Diversity in Writing: How to Be Inclusive

So Many Choices!

Does your story reflect those who may read it?

I previously wrote an article titled “Who Are You Writing For?” The focus of that particular blog post centered more so on the content of our stories, rather than the audience. The inspiration for that article was sparked by a comment from a friend. She raised the question of whether we as writers write stories from our hearts—the stories that we want to tell, or whether we write stories to appease others. Do we stick to the norms of what might be acceptable to society? Or do we risk venturing outside the box and write about what might be considered taboo to some? Undoubtedly, both content and audience are important factors for any writer, but in this blog post, I will focus more on audience. To be exact, the diversity of audience.

I’m a writer who’s only a couple of months away from seeing my long awaited goal of becoming a published author a reality. Thank the Book Gods! My fictional novel is finally completed and in the works of being published (excerpts coming soon). My inspiration for creating this blog was based on my experiences during the THREE YEAR journey of writing my story; the Do’s & Don’ts, if you will. I wanted to share with other would-be authors something that might be useful to them on their own journeys. But in sharing my work with others—such as beta-readers, there seemed to be a common theme in their questions. How did I come up with the characters? Did the characters reflect actual people that I know? What is the racial/ethnic make-up of the characters? All good questions for sure, because the characters are the bones of the story, right? But the questions also made me reflect, to dig deeper into my own psyche in order to articulate honest answers.

The beauty of telling a story—especially a fictional story, is that you get to weave that sucker any which way you want. The most fun part of all though; is in creating the characters. Characters are like “Mr. Potato Heads”, in that we can take-off or add-on as much as we want—when we want. It’s like when I was a child playing with my Barbie dolls—I would dress her up fancy for a party, or for the beach, or for a camping trip. Ask any little girl with a Barbie obsession such as my former self, and they will tell you that the doll just isn’t much useful without a fabulous wardrobe. In writing, how we build our characters is also how we build our stories. Our characters are our stories. So, who are our characters—and who do they reflect?

How important is inclusiveness?

Have you ever read a book that you may have found interesting—a good read even, but you just couldn’t relate to the main character/s because they just didn’t reflect you or your culture? I know that I have. I love reading, all kinds of reading—but especially fictional and history. I’ve read novels that were gripping reads that kept me engaged until the very last page; a good story is a good story, right? But I believe that stories work even better when we can see ourselves in them. That’s not to say the main character/s should be mirror images of ourselves–but that a story will be more relatable to a wider audience if that audience sees themselves reflected in there somewhere. In real life, the majority of us (unless you live under a rock) are surrounded by a diverse community of people. Whether it’s a neighbor, friend, relative, teacher, barista at Starbucks, classmate, server at a restaurant, or a co-worker—we are surrounded by individuals from all walks of life. For example, I live in a culturally diverse neighborhood. I have a Caucasian family on one side of my home—and an African-American family on the other side. There is also an Asian family four houses down—as well as a Latino family on the corner. Just three days ago—when it was almost eighty degrees outside in fickle temperate Michigan, there was a same-sex couple out walking their two dogs together. I could go on and on, but my point is, our worlds are made up of such diversity—our everyday interactions include people from all walks of life, so why shouldn’t our stories? How realistic is it to have a story based on two high school students as main characters, attending a school where EVERY student is homogenous in racial background? Or where everyone is heterosexual?  Not very likely or realistic.

In writing my book, I often created my characters out of thin air—meaning there really was no basis for their creation other than they served a purpose at that moment. But the ending result was that I unconsciously ended up with a book full of very diverse characters. When asked by my beta-readers about my character choices, I honestly didn’t have a deep or philosophical explanation for why I’d chosen to make a character Asian, or Latino, or Caucasian, or bi-sexual. I had simply gone with what felt right because that’s how I see my world. I either know personally—or interact on some level every day, with an eclectic consortium of people. And I am eternally grateful to have an opportunity to do so. Our differences are what makes us unique, and what makes our worlds so much more interesting. Can you imagine having to wear a plain white t-shirt every day for whatever occasion? How boring and uninspiring would it be to never have the choice of color? Don’t we often choose color to express ourselves—our own unique style or personality? So why not reflect the same in our stories?

I believe diversity in my own writing to be an important aspect of expression—with how I both relate to and see my own world. But I also want my writing to be inclusive of all persons, I want to share my writing with EVERYONE, not to limit my audience. Of course, some writers DO write for only a specific targeted audience—and I do not necessarily mean a targeted genre, but more so a targeted culture of people. And that is completely okay too. I’m not judging, only sharing my personal preference. Now, targeting a specific genre is different, but that’s not what this article was about (meh). I covered that topic in a previous post, “Who Are You Writing For?” Check that one out as well!

Do you believe diversity in writing important? Do your characters reflect inclusiveness? Is it a factor?

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