31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 6 – Why Is It Important to Include Diversity?

On the 6th day of NaNo Prep
Leighton gave to meeeee
A lesson on diversity!

Welcome back to Day 6 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”! Buckle in, because today’s lesson is gonna be a good one. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this series, click here, or you can watch the corresponding YouTube videos here.

So, diversity. A somewhat controversial topic in literature, but an important one nonetheless. A lot of people seem to be on the fence about what diversity means and if it’s really that important for your novel or series to be diverse, so I’m here today to clear the air. We’ll start with this: Yes, diversity is important, and yes, you should always include it in your writing.

“Okay, but I’m not entirely sold. Why is it so important for me to include diversity in my writing?” you ask. Well, there’s a few reasons. First, the world is made up of more than one type of person, and if you only include one type of person in your novel, then it won’t be believable. When’s the last time you walked down the street and every single person you ran into was exactly like you? I’ll answer that for you: never. Even if you live in a small, white, conservative town, there’s definitely diverse people around you, whether you know it or not. Second, everybody likes to see themselves represented in media. Of course, not every type of person can be represented all the time, but wouldn’t you like to help a little girl or boy to be able to see themselves in some of your characters? Consider the whole “black Hermoine” thing. If JK Rowling had made her a young, black girl from the beginning, she would have been such a good role model for other young, black girls. You could do what even JK Rowling failed to do: provide role models for people from all walks of life. And third, it’ll make your story more interesting if you have a more diverse cast of characters. Diversity means different life experiences, and when you put a cast of different characters with different life experiences together, that will absolutely provide your story with drama and intrigue.

Also, just so we’re clear, when I say that you should include diversity, I don’t just mean racial. There are tons of different kinds of diversity. You could include people of different sexual orientations, or people with different disabilities, or people from different social classes. The options are limitless. You don’t have to include all of them at once, either. One novel could have a cast of characters whose only real difference is the type of disabilities they have, and that’s cool and fine. You could have another novel where an African-American Muslim falls in love with an Asian-American Catholic. The sky’s the limit when it comes to different combinations you can experiment with.

How do you include this diversity, then? Well, first of all, don’t just add one character of color and call it a day, and don’t just make that one character of color a minor character who shows up once. Like I said, people like to see themselves represented in different kinds of roles… Minor, secondary, and even main characters can and should be diverse. However, if you decide to make your protagonist African-American, for example, and you yourself are not African-American, it’s best if you don’t try to write about the “black experience,” especially if you really don’t know anything about it. Plus, it’s nice to have a diverse main character every once in a while whose story doesn’t solely revolve around what makes them diverse. It’s okay for their diversity to be a part of them, but not all of them.

Now, the biggest argument against all of this that I know I’ll get is this: “But what if it doesn’t make sense for there to be diversity in my story?” You know what I say to that? Bullshit. That argument always sounds like a cop-out to me. Odds are, there’s plenty of room—and reason—for there to be diverse characters in your story. And remember, diversity doesn’t just have to be racial. If you’re writing about a period in time where African-American people were “in the background” (i.e. slaves), and you don’t think you can fit a character of color into your narrative, then add someone with a disability, or some different religious backgrounds, or something. And this goes for all black or all Latinx or all *insert any other group of peoples here* casts, too. Diversity means “a variety,” so add some variety to your story. Intersectionality is the spice of life, I say.

And just so you know that I’m walkin’ the walk as well as talkin’ the talk, let’s talk about diversity in my series The Caspian Chronicles. When I wrote the first draft of book one, the cast was lacking diversity to the Nth degree. I mean, two of my characters were blond with brown eyes and glasses. What was I even thinking??? I also hadn’t given any thought to social class, which was stupid because the main character literally goes from a public school in Chicago to a private boarding school in North Carolina. Of course there would be differences in social class. Now, three of my main supporting characters and one of my minor supporting characters are racially diverse (two are African-American, one is African-American/Caucasian, and one is Indian/Caucasian), and almost all of them are upper-class while my main character is lower-class. Plus, I plan on introducing a few LGBT+ characters in future installments in the series (those characters were planned since the beginning, though). With all of these changes, I actually feel like the story is fuller now. The world I’ve built feels more realistic, and there’s some added drama found in the differences between the characters.

I guess the lesson here is not only that you should have diversity in your cast of characters, but also that it’s never too late to add that diversity. Like we talked about yesterday in our discussion about character creation, you should be able to sculpt your characters around the needs of the plot. So if your plot needs diversity, you should be able to make your characters diverse without any problems. At least, that’s how it worked for me.

I really hope this post helped clear up some questions or doubts you may have had about including diversity in your writing. Tomorrow won’t actually be a writing lesson, but instead an update on my progress with my own NaNoWriMo prep! If that interests you at all, then check back in tomorrow for that post. Otherwise, I’ll see you on Sunday for Day 8 of NaNoWriMo prep, where we’ll be learning about world building.

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