Diversity Isn’t Meant To Bore You

I am confused. And a little bit frustrated.

I love reading stories about diversity. I’ve written a number of posts about the topic, mostly calling for more and better LGBTQ+ representation. This seems to have spread like Fiendfyre across the Internet – lots of people talk about this on their blogs or on Facebook or Goodreads.

Except… except that more and more often, I also see people saying that diversity is silly. Now, that’s just silly for a lot of reasons, the first and foremost being that the freaking world is diverse. But today I want to focus on one particular silly argument against diversity in literature.

I want to examine the following statement: “I’m not really interesting in reading about diverse characters. I’d rather see more well-written characters.”

Huh? Excuse me, what?

Pull up a chair and I’ll use my best teacher-voice and explain something that should be a given for writers. Are you ready? Good. When I say that I want diverse characters, OF COURSE I want them to be well-written.

Is that so hard to understand?

I shouldn’t have to explain this. It shouldn’t be necessary. But I will anyway, because some people apparently don’t get it.

I’m a lesbian, so I’d like to see (among many other types of diverse characters) more fictional lesbians. And when I say this, I don’t mean that I want to read about lesbian characters who are boring or stereotypical or one-dimensional.

Why oh why would you assume that I would be satisfied with those portrayals, that I would count those characters as good representation of diversity?

Yeah, I don’t know either. Back to the drawing (writing?) board! If you don’t think diverse characters can (or should) be well-written, then I’m afraid that I really don’t understand your writing techniques.

I’m not sure why multiple people said, “Authors should focus less on diversity and more on creating interesting characters!” as if they’d discovered a flaw of diverse books, as if people should just stop writing diverse books. Hello, we’re not asking for shallow, cookie-cutter characters who are dull in the name of diversity. Why would we? That would be… dull.

Yes, I want diversity. I want a lot of it and I want it as soon as possible. But I do have standards! I don’t want sucktastic characters who bore you, me, and everyone else.

I guess some people don’t see this as an either/or situation. I wouldn’t mind if someone was arguing for diverse books to be better-written – in fact, I’d agree – but I haven’t seen any arguments like that. The only arguments I’ve seen went something like this: “We shouldn’t worry about diverse books at all until we have better-written books.” Um, no. We can work on both! At once! It doesn’t have to be either/or!

Just like you, we don’t want boring characters. But the answer doesn’t lie in arguing against diversity. Do you want to know how to write characters who are both diverse and interesting? Treat them like you would treat any other characters. Write them like you would write any other characters. That is the answer.

Problem solved.

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
This entry was posted in Books and Reading!, LGBTQ+, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Diversity Isn’t Meant To Bore You

  1. Charley R says:

    I think the “boring” argument comes from the fact that the “diverse” characters tend to be dull – you know, their diverse trait (race, sexuality, gender etc) comes to define them. People can take one look at that character and guess their personality, role in the story, everything right off the bat.

    People want well-written characters more than anything – it’s not that they don’t want diversity, it’s that they don’t want poorly constructed diverse characters included, because they are boring.

    • nevillegirl says:

      True, true. I would like to see diverse stories with more varied plots; i.e. LGBTQ+ stories that aren’t all about coming out or dealing with homophobia. Basically, what I talked about in last month’s TCWT post.
      It does frustrate me, though, when straight people (for example) think sexuality is a character’s defining trait. That seems to be a huge misconception in the Rick Riordan fandom, if the one-star Goodreads reviews for The House of Hades are anything to go by.

  2. I apologize if my recent post on diversity came across that way. That was in no way the impression I was trying to give. However, when people cry for something— anything— in literature, a host of new writers jump at the opportunity to write something everyone seems to want. Most of them do it badly because they’re still new, but expect everyone to love it because it’s what they asked for. My post was to point out that it doesn’t work that way. Diverse characters do not mean good writing— but with good writing, you can have as many diverse characters as you want.

    I never meant that authors should focus on creating good characters rather than diverse ones. I meant that unpublished writers, aspiring authors, the novices of the trade who haven’t learned all their skills yet, should focus on those skills alongside diversity rather than holding up diversity as a shield against criticism. Diversity out of published authors never fails to be amazing. Diversity out of unpublished authors has to come second to good writing.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I??? Wasn’t?? Talking?? About? You????

      And I have to disagree. Diverse characters PLUS other things do equal good writing. An author can write the most gripping story ever, with great descriptions and stellar dialogue and complex characters – but if they don’t include diversity, if none of the characters are minorities, I do take issue with that. The world is diverse. Diversity doesn’t automatically equal perfection in stories – the stories have to be written well, of course – but I’m really tired of people making excuses for stories that don’t have diversity.

      • Okay. I apologize, in that case– but I’m glad I didn’t mess up too much in that post.

        But good writing speaks for itself, whether there are diverse characters or not. Of course diversity lends itself to originality and depth, but a well-written copy of something is still well-written. But you’re right. A well-rounded book needs to have some of everything.

      • Miss Alexandrina says:

        Depends on the world, of course.
        That’s a thought – in things like LoTR, do, say, Istari count as minority because there are less of them? In the films, there are very few, if any, prominent characters who are non-white – yet, one could argue diversity there because the Fellowship contains at least one hobbit, elf, dwarf, man [and woman, for that matter, though I was referring to the species].

      • DK says:

        If I may, Neville.

        You know how pro-diversity I am, but I have to agree with Liam on this one. Good writing, with its plot and complexity and characters and all that jazz, corresponds to the craft of writing. To include diversity or not, that is a political argument. It would be similar to saying, “Books whose settings don’t have democracy (as opposed to a dictatorship, for example), are bad books.” Take a look at some of the classics. These books were generally written in times where the concept of pro-diversity didn’t exist. That wouldn’t necessarily take away from the fact that they’re well-written books.

        Having said that, sensitivity to diversity only adds to the pleasure of a good book. It’s certainly more reader-inclusive, and even more realistic. (You said it yourself, the world is a diverse place. To portray that diversity would make your story more real.) In today’s highly globalised world, diversity in books definitely has an important role to play.

        Also, I apologise for butting in.
        I am now going to disappear.
        Bye!

    • nevillegirl says:

      @Miss Alexandrina:

      Well, that’s a metaphor for diversity… and that doesn’t count as representation. It’s very frustrating when people care more about made-up species than they do about actual groups of people.

    • nevillegirl says:

      @DK:

      Er… political argument? Really? I don’t think you understand this. Diversity isn’t a political statement. It’s just the way the world is. Like, being black or bi or deaf or whatever isn’t making a statement. It’s just how some people are.
      We’re just asking for the world to be shown as it really is. Honestly, I think if someone doesn’t include diverse characters, that’s…. really weird, because what does that say about how they see the world?

      (Classics can be looked at differently; I think they can still have problems BUT those were problems of their times, not of those books in particular.)

      • DK says:

        It’s politics. The entire diversity discussion. The fact that we’re having it at all is proof of that. Yes, the world is diverse. In today’s day and age, it’s important to portray that diversity. *In today’s day and age* *In today’s social and political conditions*. Being a diverse/minority/whatever character–in fact, the arguments in favour of one (equal representation, equal rights, liberal thoughts and ideas, acceptance of the fact that the world is a complex place with lots of variety) reeks of politics. Good politics;I mean, a diverse novel shows an accepting, open-minded author and an accepting, open-minded world view. Which is what we need.

        You said it yourself–classics have problems of their times. Classics represented the politics and society of that age. A novel today ought to do the same thing. So, yes, diversity is important these days.

        But to say that a novel with equal representation is a good novel, purely for the fact that it has equal representation, seems like an incorrect stance to me. Good novels today should have all the elements of a good story *PLUS* representation.

    • nevillegirl says:

      @ DK:

      And I will repeat again, because you don’t seem to understand, that being a minority is not a political statement. It’s literally just people being who they are and wanting to see themselves reflected in stories.

      Also, I’m not saying that a novel is good because it has diverse characters. Get some reading comprehension skills. I said it makes a novel /better/ because diverse people should be recognized. I never said it was the ONLY important thing in a book. What I take issue with is people saying that a lack of diversity is perfectly fine.

  3. DK says:

    This post made me laugh xD The tone of voice, just… xDD Anyway, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t even know that there was an anti-diversity argument like this. Wow. xD

  4. Sunny Smith says:

    Interesting post! I totally agree with you:)

  5. Miss Alexandrina says:

    “I also see people saying that diversity is silly.” Whut?!

  6. Erin says:

    Like Liam, I also apologize if my TCWT post came across in a condescending way. I didn’t want to go into too much detail about my thoughts on diversity and well-written characters in that post because there were others points that I wanted to address. So again…I’m sorry if I sounded arrogant.

    I guess the point that I was trying to get across was that authors nowadays seem to think that all they have to do to get people to read/like their books is to stick in a diverse character. It’s like they’re thinking, “Let’s stick in someone who’s gay. We don’t have to make sure he’s written well because people will like him merely because of his sexuality.” This is obvious NOT the way to go about writing diverse characters, but this is what I feel like authors are thinking. When authors don’t develop diverse characters well, I get the impression that they only added in those characters for the sake of being diverse (because having diversity in your book seems to grab the attention of society and the media, which then means more people will be interested in reading your book, which then means more money. It’s all about the money, it seems).

    So when I said that I wanted more well-written characters, I wasn’t just talking about well-written, diverse characters. I was just talking about well-written characters in general. I’ve been sorely disappointed by the lack of well-rounded, flawed characters lately. Authors need to take a moment and think about what elements make up an interesting character before they actually write any characters, diverse or not.

    It’s really hard to put my thoughts into words here, but I hope this helped clear up any confusion that you had about my post (you may not have even been directing this post at me, but if you were, I’m not offended). It’s definitely easier talking about stuff like this with people face-to-face. No hard feelings, savvy?

    (Also, it just hit me. What exactly is the definition of diversity? What really is a diverse character? Aren’t ALL characters diverse? A straight person has different characteristics than a gay person, so straight people are also diverse. But why doesn’t the world acknowledge that? And another thing, people are all about diversity in sexuality and race, but I never hear anyone talk about more diversity in religion. If an author included a character who was Catholic, I’m guessing that 1) their book would be classified as a “religious” book, or 2) they would get so much hate and criticism. Same thing would happen if they included a character who was Muslim, or Buddhist, or whatnot. I don’t know…I just find the whole diversity thing in media a bit…odd.)

    (Another also, I’m sorry that this comment is so long. It turned into an essay. Whoops.)

    • nevillegirl says:

      It’s not about the money. How is it about the money? Go read some blogs of diverse authors. Malinda Lo has posted quite a bit about how DIFFICULT it was to publish her books with Asian and/or bi MCs. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the popularity. It’s about readers (and writers) wanting to see the world as it really is.

      Uh, no. You don’t understand. You’re confusing diversity with uniqueness. Sure, everyone is different. Diversity means INCLUDING everyone. People don’t acknowledge straight people as being necessary to diverse books because… every. Freaking. Book. Has. Straight. Characters. Most books have ONLY straight characters. It’s not about “straight people are different from gay people” – it’s about having LGBTQ+ characters in the first place. I don’t talk about the need for more straight characters because they’re EVERYWHERE.
      tl;dr – Straight characters are already acknowledged everywhere. But people get all “but what about the straight people?!?!?!?” the second one measly secondary queer character appears.

      People do talk about diversity in religion. For one, some people (me!) would like to see more queer religious characters.
      And more characters who aren’t Judeo-Christian. Most characters are. Whether the book is classified as a religious book or not… the majority of MCs are not Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or whatever.

      • Erin says:

        Sorry. When I made that money comment, I was thinking more about movies. Movies seem to be a lot more about only making money, whereas I believe authors publish books because they genuinely want to, regardless of whether or not they’ll make much money. So again, I’m sorry. It was lame statement.

        I’m not sure if I agree with you completely here, but I understand where you’re coming from. I guess the thing that bugs me is when I feel REQUIRED to include queer characters into all my stories even though there is more to diversity than just sexuality. In fact, there’s more to diversity than just that, race, gender, AND religion! Why can’t people understand that?!

        Anyway, I didn’t mean to get you upset. I guess we just have different views on diversity representation in literature.

    • nevillegirl says:

      True… but I can’t think of many diverse movies that made it big. Most of them are classified as, like, LGBTQ+ movies. (For example.)
      Or sometimes the movies are just messed up. Suzanne Collins has said that Katniss wasn’t intended to be white and yet the movies ended up with a whitey white white white person. xD

      I’m not only advocating for LGBTQ+ characters in diverse literature, though. 🙂 I used it as an example in this post because I don’t belong to many other minorities. But I’ve talked about other types of diversity in other posts, soooo… yes, books should have queer characters but they should totally have other types of diverse characters as well! 🙂 They can even combine that – a fellow blogger recently commented on another post about how she’s trying to write a story about a queer Muslim lady. 😀

      • Erin says:

        Whether Katniss was or wasn’t supposed to be white, you have to admit, nobody could have played a better Katniss than Jennifer Lawrence (because JL is the best).

        Okay, that’s what I figured, but I just wanted to make sure. I’ve seen a lot of people who seem to think that diversity is only restricted to sexuality, and they aren’t tolerant of accepting anything else. You seem to be a lot more open-minded though, which is awesome.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Meh, I have to disagree there because they didn’t even cast an actress of the right race. JL IS a great actress but it’s frustrating when the very few pre-existing non-white roles is given to a white person.

      Eugh, then…. wouldn’t that be racism? That doesn’t sound like a fun group of people to hang around with. :/

      • Erin says:

        While that might be true, I don’t ever remember Collins mentioning Katniss’ race in the book. And I’m not saying that she HAD to (because I don’t think that you need to specify someone’s skin color in books – why should that matter?), but you can’t really blame the film makers for getting Katniss’ race mixed up then (unless Collins did state it in the book and I just don’t remember). On another note, the film did get Rue’s race right, which made me happy.

        I don’t even know. I’ve had bad experiences with people inside the gay community, outside the gay community, in religious organizations, outside religious organizations, in public places, on the internet…I don’t know. I haven’t been too pleased with any experiences I’ve had with people lately (outside of my group of friends and family). This may be why I sound so irritable.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Katniss’ race is mentioned. In particular, her skin and hair are described.

      “Why should race be specified in books?” I don’t know, maybe because real-life people have races? If race really doesn’t matter, then why do so many people (like THG’s filmmakers) assume characters to be white?

      Well, those people were probably frustrated because too many people have asinine arguments against equality and diversity.
      Or maybe your bad experiences were caused by their frustration at being called “the gay community” like seriously we are not “the gay community” we are not all gay we’re not even mostly gay why do people keep referring to us as such.
      A more inclusive term is the LGBTQ+ community.

      • Erin says:

        Katniss’ race is not stated in the book (I looked it up). The way she is described in the book is vague. Her ethnicity is ambiguous. While she might not be white, the book doesn’t say what her ethnicity is supposed to be (she could very well be of mixed race).

        You misunderstand me. When I said that, I meant that we shouldn’t HAVE to specifically state someone’s race in books because people should NOT automatically assume that everyone in the world is white, THEREFORE not everyone in literature is white too. Unfortunately, readers believe that every character is white unless stated otherwise, hence why race must be specified in books. I think that diversity in race is extremely important (especially in a novel set in America, since we have such an interesting mix of ethnicity here), because chances are, you aren’t going to interact with only white people in your lifetime, so why should novels only have a white cast of characters?

        Look, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to use incorrect terms. I don’t always know what the “correct” term is to use though. I get really upset when people scream and yell at me for saying something that’s “racist” or “homophobic” or “bigoted” when in reality, I didn’t mean to offend anyone! I JUST DIDN’T KNOW THE CORRECT TERM TO USE.

    • nevillegirl says:

      She’s supposed to be of mixed race – which isn’t white. She’s described as having darker skin like her father. She doesn’t take after her mother and Prim. This isn’t uncommon – in the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, Carter and Sadie Kane look drastically different despite being siblings.

      So… basically you’re saying that you agree with me after all? Because sure, people shouldn’t assume race but they DO. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to specify race but we don’t live in an ideal world so it is necessary to say “so-and-so is not white.”

      I… don’t know why you’re upset because I told you to not use an offensive term? Like, accept your mistake and move on. I’m trying to help you avoid making the mistake again. Just because you didn’t intend to say something racist/homophobic/bigoted doesn’t mean that it isn’t offensive. Maybe you should consider the people who actually have to deal with bigoted comments, hmm?

      • Erin says:

        Of course mixed race isn’t uncommon. I totally agree with you that if Katniss was supposed to be of mixed race, then she should have been cast that way. I can understand why the filmmakers might have been confused as to what her ethnicity actually was, but then maybe they should have allowed auditions of all different races instead of limiting it to only whites.

        Yes, I am agreeing with you. I didn’t realize that that was what you were getting at, but yes, we are on the same page with this issue.

        I…I’m not really upset with you. I’m irritated with other people, and I guess I’m taking my anger out on you. I apologize. My problem is that when I unintentionally say something racist/bigoted/homophobic, people get offended. And when I try to sincerely apologize, they ignore anything I try to say. However, if someone says something that is offensive to Catholics or religion in general, and I tell them not to say that because we find it offensive, they scoff and act like it was nothing (which upsets me greatly because religion is very important to me). I wish everyone could just nicely agree to disagree and live peacefully.

        Also, I really hope this little bickering doesn’t damage our online friendship too much. You’re a great person and you run a fantastic blog, and even if we disagree on some issues, I really enjoy talking to you! 🙂

    • nevillegirl says:

      (Sorry, lost track of this comment…)

      Well… racist/bigoted/homophobic stuff is still offensive, whether or not you said it intentionally. No one likes to be called out for saying bad things, but try to think about the people who have to hear those things said about them every. Freaking. Day.

      It’s like… it’s like running someone over with a car because you’ve never driven one before. You didn’t INTEND to hurt them, but that doesn’t just magically cancel out the fact that you just ran over their leg and now they have to go to the hospital. If you said something offensive, people are going to be offended. Saying that you didn’t know or didn’t mean it MAY make things a little better but ultimately, it’s not going to erase what you just said. You’re asking people to pretend like it never happened (or like what you said has no long history of horrible-ness), and that’s unrealistic.

      (Thanks, you too. 🙂 )

      • Erin says:

        No, no, I totally understand what you mean. I guess I just wish EVERYONE would be more considerate of what comes out of their mouths. It isn’t just limited to racist/homophobic/bigoted comments. People shouldn’t say something offensive about religion, or culture, or even the way someone is educated (I’m sure you understand when I say that homeschoolers get a lot of hate). It seems that everything in the media nowadays is so negative and critical of everything. People only seem to be good at talking bad about other people. Ugh. There is so much hate in the world and it makes me sick.

        We gotta love more, and hate less, ya know? *sounds like a hippie*

  7. Miss Alexandrina says:

    (I don’t know which post it is now, so I’ll just comment here, so sorry to be a little random.)

    I’m watching an old Midsomer Murders episode and this one moment reminded me of you wanting more diversity in fiction. Because it’s set/filmed in the 80s, the sergeant is really un-PC, and he says the most amusing of things:
    “A gay undertaker! Who’ve thought of it!”
    That’s cool – not the kind of character one sees everyday, even if he is only a suspect and not an MC. And unnecessarily flamboyant. But this is Midsomer Murders, so that can forgiven!
    😀

  8. Pingback: My Hero Monday: Malinda Lo | Musings From Neville's Navel

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