Saturday, 11 March 2017

Diversity in literature: important trend or artificial move?

Image result for diversity comic

Lately I have been privy to a lot of talk about diversity in literature; the pivotal point being that the main protagonists, especially in fantasy and/or sci-fi, shouldn't be so predominantly male, white and straight.

Is diversity a good thing? To be sure; but, and this is an important but, only when it happens organically. What do I mean?

In Paths of the Shadow, I have a character who is gay (or rather, bisexual who considers himself gay). Right now I am working on a novel in which the MC is a colored man. Was it done to promote the agenda of diversity? No; those characters simply appeared in my mind, took on a life of their own, and demanded to be written.

I'm against the introduction of diversity along the lines of, "Well, I'm going to sit down and write a sci-fi novel. Let's make the main character, Zoe, black with some Native American lineage thrown in for good measure. Zoe is also lesbian, overweight, vehemently opposed to shaving under her arms, and saves the world from an invasion of blood-sucking badgers."

What is thus created isn't a character. It's a walking agenda.

You think you can get away with that? You can't. Just like the books of many writers in Soviet Russia reeked of communism, many books today reek of Political Correctness, with authors walking on eggshells lest they, God forbid, forget to pay homage to "diversity".

My two cents? Write whatever you want. Put in whatever characters take your fancy. Men, women black, white, Asian, young, old, beautiful, ugly, super-powerful, crippled. Concentrate on your message, your voice and let it shine.

Because there's only one you. You're unique. And that's the peak of diversity.


  1. I'm inclined to agree. Creating diverse characters (in the original meaning of the word, rather than its politically laden contemporary meaning) is important to keep fiction interesting, like creating diverse settings or plot ideas.

    I can't help thinking that many readers don't want diverse settings or characters - they want a copy of the last thing they enjoyed. But that's a different subject.

    The 'diversity' waters are muddied, however, by the new claim that writers should not indulge in 'cultural appropriation'. A stupid idea, but one that produces hysterical arguments in the forums that are difficult to argue against - because they just become shouting matches. I remember blog and forum discussions in the SFF community going back to the 90s about the need to have more black and minority characters. One famous author I know went on to introduce a minority character that was clearly shoe-horned in, and not very convincing. But he was praised for it. Today he would be damned for cultural appropriation. As fashions change, what is good becomes bad and what's bad becomes good.

    I understand the artistic problem with cultural appropriation - I've seen enough of male writers who just can't write a convincing portrayal of a female protagonist. And the aforementioned SF author who tried to be 'inclusive' with their black African character only succeeded in producing a protagonist who was wholly unconvincing. Good research is necessary if one is to stray beyond what one knows.

    Alas, artistic reasons are being waylaid by political ones which attack every perceived problem with the sledgehammer of self righteousness. We live in strange times.

    1. Rob, these are definitely confusing times for authors who just want to write what they want to write and stay true to their creative spirit. I have a book coming out soon which, in its original form, dealt quite a bit with racism. My publisher strongly advised me to do away with this theme, out of fear of injuring tender sensibilities. He didn't want a controversial book, he wanted something mainstream. I complied in the end, but I'm still questioning this decision.

  2. So true. I was just considering writing about this after listening to an NPR discussion about "sensitivity readers" when a book is in beta... walking agendas are like entertainment produced by Orwell's Big Brother

    1. Christopher,
      I personally believe that books are supposed to be about art and entertainment, not political agenda.