I’m drawing a line. It’s a figurative, metaphorical line, but one nonetheless.
It’d be convenient for some people this on blame recent events that have as yet remained undisclosed, but the truth is I’ve been leaning this way for a while. Can you guess where this is going?
Try these trips, from older post on the site here, either as a refresher or grounding, depending on whether you saw them the first time or not.
The first one is Our Responsibility as Writers. Our fiction needn’t be informed by society’s prejudices. This is especially true of settings that aren’t meant to be a reflection of modern society, but it’s just as true with those that are. We live in a questionable world. You may write in a questionable world, but you don’t need to portray such as being something we should want. Artists of many mediums can inspire, bring hope, and portray a world that has clear sources of injustice, rather than a society pervaded by it.
The response to that was these things need justification. You must justify why your characters are not male, are not white, are not straight.
Is it an automatic response reflective of how the world/society is?
On occasion, I also write about gaming. Usually games, but I try to stay current with news in the gaming industry. The same theme goes across other nerdy pursuits – if you’ve not got those magic three attributes, you better be prepared to justify why you want to buy a comic, how long you’ve been playing D&D, or why you’re developing a game. Same goes to other forms of expression, fans of sport, particular jobs and honestly, I don’t know what else. I’m lucky in that regard, that I’ve never had to know. When I walk into a game shop, nobody asks me if Halo is my favourite character, expecting me to say “yeah sure” so they can run off and chortle. I don’t need to establish my nerd cred, nor prove it.
Neither does anyone say there should be justification why my SWM characters are such, why they’re there. Nobody thinks I’m sacrificing my artistic vision or selling out when my characters seem like they could be one and the same. I can do a whole load of structural editing, turn the protagonist’s best friend from draft one into the secret underlying villain and thereby change the entire tone of the story, and that’s all apparently completely being true to my muse. Not this though. This needs justification. Can’t just have a black character, or a woman, or a character that’s homosexual. Nope nope, art for art’s sake, artistic integrity, please justify.
I’m not advocating a checklist. The second of the two posts was Latent Moral Tendencies. It was a follow-up, much as this is. The approach though was different – encouraging the writer, artist, and whoever else to change their mindset and open themselves to the possibility of a diverse cast. I’m not advocating tokenism. Tokenism is bullshit. Tokenism tends toward stereotypes that help nobody, and will distance your writing. You’re also not a saviour. Get that out of your mind. You’re not doing it for the weak or downtrodden (and to be honest, if that’s how you see a collective of people, I can’t imagine you think of any of this as being positive). It’s just the right thing to do.
Take a stance that you will (in the least) consider a more varied cast in your storytelling, and you will potentially find yourself with a wider variety of characters making themselves available to you.
Back to the line, though.
Stop making it okay. Stop making it acceptable. Stop cherry-picking character casts that could be satisfied by a saturday morning round of golf. Get that shit out of your fiction, and maybe the world will change enough that the same round would reflect your diverse, inclusive cast. Stop making it okay to have two women in a cast of thirty that are somehow meant to simultaneously reflect every woman’s personality. Same all over. By having a woman in your cast, have you fallen into the classic trap of believing their character arcs must focus on their womanhood and by virtue of such, relate to either rape, pregnancy or both? Congratulations, you’re an asshole.
Give your characters the same challenges they would have had if they were still an fit white guy, and let them react. They’re not any less of a character now. Was the original character a jerk? They can still be a jerk. Were they a strict by-the-book type? Well shit, lots of people follow rules. Maybe you need to adjust other characters, or feel that the situations need to reflect what differences there may be.
Nobody said this was going to be easy.
Any character can be educated. Any can be rude. Any can be inspirational. Any can have good fortune. None of these are inherent to the circumstances of one’s birth, and they don’t need to be with regard to your characters. Some characters might still be sexist. They might still be racist. They might be blatant sour shits that don’t like anybody. They don’t need to be your ideal. They also don’t need to go about their bullshit without being called on it. If your story is predicated on injustice being a good thing, you are sending a message, whether that is your intent or not.
Writers love the Hero’s Journey, the monomyth and all that. They love the unending labyrinth of a certain trope site. You know it? Consider this your Call to Action. Show that the world is bigger. We’re all here. The Earth makes no distinction about what is or isn’t realistic. Us, it takes a little effort to see a world past our last trip for groceries. Considering many write about places they’ve never been, and lives they’ve never lived, is that really asking so much?