Striving For “Diverse” Characters (And The Pitfalls)

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We’ve all seen the Oscars’ debate about “diversity” in film. That led me over the last few days to thinking about books, including my own. Although not nearly as media-prominent, literature is seeing much the same discussion as film – especially children’s books:

Screen capture of the PBS web site.
Screen capture of the PBS web site.

It is argued not unreasonably that children seeing characters “like themselves” is good for them. Beyond that:

….Dhonielle Clayton, vice president of We Need Diverse Books, stressed that good storytelling on a range of topics benefits all children and young adults, not just ones who belong to the communities they portray. โ€œBy having kids read cross-culturally, it really helps them have a common language of accepting and understanding,โ€ Clayton said.

Writing for children is not my genre, of course. So I’ll leave children’s literature to children’s authors. Yet the matter is relevant in its own way for us in “grown up” literature, too.

As a writer for adults, I do hope to have some positive impact on “accepting and understanding.” However, I try to write reasonably realistically about humanity as well. So I also know that while we humans are all the same in our humanity, I cannot escape the fact that there are times my characters won’t be “celebrating” their “diversity.”

Difference between them may well create discomfort, irritation, and even ugliness and conflict. As I pondered this subject while starting on this post, this popped to my mind – an unexpected meeting that takes place between two “diverse,” 20-something, arguably “young adult,” women. I once witnessed an encounter much like this one and couldn’t resist fictionalizing it in Distances:

Excerpt from "Distances," on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Distances,” on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.

So, yes, while it is definitely a good idea to seek to create “diverse” characters, as authors I believe we must also keep that effort in social perspective. I’m not trying to sit on the fence here. It’s just that – and much as we wish it were otherwise – naturally not everyone out there likes each other, therefore they certainly shouldn’t when fictionalized on our pages either…. or we’ve moved into the realm of writing fantasy.

Uh, on that lighthearted Friday note, have a good weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

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