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Diversity in Fiction: What It Is, Why It Is Important, & How to Write Diverse Characters

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

In today’s world, it’s more important than ever to recognize and celebrate the diversity of human experiences and identities. In literature, this means writing diverse characters and stories that reflect the reality of the world we live in. As a writer, it’s essential to consider how your work can promote understanding, empathy, and social justice, and be mindful of the potential impact it can have on readers.


Diversity is more than just race. Your book could include diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, culture, and so much more…


In this today’s blog post, we’ll explore the importance of diversity in fiction, how to write authentic and representative diverse characters, and the role that writers can play in promoting understanding and inclusivity.


The Importance of Diversity in Fiction

As writers, we have the power to shape the narrative and bring new perspectives and voices to the literary world. Therefore, discussing the importance of diversity in fiction and how writers can promote understanding and representation is important. We’ll explore the history of exclusion in the publishing industry, the value of writing diverse characters that reflect the real world, and how to avoid common pitfalls like tokenism. We’ll also discuss how to incorporate diversity in your writing without making it the story’s main focus and the benefits of doing so.

 

The Publishing Industry’s History of Exclusion and the Importance of Representation

The publishing industry has a long history of exclusion and underrepresentation, particularly for marginalized communities. For many years, the industry was dominated by white, cisgender, straight, non-disabled men, who often dictated what stories were considered “marketable” or “worthy” of publication. This resulted in a lack of diverse voices and perspectives in literature, and a narrow view of what stories were considered “normal” or “universal.” (and this “normal” is the opposite of the truth.)


In recent years, there has been a big push to diversify the publishing industry and increase representation in literature. This is important not only for ethical reasons, but also because diverse stories and perspectives enrich and expand our understanding of the world. When we read about characters who are different from us, it helps us to see things from their perspective, developing a sense of empathy and understanding. It also helps to challenge and expand our own beliefs and assumptions to see the world in a more nuanced and complex way.


Diversity in literature is important because not only it reflects the reality of the world we live in, but also helps readers to see and understand one another in a more meaningful way. It’s up to you to promote diversity and representation in the stories you tell.

 

The Value of Writing Diverse Characters That Reflect the Real World

Writing diverse characters that reflect the real world has numerous benefits, both for the writer and the reader. For the writer, it allows them to explore and depict different cultures, experiences, and perspectives, which can help to make their writing more dynamic and interesting. It can also help you expand your sense of the world.


Reading about diverse characters can be a powerful and enriching experience for the reader. It allows them to see the world from a different mindset and develop empathy and understanding for people who are different from themselves. In addition, writing diverse characters that reflect the real world is valuable because it helps create more engaged and exciting stories. It’s an essential element of storytelling.

 

Common Excuses for Not Including Diversity in Writing

There are several common excuses writers give for not including diversity in their writing, and it’s important to acknowledge that these beliefs are often based on misinformation, prejudices, or a lack of understanding. Here are a few examples:

  1. “I’m not qualified to write about diversity.” This excuse is often based on the belief that writers can only accurately depict their own experiences. However, this is not true—writers can and should write about experiences and perspectives that are different from their own, as long as they are willing to do the necessary research and take care to be respectful and accurate.

  2. “I’m afraid of getting it wrong.” This one is often based on a fear of being criticized or accused of cultural appropriation. While it is important to be respectful and accurate when writing about diverse experiences and perspectives, it is also necessary to remember that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from those mistakes and to strive to do better in the future.

  3. “I don’t want to offend anyone.” This is often based on a desire to avoid controversy or conflict. Diversity in literature often brings up uncomfortable or controversial topics, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. These conversations are necessary for addressing and challenging social issues.

  4. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a ‘diversity writer.’” This belief is often based on a fear of being labeled or misunderstood. However, writing about diversity does not necessarily mean that a writer is only interested in or capable of writing about diversity. Diversity can and should be a part of all kinds of writing, and it is possible to write about diverse experiences and perspectives without being labeled as a “diversity writer.”

  5. “I don’t want to be preachy or didactic.” Writing about diversity does not necessarily mean that a writer is trying to preach or lecture to their readers. Instead, it is about including diverse experiences and perspectives as a natural and integral part of the story.

  6. “I don’t want to write about stereotypes.” This one is often based on a fear of perpetuating stereotypes or cliches. But writing about diversity does not necessarily mean you are writing about stereotypes. Instead, it is about depicting diverse characters as three-dimensional, complex, and nuanced individuals.

  7. “I don’t want to be accused of cultural appropriation.” This is often based on a fear of being accused of cultural appropriation or of taking credit for someone else’s culture or experiences. Cultural appropriation is not about writing about diverse backgrounds and perspectives, but rather about taking elements of a culture without proper attribution or understanding, and using them in a harmful or offensive way.

  8. “I’m not sure how to write about diversity.” This is often based on a lack of understanding or knowledge about how to write about diversity. Writing about diversity is not about being an expert on every culture or experience. Instead, it is about being willing to do the necessary research and take care to be respectful and accurate.

You should not let these excuses hold you back from exploring diverse experiences and perspectives in your writing!

 

The Dangers of Tokenism and How to Avoid It

Tokenism is the practice of including a small number of diverse characters in a story or media product in a way that is superficial or superficial or that serves to fulfill a quota rather than accurately reflecting the diversity of real life. Tokenism can be harmful and offensive because it reduces diverse characters to caricatures or stereotypes and fails to give them the same depth and complexity as non-diverse characters.

Despite me pushing for diversity so much today, you should avoid using diverse characters as props or plot devices and should instead give them the same level of development and agency as non-diverse characters. Remember to avoid using diversity as a way to check off a box or to appear more inclusive without actually taking the time to research and understand diverse cultures and experiences. To write diverse characters in a way that avoids tokenism, you should do this:

  1. Do your research: Take the time to research and understand diverse cultures and experiences. This can involve reading books or articles written by people from those cultures, talking to people from those cultures, or consulting with sensitivity readers.

  2. Avoid stereotypes: Avoid perpetuating stereotypes or cliches about diverse cultures or experiences. Instead, depict diverse characters as three-dimensional, complex, and nuanced individuals.

  3. Don’t make diversity the main focus of the story: Avoid using diversity as the story’s main focus or as a way to sensationalize or exploit diverse experiences. Instead, incorporate diversity as a natural and integral part of the story.

  4. Don’t use diversity as a marketing gimmick: Avoid using diversity as a way to market or sell a book or media product without actually including diverse experiences and perspectives in a meaningful way.

 

Avoiding Racial and Gender Issues If They Are Not the Main Focus of the Story

Rather than making diversity the main focus of the story, make sure that the character’s identity is an integral and organic part of the story. Avoid relying on stereotypes or cliches when writing diverse characters. Instead, strive to create fully developed and complex characters who are unique and believable.


Consider seeking feedback from beta readers or other industry professionals who have diverse backgrounds and experiences. This can help you to ensure that your portrayal of diverse characters is authentic and respectful.


Here’s how you can incorporate diversity in your writing without making it the main focus of the story:

• Choose your words carefully

• Don’t rely on stereotypes

• Avoid cultural appropriation

• Research and seek advice from diverse sources

• Write from a place of empathy and understanding

• Avoid using diversity as a way to tokenize or to simply make it exotic or unusual

• Respect the culture and backgrounds of diverse characters and communities

• Don’t make assumptions about diverse characters or communities

• Make sure diverse characters are fully developed and not just there for diversity’s sake

• Don’t use diversity as a plot device

• Don’t make diversity the sole focus of the story

• Don’t make diversity the sole conflict in the story

• Don’t use diversity as a way to lecture readers

• Don’t use diversity to avoid dealing with more complex themes or issues.

• And most important of all: Don’t make diversity the sole defining characteristic of diverse characters

 

Writing Relatable Diverse Characters

Representation matters, and it is essential to write diverse characters that readers can connect with and see themselves in. In doing so, we can create a more inclusive and realistic portrayal of our world.


One of the most significant challenges that writers face when writing diverse characters is making them relatable to all readers. It is essential to remember that diverse characters are fully developed and complex individuals with their own unique experiences and struggles, the same way you and all your other characters should be! By making diverse characters relatable to all readers, we can create a more inclusive and representative portrayal of the world. This means giving them their own goals, motivations, and conflicts that are separate from their diversity.


I’ll say it again and again: It is essential to do thorough research and seek guidance from diverse sources when writing diverse characters. This can help you avoid stereotypes and accurately portray the experiences and cultures of your diverse characters.


Empathy is key when writing diverse characters! Try to understand their experiences and struggles from their perspective and write from a place of compassion and understanding. Stereotypes can be harmful to both the characters you are writing about and the readers who identify with them.


Diverse characters are not monolithic, and no two individuals or communities are the same. Avoid making assumptions about diverse characters or communities and strive for nuance and complexity. Respecting the culture and experiences of the diverse characters and communities you are writing about is essential. This means not appropriating or exploiting their culture and backgrounds for your own benefit.

 

Overcoming the “Write What You Know” Excuse (or misunderstanding)

The saying “write what you know” can be a limiting excuse when writing relatable diverse characters. While drawing on your own experiences and observations when crafting characters is undoubtedly helpful, it’s also crucial to challenge yourself to step outside of your own perspective and write about characters with different backgrounds, experiences, and identities than yours.


In my opinion, “I can only write about what I know” is an inadequate excuse (or misunderstanding) for not taking the time to research and improve your writing skills. If you are a fiction writer, do not use this as an excuse for not expanding your knowledge and understanding of different experiences and cultures.


For example, just because a thriller writer has not personally committed murder does not mean they cannot accurately and respectfully write about a fictional serial killer. Similarly, sci-fi writers do not need to have personally traveled to space to write about it in their stories, and fantasy writers do not need to have personally encountered elves, magic, or dragons to write about them.


One way to overcome the “write what you know” excuse is to research. This can involve reading books, articles, and other resources written by people from diverse backgrounds and interacting with people from different communities. By immersing yourself in diverse perspectives, you can gain a deeper understanding of the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of people who are different from you.


It’s also important to remember that writing is an act of imagination and creativity. While it’s important to be respectful and authentic in your portrayal of diverse characters, you don’t need to have personally experienced everything that your characters go through. You can draw on your own emotions, observations, and research to create relatable and believable characters, even if they differ from you in many ways.

Ultimately, the key to writing relatable diverse characters is to approach the task with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a commitment to authenticity by creating characters that are not only diverse, but also believable to a wide range of readers.

 

Moving Past the “Old Books Don’t Have Diverse Characters” Excuse

First and foremost, literature is a reflection of the society in which it is produced. By ignoring the lack of diversity in older books, we risk perpetuating a narrow and incomplete understanding of the world and its people.


In addition, reading diverse literature helps to promote understanding, empathy, and inclusivity. When readers are exposed to a wide range of perspectives and experiences, they are more likely to develop a deeper understanding of the world and its complexities. This can lead to increased tolerance, acceptance, and respect for people who are different from themselves.


There is also value in bringing fresh perspectives and diverse voices to literature. By introducing new and diverse perspectives, we can challenge and expand upon the dominant narratives and cultural norms that have often shaped our understanding of the world. This can lead to a more nuanced and rich literary landscape that is more representative of our diverse world.

The lack of diversity in older books does not excuse the absence of diversity in contemporary literature. While it’s important to acknowledge and address the past, we must also strive to create a more inclusive and diverse present and future. This means not only acknowledging and addressing the lack of diversity in older books, but also actively seeking out and promoting diverse voices and perspectives in contemporary literature.

 

Understand that The Real World is Diverse

As I’ve said before, the real world is diverse in all its forms. This includes diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, culture, and more. The diversity of human experience is a rich and valuable aspect of our world, and it’s important to represent this diversity in fiction.

The role of history and literature in shaping our understanding of diversity is significant. But unfortunately, history and literature have often been used to perpetuate narrow and incomplete narratives about the world and its people. By acknowledging and addressing this lack of diversity and actively promoting diverse voices and perspectives in modern literature, we can help to shape a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of the world and its history.

 

The Importance of Sensitivity Readers When Writing Diverse Fiction

Sensitivity readers, also known as cultural consultants, are hired to review a work of fiction for elements of representation and cultural sensitivity. Sensitivity readers are often from marginalized or underrepresented groups and have expertise in the specific identities, cultures, or experiences represented in the work.

Authors and publishers may use sensitivity readers to ensure that their portrayal of diverse characters and experiences is respectful, accurate, and authentic. Sensitivity readers provide feedback on issues such as cultural authenticity, stereotype, and microaggressions, and may suggest changes or revisions to the work to make it more inclusive and respectful.


It’s important to note that sensitivity readers are not a substitute for doing a thorough research and seeking feedback from a diverse group of people. However, they can be a valuable resource for authors and publishers who want to ensure their portrayal of diverse characters and experiences is respectful and authentic.

 

Working with Diverse Beta Readers, Editors, and Professionals

There is great value in seeking out and working with diverse beta readers, editors, and other industry professionals other than sensitivity readers. By collaborating with people from various backgrounds and experiences, you can gain a wider range of perspectives on your work and ensure that your portrayal of diverse characters and experiences is respectful and authentic.


There are many resources and organizations that focus on diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry. These can be a good place to start when looking for diverse professionals to work with. Writing conferences and events that focus on diversity can be a great place to meet and connect with diverse professionals as well. Building relationships with diverse writers and professionals can be a great way to find diverse industry professionals.


It would help if you also considered joining writing groups or organizations that focus on diversity or reaching out to writers and professionals you admire who come from diverse backgrounds. If you know writers from diverse backgrounds, consider asking them for recommendations on other diverse people you can work with. If you build a diverse network of professionals, you can ensure that your work feels authentic.

 

Acknowledging Possible Privilege and Power Dynamics When Writing about Diverse Experiences and Cultures

Writing about diverse experiences and cultures can be a rewarding and enriching experience for both the writer and the reader. However, be mindful of the privilege and power dynamics at play when engaging in this type of work.

As a writer, you must be self-aware and considerate of the perspective and experiences of those you are writing about. Without acknowledging these dynamics, there is a risk of perpetuating harmful stereotypes and misrepresenting the experiences being written.

There are several strategies that writers can use to avoid cultural appropriation and the potential harm it can cause. One approach is to throughly research and seek out diverse sources, including consulting with members of the culture or community. This helps ensure that the information being presented is true-to-life and respectful.

 

Cultural Appropriation VS Cultural Appreciation

It is also important to recognize the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Cultural appropriation occurs when a person or group takes elements of a culture, often for their own benefit or profit, without understanding or respecting the significance or meaning behind them. This can involve exploiting or misrepresenting cultural practices, symbols, or traditions.


On the other hand, cultural appreciation involves a deep understanding and respect for a culture and its practices. It consists of engaging with it in a sensitive and respectful way. Cultural appreciation involves actively learning about and understanding a culture, rather than simply taking elements of it for personal gain or entertainment.

Acknowledging and addressing privilege and power dynamics is crucial when writing about diverse experiences and cultures. By doing thorough research, considering the purpose and audience of the writing, and striving for balance and fairness, writers can avoid cultural appropriation. Strive for cultural appreciation when writing about diverse cultures.

 

Your Role as a Writer and the Impact You Can Cause

Through their writing, writers can shed light on issues and experiences that may be unfamiliar to some readers, fostering a sense of understanding and connection.


One way writers can promote understanding and empathy through their work is by accurately and respectfully representing the experiences and perspectives of marginalized or underrepresented groups. By giving voice to these experiences, writers can help to break down barriers and promote a greater sense of understanding and empathy among readers.


In addition, writers can use their platforms to bring attention to social justice issues and advocate for change. By shining a light on topics such as inequality, discrimination, and injustice, writers can inspire readers to take action and work towards creating a more just and equitable society.


The impact of diverse representation in your books must be taken into consideration. When readers see themselves and their experiences reflected in the stories they read, it can foster a sense of validation and belonging. This is especially important for marginalized groups who may not often see themselves represented in mainstream media.


In addition, diverse representation in literature can help to break down stereotypes and promote a greater understanding and acceptance of different cultures and experiences. This can have a ripple effect on society as a whole, leading to greater inclusivity and social justice.


Writer, only you have the power to promote understanding, empathy, and social justice through your work. By accurately and respectfully representing diverse experiences and advocating for social justice, you can inspire readers to take action and work towards creating a more just and equitable society. Help us break down stereotypes, promote understanding, and foster a sense of belonging and validation for marginalized groups by including them in your writing!

 

Thank you for reading! I hope these tips were helpful! Please share this post on social media if you found it valuable, and follow @eric5310pub on Twitter and @5310publishing on Twitter and Instagram for more valuable content!


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