As a writer, I get asked about whether or not I think representation in novels is important A LOT. It’s second only to the question “Where do your ideas come from?” <– (Answer: see the previous blog post!) To answer the first question you need only read one of my novels, all of which include POC and LGBTQ peoples in important roles. While some writers (generally white-cis-writers) may shy away from writing people from other backgrounds and cultures I think it’s of the utmost importance. Why, you ask?
Because I write to reflect the world around me, and that world is full of diversity. Even in my upcoming series, The Bonegates Series, which is set in Faerie and therefore I could literally make the world as I wanted it, I could not conceive any other way of writing. In fact, in The Bonegates Series, I took it a step further, giving unnatural hair, skin, and eye colors to certain characters because- why not? It’s fantasy!
The argument is constantly brought up that writers do not want to offend those of other cultures by portraying them incorrectly and while I see where they are coming from I believe it far more offensive to delete them entirely. A monochromatic, cis world, where everyone is able-bodied becomes unrealistic. Perhaps for historical fiction or very, very small town settings, it could work but overall, the world is full of color and writing should be too.
Now, as for portraying people incorrectly/rudely/stereotypically, there’s a really simple way to avoid this (if that is your intention). Ask someone from whatever group you’re writing about and talk to them. ASK if what you are writing is offensive. I recently had this experience with a fellow writer who uses a wheelchair. I asked her to read my work and pay special attention to how I portrayed the character in a wheelchair (Alistair from The Starseed Trilogy). She was very pleased to read and was a great help at giving me insight into how a person using a wheelchair may take one of my character’s dialogue. Don’t know anyone from the particular group you are trying to include? Find a writers group on social media and put yourself out there. I’m sure someone will be happy to help.
Another reason I believe it’s incredibly important writers write a diverse cast is because what we write trickles into other industries. If my books ever get made into a movie, I want there to be no question that certain characters look a certain way. If the cast is white-cis-washed it will not be because I didn’t do what I believe is right.
Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, I believe there need to be more characters of color/minorities because I’ve had the experience where a reader of color actually said “I don’t think any of these people are dark skinned” when I used the term “tall, dark, and handsome.” Well, actually, one was. He was even described (briefly-but I don’t believe in banging the reader over the head with such information either. That’s annoying as heck!) as such, but that did not register. I don’t blame the reader for this, I blame our culture. We’ve been white-and-cis-gender-washed for so long, that now, readers simply insert cis white man/woman in their mind even if the author explicitly wrote the character as a POC/minority/perhaps has a prosthetic limb. This tells me we need MORE diversity and we need to say it OUT LOUD, not just in our mind or imply it softly. We need to make this mainstream. To do that, more writers need to get over their fear and simply write the world as it is. Big, diverse, full of color and love for all.