Writers, who are often underpaid and overworked, are under no obligation to do anything in their literature. They don’t have to include racial or sexual diversity, they don’t have to ask for permission to include graphic content such as sexual violence, they don’t have to hold opinions deemed ‘politically correct’ and most importantly: they don’t have to structure their story to fit the whims of the reader.
Is diversity bad? No. Are writers obligated to write diverse fiction? Also, no. Should writers include diversity? That’s not up for me to decide- it’s up for the individual writer.
If you personally want diverse content- which is fine- then encourage aspiring writers who happen to fit the religious, gender, racial, or cultural factors that interest you. Support them, because I don’t mind a diverse range of writers in the world. In fact, I think that’s wonderful! What I have a problem with is when people expect diversity within the story itself as it infringes on liberty and artistic creativity. Which it does, as writers now have to write in their stories with these demands in mind. I know the retort is to ‘think in diverse ways’ but you can’t expect people to change how their brains are wired. Not everyone thinks the way you do, and that doesn’t automatically make them a bigot. There’s a real discussion to be had about ‘diversity for the sake of diversity’ and tokenism. A writer’s first priority shouldn’t be making everyone happy- but staying true to their style, ideas and sense of self. Art is fundamentally a creative discipline, that gives artists an opportunity to express themselves. To put ‘rules’ and to enforce conditions is a disruption to the creative process. Not all art is going to make you feel all warm and cuddly.
Honestly, I feel sorry for George R. R. Martin. He’s been called a bigot, a racist, a sexist and someone that glorifies sexual violence. Perhaps the reason why he steers away from ‘diversity’ is because he doesn’t feel qualified to talk about certain groups of people. In my experience, no amount of research will change an author’s feelings of inadequacy. Writers should be confident with what they write, and if they don’t have the confident knowledge of other cultures or groups of people then that’s going to impact on the quality of their work. Writers can be vulnerable, and we shouldn’t use that against them.
Diversity can be an ethical issue as well. If a straight author writes about a lesbian relationship, is it really their story to tell? Authors, no matter how much they try, will never be the characters they write. Although I value empathy and believe that many authors are capable of it, I don’t think it’s enough to appease the people who call for diversity. It’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. If you include diversity, you are told that you are doing it badly and that it’s not your story to write. If your content is far from diverse, you are called every insult under the sun. Have we really reached this stage? Where fiction is judged by how ‘diverse’ it is, rather than the merits it actually possesses? Are we that boring and dull?
Just to clarify on a further point: It’s not entitlement to want diverse stories. What is entitlement is expecting that authors cater towards your demands. No one has to. There’s actually plenty of literature from a range of countries who don’t usually make it your local bookstore, that can be found in self published circles, on Amazon and in other countries. Don’t expect the best of literature to be handed on your plate- you have to look for it.
I find it awful that fantasy authors have to deal with the logic of ‘your story has dragons, why not cultural diversity.’ This disregards the difficulty of writing diversity, that it may not interest the author at all, or that it may not suit the context of the story. I’m a disabled writer, yet I have no interest in making characters obviously disabled. Not because I hate myself, but because it adds nothing to the story, it’s a waste of words, tells us next to nothing about the characters, and I like leaving things up to the imagination. I want readers to imagine ‘headcanons’ of my text and interpret it any way they seem fit.
Other writers, such as Neil Gaiman, like adding diversity in their books. And that’s perfectly okay! My point is that both approaches are perfectly fine. As the reader- you decide what you want to read. Not anyone else. If you want to only read diverse fiction, that’s fine. Likewise, if someone couldn’t care less, that’s also fine.
Over the course of any writers literary career- they hear the word ‘no’. People won’t publish them or buy their books. Every writer is somewhat haunted by the word ‘no.’ But writers should use it as well. If you are a writer, and someone is demanding that you change how you write, you should say no. Do not submit to people who do not have your best interests as a writer and a creator at heart. It’s harsh, but we need more bravery in literature.
You are not anyone’s bitch.