In Defense of Diversity

One issue which has become more important to me over the past year or so is including diversity in fiction and other media. Today I chose to share a slightly altered version of an essay I wrote for a college scholarship where I discussed this topic. I chose to remove some parts or add pieces to make the essay a little more pertinent in a blog setting. Many of the resources I mention have already been covered in my Writing Resources posts in a general fashion, but here I will try to be a little more specific.

The film Rogue One included a cast with diversity and a variety of strengths. The female protagonist is independent and not included as a simple love interest. Several female characters in minor roles as pilots or mechanics send an even louder message. Other key characters have diverse accents, are of different races, and some even have disabilities. The push to include more diversity in fiction and media has compelled me to explore new options in my own writing since before Rogue One’s debut, but the new Star Wars story highlights the importance of heterogeneous casting no matter the medium.

Acceptance of our differences make us stronger and media portrayals of characters with a variety of traits can help audiences approach these differences in a supportive, helpful manner. Stories should be inclusive and inspire people to embrace themselves and one another no matter their sex, race, religion, age, or abilities. Thoughtful, well-rounded characters of different backgrounds can help stories, like Rogue One, have a wider reach and stronger emotional impact.

Positive portrayals of minorities in fiction and media can help lead to positive daily interactions between those whose differences seem insurmountable. Talking to different people and researching to create varied characters gives me a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the differences which surround me. I do not have to belong to a specific community to support their welfare, in life and in fiction.

To highlight the importance of writing the other and including diversity in fiction and media, I’ve selected a few of my favorite Writing Excuses episodes on the topics. Episodes from Season 6 and Season 7 give a good background as to what writing the other means and how to approach the process as a writer. In Season 11, episode 22 focuses on unconscious biases and episode 46 tackles colonialism and cultural appropriation. In addition to these podcasts, the first chapter (Really, all the chapters, but I said I would be more specific!) of the book Writing the Other examines why diversity and writing the other is so important.

In my efforts to support the movement towards increasing diversity, as well as improving my own stories, I have made conscious choices while creating characters for my current project, The Commanders. To do this I have to step away from myself; books would be boring and predictable if authors only wrote characters exactly like themselves. Since my novel fits into the fantasy genre I do get a little leeway during character creation, but educating myself about traits I do not possess myself is essential.

When I decided to include a blind character in The Commanders I chose to attend Writing the Other’s online masterclass for writing deaf and blind characters. I recognize I have much more to learn before finishing the blind character in my work-in-progress with complete accuracy. However, this class set the direction for my research and helped me form a groundwork for writing characters with disabilities. My project’s cast includes both male and female characters who come from different nations and cultures and deal with both mental and physical illness. Above all, these characters are people. Their backgrounds may inform their decisions and personalities, but I try my best to make them more than cardboard cutouts with their own hopes and choices independent of gender, race, or health.

The potential for social change is one of the aspects I love the most about writing and the fantasy genre in particular. Fantasy, science fiction, and other types of creative writing allow authors to strip an issue down to its core, presenting it out of the familiar context so audiences may look at a problem in a new way. As authors, writing outside of our own experiences and traits can be difficult, but we are rewarded with a deeper understanding and a richer story.

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