How can books become more diverse?

I always see a lot of posts about the ways authors use certain characters in fiction. If somebody has written a ‘diverse’ narrative, the characters all say and do what those characters are expected to say and do; the story ends up based on them being diverse. This used to be great. Not many authors were doing this, so it was lovely to see a reflection of your narrative in a novel. However, years later, that is still all there is. In TV/film, there are always diverse characters, but they are never the leading actor and their diverse characteristic is either not mentioned, or it’s the only reason they are there.

How do we combat this in fiction writing?
Simple: write fiction with generally diverse characters. As is clear, there are not many good examples of this so I’ll refer to one of my personal favourites, The Rules of Seeing by Joe Heap. This is a story about a blind woman learning to see for the first time. It could also be classified as a romantic/domestic thriller based on events. And the romance storyline just happens to be focused on two women. This is what we need to incorporate into fiction.

So, how?
An author can write any novel with any narrative – take Gone Girl as an easy example. Imagine if Amy was Aimi, her parents were from Hong Kong but she’d grown up in America. Imagine that the books her parents wrote about her were an anime graphic novel series instead and that they referred to their culture when talking about her disappearance. Would it have made any difference to the story? Not one bit. Would it have made a difference to the readership? Yes.

Now, you can change those same elements of any story and make it more diverse without the entire narrative being about that fact. Is your lead character a married man? Change his wife to a husband and change various aspects of conversation to ensure it fits with this characteristic and you’ve got a way more inclusive book.

Obviously this doesn’t work in all novels, and historical, or heavily place-based books may need more research to be able to accurately include more diversity, but is it not worth it? Look at the response to The House on Half Moon Street, in which a transgender character features in the Victorian era. Obviously there was no surgery then, so the author had to ensure that they were paying attention to the small details of making his main character as male as possible while having a female body.

*SPOILER WARNING* Another example is in The Glass Woman, at the end when an Icelandic ‘ruler’ of sorts in 1686 professes his feelings towards another man. Again, the time and location is taken fully into consideration and the author makes it as subtle and secretive as possible, but still it is there and it is recognised.

Other examples could include Golden State by Ben Winters or The Survival Game by Nicky Singer.

This can be implemented in many ways; change that penthouse apartment for a council flat and mention a few times about the character re-wearing clothes or picking up a great discount on something, and it instantly becomes more relatable. The character doesn’t have to go on to win lots of money or ‘get out’ of the situation, it can just be the setting and part of their life. It is as simple as that.

Now, since I have written this post, I believe that I need to go out and write a novel with as much ‘natural’ diversity within it as the narrative allows. Bye!

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Author Joanne Reed

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