‘Diversity’ is a word that’s thrown around these days like mismatched Christmas socks in a shack full of ghouls. That is to say frequently and with gusto. So… what about it is important to fiction and why should you care?
Whether you consciously notice it or not, having character diversity in fiction gives readers (and future writers) someone they can relate to. A voice that essentially says “I acknowledge you and experiences like yours, and I acknowledge how important it is that they are heard.” This voice can have such vital power, to bring into the light the individual worlds of many who may not get that chance outside or even inside of fiction otherwise.
Diversity in fiction, when mixed with solid characterization, breeds experience and empathy. I cannot stress enough, even if you know it already and are bloody sick of hearing it, how important this is. We live in a world of beautiful variety, and it should be embraced. If you only ever heard your own ideals echoed back at you, from others exactly like yourself in looks and thoughts, never hearing the perspective of any other… would this really be a good thing? Or would it stunt you? Prevent you from being able to understand any other ideas besides your own?
No reader who has actually gleaned any knowledge from the books they’ve read is going to have a problem with a diverse book and rightly so. However, a few last things the budding writer should know…
It’s fantastic to have diversity, but you don’t have to include everyone possible. Diversity can become a gimmick, and we can tell when it is because it will be unrealistic. If you want your book to be diverse but realistic, just create a believable variety of people that comes to you naturally. Think of someone you’ve never seen portrayed in fiction, or not often enough at least, that you can relate to and think your readers can relate to, and this may help.
And lastly, if your book is not so diverse, that doesn’t make it a bad book by any means. But you’ll find in some of the most celebrated fiction that even if the characters are similar in race, gender, age, they’ll still be quite varied when it comes to their personalities and backgrounds. There are unlimited possibilities for a single character and so many pieces of them to consider – what do they look like, who would they love, what’s their story and how’d they end up here?
-S.M., March 2018