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How do I know if my cast is diverse enough or too diverse?
Basically, I am writing a story and I want to know if the characters are diverse enough or too diverse. If I just state the characters' races, sexualities, etc, it might seem forced but I didn't really focus on it much, they just are that way. A lot of the characters come from different places, so there isn't really one place for me to google the demographics of, but they are mostly from various states in the US and an island that I made up. I'm not going to say my characters specifically because I would like more general advice for other future stories as well. I'm mostly worried about my story not being diverse enough, because, it is possible for something to be too diverse, but I figure as long as most of the cast isn't the same thing, it'll be alright. And a lot of people are underrepresented, so I'm more focused on that.
Most of my characters are some form of lgbt+, but I'm not very worried about that because most stories are pretty much all straight so it wouldn't be a big deal. it's not like I stop every 2 pages to mention it. And I made sure to make them a mix of different sexualities. i tend to just automatically make everyone bi or something but im working on it
I'm sorry if this explanation was too long! But I would really appreciate answers for this because I couldn't find much about this. Or if you could mention websites that talk about this, that would be great too! So yeah. (:
It's really important to understand that "diversity" isn't something you should be scoring along a single axis. It would certainly simplify things if you could tally up Diversity Points in your story, knowing that five Diversity Points are Not Enough but seventeen is Too Many, but obviously, that isn't the case.
Instead of thinking in terms of "how much diversity does my book have" (five points worth? twice as much as last time? two quarts?), try and frame some specific goals and issues:
- "I don't want people to take heteronormative assumptions about sex and relationships for granted."
- "The experiences of disabled people are so often ignored, or stereotyped."
- "This story is set in Chicago, it makes no sense for all the key characters to be white."
Some of those questions or goals are doing a better job of representing authentic reality -- there are people we're often biased to forget about, or consider unimportant, but they're there and our stories shouldn't erase them. Others are questions of whose story you want to be telling in the first place. Others still are examining your own biases and blind spots in your worldview -- since stories tend to push us towards familiar patterns, and also entrench those patterns further, that's an important consideration to make.
So consider: a story taking place inside an Islamic community in NYC, or a story about a single queer teen who doesn't know anybody who isn't white and straight, or one about a crack team of superheros where every member comes from a different marginalized background -- each of those is "diverse" in a different way, and accomplishing different things (hopefully) with their diversity.
Figure out what's important to you in your story (and what pitfalls you want to avoid). Then figure out how to do that; that's the only measure of "not enough" or "not too much."
The basic approach that you touch on -- having characters of many different backgrounds but that never seems significant -- has some important things going for it. It can work well for a goal of normalizing marginalized groups; showing that heck yes a woman can be a starship captain and a black kid can be Spider-Man and it's no big deal. It has some pitfalls too, though, and I think you're seeing them: the diversity can feel insignificant, an informed attribute that could have been swapped for anything else with no difference. (Even worse, you can have a cast that's supposed to feel like lots of characters from lots of backgrounds, but actually feel just like a bunch of white straight people, for all intents and purposes.)
So if you're going to go down this route, you need to give a lot of thought -- not to how many "diverse" characters you have, but to how you bring out and acknowledge the differences between them. Gay people, people of color, people of faith, neurodiverse people, etc. etc., are all informed by different life experiences than straight white people, who are popular literature's default. (A lot of those experiences are way more than just "society's oppressed me," and, no group is a monolith -- people from the same group will have had different experiences!) Here's a previous question on the topic, and there might be some others on the site as well.
I definitely think it can be "too diverse", because ticking every box in the diversity matrix may feel forced and distract from the story itself.
Diversity should not be gratuitous. If the story is ABOUT the trials and tribulations of a whole homosexual community, that may be a lot of diversity. They are banding together to defend themselves, to protest, to demand police protection, to be able to exercise their rights.
Or we may write a story about one gay girl in the 1950's coming of age, alone and lonely, surrounded by (for all she can tell) a vast sea of perfectly straight people, not a single gay person in sight.
For the lone lesbian, a lack of diversity is necessary to her story, if she is surrounded by lesbians she has far less angst or worry about it. She has advice, role models, anti-role models, plenty of help to find her place in the world. She doesn't have to hide her sexual self, or wonder if she will ever meet a girl like herself.
The same thing goes for race, religion, etc. In my own stories, I don't even mention it unless it matters, or explains something.
Don't make diversity gratuitous. It's true 10% of people are homosexual, and some are bisexual, or polyamorous, whatever. This DOES matter in some of my stories, but that is because I make it matter; I don't write a gay character without making a reason their sexual orientation matters to the story. Or a person of color, for that matter.
I don't specify the race of any character. If you want to guess that my character fluent in Spanish is Hispanic, go ahead, but I never told you that.
Same for a homosexual: If my female protagonist kisses her girlfriend goodbye in the morning, assume what you want.
Welcome to the SE.
What is the story?
The gayest drag queen in the world would probably watch a story about the Vietnam War as long as it was done well. I'm certain there's at least one or two LGBTQ folks out there who enjoyed Good Morning Vietnam. Everyone was straight in that movie.
You make your cast what it needs to be to support the story. Find your story, and make the cast support it.
You seem overly worried about gender and sexual-orientation diversity. That's good to pay attention to, but don't lose track of the story. A huge degree of diversity might be necessary for your story--it depends on what you are writing.