Fresh off my most recent post about how not to do diversity in writing, I’d like to talk about how to do it right. Obviously, this is just my opinion. I’m not an agent, a publisher, or even a traditionally published author.
But I am a reader and I know good writing and well-written diversity when I see it, just like I know the opposite.
There are two kinds of diversity in writing and the difference really revolves around what the focus of the story is.
The first is the most obvious kind and the one we see the most often. These are stories that tackle the issues of minorities head on. These are stories where the antagonist is clearly homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, or something along those veins. These stories are about the struggle the character faces against society, family, friends, and even themselves at times.
I call this style Diverse Fiction.
There’s definitely a need and a place for this form of diversity in writing and I have no issue with it, but it’s not my preference and it’s not what I want to talk about here.
I want to talk about the diversity of having traditional genre fiction with diverse characters, an area which I refer to as Fiction with Diversity. This is an area of writing that is distinctly underrepresented in my opinion. I’m going to mostly focus on the prevalence or lack thereof, of LGBT representation in these areas.
I haven’t done expansive research into this area obviously but based on my own reading in the genre fiction that I prefer (science fiction and fantasy) I feel confident in saying that genre fiction is not a place where diverse characters, especially LGBT ones, thrive. There are notable exceptions, Mercedes Lackey was one of the first fantasy writers I ever read who had a gay character in The Last Herald Mage trilogy and more recently Ash by Malindo Lo and The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb. There have also been a solid number of books that contained side characters or even villains that were LGBT, but it’s exceedingly rare to see them star in a book and even more rare for the characters that do exist to have stable relationships or get a “happily ever after” ending to their story.
So how do you do diversity the right way in fiction?
By writing good fiction. That’s it.
One of the novels I’m currently working on originally contained a male love interest for my female lead. His gender wasn’t particularly to the plot whatsoever, I just needed a love interest as part of the general plot of the story. This story was started about 3 years ago, long before I realized the problem of the lack of lesbian characters in fiction. Once I started making that a focus in my work I realized that I didn’t particularly want a male love interest in this book.
It didn’t take much work at all to change the story. I literally just went through the previously finished sections and changed the name and the pronouns associated with the character.
Because in genre fiction, unless there is something plot specific about the gender of a character, there shouldn’t be any real appreciable difference in a story if you change a character’s gender. My character is still essentially the same person, just with a different outward appearance. She’s still a werewolf in love with a witch and they are both still trying to kill a monster that is terrorizing a town.
Nothing about that changes because she’s a woman or because my main character is now a lesbian.
This should be obvious, but let me reiterate. LGBT people (and you can apply this to race and gender and many other immutable characteristics) are not a different species from the “privileged” straight, white, male. The motivations for a character in genre fiction (as opposed to fiction in which the focal point of the story is the struggle related to the character’s diversity) should not be appreciably different because their gender, sexual orientation, race, or other physical aspect has changed. Psychological or physical disabilities are really the only area of diversity that calls for a change in behavior for the character, as a disability is going to change how they react to and handle certain situations in your plot.
Fiction with Diversity is an area that calls for a solid plot where the characters can be diverse or not and it wouldn’t take much work to retain the original plot and feel of the story.
Because minorities are still human beings, not another species.
The faster we all figure that out, the better.