Think of all of the books you’ve read recently. Of those books, how many of them had white male protagonists? Probably most of them, right? Of those remaining, how many of them had white female protagonists? Is that your whole library? The world’s a big place, but unfortunately, media can be pretty myopic. Thankfully, as writers, we can change that. Here are some ways to make your cast of characters more diverse.
Male protagonists are more common than female protagonists. That’s true for movies, where men take55% of all speaking parts. It’s also true for books, especially children’s books. Boys grow up seeing themselves as the heroes of the media they consume, while girls are relegated to minor roles at best. Writing layered and nuanced female characters will make your writing better, more interesting and more memorable.
Of course, including female perspectives is just the beginning. While female protagonists are a minority, gender nonconforming (GNC) protagonists are almost unheard of. Thankfully, content creators like J.Y. Yang and Rebecca Sugar are leading the charge against cisnormativity in media, but all things still aren’t equal. We can do better as writers by including trans, nonbinary, and intersex characters in our work.
Truly diverse media should be racially diverse as well. People of color rarely see themselves portrayed as complex, three-dimensional beings in media. Racial diversity is about more than just including characters of color. Accuracy and empathy are also important. If you are writing an African-American character then it’s recommended that you study black culture to get a better understanding of that character’s perspective.
In an ideal world, content creators from all walks of life would be represented equally. We do not live in an ideal world. Chances are, as a writer, you have some kind of privilege. Everybody does. That’s why sensitivity readers exist. As privileged people, it is our responsibility to amplify the voices of those without privilege and not to smother them. If you are writing about an underprivileged group that you don’t belong to, it’s critical that you listen to people from that group. Hire sensitivity readers. Don’t get defensive when they criticize your work. They know their world better than you do.
When people talk about diversity in media, they talk about it like it’s a trend. Like pogs or bell-bottom jeans, diversity will be out someday. That’s not true, though. Diversity is all around us. It always has been and it always will be. Whether or not we portray that diversity is up to us.
Here’s another article you might enjoy: How to Write a Convincingly Car-Savvy Character