Diversity Keeps Me Up At Night

I think a lot about diversity both as a queer woman of color and as a creative professional. It’s one of the things that keep me awake at night. In my original writing I have a few firm rules I follow:

1. If 10% of the population is LGBT+ then a minimum of 10% of characters should be LGBT+. Strive for more.

2. Just because a story is happening in a historical setting doesn’t mean diversity ceases to exist. People of color, LGBT+ individuals and the disabled didn’t magically spring into existence in the 1980s.

3. Representation doesn’t have to be a plot point or a major bone of contention within the story but it does have to be explicit

I like to think that those are good rules of thumb for me, especially with the amount of historical fiction I write. I’m sure other writers have their rules and ideas of how to make their writing more diverse. Those rules aren’t what keep me up though, at least they haven’t since I created them. What keeps me up is when to subvert common tropes and when to keep them.

In a piece I’m working on long-term I have a character who has died since draft one. Recently I made the decision that one of his compatriots will die in his stead. There’s every possibility that will change again in a future draft or it might not, but I agonized over the decision for days. I didn’t have a problem killing him when I first wrote the story- I also didn’t know he was into men when I started writing the story. It took me a long time and a lot of character searching to make sure my decision about not killing him wasn’t related to LGBT+ characters having the tendency to end up with unhappy endings and was in fact related to the betterment of the plot. Ultimately, I decided it was, by and large, for the plot.

There’s always room for diversity. There’s always room to learn about things we don’t have innate knowledge of. As a writer I want to push the envelope and challenge stereotypes and give the reader an story and an ending they might not expect. Writing historical fiction adds an additional layer of challenge- respecting the people you’re writing about while still maintaining historical accuracy. That’s what keeps me up at night. When characters do things I would never personally approve of or trying to make sure I’m not subverting tropes for the sheer purpose of subverting them (which has its place too). Creating diversity in my writing is the easy part- making sure that diversity is done correctly and for the right reasons at the right time in the story is the hard part.

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