Let’s Talk Diversity in Novels & Writing


Image of Diversity ©Sascha Darlington

Diversity has become such a catchphrase anymore. We need more diversity. For a lot of it, I agree. Movies and TV should appeal to masses. Neither has ever needed to get every nuance right, because those media don’t have to. It’s not expected. It would be nice, but not expected and sometimes not necessary.

What about when it comes to novels? If you pick up a novel, do you expect, need, or want that writer to employ diversity? Should they represent all ethnicities and sexualities in their novels? Is it off-putting if they don’t? Is it off-putting if they do?

As a writer, I want to get what I write right. Maybe that’s the most important thing to me. And by right, I mean I want it true. I want someone to read my work and say: Yes. This I understand. Yes, this is true. I feel that this is one thing, amongst many, that makes novels important. They can attend to so much more than tv shows or movies.

My qualms involving writing about minorities are that I don’t know what it’s like to live their lives. I can try to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, but I know my mile is going to be different from theirs. I don’t want to get it wrong. That to me is the worst thing I could do as a writer: writing about a person and getting it wrong. But does that mean I shouldn’t try?

(Note: This qualm doesn’t just involve minorities, but writing about other cultures. I read a work by a non-American that read as if they learned the culture from tv and applied it across the board to all Americans. Wrong.)

Am I overthinking this?

As writers and readers, if I start throwing in characters of color or alternative lifestyles will you really applaud me if I don’t delve into their lives? Is having token characters something worthy of admiration?

So what started this questioning? I read a review of a very good writer who has always written about characters who ring true and the reviewer said that the lack of diversity didn’t sit well. Ever since I’ve been wondering about the expectation of readers.

What do you think? I have an open mind on this. I am really curious as to whether just having diverse background characters is enough.

Help to enlighten me. Please.


11 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Diversity in Novels & Writing

  1. Sascha, thank you for the post. This is a conversation I have often with friends and family. Personally, I don’t care to write a book that’s not diverse and filled with rich characters. But that’s just me. I grew up in a multicultural environment, I am a product of two difrrent cultures (My mom is African American and my father Caucasian). My friends are all of different nationalities. So, when I write, I write what I know. I may not know everything about Indian, Guyanese, Asian, white or black cultures, but I write what I have experienced with each and every wonderful individual I’ve had the expeirence of knowing. We live in a multicultural world. I don’t like to tell people to diversify their work. If you’re more comfortable writing about one culture that’s great. I like to think at the end of the day, we are all human. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Denise. Yes! I agree that when it comes right down to it–we all have the same hopes and desires–the human condition. It’s the particularities that are different.

      I appreciate your weighing in!

      1. The particularities are important in writing. I worry about that as well, and try to stay as true as possible to the culture from my experiences. Love your post! Thanks Sascha!

  2. This is a wonderful question – I haven’t thought about it before. However, people will have diverse opinions on diversity. Therefore, just stay true to your writing. 😉

    1. Thanks. Honestly I hadn’t either until I read the review.
      I appreciate your feeling. I think writers should stay true to their writing!
      Thanks for your input! 🙂

  3. Diversity shouldn’t be forced, that is, if the setting is one where diversity would exist in real life, then it makes sense to have diverse characters. I write romance set in a small Alaskan village (based on an actual Alaskan village). There are no African Americans in this village; in fact, Alaska has relatively few AA’s (more in the cities), but we do have Natives and those of Asian descent. So it makes sense that my characters would include Natives and Asians. But it’s important to get the character right, whether race minorities, gay/lesbian, special needs, or mainstream. You don’t want characters to become caricatures. (When I read, I want the characters to make sense in the story.)

  4. Beautiful artwork and I love question. The same conversation comes up in film; lots of homogeny in mainstreamed storytelling. The theory of the Hero’s Journey indicates there’s a basic formula for all story but if you read fairy tales across cultures, values drive the story into the diverse places missing from ‘marketable’ literature. It’s the difference between indie films and Hollywood. Some of us have to go to the old used bookstore in the middle of nowhere to hear our voice echoing back to us in the pages of a novel no ones ever heard of, written by a person who might as well not exist.

    1. But the good thing is that the novel does exist and if we find it, we can hear out voices.
      I like your point, or at least what I think your point is.
      If we tell our stories and they are our own stories, they will possess a diversity that exists because our voice is unique.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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