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Diversity in Writing

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by straydelta, Feb 2, 2019.

  1. straydelta

    straydelta Noodlebirb

    “Write what you know.”

    When I was a young teenager and starting to write more seriously, I always wrote what I knew - so I always wrote about girls who were like me: bookish, maybe shy, or maybe bold in a way I wished I was.

    It wasn’t until I got older that I started to try branching out and writing more male characters - but I could never bring myself to write anyone non-white, and it certainly never crossed my mind to write anyone who wasn’t straight and cis until I entered college and realized I was bi.

    So, I’m curious - how, if ever, do you tackle diversity in your writing? Is it something you think about, are you passionate about including it, or do you avoid it? What are your thoughts?
     
  2. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    I've personally never had any strong thoughts on this. I think that's something I liked about reading books; I could imagine how I wanted a character to look. For example, growing up, whenever reading books that had a character with the same name of someone I knew in real life, I imagined that character looking like the person I knew. So any "Hank"s I read about were black, "Grace"s were Korean, and so on--it led me to ignoring how the book described them appearance-wise lol. And I tend to stick to it even now; there's a character in Drowning named Cloe and I imagine her being Ecuadorian because the Cloe I know in real life is. There are some other examples, but that was the first that came to mind.

    tl;dr: I'm not particularly passionate but I also don't try to avoid it. I just do whatever comes to mind.
     
    Venia Silente and Kutie Pie like this.
  3. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie Together with the Wind

    I honestly don't give a shit, I just write about whatever and things will just turn out however they turn out even if I have an idea of what someone's like in my head--but if I can't fit it into the narrative, then whatever, I'm not going to force it. In fan fiction this is something you might only think about if you're coming up with an OC, but even in fiction nobody cares (or even should care) for the most part because the reader's always going to have their own interpretation if they don't immediately have a visual beforehand. If a writer has an idea, even if it's preachy or pretentious to some people, they should write it out however they want. Writers should never adhere to what someone on the Internet or in person tells them what a character should look like or feel or act towards something in-story just because they're too goddamn lazy to make their own stories and instead bully people into doing what they want.

    Write what you know. Write what you want to write about. Write like you mean it. That's it.
     
  4. Venia Silente

    Venia Silente [](int x){return x;}

    I mostly don't think about writing what I know, in terms of characters; rather, it's more like write a general idea and let them grow on their own, if they end up Filipino, pansexual or socialist all the better, but if they don't it's just as fine, not great loss - after all, I wouldn't want to horribly mangle those things that I don't know.

    However, since I mostly write for Pokémon, this doesn't really end up having much of an effect; when issues about diversity are brought up it tends to be on the context of marginalized groups, the definition and latitude of which relies heavily on what things are true In Real Life™, but in the Pokémon world there's not much sense in saying that Character Foo is, say, a bi Latino, when in a world that could have gone so differently it is not really possible to impart the same weight (and writer agency) to someone being Latino that it they'd have in our IRL. I mean, cool as it is Argentina might never have been a country. We don't even know if the South American continent is a thing, Mew Pokédex entries mentioning Guyanas nonwithstanding, and I certainly hope Unova does not have an orange clown trying to lift a Wall. So these kinds of things end up becoming what TVTropes calls "Informed Attributes" (no, I'm not gonna link you to that)

    Admittedly, one of my pet peeves in the Pokémon Fandom is writing stories, characters or settings that are far too close to IRL for proper, enjoyable escapism, and unfortunately diversity carries enough of a meta baggage that it interferes with that in the good decade of 2010s. If I could secure the proper tutelage to bring in forms of diversity without the meta stuff dragging it down I'd likely give it a try, still, as I write oneshots mostly it's not an effort I'm actively seeking out, unless I see the attitude of the internet improving on the matter during the 2020s.

    ...And of course, all this so far is only about "human" diversity. Opening the can of Pokémon diversity is a whole... well 'nother can, one that I find far more interesting to tackle if built properly from the premise that Pokémon are not humans and are not stand-ins for human characters and realities either.
     
  5. Phoenixsong

    Phoenixsong you taste like fear

    Hm. I really don't think it has to be that difficult to include a little diversity without making things political or seem "out of place" in a different world, Pokémon or otherwise:

    -If you're concerned about using the names of real countries/ethnicities because your version of canon assumes they're not the same, then just use other signifiers. Obviously non-English names, for example. If you can have a "John" or a "Kimberly" without a "United States" or an "England" or other "English-speaking countries", if you can have a "Jean-Pierre" and say that he's from Kalos, then you can have a "Quyen" without a Vietnam or a "Haroun" who is from [insert name of made-up region here]. You don't have to go into detail about what this made-up region is like; the signal that it's a different location than "Kanto" or whatever is enough.

    -You can describe a character's skin color pretty simply. Obviously don't use offensive/touchy terminology like comparing skin color to food, but it costs pretty much nothing to say that someone was black or had light brown skin or what have you.

    -All else fails, I don't think anyone's going to riot if you straight-up say "Latino" or something. A split-second suspension of disbelief or whatever is worth more clarity down the road. Maybe it's jarring to the reader for just a moment, but if the rest of your story treats the character just as well or even-handedly as any other character, that feeling should go away pretty rapidly unless your reader is a jerk.

    -Sexuality is a little trickier because it sounds a lot more awkward to just up and say "he was gay" compared to "he was black", so in that case a simple line like "he was admiring a magazine with photos of cute boys" or having the lesbian character say "nah, I had enough of that noise with my last girlfriend" or whatever will have to do. Those might be clunky examples, but I'm sure it's possible to think of something. Then you say it once and, if their sexuality isn't important to the story, you don't ever have to bring it up again if it isn't warranted. People will know, and then they'll move on to enjoying the rest of your story. Again, it's only constantly jarring if you're either harping on about it awkwardly or your reader is, and the latter isn't your problem.

    -There are probably plenty of other things I'm not thinking of. Plenty of people with more experience in this arena than I have written loads on the topic that will come up with a quick Googling.

    There's no need to shy away from explicitly including people of diverse ethnic backgrounds or gender identities or whatever just because they make the story sound "too close to IRL". Yes, stories about, say, trans experiences or Muslim experiences are important--people want to see stories that understand them, and often want other people to be able to understand, too. And it's perfectly reasonable to be afraid of mangling a story about experiences that aren't yours, and generally a good idea to avoid going that route. Here's the thing, though: those stories are important to marginalized people, but escapism can be important to them, too. Sometimes you want to read a story about your specific experiences, but sometimes you want to get away from all that while still knowing that people like you can exist and be happy in a world that maybe doesn't have those issues. "The Pokémon world might not have X issue with trans people" doesn't mean that a character can't still be trans; it just means that they're trans without having to deal with any crap they'd otherwise have to deal with here.

    Basically, the white cis male protagonist doesn't have to worry about his story "becoming political"; his story doesn't have to deal with issues about his sexuality or his gender or his race. He's allowed to just defeat the dragon and get on with it. Well, the bi Latino protagonist would like to be able to just defeat the dragon and get on with it, too.

    If your process for character development or what your story needs doesn't involve deliberately seeking out diverse backgrounds, that's not necessarily a terrible thing. I'm not saying go out and turn your stories into a multicultural rainbow mural just for the sake of token diversity. Honestly, being more inclusive is something that it takes me some effort to get used to when I plan my stories, and I'm a non-binary person of color myself. But I would say that it's a little silly to be actively nervous about simple, non-political inclusion, just letting a person of color or non-binary gender identity look at your story and go "hey, I'm allowed to be here, too, the author says that someone like me definitively exists here and I don't just have to imagine it because no skin color or gender was stated", when it's not actually that hard. Don't plan things that way if you don't want to--absolutely no one should force you to do anything in your story--but don't be afraid of trying altogether.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
    Venia Silente likes this.
  6. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie Together with the Wind

    Oh, and this thread couldn't have come at a better time because when I made my post, I was seething and had to hold myself back for I had just learned of this disgusting incident involving a Chinese writer pulling her first-ever book from publication because of bullies shaming her for depicting a scene of a slave auction in a time and place where such events happen. And keep in mind, the book wasn't made public yet.

    https://www.vulture.com/2019/01/ya-twitter-forces-rising-star-author-to-self-cancel.html
    The world of young-adult fiction is no stranger to controversy, whether it’s a weeks-long war against a problematic book or a whisper network accusing a badly behaved male author. But even against this backdrop of continually percolating dramas, the saga surrounding Amélie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir was unusually dramatic: a scattering of small, apparently disconnected fires started by persons unknown, all abruptly extinguished by the author herself yesterday when she called for her own book to be canceled.

    Blood Heir, the first in a planned three-book series, began as the ultimate social media–meets–publishing success story. Zhao matched with her agent, Park Literary’s Peter Knapp, during a Twitter pitching event for marginalized creators (Zhao immigrated from China to the U.S. at the age of 18). Her fantasy series, a loose retelling of Anastasia with a diverse cast of characters and a hefty dose of blood magic, sold at auction in a high six-figure deal with Delacorte. And over the course of the past year, Zhao emerged as an active and outspoken participant in the YA community — not just the author of a buzzworthy debut but an enthusiastic, effective communicator who was deeply engaged with issues of diversity and knew how to make herself heard.

    “Set out with good intentions,” Zhao wrote in March 2018, in a post advising other writers on how to navigate social media. “Be enthusiastic, be positive, be supportive, cheer people on — all those things you’d want to find in a real-life friend, be those things online and in the writing community, too.”

    A scroll through her Twitter history shows that Zhao generally followed her own advice in the year after she sold her book, boosting fellow authors and writing about the issues she faced as part of YA’s nonwhite minority. (In one tweet, she mused: “I’ve been asked several times why I didn’t write a Chinese #ownvoices novel. I don’t want to be boxed into the permanent ‘Other;’ I want diverse books written by PoC to become part of the mainstream.”)

    Early last week, however, influencers within the YA community began tweeting vaguely about an unnamed person engaged in bad authorial behavior: targeting book bloggers for harassment over negative reviews, “shit talking other authors of color.” The villain’s identity was initially a mystery and source of fascination, but elsewhere, a woman who tweets under the handle @LegallyPaige wasn’t being so cagey about naming names: “I’ll tell you which 2019 debut author, according to the whisper network, has been gathering screenshots of people who don’t/didn’t like her book and giving off Kathleen Hale vibes: Amelie Wen Zhao.”

    Although LegallyPaige declined to offer proof of Zhao’s alleged screenshotting-with-intent, her thread now looks a bit like the opening salvo in a larger campaign to sabotage the debut author. A flurry of additional accusations followed: that Zhao had plagiarized a death scene from The Hunger Games, lifted a line from Tolkien, gotten the conventions wrong on her Russian-inspired characters’ names, and indulged in problematic world-building by putting a slave auction scene in her book — in which a black character was ignominiously killed off.

    [​IMG]

    Whether Zhao was guilty of any of the above is still up for debate, particularly in the absence of a finished book. (Blood Heir was not slated to publish until June; some reviewers had advance copies.) But unless we want to eliminate the Death Song trope from fiction or ding Tolkien’s own use of paraphrased Bible passages, the plagiarism allegations are shaky at best — and the charge of racism, led by a series of caustic tweets from YA fantasy author L.L. McKinney, relies on both a subjective interpretation of the word “bronze” and an exclusively American reading of scenes involving slavery. Nevertheless, the latter allegations caught the attention of social-justice-minded readers, and the controversy began to balloon. A smattering of one-star reviews cropped up on Zhao’s Goodreads page. Book bloggers began announcing that they no longer intended to read Blood Heir. In a tweet thread that did not name or tag Zhao but was clearly about her, well-known author Ellen Oh wrote, “Dear POC writers, You are not immune to charges of racism just because you are POC.”

    It’s worth noting here that the role of Asian women within YA’s writers of color contingent has been a flashpoint for conflict before — one that led Zhao to butt heads with YA queen bee Justina Ireland in May 2018. After Ireland wrote a (since deleted) tweet that some readers interpreted as exclusionary gatekeeping of the “POC” label, Zhao launched a long thread asserting that Asian women are, indeed, women of color, including some pointed language about those who would suggest otherwise.

    “You can delete your tweets, and we’re not going to come into your mentions, but ask yourselves why you wrote those/agreed with those in the first place, and why there is such an outcry. While we’re on the valid issue of anti-POC within POC groups, examine your own beliefs, too.” (She did not tag Ireland, but needless to say, everyone knew whom she was talking about.)

    [​IMG]

    It’s impossible to say whether this eight-month-old beef helped spark a retaliatory campaign by Ireland’s supporters, or perhaps primed critics to focus on Zhao’s alleged insensitivity to the history of African-American slavery. What is clear is that the current controversy speaks to a larger, ongoing debate in YA about marginalized identities, “own voices,” and who is and isn’t entitled to tell certain kinds of stories.

    In the past, this sort of grumbling over imperfectly woke books has sometimes grown into a five-alarm social-media fire replete with vote brigading, form-letter writing, and petitions to cancel publication. But whether Blood Heir might have eventually become a target of animus on the order of The Black Witch, American Heart, or The Continent, we’ll never know. Just as Twitter was beginning to fan the flames of the controversy, Amélie Wen Zhao — who had been silent since before @LegallyPaige first accused her of plotting against book bloggers — gave her first and (for now) last statement on the matter. She had not intended to evoke an offensive analogy to American slavery, she said, but she had nevertheless asked Delacorte not to publish her book.

    “The issues around Affinite indenturement in the story represent a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country,” Zhao wrote. “The narrative and history of slavery in the United States is not something I can, would, or intended to write, but I recognize that I am not writing in merely my own cultural context.” The statement continued: “I don’t wish to clarify, defend, or have anyone defend me. This is not that; this is an apology.”

    Unsurprisingly, the response was wide-ranging and intense. Some (including Ellen Oh) lauded Zhao for her bravery, others derided her for cowardice, and many wondered aloud if the author had self-censored voluntarily out of fear of a mob that would hound her until publication and beyond. For now, the future of Blood Heir remains uncertain — and the Twittersphere rages on.

    Writers need to learn to stand up to these people and tell them, "Fuck off, go write your own book if you're so concerned about representation." It's already hard enough to get your transcript accepted by anyone these days, but it's sickening how much power has been given to these harpies. An author has the right to write whatever they damn well please and has a right to reach any audience they wish, and that's why literature has been under attack for God-knows how long.

    Just some food for thought for aspiring writers wishing to enter actual publication.
     
  7. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Well, my (human-featuring) stories take place in a Kanto that I've kind of managed to turn into a weird splice of Japan, the US and (Northern) Europe. Kanto is geographically based in Japan and I headcanon as the people living there being predominantly "Tohjoan" (code for Japanese, as "Japanese" doesn't exist in that world) as the case is for real-life Japan, which is rather homogenous in terms of race. However, as I have one character being clearly non-Japanese for TPP lore reasons (Abe, who I've drawn and depicted as Middle Eastern Jewish), I figured I may as well make different ethnicities more prevalent. For that, I've used the US as an example - although also because I grew up with shows set in the US and have a pretty okay grasp on what the culture and behavior over there is like. Also, a lot of names are clearly Western (Joanna, Jordan Marsh, Samson) even though there are clearly Japanese ones as well (Akai, Michi, Tamaki) - this is kind of just due to poor planning and I'm still trying to come up with a reasonable in-universe explanation. Lastly, Northern Europe comes in as it's where I'm from and what I understand best on a grass-roots level. As I translate some of my own experiences with mental health services over to my fics, they're bound to feel Finnish.

    However, I have another kind of "diversity" that's more on my mind when writing stories, and that's the presence of civilized Pokémon. Since I have them, I want to show that they are commonplace and that they live beside humans (but have some slight implications of being second-class). Thus from a story perspective, it takes priority over human diversity - but when I do have a human, I usually spend a little time thinking about how they should look. Describing them may be a bit difficult, as I'm unfortunately one of those people who care way too much about keeping the real and Pokémon world separate and can't just say "oh, this guy is Indian" because I'm not ready to explain why Japan isn't a thing but India is and I'm generally actually pretty crap at coming up with large-scale worldbuilding. I could try to describe them with facial features instead, but then that runs the risk of sounding like a caricature - and frankly I don't have the best terminology on that, either.

    As for sexuality, my main character is gay. I will admit me being a dirty fujo has been a big influence on that decision, but as for how it's shown itself so far, it's usually only implied through him never describing physical attraction to women and having some homoerotic undertones with the male god he worships - although it's never out of the question for him to just say out loud if it's relevant to the situation (such as when someone implies he would have committed a crime of sexual nature with a woman and he responds that he's both gay and celibate). However, I'm planning on having him enter a relationship with a bisexual man in a future. There's a bunch of other LGBT characters in my TPP universe, but they're not central in the current stories I'm writing or planning.

    I'm not sure if I actually contributed to the discussion at all, but I sure like rambling about my stories. Well, anyway: I don't think it's outright bigoted to only have cishet white people in your story, as for some parts of the world that just is statistically the majority (such as where I live) and it's usually just "writing what you know" that leads to that. But, if it doesn't kill the setting to have some other ethnicities or sexualities in there - which it usually doesn't in stories taking place in the modern times - you may as well put some in. Usually it only makes it feel more real to show not everything is typical, and with magical monsters running around we sure can use all the realism we can get. Just don't make their attribute their entire character and you should be fine.
     
  8. straydelta

    straydelta Noodlebirb

    I asked this question because I'm currently studying to be a teacher in the U.S., and a lot of my graduate courses tackle these issues of diversity - and since I'm planning to teach English, we focus heavily on how literature portrays diversity. If you've ever been in an American school, you know the English "canon" - Shakespeare, The Great Gatsby...and many other novels by white men. Oh, yes, you'll likely read To Kill a Mockingbird and maybe Frankenstein, but now we've just favored white women. We scarcely cover any other authors - let alone portrayed characters within the literature - that aren't white, and more likely aren't men.

    What does this teach students? It teaches them the only literature that matters was written by white men. Thankfully that's starting to change - and naturally that isn't to discredit the canon works, but it's simply a reminder that one particular voice is not the authority of English literature.

    I asked this question about diversity because it's a question I have to address now on a daily basis as a future teacher. I'm going to have students who are not like me. I'm going to have students who are incredibly diverse - non-native speakers, non-white, straight, not straight, all different religions, students who have disabilities - the list goes on. As a teacher, I have to learn how to create a classroom that embraces and accepts that diversity. As an English teacher, I have to be mindful of the literature I share with them to make sure I don't send them the wrong message.

    A few of you have hit on this idea that, as a writer, you should write what you want. And I think that's true. Why write something you don't want to write? Where's the point in that?

    But shouldn't we also write in ways that reflect the reality around us? I know Pokemon fanfiction isn't quite the same, and I think many of you came up with brilliant ideas of incorporating the existing regions as ways of defining nationality, but it's also true that there aren't enough regions to cover the diversity of our world. There's no Pokemon region that represents people from South America, Africa, or the Middle East, for example.

    Phoenixsong made a great point, though:
    At the end of the day, isn't that slight bit of disbelief worth it to include a little more diversity?

    Phoenixsong, I thought this bit was also fantastic as well:

    I sort of debated asking this question for fear of it being seen as "too political." The "default" is considered the white, straight male, and everything else stands out as "PC" or "too political." (Just look at the way people have reacted to Black Panther or Captain Marvel. Oh, and don't forget the new Star Wars movies.) It's as if making the literary world more real has suddenly become "political," because we're accustomed to seeing one world: the white one. And obviously there are so, so many examples of non-white, and female authors out there, but how many times do we see these narratives sidelined as "other" or "extra"?

    Of course, I'm not saying every character who pops up in a novel needs to be this sea of non-white faces; that every person needs to be a revolving door of the sexuality and gender spectrum. But I was curious to see how writers felt about writing the things they don't know.

    As much as I love the idea of writing what you know and writing what you want, that can also be dangerous. Perhaps not so much here on serebii forums, but what about massive game platforms like Bioware with Dragon Age and Mass Effect? What about T.V. shows like Avatar, Legend of Korra, and Steven Universe? If these writers had elected to only write what they know, we wouldn't have the diversity we see in these media. Bioware lets us see people of different color, and have same-sex relationships. We get to see trans people. Avatar especially hits hard on diversity, and not just with color and gender - who could forget Toph, the most powerful and blind Earthbender?

    But to return to diversity, what about Percy Jackson? Rick Riordan has, I would argue, championed diversity in his writing, and he's a white male. His series started because he wanted to write a story for his ADHD, dyslexic son, where those "disabilities" were actually strengths. After writing the first series, he grew increasingly diverse; his protagonists were non-white, they were female...some major characters, but not protagonists, weren't straight. Then we were hit with a first-person series from Apollo, a loud and proud bisexual character. Riordan gave us non-binary characters in a different series around Norse gods.

    James Roberts, who writes comics for Transformers, has made massive strides in what has typically been a "boy's club" series; whereas most of his predecessors insisted on a monogendered species, Roberts invented a way in for female representation. He had gay robots. Married gay robots. Trans robots. It was incredible. Fans had the chance to create a Transformer, and they created a female one that was so successful she got her own comic series. She was brought into the current T.V. show.

    "Go off and write what you want" is easier said than done. People don't always have access to writing, so often times it's up to the people who do have access to be more inclusive. And...well, I suppose, then, they did write what they wanted. They wanted to write diversity.

    I want to end on this note, because it's an unfortunate reality when tackling issues of diversity. You had a gay character? Ugh, you SJW - keep that PC nonsense out of this.

    Trans? Same thing. PoC? Same thing. Too many female characters? PC, SJW, feminist, man-hater.

    I might be biased because I study literature and plan to teach it for a living, and to deny the power of language and stories is counter to everything I'm doing - and I can't quite stand here and champion for diversity when I haven't had the chance to do it much myself. I know it's not easy to write something other than myself, or that which I know. It's far easier for me to write about someone who's trans, even if I'm not trans, than someone who's blind, because I don't know anyone in my life who's blind, or even close to it. But shouldn't I still try to write that trans person into my story - not forcibly, but still include them - because I know how to?

    I'm also not trying to say that we have to have some sort of checklist besides us as we write, where we check off our diversity boxes - but should we try to be more actively aware within our writing to make sure we include different voices? Just as we'd want a varied cast of personalities, don't we, too, want a varied cast of backgrounds and people?

    Every story is different, and not every situation works out the same way (after all, I wouldn't expect a very diverse cast of characters if they were all from, say, Pallet Town, perhaps - and maybe that's the point), but I think it might be worth challenging ourselves to see where we can try to push our comfort zones and write more inclusively, and what that might look like.

    And I say this because Rick Riordan's The Trials of Apollo was the first novel I ever read that had a character like me - someone who was bisexual. I'd seen gay, I'd seen lesbian, but never before bisexual, and it made me cry. I felt a shared experience I had never had before with regards to my sexuality, and it came at a time when I was still struggling to accept myself. But to see such solid, strong, proud representation from an author I had been reading since I was in the 6th grade - I can't understate the impact it had on me.

    Food for thought. I love everything I've been seeing so far, and I hope to see more.
     
  9. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie Together with the Wind

    No it doesn't. If students take that away in their studies, that's because it's the teacher who beat it into their heads that the skin color of the author is the sole reason why those books are required reading in school, and all it does is just breed ignorance and then you get calls for more books to be banned for more idiotic reasons (and then you're going to miss the days when it was just the religious fundies screeching about banning books from schools because their children are learning about different ideologies). These books are required reading in schools because they're stories that were created in response to what happens/or has happened in society, whether it's the changing of the times or just a way to romanticize a point of view/idealism, and more often than not they're social commentaries that somehow still ring true to this day in many of these stories.

    I don't know what they're teaching you about American literature, but I was never told about the author's skin color or the genitalia between their legs or who they romanced in their private life because that wasn't important; at best we got a little background of where the author grew up which influenced their writing. What we did was read the books, had discussions about what was going on in the story, learned some history of what was going on at the time period the story was taking place/when it was being written, and occasionally we had tests/quizzes about it or watched a film adaptation while writing down notes to prove we were paying attention. That was the criteria, and I weep for the future of literature because of how close we are to Fahrenheit 451 becoming our reality if any of these classics are shoved aside, banned from schools, or burned in piles simply because it was written by those fucking white maaaaales.

    Criticize the books if you want to because it opens up discussion (the very reason why people write anything), but never dismiss them just because of who wrote them.
     
  10. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Race isn't something I've given much thought to, as I primarily write animals/anthros. Although I have given a couple of characters accents before now, as they weren't from the same areas the main cast were. But it's something I feel I should consider more in the future for my more human-centric stories. As for sexuality, I've got a couple of asexual characters. One of them is Matrix from System:Reboot. Basically, if I feel something fits a character and I'm comfortable writing it, I'll generally go for it.
     
  11. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    This pretty much sums up my own experience. I had a Literature teacher who was all for championing diversity, but we still read a bunch of books considered "classics" written by white men because of the reasons Kutie Pie listed above. They're well-written, and they tell a LOT about the times and cultures in which they come from. Plus, America was colonized primarily by the UK--that country influenced this culture moreso than any other single nation did. The values they held reflected the values that were carried over to America at the time. So if the oldest books you see are all written by white straight males, that's often because they were the only ones at the time who were able to have works published. It's certainly not a good thing, but it's what happened.

    Unfortunately, in most western nations, most people who weren't a straight white male weren't able to get work published until relatively recently. A big reason why my teachers stuck to the classic books even though they encouraged exposure to diversity is because the writing style of so many modern books is awful. There was one author (I want to say it was Maya Angelou, but in all honesty, I can't quite remember) that was read by a lot of students but my teachers wouldn't give us any of her work because it wasn't well-written. I remember reading parts of her works on my own and she used metaphors that maybe sounded nice but they just didn't make any sense.

    And even though my teachers still gave us classics, they also gave us stuff that was not written just by white people. They gave us stuff to read from Zora Neale Hurston, Amy Tan, Martin Luther King Jr. and others. As of now, there aren't as many writers of racial or sexual minorities, so there's a smaller pool of authors to pick from, which could be another reason why classrooms are mainly exposed to works by white straight males.

    I just want to emphasize how you said people don't have to have some sort of checklist as they write. Because when people write, it's to tell something--whether a story, or to get a deep moral message across, or just to entertain people. I've been writing Drowning because I was dissatisfied with how the Pokemon anime handled the Groudon-Kyogre showdown and want to make a different way for it to happen; I want to show what the lives of grunts--who are generally seen as "faceless," without personalities or personal lives--are like, what their thought processes are, what they struggle with; I want to show friendship, people standing up for what they know is right not just in spite of but even because of the struggle and danger that's present. And if there are some non-white or non-straight characters that come in, great! If anything, it could be to show they're just as capable as anyone else. But I wouldn't say that any author is obliged to include anything in their story. It's their story--they ultimately make the final call as to what they choose to include.

    I'd say this especially applies to stories that take place in a certain setting. For example, if someone wants to write about a story that takes place in Communist China, chances are that most, if not all, of the cast would be ethnically Chinese. The author could have other ethnicities in their if he wanted to, but I'd say it would further suspend the audience's willing suspension of disbelief (if that makes sense. Sorry, it's late and I'm tired lol).

    I hope what I said makes sense lol. It's essentially a longer version of my original post: I don't think diversity should be avoided, but people aren't obligated to go out of their way to include it imo.
     
  12. straydelta

    straydelta Noodlebirb

    I might have dragged the conversation away from fanfic by trying to connect to my personal studies, but I do want to address this:

    I'd like to draw you attention to what I wrote directly after what you quoted:

    I've taken multiple courses on Shakespeare, both in undergrad and in graduate school. I'm not here to say we need to stop teaching Shakespeare to students, or that Ernest Hemingway wasn't a keystone American author, or that we need to throw The Great Gatsby out the window and burn all those books because they're written by white men. I'm going to be yet another English teacher who teaches her English students Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth. There is a reason why we still read Shakespeare today, 400 years later, and why it resonates with people. He was one of the first great English writers. Naturally we'd want to study that. I'm not advocating for dismissing books because of who wrote them; I'm advocating for more inclusion.

    Frankenstein was arguably the very first science fiction novel, and a massively famous novel that has been adapted, re-adapted, and immensely pervasive in modern culture.

    I didn't read it until college.

    You know what every single 10th grader in New York reads? The Great Gatsby.

    And yes, it's true that virtually all of those same students also read To Kill a Mockingbird. But 2-to-1 aren't exactly the best odds. And there are more examples, but I'm sticking with that to make my point - these are considered staple canons, and only one is a woman. All are white. That sends an implicit message. These are the people who mattered, because these are the only type of people we're going to talk about.

    Of course, we're not going to be able to read about every single different kind of person in the world in the classroom; that's impossible. But still, the world today is so different. Classrooms are full of men and women, white and black, immigrants and non-native speakers, students with disabilities, gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, trans, non-binary - the list goes on and on, and as the years pass, this diversity only grows more and more openly. Shouldn't the literature we read reflect that? Shouldn't we also teach these students to read novels and interpret novels that reflect who they are, who show them people like them - or people who aren't like them, but reflect the classmate sitting beside them? Yes, teach them Shakespeare and To Kill A Mockingbird - they're classics for a reason. They're important. But why not also read novels like The Hate U Give or Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda? If we want students to read about things that connect to them, what better than novels like these, which directly hit what's happening to them now?

    It's not white men vs. everyone else; it's simply a matter of sharing the space. It's the phenomena where people walk into a room that's equally men and women, and people think there are more women than men; we become so used to seeing a certain ratio in everything we see - odd numbers of groups, where the majority are always men. Avengers - Black Widow is the only woman. The line-up of Marvel movies? One female lead, one black lead - not the same. How many cartoons have 4 men and 1 woman? Or maybe 3 men and 2 women? There just always seems to have to be just one more man than there are women, or else it becomes too girly. Even things that aren't meant to be "manly" still fall under the same ratio - How I Met Your Mother has three men and two women, and despite the wonderful writing, it is still plagued with enough subtle sexism for me to write a solid 10+ page paper on (half of which would be centered around the last episode alone). The only time you'll really see the dynamic change is when it's a show aimed for girls. And not to mention, this same ratio occurs for PoC, if you're lucky - maybe you'll see one PoC in a cast of five characters.

    It's totally fine to not want to write massively inclusive stories, particularly in this space. Fanfiction occupies a very unique space where we get to choose what we want to explore. You can't really be terribly inclusive in a story about just Pokemon - though perhaps you could target diversity in gender, sexuality, and "able-bodiedness," if you really wanted to - but there are going to be times when, say, you want to write a shipping fic, and maybe that's just two characters. Or perhaps it's a short story focused around one character alone, or maybe it's a longer work again focused on one character, but it's a character from the show that you really wanted to explore, or, again, you're inheriting the characters from the games/show and you want to focus on these characters because you like them the best or they're who you want to focus on because you like them/their dynamic - you don't suddenly have to throw in random diversity just to meet some imaginary quota. Fanfiction doesn't serve that purpose well.

    But the more original we get, the more we begin to occupy a different space - and that's the space where there is very limited diversity on the whole. And that's sort of why I was interested in the question - because of how unique fanfiction is, and the varying degrees of originality it uses (depending on how you want to define original) can open or limit the view of diversity. I was also curious as to whether or not it was something anyone ever considered in their writing, because I know that, for me, I never really considered it or how important it might be until I started listening to professors with Ph.D.'s in diversity and education telling me how mindful teachers need to be about diversity, because of how it can impact their students.

    To address DeliriousAbsol:

    I hadn't even thought about accents as a way to distinguish characters and establish diversity (in terms of just where they come from). That's a good point.

    But I really like your last point - if it fits the character and you're comfortable with it, yeah, totally go for it. I tried to make a character of mine who was a guy into a girl, and it just didn't seem to fit - in my mind, that character was a guy, and his story centered around that fact and was important, and changing his gender didn't feel right. Characters often sort of..take off without us, and maybe you have a bit of time while writing and fleshing them out to change them and redefine them, but once it settles, it feels impossible to change it.

    I think sometimes I go in with a certain mindset of who I want that character to be - like for that character, I wanted him to be gay - and it took off from there. Or I know that I want a female programmer; but yeah, there are other times when I thought, "here's my android male evil character" and he morphed into this non-binary android who's completely fluid with gender (because that's the point of their existence) who's a lot more complicated than that. It's interesting where characters decide to take us with a little guidance.
     
  13. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I've been in a similar situation, and it actually did fit for me. While writing The End, I changed a character's gender to female because I wanted to express Enimga's nastiness better when he dragged information out of her. Mint the Grovyle ended up becoming a solid character compared to the wet, nervous wreck they were when they were a male nameless one-off. She even stuck around with an important role to take on. It was one of the best decisions I made in that story. But I agree, sometimes characters take us in many unexpected directions.

    On topic about male white authors, this does seem to be a problem that I think is sort of on its way out now. For example, Emily Bronte had to use a man's name in order to get published. And I'm pretty sure JK Rowling used her initials to avoid the stigma of being a female author deterring potential readers. Although I might be wrong about the latter. I'm just pretty sure I've read or heard it somewhere.
     
  14. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie Together with the Wind

    Thanks for the clarification. I'm honestly protective of literature and the whole thread just sounds like it's getting close to being whiny diatribes of “Why aren't there books being written for me??? It's whitey's fault for not understanding me!” that I keep seeing in various formats and I'm just sick of hearing about it. But one thing has always remained consistent every time I hear about “There's no diversity in writing!”, and that's the one question I've had for these many years:

    “What do you mean there's no diversity? Have you actually been reading? Books are the most diverse thing in the world.”

    Diversity is defined as such first thing in the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: VARIETY”. Dictionary.com also states first thing: “the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness”, followed by definition number two: “variety; multiformity”. Definition three of course talks about “inclusion of individuals” as represented by wherever they came from, then it says in definition four: “a point of difference”. But it's super interesting that literally the first definition is basically saying “a variety”, and that's what it is.

    Literature is literally a variety of many different stories, different accounts, different ideas. Literature consists of multiple genres that appeal to many different people in many different ways, and yet you can isolate out a genre of fiction (you can do this for non-fiction works as well) by a hundred books and you'll find just as many differences as you do similarities. Yes, there are only seven plots, but writers spin those plots to take place someplace different from one-another with different people (characters) who have different motivations, different experiences, different thoughts and ideals (I think too much attention has been put on labeling characters as “protagonist”, “antagonist”, “anti-hero” and such that readers forget how to get into a character's head to learn their thoughts to distinguish them from labels). We complain about hearing the same story over and over again, but we forget that those same stories happen to a variety of people in a variety of places. If the writer is clever enough, they can hide those same plot-points into the setting to allow a change of pace (and perhaps a change in spectacle as well), and write the characters as if they're their own person no matter the timeline or country.

    I may not remember all of the book titles I've read throughout school, but while the common theme with a lot of them is that they're “coming of age” stories (probably the big reason they're read in schools tbh when there's not a historical/cultural significance behind the story), the biggest thing I took away from those books is that they were all different. They took place in different locations in not just the country of my birth but across the ocean as well, showing how different the lives of the characters are, with some being more wondrous than others. Many of them are fiction with their own little worlds that are bizarre and adventurous (honestly a personal favorite, fantasy is just chockfull of fantastic and sometimes surreal imagery—I believe I have A Wrinkle in Time to thank for that), but many of them do take place during real-life events and are written as if the character was actually there to witness it, and then told the story years later to their children and grandchildren. Usually there is a point to the story being told because the author had an agenda, an end goal to their vision, but I think for the most part it's mainly up to the reader to draw their own conclusions on what they want to take away from it.

    The whiplash of changing books is apparently a lot for a child to take in since the information hasn't fully sunk in, but I was already a bookworm by the time I reached a grade where were we getting book assignments, so I was always excited to read something new and different, even if it meant I forgot about it eventually because, well, not everything clicked. Wasn't that I didn't get attached to the characters, to be honest a lot of these books are in first-person because it's designed for the reader to be the one to get immersed into that world (that's what escapism is) instead of just being a spectator. As much as I liked a new setting and learning about different people, as a kid you're just coming to learn about your own preferences of what you like to read about, and to be fair, some of the books assigned were quite boring or just weren't... I dunno, maybe age-appropriate in terms of subject matter (nothing extremely adult, but sixth graders aren't typically interested in a book about some guy going about the Colorado wildlife and mountains if you're not into camping and leaning about survival tricks and stuff if I'm remembering right). It helps the most if you're actively reading on your own instead of waiting for a teacher to assigned one to the whole class.

    @Starlight Aurate has brought up a good point on why it could be not many modern books are assigned reading in schools—the writing sucks. But why does it suck? Probably has something to do with less and less people being at least moderately literate? Could be because so many new authors just can't seem to break away from their fan fiction writing days? Or maybe it could be because when language changes, tone of voice changes, which can simplify it? In the same vein, the author could also just be abusing the thesaurus and not knowing how it works just because it has a listed synonym they like, or they're afraid of opening one up. I personally don't read a lot of new books these days, but I honestly couldn't tell you why they're not appealing to me if I just pick one up right now without looking. But subconsciously it could be because something is off about the narrative flow, even if I can't register it, or that even perhaps they have a dry well of creativity, who really knows. I've been well aware too many books over the years have been published that are really not that good, but I just have to laugh if the “about the author” page mentions them being graduates with a degree in English because clearly it's not showing in their writing and that really shouldn't automatically qualify someone to be a writer.

    I also think too much focus is put on character drama in attempt to get the reader to feel “connected”, and aren't bothering to make an attempt to paint the landscape, the background of the story to give us an idea about how this world works and looks like for us poor folk who don't get the luxury of traveling to far-off lands. You can't just say “Yeah this story's taking place in London, you know what London's like, right?” and leave it at that, because maybe I haven't been to London. And because I haven't and only have Google Images and the occasional B-roll footage to go off on how it looks, I want to be able to paint an image of the streets and crowds and the buildings (maybe not placement, but still). I want to know what the atmosphere is like, I want to know what it sounds and smells like (because I don't think it always smells like rain). I want to be able to mentally draw a map of where the characters have been to see just how big their world is because maybe the character's bubble is too suffocating. I just want to be able to breathe, you know?

    So if we're going to have calls for diversity in writing, I demand more diverse locations (such as settings, like no more school settings for a while please), more diverse ideas to spruce up old plots, more diverse motivations and thoughts, more diverse conflicts. I don't give a damn about what the character looks like or how they identify as, I just want to know if they're a legit person living in a world that I can believe in.

    (But I'm also not that much of a lazy fuck as well as someone who can't write for herself and am waiting for/pushing someone else to do it. Even if I can't publish or that it takes years to finish something, at least I can attempt to write what I would like to see and broaden my knowledge and interest in the process.)
     
  15. straydelta

    straydelta Noodlebirb

    This...isn't entirely accurate, and I have to push back on this a little. There is plenty of English writing done by at least women - I bring up again Frankenstein (and Mary Shelley's mother, incidentally, was a well-renowned feminist author as well), Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen; but there are records of women writing as early as the 15th century, with women like Christine de Pisan, who wrote two works: The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies (both of which I remember being included in my anthology for an introduction of early British literature, which is essentially a collection of all the most notable works from the beginning of written English, which started with Beowulf). Women could have been writing even earlier than that, but as DeliriousAbsol mentioned, many women had to write under pseudonames to be taken seriously. It's difficult to say that only men wrote things that mattered, or that were ever published; it's just that, as the sexist and racist minds determined at the time, those voices didn't matter. And thus our classics were constructed with this mentality.

    As for the rest of diversity - yes, of course, you're absolutely right that it's far more difficult for others to have been published - we're not exactly going to get a lot of writing from African Americans in the 1600's thanks to slavery. But we do have a lot of slave stories that, if not written by the escaped slaves themselves, then transcribed by someone who could. But especially after the Civil War, there was plenty of writing happening - notably, for example, Frederick Douglass.

    Interestingly enough, more of a side-note, James Baldwin wrote Giovanni's Room, which details the story of a gay man living abroad. James Baldwin himself was a gay African American man. The story itself, while not taking place in America, is all about America.

    Toni Morrison's Beloved is a great novel I think I'm seeing crop up more and more in classrooms - you mentioned Zora Neale Hurston, but also Alice Walker is another important female African American author as well. I can understand schools not feeling too comfortable with Walker - her work is definitely graphic.

    That's definitely true - unless you were writing about Shanghai, because it's the "Western Bubble" where all the foreigners come to work in the international buildings. But you're definitely right, and I think that makes a fair argument about diversity - America is uniquely diverse. I'm definitely entrenched in ideas of diversity because the country I live in is incredibly diverse. As such, diversity is going to have to take different forms - maybe a place like China isn't going to have as much ethnic diversity, but there could be gender, sexuality, disabilities, and so on. Setting is incredibly important, for sure.

    I think that sums everything up very well, honestly, and I agree. A story would certainly feel unnatural if an author were forcing diversity where it didn't make sense (going back to your China example). And it feels equally unnatural to pull up the checklist and go, "Okay, so I had a lesbian show up, there's my trans Asian character, there's my deaf character..." because those aren't characters, they're diversity points to try and appear inclusive without actually being inclusive.

    To me, it's more about...if you've got a group of three characters, and all three of them are white men, ask yourself, "Why?" Maybe it goes back to geographic location - alright, that's the town they're from. Fair enough. Why are they all men, and not, say, all women? Or if you had two men and one woman, why not two women and one man? Why might they all be straight and cis?

    Again, this isn't a matter of, you must avoid white men at all costs! A story about three white men is totally fine, and works in a lot of situations. But if that's, say, what you simply defaulted to in your story and there's no real reason for it, then it might be worth it to question those assumptions. Why did you default to these characters? Why did your mind choose three men and not three women?

    That's really what I'm trying to get at - questioning our assumptions and why we might write the way we do. If we don't think about diversity, we default to certain characters, usually white, straight, cis men. Maybe they're women. Maybe, since it's Pokemon, they're Japanese. It's not to attack the lack of diversity, but simply pause and question why we wrote the characters we did. I wrote a white male character because he was heavily inspired by Peter Parker and my younger brother. He's gay because, despite the inspiration, he's his own character, and it's the story that worked for him. Inspiration generated that character for me. But I definitely have to catch myself as I write and create characters, and ask myself why I'm creating the type of character I'm creating, and whether or not they would benefit from being different. Should I really kill off this female character's mother and leave her just with her father? Isn't that a little sexist? Sure, probably, but it works for her story and creates her character, so it makes sense. Okay, but does her girlfriend need to be white? Oh, no, there's no reason for that - they met in college in the northeast, so there's no reason for her to be white. Is there a different race I should make her? Does it suddenly make her story problematic? No? Okay, let's make her something else, then.

    And so on. Because the consequent question to, "Why make them non-white?" is "Why not?" If you can't answer that, then I believe it's worth addressing why that is.

    But ultimately, I do still agree with you that it's all up to the author's comfort level, too. Maybe the answer to "why not?" is that you don't feel you'd confidently represent that character. Maybe you're afraid you'd fall into racist, sexist, or homophobic tropes, and you want to write where you feel more comfortable so that you can write your best work. And that's a completely valid answer - this is about having fun, and really, the best way to improve as writers is to write confidently. Forced diversity that a writer doesn't feel confident writing won't help. It's is useless if it hurts the writer.

    ...I was going to reply to the rest of your post, but seeing this makes me realize there's truly no point. I don't know where you got the assumption that I don't write, because...I do. Or that I'm lazy, because I currently take over 17 credits of graduate coursework and work as a graduate assistant for my department, not to mention a number of other things I have to do for teacher certification, such as field observations of classrooms and teacher workshops on weekends. But, uh...I guess I'm lazy because I'm using my limited free time to engage people in conversations about diversity in their writing?

    I find it ironic, though, that raising the question of diversity elicits such a strong and angry response.
     
  16. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie Together with the Wind

    No no, that wasn't directed at you at all, I was grouching at myself as much as at those out there who make a huge ruckus about this but then don't do anything about it. It could be because they're lazy, or because maybe they aren't writers themselves, but if they're so concerned about it, then why aren't they making that attempt to be writers? The phrase "If you want a thing done well, do it yourself" is true for a reason, because you can't just rely on other people to do it for you if you want something. So us as writers are perfectly capable of writing whatever it is we want to see, but we shouldn't hold off on it. It's something that can take upwards of years to do, but it's ultimately up to you, a creator, to create. If someone else beats you to it, that's fine, least it goes to show someone else had the same concern and the more, the merrier.

    It wouldn't get so passionate if something like the example I gave in my second post about a group of harpies dog-piling a new author for having something "problematic" in her work which got her to cave and pull her book just never happen.
     

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