Sunday, December 7, 2014

Diversity in Writing

Last week Chuck Wendig published a blog post which is like mirror or like a punch in your face, depending how used you are to be candid with yourself. The blog post was about racism, sexism and other -isms - not the obvious ones, not the ones we recognize in others or the ones that is brought to us in the news. It was about a latent racism or sexism in ourselves and its different reasons.

The blog post stands for its own, but I only want to add another angle - racism and sexism are the other side of the coin of something that was essential in the development of human beings; the ability to create shortcuts and compartmentalize experience. This doesn't make it better, but it helps us to overcome our own -isms.

The blog post ends with the suggestion to add more diversity into the writing industry, into publishing and into our books. I don't know about the industry and not much more about publishing, but I know my bookshelf and my writing.

My Bookshelf
I have a nice variety of books on the shelf - from European, Asian, North American and Latin American authors, male and female writers and... wait... honestly, I couldn't really tell the race of the author, simply because in most of the cases I don't know.

So what should I do about this? Look out for more books from specific authors, based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion? Quite the contrary - I thinks we should be agnostic about that at all. I love to read a good book; a good story told well. Coming from that angle I don't care about the author's background. I really don't and I think that is good.

My Writing
How many different races or how many religions do I have to include in a story to be diverse? How should the distribution of gender be? I truly think this is the wrong approach. There should not be any quotas that need to be fulfilled.

The question lies in the story itself. Your characters serve a purpose and if a protagonist needs to be male or female because of the role or the century the story plays, you can't write him as female. Well, you can try it, but the story still has to work. Maybe it does, maybe the story even gets better.

Same with race - it follows the purpose of the character and his or her environment. Why would I need to introduce a latin american character other than his roots play an important role in order to explain his behavior. On the other side, why should the main protagonist be caucasian? What is the purpose of it?

If In Doubt, Leave it Out
In the story I am currently writing I don't define neither race nor religion. Same with sexual orientation, where I don't put them into a relationship, I don't define it.

Because it doesn't serve a purpose in the story.

Ok, you could try to derive it from their origin or their name. Niklas Soderstrom from Sweden is probably caucasian and christian. Probably, but neither of it does matter. To pay his dues to the story he needs to be cynical and have a certain portion of fatalism and willingness to leave the system. I could replace him with Antonio Juarez from Argentina who had to flee the junta or Tony O'Hara from the Chicago suburbs. The only thing that matters is his purpose in the story.

Don't look for defining a race, a religion or anything else. If you are in doubt, leave it out.

Avoid Stereotypes
Stereotypes are the little brother of racism (or the little sister). I wrote a lot how gender, race, religion etc. should serve a purpose. This is dangerous, because you might be tempted by stereotypes you don't even recognize as such. And your unconscious stereotypes might be racist or sexist to others. Chuck describes this perfectly in his blog post and I have to admit I'm not immune to it. But what's the solution to this? Well, diversify your environment.

Diversify your environment
It all starts with ourselves. We tend to stay with our kind. It's human nature. We tend to group with similar people if not forced into a diverse environment. Don't deny it, but be aware of it. If you are not sure how a certain character which is not your gender, race, religion etc. comes across, you should seek for critics from people, which belong to it. I am sure, if you ask nicely, they will be happy to help.

In this sense, happy diversifying.
Your writer in a foreign land

No comments:

Post a Comment