Revising WIPs for Diversity
I am worried about inclusiveness in my story. I've had these characters in my head for more than 10 years, maybe even 15. When I created them I was a child. As I grew up, I started "upgrading" my story & making it much more fitting to my age now, an adult. However, I don't have much inclusiveness in it. It's in a high fantasy world. The main character is bisexual, & his ex-boyfriend has darker skin. But other than that... I'm having a hard time changing the characters from what I imagined them.
This is a good and complicated question. I’m glad you asked.
There are problems here, and I think you’re finding you’re confronting them but you can’t quite identify them.
The thing about inclusiveness, about adding diversity to your work, is that it can’t really be solved by surface changes like-- oh this character is black now, all better. BECAUSE diversity is actually about more than just the color of a character’s skin.
Diversity is about differences of life experience, culture, mindset, history, perspective, values. It’s about recognizing that the world is not just one, standard existence, but a multiplicity.
We are in a time now that is *changing* the way we understand people and identity.
You started this story when you were a child and didn’t recognize all these complexities, and to tell the truth, society itself didn’t really recognize them at a larger level. There’s a reason why you as a kid didn’t see them.
Because our culture as a whole has identified white people as the default people. Specifically white, middle/upperclass, christian, able bodied, straight, cis men as the default person. ANYTHING you have other than that has to be identified, otherwise, we assume they are the default person.
The HERO is always this default person until we define them as otherwise, female, Black, poor, atheist, deaf. Oh look. There’s a new character who has a distinctly different experience than our default person. And you then have to WRITE them with that experience in mind, or you’re just writing the default person in a mask that is only skin deep.
So what I’m trying to tell you is that it’s not really diversity if you just change the color of your character’s skin without letting it reflect upon who they are as a person. And then how that affects your story. You can’t JUST make someone in a wheel chair without changing their part of the story on a fundamental level, don’t you think? If you switch your character from non stated but assumed Christianity to Judaism... how does that affect your story or character? And if it doesn’t, well lets say it’s irrelevant to the story, then how do you share that bit of background of the character, make it authentic and not seem as if you’re just checking boxes on the diversity list? Do you even know enough about Judaism to write them fairly or will you just toss in some yiddish-- “Oy, what a shmuck!” and leave it at that? Ok well maybe your fantasy world doesn’t have Jewish people. Fair enough.
But now I need to question your world building. Is everyone in your book of the same culture? Are there different races, religions, creeds, classes, ethnicity? If there aren’t, why not? Are you writing a world where no one travels? Where there’s an oppressive force that requires everyone to worship the same gods? Even JRR Tolkien had multiple races, languages, belief systems and cultures. I say “even” because Tolkien is often taken as the “whiteness model” of fantasy. The British/northern European ideal.
You might be attached to the way your characters look. You’re also probably attached to the world view that white is the default. We all are, frankly. The first novel I wrote I made it about a blonde white woman from the Bronx, where I am from, where blonde white women are few and far between. And I didn’t address how this white woman lived in The Bronx surrounded by mostly brown Latinx people. To be honest, I think I had internalized that concept of white people being the default, of ALL books being about the white experience and that was just how you write a story. If I were to rewrite that book now, I would make her Latina. I could keep the main story the way it was, but switching her to Latina would require a hefty rewrite as her character, experiences, understanding, perspective and the way she looked at herself and her world would be different.
What you need to do, IF you want to add diversity to your novel, is to do a major overhaul of your understanding of what it means to be human and how our differences and intersections shape our identity and experiences. That means a major overhaul of your story.
OR you could leave your story the way it is and don’t add diversity to what seems to be a complete story already, just to fit the times and concerns of the day, STILL do the work of overhauling your personal understanding of diversity, and then in the next book, build that diversity in from the bottom up.
Even if you leave the book with everyone looking the way they already do, you might try adding an AWARENESS of race, diversity, otherness, bias, bigotry, etc. White people ALSO move through this world with people who don’t look like them. Acting like white people don’t have any repercussions from living in this racist society is making a statement that not only is the white experience the default experience and the way things should be, but also racism is just a given and doesn’t need to be examined, since it only affects POC.
Any way you take it, it’s a lot of work. That’s because confronting your own biases, blindspots, assumptions and unspoken prejudices is HARD and takes constant work.
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Wonderer, wanderer, warrior. Been around for a while. Got some stuff going on. Should probably get back to blogging. I mean....I didn't go away, I was just talking about science fiction for a while.