Do You Have to Write Diverse Characters?

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If you're involved in the online publishing/writing community at all, then chances are extremely likely you've heard about the We Need Diverse Books initiative and ones like it, like diversifYA, Diversity in YA, Gay YA, Disability in Kidlit, and many others. Hell, if you've been to this blog more than a few times, you've likely seen me talk about why representation is important to me, and more recently, about the importance of chronic illness rep in YA.

What I'm trying to say is as of late, there have been a lot of pushes towards encouraging writers to write diversely and readers to read (and support) diverse lit. And you know? A lot of good has come out of it. There have been books with marginalized protags getting huge marketing budgets and promoted to the masses, which is incredibly awesome. There have been writers coming together to try to write as respectfully and realistically as possible. And probably most importantly: there's been more visibility of representation in literature.

Of course, we still have a long way to go, but there's been progress. And progress is awesome.

But at the same time, there have also been internet uproars related to the causes, usually surrounding poor (or even harmful) representation, whether in a book, on a panel, etc. Which is understandable, because poor representation needs to be discussed and pointed out. But at the same time, it can be scary as a writer trying to write a diverse cast in a respectful way (or as a writer trying to decide whether or not they should write diverse characters at all), to see that. There have been authors chased off their social media accounts after getting slammed over not-so-great representation in their books—which is probably every writer's worst nightmare.

Stemming from all this comes a sort of guilt or pressure to write diverse characters. Writers sometimes come across diversity talks and walk away with guilt for not writing a diverse cast. So the question is sometimes asked: do you have to write diverse characters?

The short answer? No. Including diverse characters in your book is not a requirement—furthermore, it's unlikely anyone will shame you for writing a book without any minority characters. It happens all the time, and by and large, goes unnoticed from readers who aren't looking for it. You won't be branded a jerk, or unworthy of writing, or anything like that if you don't write books with a diverse cast.

That said, you might decide you want to take a risk and write a diverse cast into your book anyway. Not for the sake of diversity (which is something I see people say, and oh, does it make me cringe), but for the sake of reality. As Mary Robinette Kowal put it:

Because our world? It's not a monolith. We live in a world full of unique people of all races, ethnicities, body types, levels of ability, levels of neuro(a)typicalities, sexual orientations, genders, socioeconomic classes, and religions. So if you choose to write a book without a diverse cast, know that you're not writing a world reflective of our own. Which is okay. You're allowed to make that choice. But it is a choice.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is out of all of these initiatives, no one is saying you have to write a diverse cast in your book. But maybe they're saying to pay attention to the world around you. Maybe they're saying realize that white, cis, heterosexual, middle class, able-bodied, neurotypical, athletic people aren't the only people with stories worth telling.

But is it a requirement to write diverse characters? Not really. But in my experience at least, the more you pay attention to the world around you, the harder it becomes to write worlds that aren't reflective of that reality.

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is it a requirement to write diverse characters? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says you're not required to write diverse characters, but you might decide you want to anyway. (Click to tweet)

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