Diversity: Changing Your Language Helps Your Story
If you’re like me, you might have spent a lot of your time wondering how you can make your stories more diverse. Sometimes the task might seem so impossible! There are so many things that you have to think about in order to make people happy with your story that it might seem like it will never happen. Believe me, I get it! But there are small things that you can do to make diversity that much easier for you. One of them that I thought of recently was changing the language we use when we’re speaking about diversity. You see, language can help us change our attitudes about certain things. If we shift the way that we speak about diversity, we can change the way to think about it and treat it in our stories. That’s going to help us so much!
No, I’m not here to police you or tell you to stop using the words you want to. This isn’t about forcing you to speak about diversity in a certain way. Sure, language can help us to change and grow as writers, especially when it comes to diversity. That doesn’t mean someone’s bad or wrong if they don’t use language in this way, though. We shouldn’t shame people who are trying! This is about helping yourself, not hating others. If you use language in a productive way, people will (hopefully) understand and respond to the way you see diversity and we can have helpful talks about how we can grow and improve as writers.
So stick around! Here are my suggestions on how you can change up your language to make your diversity come more naturally to you. If we can change the way people think about diversity, we can make the discussion a healthy one!
We Don’t “Add” Diversity
I spoke this way in the past. 100%! I still have to stop and edit some of my posts when I’m speaking to other people on this topic. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it! There’s just a better way that you can be using your language if you want to change people’s attitudes toward diversity.
You see, when you speak about “adding” diversity to your story, it makes it sound like something foreign and new that they need to put in. That makes it sound like minority groups are additions to a story. Something that you sprinkle on top. It makes it sound like straight, white, cisgender and able-bodied is the “normal” or the “default” way to be. Then everything else is just added on the top. More than that, it can come across as though minority people are only there to give your story some diversity. This can lead to writers making characters “tokens” to nod to the “diversity police”. Or, even worse, the people who don’t really like the sound of that diversity stuff can use the language as a way to ask us to explain or justify why our characters aren’t straight, white, cis and able-bodied!
So you can try a different truth if you want to! Try talking about having a diverse story or making a diverse cast (we’ll talk about this a little later). This shows that the minority people in your story need to be worked in to make sense, just like the non-minority cast members. It also takes away the idea that we need to have a reason to exist, while non-minority people don’t! It’s a healthy change!
Diversity is More Than Race or LGBTQ
Try not to use diversity as a shortcut for race or LGBTQ. Of course, these are both types of diversity, but there are so, so many more! I’ve given a short list of the types before if you want more info, but even that’s just scratching the surface! There are also things like political views, world views, personalities, mental health and many, many more! It can be quite tempting to only think about race and LGBTQ when you’re making your story more diverse, but don’t fall down that hole. Really, every single character in your story should have at least one thing that makes them stand out. That makes the story realistic. Their personality and world views should be theirs even if they share a lot of other traits with the other people in your story.
You might find that you’ll upset a lot of people if you only think about race or LGBTQ. For one, disabilities have had the shaft in the media. But even more than that, there are places in the world where there’s not a lot of diversity in terms of race. There are other places where LGBTQ characters aren’t going to be able to come out, thanks to the laws. That’s going to limit people who want to write about those places. So if you change the language you use, you can appeal to a lot more people when you speak about diversity.
In India, for example, you’re not going to see a lot of racial diversity. But you might find a lot of ethnic groups. There are loads of languages to choose from, too! When you focus too much on race and LGBTQ, you shut off the chances to make your cast diverse in loads of new and interesting ways.
Diverse Casts, Not People
No person can be diverse on their own. This is where a lot of people fall. You see, it’s not a matter of making sure a lot of your cast is from an underrepresented minority group and hoping for the best. If you think about “diverse people”, you might start to think that there are types of people who always make your story diverse. A checklist of sorts. That’s quite dehumanising, to be honest. There is no magic person who can come along and make your story more diverse. No magic people. If you think about diversity like that, you might accidentally make all of your characters different in the same way. Or you might have that one token character who’s gay, trans, mixed, younger and working class just to meet the diversity quota. I’m sorry, that just doesn’t cut it!
This changes if you think of your whole cast as diverse. After all, the definition of diversity according to Webster is “the inclusion of different types of people”. One person can’t be loads of different types of people in one go! A cast, however, can have loads of different types if people in it.
This change of language can help you change your attitude towards diversity by reminding you that there’s no magic recipe for diversity. It’s up to you how you make your story diverse. You can choose to represent any groups you want to. In fact, the variety that you have can help you to make your story different to everything else that’s out there! And you can take the time to realise that straight, white, cis and able-bodied characters can make the story diverse too — if they’re not the only kinds of characters in there. This helps combat the “white guilt” argument.
People as Minorities
So since it’s best to not talk about “diverse people”, how do you speak about people who can help to make a story more diverse? You know… the people who don’t get to be in stories as much. The people who want and deserve to see themselves represented. Well, we can call them minorities! No, I don’t mean that they’re a minority in terms of population. The term “minority” in the media is used to talk about people who get less of a voice than the non-minority people. That means that women are minorities, too, since their voices are less heard in stories in general than men. It’s a great term to use because it doesn’t have any bad connotations. You can speak about the characters you want to represent in your story without making it seem like you’re judging people.
It also helps you to come to terms with the fact that some people have less of a voice than others in stories. That doesn’t have to make us hate the stories we love. Of course not! The stories we love don’t have to go away just because we care about different stuff now. But we can use this as a springboard. We can use the past to let us know what people want in the future! Some groups are minorities at the moment. We have the power to change that, though! Then they won’t be minorities anymore.
Diversity and Authenticity
I’ve had arguments with some people about this. They want diversity just like I do, but they try to force minority groups into places where they’re just not very common. Like an Argentinian person in Slovakia. There’s nothing wrong with writing about that. It sounds fun and interesting! However, if you want to be authentic, you’d have to accept the fact that Slovak people are going to find this unusual. You don’t need to explore discrimination. In fact, it’s great when you don’t! For a change! But at the same time, it is authentic to have the other people in your story be interested in a group they don’t see often.
Authenticity is an important part of making a good diverse cast. When used well, the word “authentic” can be used to help you. You see, it is authentic to see people from minority groups. Where you have society, you’re going to find LGBTQ and disabled people. Even in countries with little racial diversity, you’ll find ethnic diversity. It’s authentic to show that! So if you use your language well, it can change the way that we approach explaining diversity. It is not realistic or authentic for a story to have no diversity at all. So instead of spending time telling people that they need diversity in their story, it might be worth talking about how unrealistic their cast looks for the place where the story is set.
This helps for another reason: it is going to expose if you have made your cast diverse in the right way. There’s good diversity and then there’s token box-ticking. If you think about your diversity as making your story authentic, you’re going to try your best to make sure that your cast makes sense and represents the world around you.
How Language Talk Will Change Your Diversity
So I’ve given you all of these suggestions. So what? How is that supposed to make your writing better? Well, for one, it’s going to help us all get on the same page. There’s so much language thrown around at the moment! It can be easy to argue with people you actually agree with, just because you didn’t understand what they’re talking about. And that’s without even thinking about the people who don’t like diversity! They talk about forcing people to “add a black character” and ask us to explain why we made the choices we did. But if we talk about diversifying the cast? Well, they can’t say the same thing. There’s no character who needs to explain why they exist. It’s all about how your characters work together to make the story.
But more than that: it’s all about humanising minority people. If we see diversity as something we work into the story from the start (instead of something we add on top of the story), we can make characters that shine. They won’t be defined by being a minority. It will be part of who they are, but not all they are. This shift can help you so much in your writing! Change your mindset and your representation will follow soon after.