Let’s talk about representation!

Forums Fiction Characters Let’s talk about representation!

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  • #108468
    Michaela
    @mgtask

      Hi everyone!

      I also posted this in the “Themes” category, but I felt like it could kind of go in either category. I hope it was okay to put it in both.

      I just wanted to get your thoughts on what populations you would like to see better represented in fiction (maybe they are either 1. represented poorly/inaccurately or 2. They are never/rarely represented at all). I wanted to do a poll/vote on what types of characters writers should incorporate more, for example, here are my ideas:

      Neurodiversity & psychological challenges

      Individuals who are intellectually challenged; Down Syndrome and other chromosomal variances
      OCD, intrusive thoughts, eating disorders, Dissociative Identity Disorder/schizophrenia are not often represented, especially in Christian fiction.
      Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  – particularly high-functioning females of minority races. Also, hidden/unknown learning disabilities, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and similar conditions.
      Outward characteristics

      Obese or underweight characters (I’ve heard that overweight characters, especially, are not often represented in fiction)
      Minority races/ethnicities: Indian, Native American, Asian, black, and Hispanic
      Poverty. Fiction may tend to revolve around wealthy or middle-class characters.
      Specifically, I also thought it would be important to represent certain populations from a Christian perspective. For example, I don’t think Christian writers should shy away from including LGBTQ+ characters and characters of other religions (e.g., Buddhism) because we can shed light on a Christian perspective of these issues.

      Feel free to add your ideas. What other types of people would you like to see represented in fiction (especially Christian fiction)?

      "May it be mercy I show for it is mercy I've been shown." - Written to Speak

      #108528
      WolverineRM
      @wolverinerm

        @mgtask
        <p style=”text-align: left;”>
        *dives headfirst into the forums, realizes life is busy and vanishes*
        *sees this topic and reappears*
        *gets on soapbox*
        I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in trying to drill diversity into stories for the sake of diversity, but will always, always give a book extra points for just subtly acknowledging we’re not all the same. What’s the use of pretending we are?
        One of my favorite… tropes I guess?… in stories (which I used in mine so not that I’m partial… 😝) is best friends that are different races and that’s just a matter of fact, not a defining detail. I will never get tired of seeing that in books.</p>
        Down syndrome and PTSD are my two big things that are not represented enough or properly in books. PTSD is becoming more prevalent in books, and there is some really good representation for it out there, but still not enough, and for every good book on it there’s plenty that don’t portray it properly. And DS is way, way lacking in books, especially YA and adult and especially lower functioning Downies. I realize not everyone can or is willing to write about that kinda stuff, but that’s no excuse for poor representation.

        As far as cultures, Eastern Europe and Asia have a lot of countries that rarely get written about. (I feel like I keep falling back on things I have a soft spot for, even if I haven’t written about it yet, but hey, guess that gives me a reason to speak up about it!) Chinese and Korean characters far outnumber Japanese and Singaporean ones. I don’t know that I’ve ever read about Armenian characters. And what about Middle Eastern Christians now living in America? People forget there’s Iraqi-American Christians because no one writes about them.

        And yes, along those lines, pretending people of different beliefs don’t exist doesn’t work in the real world. Stories shape our thoughts more than we care to admit. If we have no examples of characters we relate to interacting with those who believe differently, we’re missing an opportunity to learn better how to be a light for Christ.
        *hops off soapbox*
        You name it, we need it in Christian fiction. We’re supposed to be the gold standard.
        That was kind of ranty, so please feel free to ask me to clarify anything. 😉

        I ask where he got these crazy ideas anyway
        He just smiles and says, it’s the way that I was raised

        #108531
        Michaela
        @mgtask

          @wolverinerm

          YES, I agree about the friends-of-different-races-just-because-they’re-friends trope. I don’t think the color of someone’s skin should be a big deal (I’m biracial, by the way). Great ideas! I often forget to incorporate minority races/ethnicities in my stories (the protagonist is frequently – if not always – a white female, and I didn’t even give it a second thought until the past year). GREAT point about Middle Eastern & Iraqi-American Christians!

          Incorporating diverse characters, even if the story isn’t only about diversity, is important and opens the doors for more creativity & conversation-starters. Maybe that’s part of the reason why people prefer secular over Christian fiction: the characters are more varied. As Christian writers, we can also work to spread the concept of unity through our stories and help readers to develop empathy for those who are different from them.

          "May it be mercy I show for it is mercy I've been shown." - Written to Speak

          #108537
          Anonymous

            I can think of A LOT of things I want to see more of/less of, in regards to race as well as just character traits and personality

            I’d like to see more contemporary stories that aren’t set in America or the UK

            More fantasy worlds that aren’t based off feudal Europe

            I mean seriously there’s a whole globe

            Stories set in Antarctica (There’s so much potential here, I mean, ice, penguins, you know)

            Characters that aren’t easily grouped into a class, they’re not really high class or lower class and their status fluxates, like it does in real life for most people

            Characters who aren’t in it for a good reason. They don’t want to do something good, they just want some money or some fame and whatever quest or good deed they’re set on is gonna help them get what they want.

            Non-white characters

            White characters who aren’t *blonde*

            Characters who don’t really care about anything

            Characters that are more chaotic neutral

            Poets!!!!

            Characters that aren’t very funny or sarcastic all the time (especially in YA)

            Characters that don’t really have one defining thing they’re good at

            Characters with depression

            Characters with trauma that are actually doing ok with working through it (I mean why not show that it’s possible, just be realistic)

            And lastly, characters that don’t read, not bc of dyslexia, but either bc they’re too depressed to really get into a story or because they just dont care. I see way too many characters that like to read. It’s like, if you’re in a book, you automatically have to like books.

            #108593
            Naiya Dyani
            @naiya-dyani

              @wolverinerm Hey, you’re back!! It’s been a while! 😀

              Hm, okay, this is a big, complicated topic, but a couple things come to mind. It’d be nice to see some more autistic characters that aren’t just the stereotype of an autistic person. You know, doesn’t talk much, super niche interests, hates hugs/being touched in general, etc. Yes, there are plenty of autistic people like that. Not denying that at all! Just saying it’d be nice to see some more variety in how autism presents itself. Because autism is a super individual disorder. My little brother has it, and let’s just say he does NOT fit the quiet/doesn’t like hugs stereotype. AT ALL. He’s probably the most talkative/huggy person in my whole family. Of course, his autism shows itself in that way, too. Personal space and keeping on relevant topics aren’t super easy for him. XD Actually, his autism looks a lot like ADHD. I believe it’s been determined he actually has both.

              Which is another thing! Comorbid disorders. I’ll be honest, I only do so much contemporary reading, but I feel like there’s a limited number of characters with multiple disorders at once. It’s really common. Anxiety and depression often co-occur. Multiple forms of anxiety. Autism and ADHD. You name it. Of course, certain disorders pair more often with others, so you’ll want to do some research, but you get the point.

              Also, I totally agree with the friends-of-different-races thing! Cross-cultural and cross-ability friendships, too. It’d be nice to see more friends that neither intensely focus on nor intensely ignore each other’s differences. Like, they don’t talk about it every time they meet, but it’s not awkward to ask questions like “oh hey how would you say [something] in your native language” or, you know, things like that. \_(**)_/

              Hearts are like matter--they can be beaten down, torn, and burned, but they cannot be destroyed.

              #108639
              Taylor Clogston
              @taylorclogston

              @mgtask Great topic! I would also reaally like to see more neurodiversity in Christian fiction. As far as I’m aware there has been a huge push toward giving a voice to neurodiverse characters in secular fiction over the past seven years or so (though whether that has been done well is a different issue) but I don’t see the same in Christian fiction. And it’s not as if every single Christian is highly neurotypical =P There’s such a strong push in many circles toward the idea that Jesus “cures” every mental “ailment” and that true Christians either don’t practice the “sins” or otherwise suffer from things like PTSD and depression that it’s something young Christians truly need to read.

              Not that it won’t stop pastors and mommy bloggers from writing sermons and posts about the encroachment of 𝔗𝔥𝔢 𝔚𝔬𝔯𝔩𝔡 into Christian spaces, but maybe it could give young Christians room for a constructive sort of rebellion instead of, like, just going out and getting drunk =P


              @wolverinerm
              I don’t like diversity for the sake of morality, which I think is what most people mean by diversity for its own sake, but forced diversity is the most useful exercise toward becoming mindful of natural diversity.

              Like, I grew up in a sheltered homeschooled environment in one of the whitest parts of the US. I have very little experience of any lifestyle that isn’t that of a lower middle class white blue collar homeschooled conservative Christian family with no TV. Since leaving home I have a ton of LGBT+ and variously neurodivergent friends, but practically no friends who aren’t white or who are less than three generations from immigration, and nearly all of those people were born within 50 miles of where I live now.

              If I just write what I passively know, which I think is a driving force between lack of diversity in most cases, then every one of my characters is going to be pretty similar to me, or at least to the few people in my life.

              If I research other kinds of peoples’ lives to try to write more authentic characters who are different to me, that’s forced diversity, and frankly I should probably be doing it more. I guess it’s more of a transparent issue in contemporary fiction. Maybe that’s why all the nerds of the 80s wrote fantasy, so they didn’t have to learn what real people were like =P I know that’s why I used to focus on it so heavily.

              @phoenix Characters who love books are also… Not so much a pet peeve of mine, but something I kind of roll my eyes at whenever I see it. Despite my one published novella having an MC who loves books >.> I guess I feel like the writer just can’t help making their MC that much more like themselves, or they can’t imagine empathizing with someone who doesn’t love books like they do.


              @naiya-dyani
              And yes, way more comorbid disorders please.

              "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

              #108667
              Elisha Starquill
              @elisha-starquill

              @mgtask – What a great topic! I’ve gotten so many insights based on everyone’s responses. Along the lines of other countries/cultures getting represented, I’ve always wanted to see more based off of Russia (being the largest country in the world, there’s so many opportunities), lesser-known European countries like Croatia, and little South Asian countries like Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Also, I’d like to see more bi-racial characters living in a country that neither parent grew up in, or only one parent grew up in.

              @phoenix – Excellent points. We need more characters who aren’t particularly talented at anything, because most of us aren’t, and it’d be far more realistic if characters had a real, personal, even selfish reason for dropping their lives to embark on a dangerous quest, instead of going for the sheer reason of being good and saving the world. Also yes! Poets as characters would be so cool. They can recite dramatic, heart-touching lines at choice points in the story. Who wouldn’t want that? XD


              @naiya-dyani
              – Definitely agree with that last bit about friends from different races. It reminds me of my half-Vietnamese self and my Israeli swim-mate. We don’t gush about our different backgrounds every time we meet, but we do ask each other words in our languages or even just ask each other to talk in that language just to hear how nice it sounds (Hebrew, btw, sounds so, so, so cool.)

               

              INFJ ➳ Trinstamentalist ➳ Thalassophile ➳ Chocolate Hater ➳ Daughter of God

              #108706
              PenSword
              @pensword

              I don’t have much to add, beyond what others have already said. Pretty much everything already mentioned are all things I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

              The only one I can think of on top of that is characters in wheelchairs. I’ve ended up with two paraplegic characters so far, just from having a random idea of “I want to see an x style story with a character in a wheelchair” so I’m giving it a shot myself. It would be really neat to have more stories, especially in those genres (fantasy quest and spy thriller) with similarly impaired characters.

               

              @phoenix

              It’s interesting you mentioned depression. Maybe it comes from not honestly reading a whole lot of Christian fiction, but sometimes I feel like depression can be overused. Or at least that it’s becoming a vogue trope right now, specifically in a lot of YA novels. Maybe I just know of a few popular ones, so it’s skewing my perception.

              It’s also calling me out… I can’t seem to make a main character who doesn’t have some form of depression. It’s a problem.

              #108710
              Daeus Lamb
              @daeus-lamb

              I really appreciate everything that’s been said so far.

              I really dislike SJW fiction, even when I happen to agree with the conclusions. It just feels snobby. But I appreciate what @taylorclogston said about positive forced diversity. For instance, my natural rut is to write male protagonists. Now, I positively object to the idea that writing exclusively male protagonists is hateful or immoral, but it is silly and uncreative so I’m trying to incorporate more female characters into my stories and I have one epic planned with a female lead and another shared between a couple.

              But I can’t stop there. There are so many unique cultures I could represent, but don’t know how to.

              So I guess here’s my question. Are there any Christian books that have blown you away with their handling of diversity? (I don’t have time for ones that did a good job, just the ones that did a really good job.)

              EDIT: secular stories too. I guess I’m more interested in Christian stories when the diversity issue stems from a conflict over morality.

              I’d probably be most interested in unique cultures, LGBTQ, and the physically handicapped. I think mental issues would be easiest for me to understand since I’ve dealt with depression and some things like multiple personality disorder sound fairly intuitive.

              • This reply was modified 7 months, 1 week ago by Daeus Lamb.

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              #108712
              Daeus Lamb
              @daeus-lamb

              If I could add one category, it would be supernaturalists. Maybe it’s just the fiction I read, but I sense that there are few characters like me who wouldn’t blink an eye if a neighbor lady said a spirit came each night and ate the cat food from her cat food bowl. Of course, everyone should be skeptical of a claim like that and require evidence before believing it as fact, but that doesn’t mean we should assume she’s wrong. I’d like to see a culture that doesn’t have such a background of materialism pervading it.

              Two related points:

              I would like to see more sincere worshipers in false religions in Christian fiction. Not that these religions should be considered paths to God, but I’d like to see all stripes of people assuming there’s some kind of God out there. Atheism may be popular in America, but it’s historically underrepresented.

              Also, we should have more characters demon-haunted or possessed. Not that I’d want to be inside one’s head, but it’s an issue i’d be pleased to see addressed.

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              #108713
              Anonymous

                @pensword I don’t read Christian fiction at all. Don’t think i ever have. But yeah depression is kind of a trend unfortunately in a bad way, in a no-one-really-understanding-it kind of way. I’d like depression to be portrayed a but more accurately. In fact I’d like to see portrayal of everything more accurately. Depression is harder than just feeling sad, it’s more like wishing you’d just die and not seeing a point to life at all no matter what happens. It’s not glamorous and can be absolutely disgusting because a lot of people with depression stop taking care of themselves. I think realism could be expanded a little there, just a preference though

                #108714
                Corine
                @corine

                  This is such an interesting (and important!) discussion.

                  I am a massive proponent for representation and diversity and to be honest I think it’s ridiculous that we’re now in 2020 and it’s still noteworthy if a character is ‘diverse.’ At the same time, I do agree with what’s already been said about forced diversity – both that it is a good means by which to actually finally see some diversity in our books, but also that it must be handled correctly. I think it’s usually quite obvious when ‘diversity’ is thrown in just for the sake of a better blurb, and hasn’t been properly researched.

                  Something that really bothers me in contemporary fiction mostly (as @pensword and @phoenix have mentioned) is the romanticism of mental health problems like depression or anxiety. Firstly, an inaccurate portrayal is insulting to people who actually struggle with it, but also it seems like these days books, and TV shows in particular, will use mental health problems as a mechanism for romance (which can be dangerous in reality) or prestige (which puts these disorders on a pedestal where they should not be).

                  #108789
                  Chelsea R.H.
                  @seekjustice

                  Great topic guys! I really enjoyed reading through this.

                  I love putting diversity of all sorts in my stories, because I feel like it makes the world I’m writing about more like the world I live in. In the class for the dog training course I’m doing at the moment, out of eight people, we have one man from South Korea, one woman from Poland and one woman from Sweden. And that’s just counting the different ethnic backgrounds.

                  I randomly stayed at an AirBnB and spent hours talking to one of the guests who was from Indonesia and the whole week chatting to the South African hosts about South Africa.

                  I’m good friends with a lady from Nepal and a good portion of our church is Asian.

                  There’s just a lot of diversity in the world and I love being able to portray it. It makes me sad when so many Christian authors dismiss adding diversity to Christian books as being automatically “SJW” so I’m glad we’re having this discussion on here!

                  I would love to see depictions of real anxiety and PTSD in Christian fiction. There’s been some great secular YA novels to deal with these topics lately and I would love to see our fiction catching up to that.

                  And I’d love to see more D/deaf rep! Especially for speakers of languages other than ASL!

                  Mahalo keia huiʻana

                  #108790
                  Naiya Dyani
                  @naiya-dyani

                    @seekjustice Eeey, I’ve got a deaf character in my WIP! It’s fantasy, so he can’t truly use ASL. 😛

                    I’m also afraid one of my children might have PTSD. *gives the poor boi a hug*

                    But yeah, I think it’s important to make sure that the diversity in a book you write isn’t forced. Otherwise, you might just end up with some eye rolls. But definitely don’t shy away from it, either, and feel free to purposely delve into ideas that will force you to diversify your cast! We could use some well-written diversity in Christian fiction.

                    Hearts are like matter--they can be beaten down, torn, and burned, but they cannot be destroyed.

                    #109111
                    Sam M
                    @sam-m

                    I think it’ll be really cool if we had more diversity (in a variety of ways) in fiction.

                    I’m interested in the idea of having LGBTQ+ characters in Christian fiction (and have considered this myself), though I think it’d be challenging. Does anyone know of any Christian books that have done this well?

                    Also, as an OCD person who struggles with intrusive thoughts, I’d like to see more characters like that in fiction. 🙂

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