Monday, July 13, 2015

I Can Only Imagine - Diversity

Credit to Corona Zchusschen, illustrator
Growing up, I read plenty of stories of elves, dwarves, magic and more. I didn't toss the stories aside because none of the characters resembled me. Actually, I just didn't think people of color had any foothold in any fiction that was science-y or phantasmic. Then I discovered Octavia Butler and Tanaverie Due and others who wrote science fiction/fantasy with characters that, surprisingly, looked like me...so did the authors.

Okay, so it shouldn't have been a surprise, but any person who takes a look at what is commercially successful in the publishing industry has to choose to ignore the diversity-less-ness that is there.

I've seen various Facebook memes and Twitter hashtags pointing out the need for diversity in publishing when it comes to characters of color as well as promoting authors of color (I would think this goes for LGBT as well). I participated in a bloghop a while back surrounding this theme. I believe people are hearing the message, but I guess the real questions are: What are the results? Does it matter? How do you go about encouraging diversity when what sells and is making the money isn't usally heavy on the diversity?

You see that inked girl above? Her story didn't come about because the author sat down and actively wrote a story with a woman of color as the MC (main character). The author was inspired by a song. The characters formed of their own accord: black heroine and asian hero, both damaged by parents when all they wanted was love. It's an action story with paranormal elements and the hope for love woven throughout. It happens to have a diverse cast of players.

I can only imagine the diversity of the characters having a chance to take second or third place in the "noticed an interesting thing" category as diversity becomes the norm instead of the exception.

I can only imagine how many people recognize the above character and/or the book she comes from (as a hint, the book title is somewhere on this blog page lol!) Do you?

20 comments:

  1. I'm glad there is emphasis on the need for diversity in books, but it'll be good when we get to the point that it just happens naturally. So important for our diverse readers. And my daughter has had a similar experience as you in not having many main characters she could identify with.

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    1. You're so right. Having diversity for the sake of diversity shouldn't be the endgame. It should be organic. A character shouldn't be LGBT to try to fit a trend, but rather, if that is the natural way the character comes about, then it should go that way.

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  2. I'll be in the minority here, but diversity for diversity's sake is highly overrated. In today's society, it's a totem, a facade to prove we're lofty thinkers.

    Mostly what I object to is seeing characters forced into what society thinks they should be so that they're 'politically correct'.

    As writers, I say we write how WE see our characters. If they're Asian, they're Asian. If they're black, they're black. We need to write from our ink well and not from society's ink well.

    A good story is a good story. Coloring it with diversity merely for diversity's sake is a cheap way to gain acceptance. If it doesn't improve the story, what does it accomplish?

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    1. I don't think you're in the minority. As you beautifully pointed out, it is better to write the characters as we see them, not to follow political correctness. How can an author be true to the character if they are forcing them to conform to some square situation when they are a circle? And it definitely wouldn't accomplish anything.

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  3. Diversity is important in fiction, and it should hopefully make organic sense in the story, not be forced. I have a new YA coming out in December with two biracial teens who fall in love. But it's not just about their color, it's about the plot and other themes: a pot addicted mom, a father who abandoned the family, art, and more. The boy is half Latino, half white. The girl is half Indian and half white.

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    1. Exactly, the ethnic background of the characters is part of their description, not something forced into the story. That's cool, though what it sounds like they're going to go through isn't so nice. We authors can be so cruel.

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  4. I have to write what feels appropriate and if a minority character works in the story I want to be sure I get him/her as true to their life in all aspects as possible. Have you read articles called The White Mind? These helped me become aware of the pitfalls of creating minority characters.

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  5. Writing what feels appropriate is the way to go.

    I have not heard about The White Mind. I'll have to look it up. Than you.

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  6. I'm seeing more diversity now than five years ago.
    I did make a diversity of races for my third book, including two of the three lead characters.

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  7. Things improve year by year when it comes to diversity, but there is still a long way to go. Thank you for your thoughts on this!

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    1. True. It will be cool to have diversity part of the norm and not the excption.

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  8. Thanks for this great post...interesting and thoughtful.

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  9. I don't specifically write in characters of color, but it is now something that agents are requiring. I wonder if I should go back and change some secondary characters. Not sure about writing culture for MC of another race though. Guess I should if I want to get my books traditionally published.

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    1. I would encourage you to continue writing your characters as they come to you. If they are not LGBT or a minority, then changing them to fit a trend doesn't allow the character to be true to who they are. If you are marinating over a story and a character presents themselves with a diverse background, then that's a bit more organic, more open to a natural flow.

      Diversity in publishing provides readers with a chance to not only escape, but to relate withe character. There's this "I can identify with this character" factor that's taken up a notch.

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  10. Like you, when I was reading as a child had no characters of colour involved and the weird thing was that I didn't think it was weird. #FoodForThought

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  11. When the MC in my most recent WIP presented herself to me, I was less worried about the fact that she was biracial than by the fact that she was female. There's a gender prejudice in MG adventure stories. Editors believe girls will read books with male MCs, but boys won't read books with female MCs. From my observations as a teacher ... they are right. Sorry to say it, but that's what I saw in the classroom.

    So I argued vehemently with this character who wasn't what I wanted -- a boy. But she remained a girl, and yes she was biracial, and yes that had a small significance in the plot ...

    But most importantly, she was the right Main Character for this book. I came to realize that. Let's just hope an editor will feel the same way.

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  12. As I white kid growing up in the Caribbean I was in the minority and was exposed to a different kind of diversity. The Santa who visited and handed out presents to us kids was black, but I had a classically illustrated version of "The Night Before Christmas." I was never confused. I sensed or understood without ever being told, that Santa was the spirit of Christmas and could be represented by anyone. I was blessed to have many examples like this in my life. I had Grimm fairytales and Anansi the spider. Diversity is a wonderful thing.

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  13. Angela, you may think I'm touting Clay Cross, but I'm not. It's just that a third of the way through I describe the New York apartment of one of my leading characters. The thing is it's based on an apartment I stayed in for a year in Jackson Heights, and on the walls were the most fantastic African masks. For the novel I researched them and the fantasy and ethics behind each of those masks were the most wonderful eye-openers. I revelled in briefly describing them in the novel and one day hope to perhaps write a short story

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