Wednesday, February 13, 2019

There is No Such Thing as Forced Diversity

I've written fairly often about what people would term "social justice" issues in fiction. From Asexual Awareness in Fiction, to What Would A Woman Do?, or even my fairly recent post from late last year Avoid Back-Handed Inclusion in Your Book, I've had a lot to say about representation in fiction. While a lot of the response has been positive, there has been one, consistent complaint used as a push-back whenever I (or someone else) talks about these topics. A line of reasoning that those embracing it seem to feel is the perfect counter-thrust to completely derail the conversation.

They simply say that they are all about diversity, but that "forced diversity" can ruin a book.

I don't know if you realize it, but those words are literally meaningless together.
I'm not the first person to say this, but I am going to re-affirm what other folks have said. There's no such thing as forced diversity. No one is forcing you to do anything. Either make your book more diverse, or don't. But if you choose not to, don't pretend it has something to do with a purer expression of your craft when it's just that you can't be bothered to swap up the color and gender palette.

Diversity And Representation Are Marketing Concerns

If your book has an all-white, all-heterosexual cast, that isn't going to stop it from selling. Those kinds of books have been selling for literal centuries with no problems. Also, this cannot be overstated, no one is going to make you change that roster. There isn't some kind of quota at publishers that say you have to have X number of black characters, Y number of strong female characters, and Z number of trans or genderqueer characters. Readers don't keep those checklists, either. It isn't going to be held against you.

However, it's not going to earn you any points, either.

This is the point where we talk about numbers.
You know that point I made above about how all-white, heteronormative casts have been the norm in books for literal centuries? Given that there are thousands of other books out there who made the same casting decision, how is yours going to stand out?

Because, and this is a little-known fact that some folks seem to miss, if you include an under-served group in your cast then members of said community are a lot more likely to actually check out your book. Why? Because getting the chance to see yourself in a work of fiction, and to have the issues you struggle with represented on the page, the screen, etc. is a huge selling point. And the more underserved a demographic is, the less competition you'll have in that area.

So, if you wanted to take a purely capitalist approach to things, then yes having a prominent trans character in your main cast would immediately put your story on some people's radars. From asexual strippers who hunt vampires, to a burly black cop comfortable in his gay sexuality hunting down serial killers, you would raise eyebrows, and get people to pay attention. Even if these characters aren't your main lead, just having them featured as part of the major cast of characters will generate buzz.

They're Story Concerns, Too

If you're one of those writers who just wants to be realistic in their casting (assuming you write fiction set in the real world), then you should also be interested in having a more diverse cast... because that's the world we live in! That isn't a new fact, either; people of all skin tones, a wide variety of sexualities, and all kinds of genders have existed in different cultures all over the planet without regard to where lines are drawn on modern maps for most of recorded history. From gay friars who were happily devoted to one another in medieval England, to Japanese mercenaries fighting the Dutch in the 1600s, our real-world history was a pretty diverse place.

But we're not even on Earth!
And if your story is set in a fantasy or sci-fi world that has no bearing on our Earth? Well, let me ask you this... does your story have humans in it? Because if it does, and they're supposed to be humans we can identify with, then you can only improve your setting by adding more options to it. Because it might seem easier to make fantasy or alien races a stand-in for a certain religion, ethnicity, sexuality, etc., but it just makes more sense to be genuinely diverse in your casting.

Again, remember, no one is forcing you to do this. If you think it's just easier to leave Buck Manwell, Space Force Captain and rugged, womanizing adventurer exactly the way he is, it's your book. You can do, or not do, whatever you want with it. And if you're just writing that book for your own pleasure, then that's fine... but if you're writing that book with the intent to sell copies, build an audience, and increase your professional reach, then diversifying your cast just makes sense.

Not only that, but it's a fairly easy habit to get into. Just look around, and ask why you've made certain characters in your cast the "default" setting. Then change them, and see what happens. You might be surprised at the results you get.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment! Hopefully it got the wheels turning for some folks. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

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