Why There Isn't Much Diversity In My Books (so far)...and How I'm Going To Change

March 10, 2021 maddoctorartist 0 Comments

 

In the last few decades, the issue about diversity in fiction has become more and more prominent. What's diversity, you ask? Well (and this isn't a formal definition), it's about including a broader variety of characters in stories, highlighting the trend that characters tend to be of the dominant or 'default' class (typically white straight male), even in non real-world settings. It also includes the fact that most creators who aren't white or male get overlooked in big projects, which perpetuates the above 'defaults' and doesn't give a true voice to these other groups.

Having characters of colour, characters on the LGBT+ spectrum or even just more women in prominent roles is more reflective of populations in the real world and can shed light onto stories or perspectives which wouldn't otherwise be given a voice. I for one have definitely become tired of the common tropes in fiction and repetition of the same ideas, and this could be a way to open up a world of intriguing possibility.

Alas, even as an author of colour myself, I have a confession to make. It's only been recently that I've noticed in my own work, I've fallen into the 'default' trap. My first trilogy, the Chronicles of Azaria: The Goddess Saga, features predominantly white characters, with very little in the way of other cultures or representation. While I have better representation planned for future books, it's still something that has come to bother me.

Now you could argue why should this matter- the setting is in a made up fantasy world, so the race of the characters should be irrelevant. The story is also much more character focused, so it's difficult to include other diverse elements that are directly relevant, compared to a big expansive epic. And arguably it's worse to shove in 'forced diversity' for the sake of it, rather than making it an organic part of the story.

The character cards for the upcoming books won't look quite so homogenous!

While there is some truth to these arguments, they are not excuses, and being made aware of diversity issues is still important. Not only does it allow other minorities to feel seen and represented (though of course in fantasy settings this isn't directly comparable), it also refreshes the tired old tropes that many, especially me, have become so bored with. With this in mind, I have revamped other settings in my Azaria world, which will play a larger role in the upcoming stories for the series.

The new regions, Bayaan and Nydis, will feature prominently in future Azaria books, and is based off North India/ Nepal

Thus the main reason for writing this post is firstly, to raise awareness, but secondly, to be aware of biases you may not even know you have, even as someone from a minority background. Even though I'm not white, my main characters still defaulted to this, so anyone can perpetuate the trend without realising it. It's only by taking a step back and thinking 'why is this character this way' can you think more broadly and ambitiously. Nonetheless, I am also not for the trend of forcing in diversity which makes it come off as a 'checklist of things to include' and not be woven into the story properly. I've read a few books like this, which only include superficial Western interpretations, and it really does come off as lazy.

Then comes the issue of 'who should be writing this'? There are many who tout that only others of a certain race or indigenous group should be writing about themselves, but I think this needs a more nuanced argument. While we don't want to go down the old colonialism route of 'those Orientals' and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, it's also too restrictive to ban all writers with an interest in other cultures from doing so. The key here is research, talking to and getting viewpoints from people in said culture, and then writing about it sensitively and respectfully.


The main cast of the series features Sokka and Katara (based off Inuit culture) and Aang (based off Tibetan monks)

A great example of this I think is the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series. The world is based off Eastern cultures, and so while it's not a direct representation and there is some mixing of elements, each nation or group are depicted well and respectfully, despite being entirely written by two white men. Each culture also isn't conglomerated together into 'The East'. The story and world building and characters, while not perfect, are masterfully done, and it does show that a lot of thought and research went into even seemingly minor details.

On the other hand, the creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino could have done more to promote creators of the backgrounds within their stories, as there is a bias in the industry. Who's to say that a creator who was a part of the depicted cultures was overlooked for a similar story?

Similar could be said for Disney's Moana- while the depiction of the culture was cetainly a lot more respectful than previous films such as Pocahontas, and there was direct consultation of the ethnic group involved, it still wasn't written by indigenous creators. To some this may seem overly nitpicky, where to others this is a key to the heart of the diversity issues that need to be recognised and addressed.

It's therefore quite difficult to acknowledge internal biases that have built up over time, let alone address them, but having seen the problem in my work, it has really opened my eyes of the simple steps that can be taken to start to improve representation in my own fiction.

So, to sum up:

1. Consider including a wider range of people as characters from different racial groups or other backgrounds, even if not using a real-world setting

2. If you are not a member of said group, talk to people who are and do further research to avoid harmful stereotypes. Also ask what kind of story you are wanting to tell, and if you are simply using the other culture as 'set dressing'.

3. Don't shoe-horn diversity in to get 'brownie points', make it an integral part of the story and its development, which is why thinking about it early is key


I'm looking forward to implement these changes in my future books, and I hope you'll enjoy what it creates!

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