As writers, we come up with worlds in our heads and commit them to paper. Even fiction that ostensibly takes place in our own world must contain fictional characters and elements that make it differ from our own.
Today at the Saloon, we’re going to sip our brews and chat about how people (and characters) make the world just as much as the world shapes us.
The Importance of Diversity in Characters and Worldbuilding
The world is rich and alive with many different people and many different backgrounds. If everyone were the same, we’d have no fun at all. There would be no discovery of others, no real friendships. To make characters in books come alive, they must be distinct, have different goals and needs, and sometimes they must be in opposition to one another.
When we think of diversity of characters, we often think first of racial and gender diversity. These are very important (and discussed in more detail in the next section), but they are not the only ways to incorporate diversity into your work. Here’s just a brief list of important diversity elements that can make your characters more distinct and real.
- Gender (and attraction)
- Age (think about how much popular media includes real characters of multiple generations – I’m only coming up with Orange Is the New Black right now, and it was chock full of interesting characters!)
- Ability and disability
- Religious affiliation or lack thereof
- Country of origin (distinct from race, even if it’s hard to separate in American culture)
Remember, if it takes place in any world with humans, you can include elements of diversity. Even in places, you think diversity would be impossible to include, you can; just look at Othello, if you want proof!
Diversity in Today’s Book Climate
If you take half a look at writing Twitter, Instagram, or a plethora of other online writing circles, diversity is a big push right now. It ranges from encouragement to read authors from underrepresented backgrounds to insistences that books must contain “X” amount of diversity.
You’ve read it. I’ve read it. We’ve felt the gamut of feelings from “That’s a great idea!” to “That made me feel attacked.” While none of us will ever be perfect, the climate as it stands can be very daunting.
A rule of thumb is to be more careful when you get closer to a subject. Do more research, and have more sensitivity readers. If, like me, you are white, and you want to write a book with a non-white main character set in the modern world, you definitely want to have sensitivity readers and do a lot of research. At the same time, if I wrote that book, it would be a disservice if I pretended like I was an expert on the subject when I didn’t have that life experience.
While most of us probably will stick with mains similar enough to ourselves that we won’t have that issue, I encourage you to try and push yourself with one character in your next work. Use the opportunity to learn new things, then write a piece that will expand your boundaries.
A Whole OLD World
Whenever you’re writing a fictional world, no matter how dissimilar to our own, your book will still be read by an audience steeped in our own world. No matter how dissimilar the histories of our worlds, anything written for humans to read will be read within the context of our own world.
If you write a world in which women are in power and men are not, it still is read in the context of a world in which men have long had most of the power. The switch of political power will still remind any reader of this fact. A book written in such a world could be very thematically interesting, or it could feel very ignorant of the element it switched. How you speak of the issue is just as important in a very different world as it is in our own.
About the Author
H.R.R. Gorman often doesn’t feel diverse, even if other people say he is. He loves writing, history, and science, often in erratically changing orders. If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/ or read the old “Into the Past” columns here on the Carrot Ranch!