Writing Advice

Help for Authors and Writers

The Craft of Writing: Writing Diversity

How do you write fiction so that it’s diverse?

Writing diversity isn’t difficult. Doing it without tokenizing characters, on the other hand...

The key, I think, is not “make your protagonists white men, then go in and add background characters who are diverse.” The trick, rather, is to create a seamless story in which any character might be any sort of person it’s reasonable to expect they could be. The character Riply in the Alien movies wasn’t, explicitly written for a woman, as an example. There’s no need of the character to be male or female, so casting Sigorney Weaver didn’t pose a problem.

When Eunice and I started working on our post-cyberpunk novel, we tried an experiment. Since we wanted the book to reflect real-world demographics of the city in which it was set, we trawled the US Census Bureau for demographic data for Los Angeles, where the novel is set, and used it to create a series of charts.

The idea is, any time we created any character (and I mean any character, from the protagonist down to a server at a restaurant who appears for only two sentences), if the character’s role in the story didn’t not revolve around physical possession of a penis or a vagina, we’d roll two percentile dice. On 1–50, the character is female. 51–99, the character is male. 00, you roll again. 1–60, the character is a trans woman. 61–00, the character is a trans man.

If there’s a romantic connection, we rolled again. 1–82, the character is straight. 83–90, the character is some degree of bi/pan. 91–95, the character is ace. 96–00, the character is gay.

For the character’s race, we rolled again: 1–50, the character is white. 51–74, the character is Hispanic. 75–88, the character is black. 89–96, the character is Asian. 97–99, the character is multiracial. 00, roll again: 1–65, the character is Pacific Islander, 66–92, the character is Native American, 93–00, the character is native Alaskan.

I think the result worked well. It’s an effortless way to create a diverse world without trying to force it. This system can, with a bit of tweaking, probably be made to work with almost any sort of fiction.