Monday, October 31, 2016

On Chasing The Diversity Trend

Someone approached me recently, asking me if I was the “diversity agent.”

She wanted advice on how to make her story “more diverse.” Someone told her to throw a marginalized character into her novel to make it more marketable. So first, I asked her if she thought it was a good idea to “throw” anything into a novel.

Remember: if you can’t justify every writing decision you make beyond citing “market demand”; if you don’t *believe* in your own story or characters—you’ve got a problem. And I encourage you not to play into any kind of perceived trend if it diminishes the veracity of your book’s world.


You might want to contemplate making a thoughtful, thorough change to increase your book’s scope. A change that might, you know, make its world more accurately reflect the world we live in?

Here’s what I think: books are mirrors, and every reader should have the opportunity to find themselves in the books they read. So yes, consider making the world of your book reflect the diversity that exists in our world—if this is something you’re serious and passionate about doing, and not because it's a trend. You shouldn't feel as though you’re not equipped to write a story from a perspective or a cultural background you don’t personally share—but at the same time, I urge you to honor the complexity of that perspective, and to do the work you need to do to make it authentic.

Writing outside of your own experience is a serious responsibility. It isn’t a matter of “throwing” in a token character, or any careless detail that belittles an entire tradition or lifestyle. If you choose to write any kind of stereotype, you are saying to everyone: this representation is sufficient. This person doesn’t need depth. This culture is not multifaceted. You’d be limiting the scope of your book, you’d be doing a disservice to your readers—you’d basically be saying, “I don’t care enough.” You’d be endorsing a reductive view of the world. And I’m sure you’d never want to be accused of that.

Another thing to remember: obtaining one person’s approval of how you represent anything isn’t a free pass. Get more eyes on your work, as many eyes as possible. Seek out readers from different backgrounds, different literary sensibilities. Encourage all kinds of feedback, and prepare to encounter a fair share of negativity. Like I always say: mastering the art of accepting criticism gracefully will serve you well in this industry. Writing requires courage, determination, and a strong stomach. Be prepared to defend what you think is right, but know when to step down and admit that you’ve made a mistake. Know when to listen. And always, always, take steps to make amends.

Readers want stories that feel true. They want characters that are emotionally accessible, feel real, and are fully human. Readers don’t want empty shells for characters. Even if they look like them.

Writing is an art, and art is subjective. So don’t chase trends, any trends. Don’t try to make your story fit someone else’s concept of what’s in vogue with current readers. Don’t feel the need to make your characters be something different for difference’s sake, or speak or behave in way that doesn’t feel right to you. It will almost always backfire, because publishing professionals can sense writing that doesn’t feel genuine, even if it’s competent otherwise.

Write honestly. Honor the process. Give it the respect any art deserves.

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