I started this year afraid for people whom I hold dear: women, gay people, disabled people, bisexuals, transgenders, non-Christians, people of beautiful color and incredible bravery…. And yet, as a writer, as a person of education, I know that living in fear will solve nothing.
And so, I will battle oppression with my actions – and with my written words.
As I head off to plot my full series with my shiny new timeline software, I’ve resolved to make sure I represent everyone across the span of my books. My characters have been mostly white heterosexuals across their formulation (I started planning the series at age 11, when I’d never even heard of transgenders), but luckily, I have to rewrite most of my books, and changing my characters is an option again.
Not only that, but I resolve to represent America’s minorities above the expected “token” characters. I’m going to have more than one of all the people I listed above, sometimes within the same book (easy in the case of PoC, but a little harder, say, for disabled people who must survive in harsh fantasy worlds). These diverse cast members will be main characters and side characters alike, and they will meet each other, talk to each other, and learn from each other; they won’t be rainbow islands in a flat sea of white. I’m even wondering if my main character in my on-query project ought to stop being so damn pale.
My inspiration for this more-than-token exposure? A board game called Eldritch Horror. I love this game, and my friends and significant other have spent countless hours losing ourselves in it already. We’ve bought every expansion and killed every “boss” across dozens of different scenarios.
But this game has one flaw which it can’t seem to overcome: it has very few people of color.
The original game came with 12 character cards. Of these, there was one African American man, one African woman, and one Chinese woman. Okay, so that’s not the worst, I guess… but then we bought the expansion. Enter 24 more character cards… and only one of them non-white. (She was Korean.)
Oh, and the best part? Guess where one of those expansions was set. Africa.
Look, I’m white. I get it. This isn’t “supposed” to make me so mad. But if it doesn’t upset colorless people like me, then how can we join together and get something to change? Are PoC and LGBTQ supposed to do this all on their own, while we watch from the sidelines and console ourselves with lines like “it’s not that bad”?
This game so infuriated me (I’m writing the company) that I’ve made it a personal mission to do better than them. So from now on, more than 11% of my characters are gonna be something other than non-disabled Caucasian heterosexuals (11% is the number I got from Eldritch horror’s current breakdown). In addition, I’m going to have at least one of everything listed at the top of my post, in every single one of my story arcs. Not that that’s enough – I mean, come on, only 11%? – but it’s more than I’ve seen in my own favorite books.
And on top of that pitfall, I’m also not perfect. I can’t write PoC the way PoC write themselves, so I might end up just coloring people in a fantasy world where their culture is made up. I’m not gay or transgender, so my writing of them could come off a little flatter than their writing of themselves. But I’m at least going to try, because it’s all about exposure. It’s about putting the other in the everyday life of the reader – especially the reading child. If I only write straight white, then I will be perpetuating the hatred that threatens our future at this very moment.
So I call on you, writers, to join together, and do better than 11%. I bet your characters will grow deeper for it – and maybe, so will you.
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