Representation Matters

Diversity is not just a buzz word. In a world that is a melting pot of races, genders, sexualities, and religions, it should be the norm that all of these different kinds of people are represented in major media. But... they're not. Movies, television, and books are still predominantly made up of and catered to white, straight men, and if anyone tries to step away from that and have non-white, non-straight, non-male characters, suddenly there's a cry of "everything is so political these days!"

Y'all. People are not political statements. Everybody deserves to see themselves represented in the media they consume.

I'm a white, bisexual woman, and quite frankly, I'm tired of seeing white people, mostly white men, in all of the media I consume. I loved the Ghostbusters remake that came out in 2016, and I'm still angry and bitter, to this day, about what was done to this movie, and how its franchise chances were ruined because of a bunch of whiny white guys on the internet. I'm excited for Ocean's 8. I'm excited for Black Panther. I'm excited for A Wrinkle in Time. I'm excited for everything that's coming out lately that is giving non-white, non-male, non-straight people a chance to see themselves represented positively.

I've published three books so far. The Only One is okay in terms of diversity (one secondary character is a straight black man in a relationship with a white woman, and a tertiary character is a pansexual black woman in a relationship with a white woman). No Safe Place and Finding Home Again are less okay, as the vast majority of the main characters are white and straight.

I recognized that I could do better, and my upcoming series, Crimson Hollow, is full of wonderful, diverse characters that I love. The vast majority of the characters are women, roughly half of them are non-white, and several of them are non-straight. They are all well-rounded, three-dimensional characters with backstories and motivations and desires of their own. I am immensely proud of this group of characters and can't wait to introduce them to the world.

As I mentioned, I'm a white woman, so I don't pretend to understand what it's like to be a black woman or man, or what it's like to be asexual or transgendered, but this is what research is for. Research research research. I cannot stress enough how important this is. If you write a diverse story, but rely on stereotypes and assumptions, it's going to be like you didn't even try at all. Read blogs written by marginalized people. Read the books they've written. Watch the shows and movies they make. Best of all, talk to someone who is like the character you want to write. Not everybody's experiences are the same, but it's incredibly valuable to have many different viewpoints and stories to use to build your characters.

One of my favorite places is Writing with Color, a blog on Tumblr that has a huge collection of resources on how to write non-white characters, from how to describe skin color (small tip: never use food to describe the skin of a black character), to stereotypes (which ones to avoid, but also which ones are okay to use, as a lot of stereotypes are based in fact, but exaggerated so much that they've become negative), to personal experiences from people of different races and ethnicities.

One key here is positive representation. All of my "big bads" in the Crimson Hollow are white, and with one exception, are men, because there's already too many non-white bad guys in media. This isn't to say you can't have non-white bad guys, but your bad guys should not be exclusively non-white; that's the distinction.

There's so much more to this that I can't cover here, but if you aren't already making your writing more diverse, check out Writing with Color, and just do more reading in general. If you're white, or straight, or male, it can be difficult to see from the perspective of someone who is not like you, but I promise that if you really work at it, your effort will pay off in the end. Your story will be so much richer, and your audience will be much wider.

Just remember: people are not political statements. Including non-white, non-male, non-straight characters in your story is not a political statement in and of itself. It's just a reflection of the world that we live in.


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