Well, I don’t know about you, but it’s been a long week so yay for Friday. Especially when I have the lovely Brantwijn Serrah visiting 🙂 She’s going to talk about an interesting, and very relevant subject; that of diversity in writing. Take it away, Brantwijn.
I recently “lurked” my way through an intense debate over diversity in the Harry Potter books series, and one commenter passionately declared her crusade to intentionally include all under-represented groups in her own books.
Now, I should note I have my personal doubts about any story which pursues diversity out of such a sense of self-importance, a sense of “Look how socially and politically correct I am!” But I agree with the value of diversity awareness in one’s work. Internet fandoms and content creators share and celebrate representations of honest, diverse characters and plotlies, and recognize the lack of it in our mainstream media by contrast.
Diversity is a tricky thing. Of course, all things poetic and intrinsically human are. As authors, it may be tempting to halt our process and insert a “token” racial or cultural archetype for brownie points, but that’s not the right way to do this diversity thing.
In my book Satin and Steel, the character of Feste is a gay man (well, a gay undead vampire, but that’s beside the point). This is who he has always been to me. Once upon a time I tried to pair him with a female, but it didn’t fit. It just didn’t feel right.
While writing the manuscript, though, I assumed the fact of his orientation needed to be plainly stated. Originally a scene between him and the main character included an outing—not to either of the characters but wholly for the reader’s benefit—to be sure no one would be in doubt he was gay.
Except that didn’t work either. In fact, it felt bad. Like making a spectacle or spotlight of him in an unnatural and obtrusive way. So, for this book at least, Feste’s orientation remained unstated.
Diversity is not white-washing all things to contribute to an already overbearing focus on straight, Caucasian male perspective. But it’s also not “tokenism”. Including—or outing—a character purely for the credit in doing so makes for bad writing. Diversity in fiction best exists the same way as diversity in life: it simply is, naturally. It’s everywhere, in every historical period and every geographic locale, in some form or another.
I think the secret to writing diverse characters in a genuine and truthful way is to first develop a personal interest, awareness, and respect for the multitude of perspectives outside your own. One of the reasons it’s so easy for authors to neglect diversity is a simple, and probably unintentional, ignorance. We experience life through only one set of eyes: our own. It takes acknowledgment of the limits in that singular point of view, to appreciate the worthiness of others’ experiences.
The media I grew up with was always dictated by, directed by, and delivered by predominantly white society. That my earliest creative endeavors were also dominated by straight white characters never seemed out of place until I came to recognize my own limited exposure.
When I read through the argument regarding Harry Potter, I reflexively considered my own work and whether or not I had inadvertently neglected diverse representation myself. In a surprising turn, I realized though I’d never directly focused on including representations of cultures, genders, and orientations other than my own, they’d evidently occurred on their own. Lotus Petals was born when I sought to learn more about the culture of geisha and, subsequently, the history of Japan; the character of Vivienne in Satin and Steel was when an African-American friend told me about the gens de couleur libres and the Haitian Revolution, and the first seeds of a story were sewn. My Lady in Chains trilogy will include a transgender man who almost certainly owes his existence to the many open-minded and willing members of the LGBTQ community who are happy to share their thoughts, experiences, and histories with and as people of non-binary gender. I never exactly set out to write anything markedly diverse; the stories and characters introduced themselves to me once I’d learned more about their roles and experiences. The more I learn, too, the more I find I want these characters, these viewpoints, these values, to be part of my world. I can’t pretend I have it all down, either. But I know the entire concept definitely speaks to me, and I look forward to more inclusion in future works.
My advice, and encouragement, to all authors is to continue broadening your personal horizons on issues of diversity. Race, gender, orientation, ability and culture should flow naturally in any story…but they won’t, if they aren’t in your thoughts and on your mind first.
Thanks so much for sharing your insights. It’s certainly can be a controversial topic, and I think it’s an interesting point that it can sometimes be overthought. If characters are created simply to fulfill an obligation towards diversity, or forced into a certain mould for the sake of it then I can see how they simply won’t ring true with the reader.
Brantwijn also has a shiny new release out, Satin and Steel, which if you’ve been lucky enough to catch her previous books is the second one in the Blood and Fire series.
They say love ruined her. It’s time to prove them wrong.
Half a century ago, Rhiannon lost the woman she loved. Since then, unlife has held little meaning for her, and she’s fallen from grace among the vampire nation. She once swore to throw herself into the sun the day Aijyn died…but it turns out she’s no good at keeping promises.
Sometimes the best cure for heartache is surrender. There’s a demon in London with new promises: darkness to run in, pleasures to hunt, rules to break. Sent to track down a dangerous traitor, Rhiannon is caught up in a game of murder and treachery between three warring races…and the sinful, seductive shadow-walker who could be her redemption, or her ultimate undoing.
If you’re now dying to get your mitts on a copy (and I know I am!), you can find the buy links here:
If you want to follow Brantwijn, and keep up-to-date on all her new releases, you can find her on social media at the following links:
Brantwijn’s Facebook Page: http://tinyurl.com/qf2bzwk
Foreplay and Fangs blog: http://brantwijn.blogspot.com/?zx=6ba3380c7201b326
Foreplay and Fangs on Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/q2cmnep
Find Brantwijn on Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6952482.Brantwijn_Serrah
Say hi to her on Twitter – https://twitter.com/Brantwijn
Thanks so much to Brantwijn for chatting with me today, if you want to chat the rest of her blog tour the dates are above. Hope everyone has a great Friday x