Diverse Character Dilemma

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Kinjo
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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#16 Post by Kinjo » Mon Jul 04, 2016 12:51 am

kitsubasa wrote:I think a good way to think about it is this...
Thank you, that was a really clear and helpful explanation, and the examples should give me a good reference point to work from.

Of course, I'll continue to do research in other areas of the net, though now I think I have a better idea of what I need to look for.

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#17 Post by SHiNKiROU » Mon Jul 18, 2016 3:56 am

John Oliver once said this (look up "Corporations on Twitter" to remind yourself how bad screwups can be):
"Your silence is never going to be controversial."
Applying that advice to diversity in fiction, it means that if you think you are going to "get some things wrong", you should play it safe and don't write "diverse" characters. However, if you actually want to include "diverse" characters, you can counteract stereotypes by not including the stereotype in the story at all: Just try to write good characters. This would reduce your chance of "being offensive" due to stereotyping.

Sometimes I think of "meeting the needs of diversity" in fiction as a responsibility spread to all authors collectively. The ideal of diversity in fiction is "For all groups of people, there exists a fiction including that group", NOT "For all fiction, all groups of people are included". What are the corollaries of the "for all/there exists" statement? If you want to shoot down the idea of including diverse characters in your story, you can say "Diversity is another author's problem". Otherwise, if you want diverse characters in your story, you can argue "No one else is doing the job, so should be the first one to do it and get it right."

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#18 Post by RotGtIE » Mon Jul 18, 2016 6:55 am

Sometimes I think of "meeting the needs of diversity" in fiction as a responsibility spread to all authors collectively.
And just like that, we've gone from debatably good intentions to a moral injunction that would make George Orwell roll in his grave.

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#19 Post by Kinjo » Mon Jul 18, 2016 8:23 pm

SHiNKiROU wrote:John Oliver once said this (look up "Corporations on Twitter" to remind yourself how bad screwups can be):
"Your silence is never going to be controversial."
Applying that advice to diversity in fiction, it means that if you think you are going to "get some things wrong", you should play it safe and don't write "diverse" characters. However, if you actually want to include "diverse" characters, you can counteract stereotypes by not including the stereotype in the story at all: Just try to write good characters. This would reduce your chance of "being offensive" due to stereotyping.
That was an extremely funny clip, thanks for that. And anyway, that was my initial stance on the issue -- nobody could possibly be offended by something I don't write about, right? Right? Except for when you have to deal with certain groups of people who go "we need more diverse characters, and you didn't do that with your story, for shame!" And then you do it, whether it's to appease them or just because you want to, and then they go out of their way to say "you didn't write them the way you should have! For shame!" and it's like, I can only be so good at this, give me a break!
RotGtIE wrote:And just like that, we've gone from debatably good intentions to a moral injunction that would make George Orwell roll in his grave.
I would rather think of it as "people who complain about it should be the change they want to see" so that there is no collective responsibility. Just that there are some people who want to see certain kinds of stories and I think those people should go ahead and write them for others who also want them. But there's nothing wrong with people who don't want those things. They're just two groups of people who want two different things, so let them both enjoy what they want. It's pretty simple.

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#20 Post by Enigma » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:58 pm

Kinjo wrote:
RotGtIE wrote:And just like that, we've gone from debatably good intentions to a moral injunction that would make George Orwell roll in his grave.
I would rather think of it as "people who complain about it should be the change they want to see" so that there is no collective responsibility. Just that there are some people who want to see certain kinds of stories and I think those people should go ahead and write them for others who also want them. But there's nothing wrong with people who don't want those things. They're just two groups of people who want two different things, so let them both enjoy what they want. It's pretty simple.
I agree with this sentiment, but what The original post said was that there is a collective responsiblity, and there have been posts in this very thread that said leaving out diverse characters is a "mistake."

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#21 Post by SHiNKiROU » Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:08 am

I guess I shouldn't have used the word "responsibility" in that post.

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#22 Post by RotGtIE » Tue Jul 19, 2016 2:01 am

SHiNKiROU wrote:I guess I shouldn't have used the word "responsibility" in that post.
Surely you cannot believe that the extent of your error was made entirely in the breadth of a single word.

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#23 Post by ThisIsNoName » Tue Jul 19, 2016 5:03 pm

Kinjo wrote:Except for when you have to deal with certain groups of people who go "we need more diverse characters, and you didn't do that with your story, for shame!"
One thing to remember is that when people say that they want diversity, they actually mean that they want the illusion of diversity. You'll never see a "diverse" black character use AAVE or use the "N" word in a casual sentence. You'll never see the main character feel uncomfortable when talking to someone who's autistic or frustrated with a character who has depression. You'll never see a working class character have a job they dislike, or one that takes a toll on them, etc.

I could go on, but ultimately, they just want someone who may look different or be called something different than them, but looks, talks and thinks like themselves. Nothing more than a magic trick.

If you want to put actual diversity into your game, don't. When you feel like putting in a black character, watch or read something created by someone who's black. Something that's meant to be stupid, or controversial, or irreverent. Watch something that treats the characters like characters, instead of political statements. Same with any other type of "diverse" character.

Then, when you come across a character type or situation that reminds of something you've read or watched, you won't think "Hey, I'll put a black guy in here" or "I should make this character trans". Instead, it'll be "Wow, Richard Pryor would make an absolute mess out of this situation. How can I tweak a character to have the same kind of reaction?" or "I wonder how the Wachowskis would approach this?"

Obviously, there will always be people who disagree, some with valid intentions, and some who just want to draw attention to themselves. If you honestly realize you messed up, you can always apologize and fix your mistakes. Otherwise, screw them. It's your story. You don't owe them anything (unless you're creating a commercial game. then you might want to just suck it up. :lol:)

Anyways, my point is that if you're adding diversity because you think it's your responsibility to, or because you want to appease your critics, you're going to end up doing the people you're supposed to be "helping" a disservice. If you really want to help, focus on helping people who may not get much visibility tell their own stories, and focus on telling the stories that you want to tell.

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#24 Post by Kuiper » Tue Jul 19, 2016 6:46 pm

To follow up on ThisIsNoName's remarks, here's a bit of history of the Mistborn series (heard this bit orally and reproducing it to the best of my memory, so hopefully it isn't apocrypha):

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series is pretty notable for being a fantasy epic with a female lead, but it didn't start this way. When he was planning book 1 of the story, he tried several versions of the main character, and discovered that his main character (who was male in early drafts) didn't seem to be working for the story he was telling. So he tried again, this time casting a female character in the role, and discovered that this version worked a lot better. In the case of Mistborn, switching from a male lead to a female lead wasn't as simple as just saying, "Okay, she's a girl now;" there are many parts of the series that are gender-specific, and significant parts of the story had to be redrafted and written with a leading woman in mind. (Sanderson has sometimes jokingly referred to Mistborn book 1 in retrospect as "My Fair Lady meets Lord of the Rings.") Sanderson had to make significant changes to the story to accommodate a female lead, and found that most of these changes improved the story, making it a pretty rational choice from an author trying to decide, "What is the best way for me to tell this story?" He didn't set out to make a "diverse" story (in fact, the main cast of book 1 is actually pretty male-centric despite having a female lead), but he was open to the idea of deviating from his original concept for a male protagonist, and as it turned out, the story worked better as a result.


One of my latest television obsessions is "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," which is a wonderfully diverse show which stars Rachel Bloom as a Jewish lawyer from New York. Her heritage is actually a major part of her character, and it leads to wonderful musical numbers about what it's like to grow up as a Jewish girl in Scarsdale and have your Jewish mother come to visit for the holidays. I've also seen the show discussed in glowing terms in many Asian American communities for actually casting a Asian guy as the main love interest, and the show is really special specifically because of how it does it: having an Asian dude who is a total "bro" isn't a "reverse stereotype"; it's a reflection of reality. Likewise, the show is set in Los Angeles county and has a cast with a lot of Asian and Hispanic characters, and this isn't "affirmative action"; it's a reflection of reality: the real West Covina has a population that is and 25% Asian and 50% Hispanic.
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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#25 Post by pinto minto » Tue Aug 09, 2016 5:03 am

I have a problem with this too! When I write about a person that's different from me in terms of race (or other subcultures), I fear of offending someone for not being as knowledgeable about it.

Yes, diversity is good, but I think as long as you do it in a positive way, then you should be fine. Don't think too hard, things will start to feel more natural.

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#26 Post by bellice » Tue Aug 09, 2016 4:14 pm

In general, I'd say just be mindful of how you write things. Use your head. Be kind and respectful. Consider what a person sharing the indentity in question might feel like playing your game. It's always possible to offend, but the most important thing is to show empathy.

People are more than just their gender, their race or their sexual orientation.

If you're not sure how to handle a particular issue, focus on something else. Writing a gay character doesn't mean their arc has to revolve around their sexuality. Writing a black character doesn't necessarily mean you have to detail how underlying racism makes their life harder. Writing a character who is non-binary or trans doesn't have to include all the struggles they face amongst their cis-gendered peers.

Sometimes, you can just let a character be what they are. (And sometimes, it's a real breath of fresh air for members of minoritiy groups to read about a character who is like them and just gets to live and be happy.)

And if all else fails, TALK to people. Nowadays all sorts of people with all sorts of identities are just a mouse click away. They're not all gonna agree on what offends them and what doesn't, but it can't hurt to go out of your way and ask 'hey, how do you feel about this scene/character?'

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#27 Post by Rossfellow » Tue Aug 09, 2016 9:11 pm

Kinjo wrote:So this is something I've been thinking about and I'm genuinely wondering how I should approach this dilemma.

Is it generally preferable to try writing "diverse" characters, even if the writer is unfamiliar with the subject and may potentially "get some things wrong", or is it better to leave "diverse" characters out of the story so that the writer could never possibly "get any things wrong"?
In other words, is it better to genuinely attempt writing these characters and risk "being offensive" or better to play it safe and potentially come off as "non-inclusive"? It seems to be a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

I'll just leave it at that for now -- I've had to be very careful with my wording already. I think I know what I'll do, but I'm interested in hearing how other writers approach this situation.

Out there, as we speak, those "Details I got wrong" could be somebody's life. That's just the magic of living in an imperfect, asymmetrical world. The world is full of people whose spectrum on the Great Stereotype ranges between 1% to 100%.

In fiction, characters are just characters. They represent the role they were created to play. They do not represent real people, nevermind an entire group, unless that's deliberately how it was written. Unfortunately, that seems to be what you were trying to do. If you want to write a world that is vivid and lively and--- Well, Diverse, I think its better to liberate yourself from the idea altogether. "Is there a story I want to tell about this Trans character?" is a much better question than "If I write this trans character, will it please everyone?"

The concept of "representation" is greatly overrated, moreso in fiction. Suppressing what you want to write out of fear that readers would misinterpret your intentions is a form of oppression, too, except this one is mostly self-imposed. Why would you do that to yourself?

Bad research, on the other hand, deserves all the scrutiny it gets, but that's a topic for another thread.
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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#28 Post by Kinjo » Wed Aug 17, 2016 9:06 pm

Rossfellow wrote:The concept of "representation" is greatly overrated, moreso in fiction. Suppressing what you want to write out of fear that readers would misinterpret your intentions is a form of oppression, too, except this one is mostly self-imposed. Why would you do that to yourself?
I've had a hard time coming up with an answer to this question (and it may have been rhetorical but I wanted to try answering it) and honestly, I don't want to do that to myself, but it almost seems like something I would need to do in order to cause the least amount of controversy. But I realize that idea comes from the fear of someone reviewing what I make, and is no fault of my own unless I make it so. Their interpretation is not something I can control, and they can spin what I create in any way they like, even if it was not intentional or even remotely based on evidence (and actually, they already have).

I can really only hope that my writing ends up in the hands of someone who does not jump to conclusions, and I have to place more faith in my readers to not do so themselves.

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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#29 Post by Rossfellow » Wed Aug 17, 2016 9:27 pm

I can really only hope that my writing ends up in the hands of someone who does not jump to conclusions, and I have to place more faith in my readers to not do so themselves.
That's everyone's dream, but it's never always going to end up that way. Viewership is like an ocean-- If you cast a big enough net to haul in a sizeable amount of readers, there's a good chance that a few of those are sharks. And if you didn't cast that net, you wouldn't have caught that haul to begin with.

You can be Shaun Healey and still get hateful messages in your inbox and angry blogs written about you. That's just the nature of popularity growth (look at all the Sakura games). All you can do is tough it out.
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Re: Diverse Character Dilemma

#30 Post by Lin Augustine » Fri Aug 19, 2016 12:20 am

I agree with most of what was said previously, but as a person who ticks many "diversity" boxes, I thought that I'd add my two cents.

Because we're all different and have limited perspectives, it's hard to write any character that's different from you, even if they aren't considered "diverse." For example, as an extreme introvert, I have a hard time writing about anyone who's extroverted or less introverted than I am. Similarly, just because someone is a part of a minority doesn't mean that they can write a character that all people in that minority can identify with. I'm black but I grew up on a small island in the Caribbean and have never lived in a large city, so I have no idea what it's like to be black in a large city in America or in another country. So people who aren't a part of that minority shouldn't feel like they can't write about it just because they don't experience it.

Instead of thinking of it as some kind of obligation, I think of it instead as a way to enrich a story (can you imagine reading a story where everyone had the same personality?!). In a similar way, diversity is just one of many ways to make characters seem 3-dimensional and set them apart from each other. So, I think it's worth trying to write diverse characters if it's something that you would like to do (e.g. if you enjoy reading about/researching a certain culture, then including a character of that culture in your story might be fun for you). It shouldn't be a chore or something that you do to fend off potential haters (there's always going to be someone who's displeased anyway...).

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