The Real Lack of Diversity

It’s not race.

One of the biggest things I saw in 2015 was the push to add more diversity to YA books. Many YA authors wrote books where the main characters weren’t white. If the main character was white, the supporting cast tended to be people of color. I’d have trouble naming more than one book I read that didn’t include at least two races.

The idea is fine if that’s what authors want to do, but an author should feel they’re being pushed into changing races or genders just to fit the trend.

Looking back at books, I hadn’t really noticed race much. There were a few older books, like Ender’s Game, that included quite a bit of racial diversity. (The Ender books did a very good job of worldbuilding a future where different races and cultures didn’t fade away.)

Overall, I’d never noticed a lack of racial diversity. It’s pretty easy to forget the race of a character. After all, reading isn’t visual like movies, so skin color is much like hair color. Unless it influences the plot/character or is mentioned a lot, it’s forgettable.

Most books are lacking diversity, but not it’s not racial. What they’re lacking is personality diversity which is much more obvious in the written word than skin tone. Skin color doesn’t make a character unique. What makes them unique are their thoughts and actions.

firefly_crew_by_stolentwilight

Firefly is a great example of moral diversity. Mal’s crew has a preacher, a prostitute, and everything in between. (Sadly, the series has too much sexual content for me to recommend it.)

Authors tend to forget about this sort of diversity. The characters (at least the good guys) often end up having the author’s own moral views. In some cases, not only do the characters not have moral diversity, they don’t even have different goals or personalities.

Characters need to be cut from different materials, not cut from the same cardboard and painted to look different. Without difference of opinion between characters, there is little unique about them.

This is probably why anti-heroes have seen a rise in popularity. It’s because they’re not cut from the same moral fiber as the rest of the cast. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo had two very different moral outlooks on life, or at least Han liked people to think that. This adds conflict and makes the story interesting, as well as realistic. In real life, not all good people agree. If everyone in a story agrees, there’s very little conflict, and conflict is what drives the plot forward.

Character flaws and misconceptions, often brought on by the life the character has lived, are another good way to add diversity. In Mistborn, Kelsier believed all nobles were evil. This made him act ruthlessly, which wasn’t right, but it set him apart from some of the other characters and added conflict. Because of the world he lived in, the audience could sympathize with him. Characters like this bring up the question, “If I’d gone through what that character did, would I have ended up like them?” If it’s done well, it won’t encourage the reader to act like the flawed character, but it might help the reader learn to show empathy to flawed people in real life.

To add this sort of thing, look around at people and see them as more than a stereotype. Just because someone doesn’t agree with another person on certain issues, or would act differently in a certain situation doesn’t make them evil. (Though, in some cases, it can.) Keep cultures in mind too. Some people might consider horses or dogs to be a food source, while another person would be horrified at the thought of eating them, even if the second person is perfectly okay with eating a cow or pig. Cultural differences can be an interesting source of conflict. Just look at dwarves and elves.

When it comes down to it, it’s best to focus on making unique characters, not just giving them different appearances. A character’s choices are more important than their race or gender.

Advertisements

About Jessi L. Roberts

I live and work on my family’s cattle ranch in eastern Montana. I have a flock of chickens, a hyper golden retriever, some cows, and a few horses. I enjoy fantasy and science fiction and my head is full of wild sci-fi story ideas, some involving apocalypses and others involving aliens. I have been published twice in Havok Magazine, an imprint of Splickity.
This entry was posted in Characters, Controversy, Musings, Writing Tips and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Real Lack of Diversity

  1. Excellent point. Diversity in ethics builds both character and story, while diversity in ethnicity usually just builds character (if it’s there for any purpose at all).

    Like

    • If it’s poorly done, it doesn’t really add much to the character either. (Not to say that all characters should be one race, just that it’s not very useful when making unique characters.)

      Like

  2. This is actually so true. I remember reading the Harry Potter series. I noticed that there was some racial diversity and even some interracial relationships but JK Rowling focused on their personalities rather than their race.

    I also noticed a book from a YouTuber who put two side characters that weren’t white. She didn’t describe their colour but I felt that they were just put there just to make the book diverse.

    Like

  3. Personally, I do notice race and gender when reading, but I also think you make a lot of great points with this: the characters’ actions and personality, their humanity really is the most important thing, and there should be more diversity shown with it. For instance, the “heroes” in fantasy novels often seem to be cut from the same cloth: very self-sacrificial, more emotional than logical, does stupid stuff to save friends yet it all works out, etc. And honestly, I’d be more interested in seeing characters that act differently than that than in this sudden push for more racial and gender diversity (though the latter is important as well; just if I had to choose, I’d pick personality diversity).

    So yeah. I don’t agree on everything, but this is a really awesome post. Thanks for doing it. 🙂

    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbosityreviews.com

    Like

    • Heroes do tend to all be very similar. It seems like secondary characters end up being the more interesting ones.
      Luckily, we can have both moral and racial diversity. 🙂 I’m hoping things will settle down soon when it comes to the SJWs.
      The lack of moral diversity also bleeds into lack of religious diversity. I’ve read so many YA books where everyone in the story is perfectly fine with premarital sex, which isn’t very realistic. I’ve rarely found a book where different people have different views on issues like this. I’m suspicious racial diversity is the easiest kind to add since it doesn’t require the writer to think as much about how the character would respond differently.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm, that is a good point. If one is taking the approach of just slapping a different color on a character to add diversity, then that would be easier than adding different personalities, moral views, etc. It depends on how important the character’s color is to the way they’ve developed as a person, I think, which does vary depending on time period, where they grew up, how they were raised, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, if the race impacts the other views the character has, then it’s much more interesting and meaningful.
        I was thinking about it today, and I got to wondering if maybe people are focusing too much on representing POC and not enough on appealing to POC. I mean, when I write a story and I think about who my main characters will be, I don’t think, “I’ve got to have a guy because I want to represent guys,” but I will think, “Maybe I should have a guy in this story because guys like to read about guys.” I can’t put my finger on how this would make writing the character different, but I feel like there might be a difference in the way the character is conceived.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm, that’s definitely possible. I guess because it would be less about representing what they’re like and more about just giving them someone to relate to? I don’t know. I’ll have to think about that one more, but it’s an interesting idea.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s