“Representation” is the current buzzword in the world of fiction. Readers are getting more and more vocal about stories that are not representative enough and woe betide anyone who happens to write something with a straight white male protagonist in the lead.
And I get it. Sort of.
When I first started reading (English) fiction on my own as a child, Nancy Drew and the Famous Five were my staples. The girls in these books were not passive stereotypes and they passed the Bechdel Test and the Sexy Lamp scenario long before I knew to look out for it. When I started reading fantasy the heroines became scarcer, true, with female characters usually relegated to the role of love interest who either stays home and yearns after the questing hero, or dies tragically to give him the motivation he needs to confront and defeat the bad guy. And yet Susan picked up her bow and arrow to fight against the White Witch and Paksenarrion left the farm behind to become the gods’ champion. When Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series entered my life and I met Moiraine, Egwene and Nynaeve (to name just a few of Jordan’s incredible cast of strong women) I found it natural for them to take on the prominent roles that they did.
I’m lucky in that way. I’m an able-bodied straight cisgender white woman of privilege, and somehow I never felt left out when reading.
Others are not as fortunate.
For years I vowed never to write anything other than white female characters. How could I possibly depict someone whose skin tone, orientation and life experience differed so much from my own? I would never be able to do the character justice. Whatever I wrote would always, in some way, offend someone, because it would be clear that I had no insight into a character as diverse as that.
But times are changing and I think it’s worth trying to incorporate diversity into stories for the sake of inclusion. I’m not saying as a writer I’m going to try and please every demographic. The changes I make will be small and subtle at first. Although my main characters may remain the same for now, there’s no reason why my supporting cast can’t become more representative. I will be asking myself: Does this character in a position of power absolutely have to be male? Does she need to be white? Does he need to be straight? Am I unconsciously writing a stereotype? Am I reading enough books that are representative?
Small changes to help effect larger ones.
And if my story calls for a white male main character, as is the case with my Mythical Menagerie series, then so be it. But just know that I’m trying to fill the world around him with more interesting, more diverse and more representative characters, one little step at a time.
What are your thoughts on representation in fiction? Have you felt left out? Does the thought of reading diverse characters scare or annoy you? Does it matter to you what type of characters fill the pages?