By: Jason Henry Evans
Right now you’re probably asking yourself, how can I add diversity to my story? It is my hope that by the end you’ll be asking, how did I write without it? However, I have a sneaking suspicion that you might have another question that needs answering first.
Why do I have to shoehorn characters in that I never envisioned in the first place? Why is there suddenly another writing skill I am required to master before I can pitch or sell my or publish my novel? Why must I include one more layer on top of everything else?
Look, I get it. But think about writing diversity like you would about learning about how to write a novel. When I published my debut novel, not only did I have polish my basic grammar, I also had to learn pacing, theme, foreshadowing, character arcs, and a dozen other skills. But listen, I learned all those skills—and so did you. One more won’t kill you.
Why Write Diverse Characters?
1.) First of all, none of this is sudden. These issues have always been here. Octavia Butler, a Hugo Award winning science fiction writer, wrote “Why is Science Fiction so White?” back in 1980. You can read it here.
There have always been diverse people trying to write and get published. All they have ever wanted was to be seen in fiction.
2.) As more people are drawn into the reading public, the more diverse that public becomes. That public will want to see themselves in the literature they read. If you choose not write more complex stories with more diverse characters then you are potentially missing an entire market of readers because of the narrowness of your story. In today’s world when traditional marketing is dying and its getting even harder to get noticed, don’t walk away from potential customers.
3.) Writing with an eye towards diversity will make you a better writer. Take a standard historic adventure story set in the 17th century. You’ve got pirates and the British fleet after those pirates. Ok, sounds cool, right? Now add a Japanese samurai into the story. He’s in Mexico working as a body guard. (They were there, I’ve checked.) Now have that samurai interact with the British sailors as he desperately tries to get them to go after the pirates who’ve kidnapped a Mexicana noble woman whom the samurai was guarding. This ally of your protagonist is now a loose cannon. See? Diversity has created more conflict and more tension. The samurai is honor bound to rescue his employer, even if it means he does something drastic. Failure means he must commit seppuku—ritual suicide. The samurai’s presence has ratcheted up the tension, the conflict and the stakes. Diversity helps you write better fiction.
4.) Literature has the potential to change who we are and change the trajectory of our lives. One of the reasons we are all drawn to story is because it has the capacity move us and change how we think about things. I’ll be honest when I say I am the man I am today because I read Marvel Comics as a kid. I wanted to be Captain America and do the right thing. I wanted to be as brave and as stubborn as Benjamin Grimm, the Thing, from the Fantastic Four.
Your story has the chance to do that for someone. If you’ve got an Amazon Prime Account, go watch Love Between the Covers, a documentary about romance writing. Watch it and try not to be moved by the gay romance author Raddclyff and how profound her writing has been to her fans. A group that rarely saw themselves in literature just thirty years ago.
Right now there might be a black girl, a gay Chinese boy, or a kid with Asperger who desperately needs to see themselves in your story. They need to see themselves as the leader, the expert with the answers, or the hero.
Diversity in Media
I grew up in the 1980s. I am African-American. While Bill Cosby is clearly problematic and deserves the punishment for his crimes, I wonder how many black men went to a historically black college because of the Cosby Show? How many decided to go to medical school because of that show? Representation matters. It can not only change lives, it can save them.
5.) Diversity in fiction will help you compete in the market place. Let’s get serious for a moment, shall we? Here is a look of the television networks that existed in 1985:
Here is the number of television networks that existed in the spring of 2019:
Of course, this is only a fraction of the networks now broadcasting television contents. The market has diversified. It has Balkanized. Stories don’t have to have mass appeal in order to sell, anymore.
Capture a Portion of the Market
What stories have to do is be unique enough to capture a portion of the market. That Y.A. novel about the captain of the football team who falls in love with the prettiest cheerleader, in a suburban, middle class setting where there is little to no diversity, is a tired story. It has been done over and over again. It won’t sell.
But what if the cheerleader was a lesbian and the story arc was about the QB learning to be friends with the cheerleader and respecting her orientation, her choices, and her eventual friendship?
What if the QB was transgendered, but nobody knew? The tension of keeping up the pretense for his teammates, while pursuing the cheerleader would be intense! The point is society is diverse and our stories need to be diverse, as well. The market that traditional stories were designed for has changed. The market wants diversity. If you won’t get on the party bus, the party bus will leave you behind.
I hope to see you on the bus!
Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer; he just didn’t know it. After attending college and working in education, Jason’s life changed when he fell in love with the Fetching Mrs. Evans. After over a decade as a teacher in public and private schools, he discovered the wonderful writing community in Colorado, where he still lives. Jason is an educator, and a historian (as well as a bon vivant,) who is active in the Colorado writing community as a teacher and speaker. Visit Jason’s website for more about Jason and his publication.