The word diversity is being thrown around a lot in the publishing world. Agents are asking for it, readers are requesting it, and publishers rejoice in it. As am I. Rounding out literature with realistic and varied groups of people is vital and wonderful and exciting and overall, beautiful. The world, after all, is made up of many different types of people. So should books.
That being said—and a lot of my articles are inspired by my full-time editing job—I am quite shocked when I hear questions like, “Should I make my main character a person of color, LGBT, have a disability, and/or be a part of an underrepresented religion to fit the market?”
Face to desk.
The quick answer to that question is a resounding NO.
Diversity is not a “fad.” It’s not a bullet point on your novel’s checklist. It’s not an aspect to treat like a trendy topic, and it’s most definitely not an afterthought.
Diversity is a fact of life. Diversity is all around you. Diversity is found in your friends and family and co-workers and strangers at the coffee shop. Diversity should appear in literature just as naturally as it does in real life. If you’re forcing it, there’s a likely chance you’re probably adding to the stereotypes and clichés that are even more damaging than leaving diversity out.
Case and point:
Yes, we need more diversity. We need more people of color in hero roles and LGBT protagonists and characters with disabilities. We need to see a variety of religions and cultural norms and languages and backgrounds. We need varying body types and personalities and dreams and ambitions. We need more characters that are just like everyday people, but we need to be true to our stories. That means being honest. It means researching. It means taking that time to talk to those who represent the cultures we wish to write about. As authors, we need to communicate effectively and efficiently. We need to stay true to our work—not force in characters just because—and we need to love our characters because they are our characters, not because they were warped to fit a trend. Diversity isn’t about being trendy. Diversity is about being genuine. It’s about celebrating the unique characteristics of all types of people, so that readers can rejoice and relate to the stories they read. On top of that, diverse stories help teach acceptance, shape understanding, and encourage friendships to those outside of their own “box.” Diverse stories are a result of a diverse life.
So go out there and explore your world. Meet new people. Listen to their lives. Discuss topics and real trends. (Like fashion and movies and Pilates.) Get to know all the people around you, and who knows? You might find they inspire you to create a character just like them.
Favorite Go-To Article About Diversity: Diversity Writing Tool-Kit. She basically links to a million places to get in-depth knowledge about numerous topics.
Favorite (Recent) Novels Featuring Diversity: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. Both of these wonderful women tackle diversity with genuine grace. You can read both of my 5-star reviews on Goodreads by clicking the titles. I highly recommend both books, but Everything, Everything is contemporary, while Lady Midnight is urban fantasy and a part of a much larger series that I recommend you start with City of Bones. She has diversity throughout her entire Shadowhunter series. I had the absolute joy of meeting Cassandra Clare last night. She signed Lady Midnight for me, and I took home some awesome Shadowhunter runes.
Soon, I’ll share my own experience with writing and diversity. As an example, my next release is a YA duology: Bad Bloods features illiteracy, LGBT characters, deafness, people of color, PTSD, and disabilities, such as one character who only has one arm.
I didn’t force any of these aspects. In fact, the cast was inspired by real people I have met (and Barbie dolls, but that’s a different story you can read about here). Talking to those in the groups I was writing about was vital. Don’t be afraid to reach out. The world is waiting.
P.S. Today is the day my mother suddenly passed away in 2003. You never know when your life will change forever. Take a moment to say I love you today. Thank you for changing my life, Mom.