Diversity (A TCWT Prelude)

What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? 

Thus spake the Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain prompt this May.  My scheduled day is the 15th (Thursday), but I’ve got something else to say first.  I’ve read and commented on all the posts in the chain up until today, and I’ve seen a big similarity: diversity.  Diversity in race, worldview, and gender; diversity in worlds, magic, and society; diversity in conflicts, plot elements, and protagonists.  It’s all true.  But as you can see from just half this month’s responses, we as individuals aren’t the only people to have realized we need diversity.  Many people advocate it.

What does that mean?  Are we apathetic, trying to force others to write what we think should be written?  Is society restrictive, shooting down every diverse idea we have?  You might not agree, but it’s neither.  There are plenty of diverse books out there.  An astonishing number of writers are writing from all different backgrounds, writing about everything under the sun.  Diverse?  Yes.  Well-known?  Some, yes– others, no.  If that’s the case, why are we still crying for diversity?

I like to boil problems down to two possibilities, so I’ll do that here.  One possibility is this: those writing diverse books are focusing more on writing diversely than on writing well.  It’s obvious why they won’t go anywhere.  Books hit the big time because they’re written well– not because they portray a minority.  You could write about politically-minded livestock all you want, but if you don’t write well, you’re not going to get anywhere.  I’m sorry, but you have to put in the work.

Think about it.  Was Animal Farm (there are the politically-minded livestock) diverse?  Yes.  George Orwell was rejected once because a publisher wasn’t confident about selling a “fairy story” in the USA.  These days we have mountains of animal fiction, but then?  It was unheard of.  But even though fairy stories couldn’t sell, how did Animal Farm even get published?  Because it was written well.

Another example, more recent.  Is The Book Thief diverse?  Yes.  There are plenty of WWII novels out there, talking about the Allies, from the perspective of a white male fighting for his country.  But The Book Thief?  The story of Liesel, a girl in Nazi Germany, narrated by Death.  I can’t imagine trying to pitch that manuscript– it just sounds weird.  But was it written well?  It was beautiful.

So many people expect to be published, or expect a book to sell well, just because it’s diverse.  Sometimes it happens.  Often, however, diversity isn’t enough.  You have to write well.

In the beginning of the post, I claimed that we had plenty of diverse books.  Sure, we have diverse, unpublished manuscripts– but published books?  Yes, we have those too, many popular.  The second possibility deals with that: genre.

A couple days ago, I read an excellent post on the subject of variety and genre.  In it, the author postulated the restriction of genre preferences; go into a bookstore as a YA reader, come out of said bookstore with a stereotypical YA book.  The same is true for any genre, whether paranormal romance, animal fiction, or fantasy.  If you go in with that prejudice, you’ll come out with that prejudice fulfilled.

Thus, we have hundreds of excellent novels shoved into the cracks.  The Book Thief is marketed as YA, yet I believe in two hundred years it’ll be reprinted as a classic.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a beautifully-written (yet slightly plot-light) fantasy that’s filed under paranormal romance, contains more war than Divergent, which (in my bookstore) is considered “YA Action and Adventure”.  I’m struggling to think of third example to round it out, but I’m sure you can provide one.

The point is, we have diverse novels.  However, as they’re classified and as we classify ourselves by genre, we lose the ability to spill over into different styles.  I get weird looks when I look around the children’s section, occasionally from my own sisters.  I read fewer and fewer books outside of fantasy every year, despite the children’s section.  We’ve all been pigeonholed into these genres, when what truly gives us a good view of the entire literary world is a broad selection.

Are there dragons in fantasy anymore?  Yes, but they seem less original as more diverse fantasies pop up.  Are there male or female narrators in fiction?  There’s going to be some imbalance, naturally (female-narrated fantasies still seem rare despite many series, but I’ve had trouble finding a male-narrated high school romance), but yes, we have both.  Different worldviews?  All over the place.  But as we fall into these genres, we don’t get the sense of diversity anymore.

Branch out.  Pick a diverse element you want to see and ask people reading other genres if they’ve seen it around.  In some cases, entire genres exist solely for that diverse element to be showcased.  (Such as paranormal romance, which only exists because Twilight was too diverse for YA fantasy.)  Want a diverse book?  They exist.  Go and find one.

(Disclaimer: since the prompt deals in things you’d like to see more of, it’s impossible to say anyone is wrong in their answers.  That isn’t my intention, and I hope that’s not how it sounded.  Also, a lot of us have shown preferences for change within our preferred genres.  If you’re looking for fantasy murder mysteries, a historical thriller is not the same thing.  However, it is possible to find such books shoved into cracks between genres.)

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36 thoughts on “Diversity (A TCWT Prelude)

  1. If you have a Kindle (or something similar) search for “free YA books” there are hundreds. And they are all so different. Quite a few are romance, but there are some fantasy and dystopian. I honestly don’t think readers should be complaining about diversity, there is plenty of diversity.

    A little while ago I found a free book for my Kindle, it was different, to say the least. It had weird superhero type people, most were good but some were bad. There was this one superhero (really a super villain) that was said to somehow be related (or something) to Hades’ three headed dog. It was very diverse. Then I read another book, “City of Glass”. A fairly popular book and completely different subject/style wise. The main difference I found was the quality in which it was written. I honestly didn’t really notice/care when I was first reading the free Kindle book, but I did start to notice when I was reading Clare’s.

    I think writers are so worried about being original their novel starts to lack in quality. I guess that could be fixed through vigorous editing, but most of these “free” Kindle authors don’t have the money to hire an experienced editor. They do their best fixing mistakes but they don’t have someone with a very fine tooth comb going through it.

    -Reach

    1. Indeed. The recent swell in self-publishing means less people think they have to write well to publish their books– while they write diversely, they fail to write well. It’s unfortunate.

  2. I think what they mean by “diversity” means representation of minorities. Then again, that word is open to interpretation.

    1. Well… I think that in fantasy, maybe the characters who DON’T have magical powers are minorities and they should be more represented, no? *is grinning madly as she hijacks the whole political argument* 😛

  3. Ninja attack! *backflips in, wearing black*
    Sorry, I’m way hyper and should probably be in bed already but I feel like hyperfying other people as well!!! 😛
    *calms down a tad* I think that this could be called “variety” or “unexpectedness” as well… but diversity is a good word too. I’m all for more equal representation in literature, but that also necessitates more compassionate representations of certain groups, which have been stereotyped–and not just women or African-Americans, but Christians, “geeks”, Mormons, and even writers of certain genera have also been stereotyped in some books I’ve read (and thrown aside in disgust.) I would like to call for more compassionate and realistic portrayals of people as individuals as well as members of groups.

      1. Yeah… I don’t understand why they don’t. I spend more time researching than writing, actually… Sometimes researching things that don’t even have anything to do with the novel. Like the Dylatov Pass Incident… 0_0
        What is it about me and unsolved mysteries!?

      2. What is it about humans and unsolved mysteries? It isn’t just you.

        Personally, I don’t do a lot of research for anything– I research bare bones of what I need, only when I have to.

  4. (This is going to be kind of like my comment on the “strong females” post… don’t really know what to say and I agree with you.)

    Lovely post. Good job.

    Commenting fail. Maybe next time I’ll try to imitate a spambot. Or maybe I really could be a puppet commenter for those posts…

  5. I’m happy you mentioned the dragon stereotypes because I’ writing an MG novel containing them. Now, I shall go and make my dragons more original! XD

  6. Yesss I agree with all of this! With diverse stories and types of characters (by types of characters I mean animals, people, etc.) usually great writing can make it work. However, I think it’s worth adding that this doesn’t really apply to diverse ~human~ characters, which I also think people want a lot more of. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to sell publishers on a straight white cisgender main character than on a lesbian Asian queergender MC, because publishers are afraid the latter will target only a tiny niche without appealing to the masses. To me, that’s ridiculous, because I prefer to read about a wide range of people, but it’s the way things are currently, and as it is your book can be stellar, but if it has a noticeably diverse main character, it can really hurt your chances. That’s what a lot of people have been talking about in the chain, I think. They want diverse ~people~ especially in non-“issue” books, but those books just aren’t getting published widely enough yet. What we need is a book with a really sellable plot (The Hunger Games, for instance) to come paired with a diverse main character, because THEN I have a feeling it will sell.

    Great post!

    1. You’re saying good writing can’t sell a drastically diverse character? It seems to me it could. Yes, there will be some objection to the character, but even so, it’s difficult to eschew good writing so easily. But… you’re right. People can be stubborn about that sort of thing. We’re still waiting to see how Rick Riordan will do with Nico.

      1. Yeah. A good story and writing can definitely sell a very diverse character, I agree, but I don’t think it always can. There are a tons of amazing books that never get published because they feature diverse characters. Like, I guarantee you any super popular romance novel (The Fault in Our Stars, maybe) wouldn’t have sold nearly as well if the two love interests were girls, for example. (Which sucks, because that would be AWESOME.)

      2. Yes, but a small genre, and one in which the books only sell in small amounts. That’s my point–the diversity can make a book significantly less commercial, sadly.

  7. Yes! I’m not the only person who looks for books in the same section of the library as my younger brothers!

    When I think diverse, I usually think in-genre, not creating a separate genre. Maybe that’s because I’m guilty of not reading things if they’re not fantasy, but, yeah, I want to see more diverse things within the fantasy genre itself.

    On a different note, I think I’m going to have to disagree with you. It isn’t always completely about whether or not a book is written well. Okay, if a book is well-written, it’s probably going to be noticed, and if it is written awful, then it’s going to get either no attention or really bad attention. However, it seems to me that sometimes that isn’t always the whole thing; sometimes certain books get noticed just because of their subject or what they’re about, not because they’re written spectacularly. Not always, though, of course.

    1. Oh, of course. Writing well is not the only thing– but when writing well gets pushed aside in favor of diversity… But you’re right. There are plenty of well-written books out there with truly horrible premises. Like literary fiction.

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