asexuals. None of these things were forced, they were developed as part of the characters... I never sat down and thought 'I'm autistic, so I am going to write an autistic character'. He just developed that way. All of my characters developed as their own people.

 

I could throw a black character into the mix, or add more female characters, or whatever. But if I did, it wouldn't add anything to my story, it would be in there solely to please those who would criticise. And I just don't believe in doing that. That's just my way. 

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I think there are two questions people are answering here - "Can diversity be forced" and "Should diversity be forced".

 

Can it be forced? Yes, when a writer includes characters they otherwise wouldn't to avoid criticism or to please certain groups.

 

Should diversity be forced? This requires a bit more nuance.

Should an author be forced to include a wider variety of characters that aren't straight or white? No, because they will probably botch it if it is coming from a disingenuous place.

 

Should all writers try to include diversity on their own? Abso-freaking-lutely. There is not a single population group on this planet, from cities to the smallest village, where everyone is 100% straight or white. They may not express openly what the identify as, but the truth is there is a whole lot more out there in the world. Don't be afraid to include them. Will you open yourself up to criticism? Yes. Is this a bad thing? No, you can learn from those criticisms, develop a more nuanced view of other groups, become a better writer.

 

Should you avoid criticism altogether by sticking to what you know, and writing solely white, straight characters? Well you could, but you could be missing out on a wider audience, miss out on fans who can't see a reflection of themselves in your work. 

 

My purpose in all this is to point to the possibility that the progressive attempt at inclusivity can slam the door in the face of the writer who doesn't have a progressive story to tell.

Honestly my knee-jerk reaction to this is - Good. That door closing can make room for more diverse voices. Don't get me wrong, Keep writing what you love and what you know. If you loved it I am sure you can find an audience that loves it too. But times are a changin'. There is only so much room at the top (of the publishing list) and it may be time for the voice of the majority to share the spotlight.

 

Like I might be reading a novel and it's made really clear that a character is black/gay/transgender/female etc. but it actually has zero relevance to the plot - it's like the author threw it in there to prove that they are so open-minded or to try and appeal to a wider audience, when actually it's just lazy writing.

A person's whiteness often doesn't have relevance to the plot. Why require for a black character's presence to be justified when you don't require the same of white characters?

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Like I might be reading a novel and it's made really clear that a character is black/gay/transgender/female etc. but it actually has zero relevance to the plot - it's like the author threw it in there to prove that they are so open-minded or to try and appeal to a wider audience, when actually it's just lazy writing.

A person's whiteness often doesn't have relevance to the plot. Why require for a black character's presence to be justified when you don't require the same of white characters?

 

You misunderstand. It's not that it has to be justified, it's when it is made a big deal of for absolutely no reason. I mean, why even mention race if it's not relevant? I have read quite a lot of books and stories where a character's skin colour is *never* specified - because in those stories it just didn't matter!

 

Edit: To try to give an example of what I mean, it would be like me picking up a novel and there's a couple of pages where an autistic character is introduced - "Hey, this is Joe and he's autistic" - and then Joe just sits there doing nothing or disappears for the rest of the novel... the autism isn't explored, it isn't relevant to the plot in any way. He is literally just in there so the author can pat themselves on the back for putting a 'different' character in their book. What's the point?

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You misunderstand. It's not that it has to be justified, it's when it is made a big deal of for absolutely no reason. I mean, why even mention race if it's not relevant? I have read quite a lot of books and stories where a character's skin colour is *never* specified - because in those stories it just didn't matter!

 

Okay I understand where you are coming from. If no race is mentioned but one characters race is brought to the reader's attention with no plot relevance than that can definitely feel jarring and forced. My response was in reaction to those stories where whiteness is the assumed default and where anyone who isn't white has to have a purpose instead of just being allowed to exist.

 

So far in my writing I've been avoiding mentioning skin colour for the moooost part. I'll mention hair or eye colour but leave skin up to the imagination. I have mixed feelings about this, part of me feels like its a cop-out to avoid criticism (or even discussion), but most of me feels like it is a valid strategy. I don't know...

 

 

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Okay I understand where you are coming from. If no race is mentioned but one characters race is brought to the reader's attention with no plot relevance than that can definitely feel jarring and forced. My response was in reaction to those stories where whiteness is the assumed default and where anyone who isn't white has to have a purpose instead of just being allowed to exist.

 

That's exactly what I was getting at. I was reading a crime novel a few weeks ago and one of the main characters was black... and we literally were told about 5 times in the first chapter that he was a muscular black man and then it was never mentioned again. None of the other characters got that level of description, (although it was implied that most of them were white) but it just came across as very forced. Like the writer was jumping up and down screaming "LOOK! I'm not racist because I have a black character in my novel! GO ME!" It could be a personal thing but it just doesn't feel right to me. 

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So far in my writing I've been avoiding mentioning skin colour for the moooost part. I'll mention hair or eye colour but leave skin up to the imagination. I have mixed feelings about this, part of me feels like its a cop-out to avoid criticism (or even discussion), but most of me feels like it is a valid strategy. I don't know...

I'm the opposite. When introducing my characters, I always try to point out their skin color or other "racial" signifiers (e.g. hair texture or facial features). And honestly, I see the attitude that these traits should never be mentioned at all as the sort of "colorblind" mentality that tries to sweep racial issues under the rug. There's no persuasive reason skin color or hair texture should be more impolite to describe than hair or eye color. Certain descriptors can be potentially insulting, but there are plenty of harmless alternatives to these.

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That's exactly what I was getting at. I was reading a crime novel a few weeks ago and one of the main characters was black... and we literally were told about 5 times in the first chapter that he was a muscular black man and then it was never mentioned again. None of the other characters got that level of description, (although it was implied that most of them were white) but it just came across as very forced. Like the writer was jumping up and down screaming "LOOK! I'm not racist because I have a black character in my novel! GO ME!" It could be a personal thing but it just doesn't feel right to me. 

 

I think what we can gather from this, and from other responses earlier in the thread, that whatever approach we take to race should be balanced and consistent. If you point out someone's darker skin, make sure your fairer characters get the same treatment. Don't single out a race or orientation over the others unless it has plot relevance.

 

I'm the opposite. I point out my characters' skin color or other "racial" signifiers (e.g. hair texture or facial features) whenever possible. And honestly, I see the attitude that these traits should never be mentioned at all as the sort of "colorblind" mentality that tries to sweep racial issues under the rug. There's no persuasive reason skin color or hair texture should be more impolite to describe than hair or eye color. Certain descriptors can be potentially insulting, but there are plenty of harmless alternatives to these.

That is a good point, and why my feelings are so mixed. I absolutely don't want to sweep the racial issues under a rug. On the other hand, I don't have reasons for people to be a particular race, but on the other other hand, why can't I just pick a colour and go with it, but on my third hand....I flip back and forth.

 

And while it SHOULDN'T be impolite it does end up a charged subject much more than eye colour does (See: This Thread). Its like that blue curtain thing, how much does an author's intent play into the interpretations of their work? I don't intend to be colourblind, but my readers might see it otherwise. Which is a whole ball of wax. And there is my own whiteness and place of financial and social privilege, I might be able to even see the issues from my social vantage point. I absolutely understand the frustration that comes from trying to navigate this subject. We can't please everyone, we WON'T please everyone. We can only try our best.

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