Diverse Casts?

3 years ago | TheAdamBo (Member)

As I've said before, sometimes the forums on WattPad can be really... interesting. I've stopped posting on there very much because of the general userbase's age and lack of maturity, but I still like to browse the threads occasionally with a bag of popcorn. One topic that seems to spawn a new thread every day is the supposed lack of diversity in fantasy fiction. There's always someone whining about how there aren't enough black characters, or gay characters, or female characters, and we should all be ashamed of not writing more diversely (sample thread:https://www.wattpad.com/forums/discussion/1124562/0/25/i-hate-your-white-medieval-fantasy). You guys are more professional than 99% of the users on WattPad, so I'm curious as to what your take on the subject is.

Personally, I think it's a catch 22. If you write an all white, all male, all straight cast, you'll get people jumping down your throat for not being diverse. But if you start being more diverse, those same people will STILL jump down your throat because you've misrepresented their race/gender/sexuality, or because you've written a hollow token character. To me, the focus should be on what the characters are doing, not what they look like. Unless their [whatever makes them different] plays a role in what's happening in the story, it's just a needless detail that bogs down the plot. And, frankly, I find the idea that readers can't identify with a character in a book because they don't look the same as them, are a different gender, or have a different sexual orientation, ridiculous. Kind of like the people complaining lately that girls can't enjoy The Legend of Zelda if they don't have the choice to play as a girl Link. And, finally, if they really think there's a shortage of diverse fiction, they should take it upon themselves to write it, not try to take control of other's people's work. Good things never happen when you try to tell an artist how to make art.

Me, my characters tend to be white and straight because that's what I'm most comfortable with. I don't want to risk offending people by misrepresenting them, I just want to tell the story. And like I said, if that detail isn't important to the plot itself, I don't see the point in adding it in.

Anyway, what do you guys think?
(hopefully I don't offend anybody)

My Fiction is Fantastic, Fabulous, Freaky, and FREE! Check it out on BolanderBooks: http://www.bolanderbooks.com

Read responses...

Page: 127


  1. Blaise Corvin (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Well, I already weighed in on that thread and left because there are some folks doing some low key trolling.

    As I said there, writing is art. And like every other form of art, I think anyone who demands or even suggests that someone include or exclude something in their art is displaying a staggering level of entitlement.

    We can judge art based on quality or content, but to try pushing for artists to art a certain way or include certain things is just... wrong.

    Plus like I said on that thread (and like GRRM has said), people usually write from their own culture or what is close to them. Pretty much 100% of Japanese LN MCs are racially Japanese and I have no problem with this.

    I personally like to include a lot of diversity in my stories because that is what my world looks like, but I would never, EVER judge another artist/writer for not doing so.

    Visit my site, http://www.blaise-corvin.com. I have punch and pie.
    I also have two stories: Delvers LLC and The Crimson Artifice. :)
  2. LEErickson (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    "Me, my characters tend to be white and straight because that's what I'm most comfortable with. I don't want to risk offending people by misrepresenting them."

    I do worry about offending people by mis-writing something and feeding a stereotype. That said, I also feel that, for me anyhow, it's important to represent diversity, particularly in Graves since it is set in the future. There's nothing in the story that directly addresses any of the issues you mention because a) as a straight white female I don't feel expert enough to do such a story justice and b) because I feel that while fiction that does offer insight into what it's like to be "other" (than me and/or some portion of my reading audience) is important, I also feel it's important to offer fiction in which the issues aren't issues. Graves' cast includes characters with a variety of racial appearances and names and includes varying sexual orientations, but they're not something I or anyone in my cast makes a big deal about. I feel like it's important to see what the world *could* be like if everyone just accepted everyone else (on those counts at least), and I make and continue to make deliberate choices toward representing that in Graves. It doesn't affect the story at all. Alex is still kind of a cocky SOB no matter what color his skin is or whether he likes girls or boys or both. I like to think I've done a fair job with writing all my people as just people and not races or genders or sexual orientations. (If anyone out there has read Graves and disagrees, I would welcome your feedback on where I've gone awry, of course.)

    "...if that detail isn't important to the plot itself, I don't see the point in adding it in." I agree, but by the same token, I respectfully submit that you could flip that around. If the detail isn't important to the plot itself, then why *not* add it in?

    Edited to add: I should clarify that I'm not by any means attempting to judge anyone. Write what you will, you don't owe anyone anything, of course. :)

  3. TheAdamBo (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Maybe it's just my personal writing style, but my stories are very fast paced. Characters are constantly on the move, things are constantly happening, and that's the main focus of the story. It's always been my goal to write fantasy that isn't always bogged down by world- and character building that only serves to slow down the plot. If it doesn't come into play within the story, it doesn't need to be mentioned. Some author, I can't remember who, once said, "If you tell me there's a gun hanging over the mantle, it had better go off before the book ends," and I've always taken that to heart. Stories should be simple whenever they can, and as simple as possible wherever they can't.

    My Fiction is Fantastic, Fabulous, Freaky, and FREE! Check it out on BolanderBooks: http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  4. MaddiroseX (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I really wanted to see more non-typical main characters in fantasy as well... 'straight and white' didn't bother me so much, but it bugged me how many fantasy stories start with "there once was a backwater, naive young man" and then never give any indication whatsoever that he was backwater or naive. I couldn't remember naivete being an actual, legitimate character trait in any of the fantasy I read, so in my fantasy series I made my MC a backwater naive country girl who would actually BE naive until there was reason for her not to. In real life people change slowly, so I figured that even though she'd eventually be a badass superpowered warhammer-weilding angel of death, it would take her a while to get there from the super-unworldly, trusting, utterly innocent naif she started as. Since I'm midway through the fourth book of the four-book series, I have to stick with that plan.

    People hate her.

    I don't mean they 'dislike' her. I mean they motherfucking HATE her.

    Some of my biggest fans have told me directly how much they wanted her to die. Almost every review I've ever received list her as one of the flaws in the series. I very regularly encounter people on forums warning people away from Twisted Cogs and from my writing as a whole because of her.

    I know the correct answer to this question is "don't worry about the haters, write what you want," and I honestly have mad respect for everyone who does that. I just thought I'd mention there is another side to it as well, because though we all want to be true to ourselves, we also kinda want people to love everything we write, you know?

    Like I say, I know I'm in the minority here, but if I personally started my series again, I would 100% stick to a straight, white, male, naive-in-name-only, (orphaned? Maybe orphaned, that seems the norm) hero's journey protagonist.

    Spurs & Seraphim (ongoing) | Beta Key (complete) | Twisted Cogs (complete) | Orbital Academy (complete)
  5. LEErickson (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    @Adam: I think there's a difference between not offering any physical description or deep development of any characters at all and assuming that "straight, white, male" is the automatic default character type and that any deviation from that type is a "gun hanging over the mantle." In your original post, you use the phrase "whatever makes them different," but you might remember that from someone else's perspective (say mine, as a female), you are the one who's different. That attitude can inadvertently create a sense of exclusion that may not be what you're looking for. I don't spend a great deal of time or word count on physical descriptions or spelling out any characters' sexual orientations, either. As I said, that's not the focus of my story. The only extra effort I put in is that the first time I describe a new character, I try to ensure they're not all same-gendered or same-complected. (In my case, I have to remember that boys are allowed some air time, too. ;D )

    Again, I am not judging or trying to suggest you should change the way you do things. Absolutely you should write what and how you prefer! Just trying to flip things around to offer a new perspective, if that's what you were looking for.

    @Maddi I didn't get terribly far into Twisted Cogs (need more hours in the day, pls), but your main character reminded me of the main character of a book series I enjoyed very much. I just cannot for the life of me remember the author or title now.

  6. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I think that one of the great things about fantasy is that it can tackle issues like racism without directly going into it. By this, I mean building fantasy worlds with similar social/political issues to the ones in the real world.

    People don't want to get hit in the face with political messaging and moral lessons when they're just trying to enjoy a good story. But write about a dark elf with a good alignment who does his best to help people despite constantly being shunned for the colour of his skin, and voila! Good story that at the same time makes people re-evaluate the way they behave in real life.

    If you have the familiarity and skill to depict a diverse cast of characters, you should probably do so. I personally also hesitate to depict people of different races and sexual orientations in Earth-like worlds because I don't think I could do it properly.

    I admit to copping out a bit on the whole issue because I don't want to deal with it. The MC in my main project is a self-insert, and I haven't mentioned that she's Asian at all.

    However, I think people need to bring their own stories to the table. I started writing because I wanted to see characters who were like me become the leading characters. However, the characteristics that I wanted to see weren't external; I don't really care about whether a character's skin is black or white or blue. The characters I write are intelligent, logical, emotionally stable, kind (in their own way), and have quirky senses of humour. I found my target audience that identifies with my characters, and I couldn't be happier about it.

    In the same way, I think if you don't see the stories you want to read, you should go out and write them rather than ranting about it on Wattpad.

  7. TheAdamBo (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    That's a good point. My Slayer/Sphinx is almost entirely about racism (speciesm?) In that it's all about trying to stop an army of overzealous warriors from killing off the Mythic race just because they're not human. (It goes deeper than that, but... you should read the book)

    My Fiction is Fantastic, Fabulous, Freaky, and FREE! Check it out on BolanderBooks: http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  8. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    First off, cool thread. With the right people, it's a great topic. I'd love to weigh in.

    This is an issue I've thought about for one very important reason: The human race in my story, which are self-named 'Utopians', have employed eugenics. This means that how I represent populations makes very big statements about racism. Very big. It's an important topic, and as Unice demonstrated, you may let show your perspective through story-details. It's almost impossible to keep your beliefs from bleeding through, I find.

    Many if not most choose to make a statement with their writing, such as with Speciesism.

    Because I've taken a more overt road with intellectual characters and plot points revolving around this, I have to worry some. I worry that I've not handled things as delicately as is necessary for some. I'm not calling anyone a baby, however. Some just care more than others. Personally, I'm not very emotionally involved.

    Which is not always a good thing. Great for clear-thinking - not for covering bases.

    To give some info, out of the twelve characters I'd call primary - four are non-white, one being the protagonist. One is n/a. I'm sure everyone has different degrees of thought paid to this. Most probably want to do it right. On sexuality, it's not been discussed yet.

    To summarize, my experience on this topic is that I sometimes get a looming sense of disapproval. There's not anyone to read over my shoulder and tell me if something will offend. So, the way I cope is to throw up my arms and do whatever I think is best. If ever I am reviewed, here's hoping they don't dislike how I've handled things.

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  9. LadyAnder (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    As a black female writer, I honestly write a lot of male main characters who aren't black. It isn't that I default to them because it's "safe." Gosh if I wanted safe, I would write them in the typical coming of age story following that pesky starting from meager beginnings and become great might warrior archetype. I honestly refuse to do that if I can help it. I do it mainly because I like writing male characters. Call it an odd writing quirk.

    Because of this, I often don't tell people my race as a writer. I honestly rather not given I keep seeing from these groups of people crying for diversity get on the backs of creators who happen to be part of the poc community for not creating their works based off their race or culture. I don't like that. I create the story that needs to be written and there is more to a character than identifying traits. As one writer I know says, "Write your character as people first." All my characters are people, everyone of them. Whether they be elves, shapeshifters, or talking birds, I design them as a person first. That matters to me more because I've spent more time writing non-humans than I have humans in all my years of writing.

    I always believed that people honestly should write what they want to write and they shouldn't be afraid to do something different and they shouldn't be forced into doing something. I think there possibly would be a little more diversity if people would stop getting offended so easily and discourage those who do try from ever trying again or anyone who wants to try.

    A cross-genre slice=of-life, some adventure fluff fantasy stories about elves--> https://brotherhoodarchive.com
  10. ChrysKelly (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Ohh, interesting.

    I actually recently did a blog post on why the current ethnic diversity model used in fiction doesn't work and increases stereotypes.
    It's here https://thestorycraftblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/why-ethnicdiversity-in-movies-is-a-bad-thing/
    Basically I'm arguing for demographic diversity. Basing diversity on the demographics of an area, rather than just throwing in one token Person of Colour.

    There definitely needs to be more diversity in fiction, but there also needs to be a line drawn between fiction set in our world in the present or past, and fiction set in our world in the future, or in another world.

    I hear a lot that "white authors can't write non-white characters because they don't know what it's like to not be white," but strangely I never hear that "people of colour can't write white characters..." And if we use this logic, where does it end? JK Rowling has never been a man so she should never have written Harry Potter?
    The only person who knows what it is like for a person of any race, colour, gender or sexuality in my made up world of Aramatasaradaga (which I made up right now and never intend to use) is me. Because I made it up.

    Part of the problem is that traditionally authors are white and male and, like TheAdamBo, they write what they are. Indie fiction already has more diversity in it.

  11. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Okay, you may need more popcorn, this could get long...

    I'll start by pulling in a quote from unice5656's reply: "If you have the familiarity and skill to depict a diverse cast of characters, you should probably do so." I'd agree with that - Earth IS a diverse place, after all. Realism! On the other hand, in sci-fi stories, we go to another planet and all of them look the same - so whoops? But then, maybe that's a case for why to keep things simple, not overthink, and write what you know. Because the fact is, we'll tend to read into things whatever we expect, particularly if we (as was said) identify with characteristics.

    Consider the whole "is Hermione black" debate out on the internet, where even Rowling herself has said she's fine with that interpretation. I mean, there's nothing stating Hermione ISN'T, regardless of how she may (or may not) have been written, right? Conversely, had race been deliberately incorporated, we might end up with something like "Star Trek"'s Andorians referring to humans as "pink skins"... another one of those topics that causes internet conflict. And from that, I seem to be making a case now to simply write to tell a story.

    Here's the thing. If you're writing straight, white characters, can it not be a subtle form of racism or prejudice, seeing everyone in your world that way? Saying something like "I don't see race, everyone is equal" ignores the centuries of struggle for equality between races, genders, and sexuality. We're NOT equal, even if that is our ideal, and social dynamics between a world's characters are influenced by those sorts of issues and beliefs. I was called out on this myself, because when I started drawing my 'personified math', they were all white. But like you, I felt like misrepresenting other races would be just as bad. And maybe back then, it would have been... I needed time to grow more comfortable with how to do it the right way.

    I wrote a post on this very subject a little over a year ago in one of the "Author Asides" for my time travel story. In brief, I'd been updating the story I'd written in the year 2000 (when I was in University) to post now. And I wondered in my edits about diversifying the cast. And I found I couldn't do it in a way that I liked - it felt like either characters would end up as accidental stereotypes, or it would have necessitated new interactions that were too different for the existing plot. You can read all my musings here: https://mathtans.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/ttc-commentary-04/

    The other thing I mention in that post is that my main characters are almost ALWAYS female. Whereas I am not. (Kind of the flip side to Lady Ander?) Yet no one has complained that my lead female characters are "unbelievable". So perhaps it's simply a matter of writing something, and seeing if you get the sort of feedback (pro or con) that's happening on Wattpad? Presumably the worst that can happen is you get it wrong, learn from the mistake, and do it right next time, perhaps broadening your audience in the process. Ah yes, there is your audience to consider as well -- if you want further reading on how not everyone wants diversity, look into the recent "Sad Puppies" and "Rabid Puppies" campaigns against the Hugo Awards. Ok, I think I'm done.

    @Inky: That's actually kind of sad, that you now say you would stick to something so vanilla, but then I haven't been on the receiving end of whatever vitriol that you have. And I often wonder if I made Carrie too mean and self-absorbed leading off my own story, so we probably all second guess this stuff.

    Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
    Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca
  12. ChrysKelly (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    To address the comments made:

    @TheAdamBo: it's your story, write it the way you want. But the main problem with stereotyping colour or sexuality is when one token character is included. Take Ghostbusters, both the original and reboot feature three white scientist and one streetwise African American, reinforcing stereotypes of white intellectual superiority, and non-white inferiority. This could have been easily avoided by having 2 white scientists, 1 African American scientist, and 1 streetwise African American. More diversity in a work usually means less stereotypes.

    @BlaiseCorvin - I agree. Rather than complaining that someone's fiction isn't diverse, I'll simply avoid it and read other fiction instead. For instance, I prefer female lead characters - I will read something with a female lead even if I'm only a little interested in, but for a male lead (or worse, all male cast) I'm only going to read that if the story seems really, really, really, really exceptional. But I'd never tell someone what to write, I can only control what I write and choose to read.

    @Leerickson have you ever read the Earth Girl series? It has a female author, is set in the future when humanity is spread into the stars, and race and sexuality are totally accepted - but star system, uhh, ism, has replaced racism, and there is a lot of "disabled" hostility (disabled meaning people whose immune systems fail on any planet other than earth). I think it's important to realise when you write something set in the future, like you do, that the future can be anything - and so only you (the author) can truly know what it is like for any of your characters to live there.

    @TheAdamBo fast paced stories can still have diversity. I tend to write fast paced stories with female leads. My web serial is slower than most things I write, but I wouldn't call it slow, and it sort of has five female lead characters, only three of whom are white. Also, one is gay, one is bisexual, two are straight, and one is really confused about everything. Diversity can affect the story, it just depends how you structure the plot.

    Inky Llama, you just really, really, really made me want to read your webserial. It just skipped right to the top of the list (after I finish binging the one I'm reading).

    @unice - Terry Pratchett's discworld is (I think) the best example of what you are talking about. Fantastic stories that aren't about things in our world but that let us look at things in our world in a different, and interesting way.

    @Shaeor - I think it is possible to write without your beliefs seeping in, otherwise only evil folk could write interesting villains ;)
    But I can see that eugenics would introduce a lot of questions as to just what is perfect, what is human, what is an abomination, and I can appreciate that your personal beliefs affecting the plot. As to offending people, I will guarantee you do. Just from the short description you gave of eugenics with a non-white main character, unless they were naturally birthed you've probably offended a lot of white supremacists. :P
    I think it's best just to write the best story you can and not worry about offending people.

    @LadyAnders I like your approach. I'm pretty private about who I really am, I don't write under my real name at all, but I've admitted to being white because I have white, Asian and Middle Eastern characters and I'm probably bound to get something wrong. If readers pick up on it, I'll apologise and do better in future. But I can see that you would get people complaining about you adding to the problem by not being more diverse - yet we all have to tell the best stories we can and not be shaped by "out of book" concerns. It can be hard to balance.

  13. ChrysKelly (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Wow, that was long. I guess I'm passionate about this :D

  14. Blaise Corvin (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Writers being passionate and opinionated? Naw.


    Visit my site, http://www.blaise-corvin.com. I have punch and pie.
    I also have two stories: Delvers LLC and The Crimson Artifice. :)

Reply »

You must log in to post.