Diversity as Originality

While perusing some of the early review and think-pieces on Iron Fist, I found a piece on Quartz entitled “‘Iron Fist’ proves Marvel is obsessed with rich white men—and it’s ruining their superheroes“.

Now, regardless of your feelings about Iron Fist, I thought the article brought up a great ending argument that can be applied to original fiction, and perhaps especially original genre fiction.

Diversity is important because of justice and representation. But it’s also, as the Iron Fist trailer proves, important creatively. If you always tell stories about the same people, unsurprisingly, you will always tell the same stories. There’s only so much you can say, and only so much anyone wants to hear, about billionaire white guys and their destinies.

This point resonates with me when I think about genre fiction. It feels like there are a lot of writers who want to create sci-fi, fantasy, or even superhero settings, and they end up doubling down on trying to create new magic systems, new technologies, or new alien or fantasy races that no one has seen before. But at the end of the day they end up having a familiar protagonist leading the action, whether that’s the “billionaire white guy” who wants to be a superhero or the farm boy who finds out he has a destiny.

Ultimately, I think finding a more diverse set of characters with which to tell the story would make it more memorable or original than whatever new version of Elves exist in the setting.

And, while I do think racial diversity is incredibly important, character diversity doesn’t have to be about race. There are a lot of different types of people to write about. For example, we are still in need of more stories with female leads and, of course, more LGBTQ representation. There is religious representation as well. Of course there is a bigger push to see more Muslim heroes in fiction, but we also rarely see people of Jewish, Hindu, or Sikh faiths in leading roles.

There are also traits that are less talked about when the idea of diversity is brought up. We see few characters with disabilities (mental or physical) in leading roles, or even those who have pre-existing conditions, like diabetics. We see little diversity in body types (especially among female characters) and income brackets as well.

Why not have a superhero story about a white male from the middle of the country, but one who is lower income living in a town with few job opportunities that is ravaged by the heroine epidemic?

There are a lot of different types of people in the world, and yet much of our fiction, especially in film, seems to focus largely on the same segment of the population. Telling stories about those who are excluded not only gives them the opportunity to be represented, but as a writer it will give you more creative options. This can make your work much more original.

For example, we don’t need a Firefly knockoff with a captain who’s a lot like Mal. That story’s been told. But why not a Firefly-like series with a female captain, or a gay captain, or a disabled captain? You could use the story to investigate a whole other set of issues that wouldn’t ever come up if you just trotted out a retread with characters similar to those we’ve seen before.

So, if you’re looking for a way to up the originality of your story, I think looking to increase the diversity of your cast, especially the main characters, is a great way to do that. At the very least, I highly recommend thinking about it.

I hope you enjoyed this read. Agree, disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you next time.


3 thoughts on “Diversity as Originality

  1. Great job, J. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the need for diverse books. Heck, there’s even a hashtag and website for it (#weneeddiversebooks.org). When I think back to my childhood about the leading, white females in science fiction and fantasy cartoons I watched, I often wondered why I didn’t see many brown ones — well besides the token ones — like Claudia Grant of Robotech, Valerie, from Josie and the Pussycats (not fantasy, but come on I’m pulling straws here). And when it came to other female roles, the USA had She-Ra, the heroines of He-Man, Rainbow Bright, the Last Unicorn lady and on and on. 😦 So, now there’s lots of talk about the need for more diversity in the Star Wars series. Well, adding more and more white female leads doesn’t answer that call to action when we already have leading ladies like Katniss of Hunger Games and Hollywood decides to whitewash Motoko of Masamune’s “Ghost in the Shell”. I agree that we need to see more people of different religions and ethnic groups taking lead roles that aren’t stereotypes. Sorry for the long reply. Maybe I should write a post about this. Heh.

    1. Yes, representation of women is interesting since, as you pointed out, it often plays out as white women. And there need to be more things starring white women, but they often seem to be made as a stand-in for all women.

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