Raise your hand if you’re a cisgender Caucasian male from a middle class Christian background. Don’t have your hand up? Well, I’m willing to bet there’s at least a 40% chance that’s because you’re no sure what cisgender means, so ignore that and, if the rest applies, get your hand up.
If your hand is down, you probably know the point I’m about to make, but feel free to read on and let me know if you have any suggestions for improving this system. Otherwise, you could skip to the tables down below.
For those of you with your hand in the air, go ahead and pat yourself on the back with that hand because you’re part of a special group: Average white dudes who probably think you’re the backbone of civilization. I mean, you might not actively think that, but much of your life has been enabled by other average white dudes who did think that they were so special that they had the right to take over the world.
Now, this isn’t a post about colonialism or nationalism or any other -ism, but if you fall into the same general socio-economic group as I do, just want you to step outside your mind for a moment and recognize that you represent less than a quarter of the global population, and then consider whether your writing would be improved through adding in some characters who are different from you.
I can hear the cries now: This is writing! Stop bringing political correctness into it, you liberal fascist moron!
Well, first of all: Thanks! I’m not particularly liberal and generally opposed to fascism, but good on you for noticing that I’m not always the brightest person in the room, especially when it comes to marketing.
Secondly, allow me to throw some good old fashioned capitalistic economics back at you: More than 50% of your audience will likely consist of women (they’re half the population and tend to read more than men), and people like to see themselves in the stories they read. Additionally, “white” people are a decreasing majority in the American population, so it might make economic sense to include some characters of hispanic, african, asian, or native american ancestry in your story, since these groups will collectively make up the majority of the population within your lifetime and, again, people like to see themselves in the stories they read. Moreover, sociologists estimate that somewhere between 4% and 20% of the population is homosexual, bisexual, or asexual, it’s just hard to pin down the exact number because our culture is steeped in heterosexual normativity, so it might not hurt to throw in a few confirmed bachelors
So, while there certainly are some great progressive, humanistic, and religious arguments to be made for representing a variety of peoples within literature, at a bare minimum you need to consider appealing to what may already be the majority of the reading population within your particular genre.
But how do you do this?
First of all, think about the setting of your story. If it makes sense for characters to be of a particular background, gender, or orientation, go ahead and choose those by hand. It might be important that your main character be a tall, blond man of Russian descent living a faithful life in his small mid-western town. But please do take a moment to consider whether this is actually necessary, or if you are just modeling your main character on your own family or your favorite movie star.
For the sake of injecting some variety into your story, I suggest forcing yourself out of your own mental defaults by using a system something like the one I’ve provided below.
As a fan of tabletop role playing games, I’ve employed my intensive knowledge of statistics to create… a dice table.
It works simply: Any time you are creating a named character in your story, roll on the tables below. Feel free to adjust your roll by a number up or down, but do try to stick close to the rolled result. People can’t choose the life into which they are born, so why should your characters? If you roll up a transgender woman of Indian descent who has long blonde hair and green eyes, don’t complain that this is impossible, because I guarantee you that this person exists somewhere in the world. Instead, dig into your writerly brain and figure out how this person overcame whatever challenges they might face and became the hero that you imagined before you learned that they (might) be a little different from you.
(Yes, I realize that this technique carries some risk of cultural appropriation and/or authors reverting to stereotypes. It is important to avoid these, but for the moment I think it most important to encourage my fellow writers to actually represent diverse characters, and then we can clean up that representation in revisions.)
Take a look at the characters in your plan for writing and seriously consider adjusting their characteristics to be more diverse and representative of the American and global population.
Choose a Sex / Gender / Sexuality – Roll d10 and record the result:
1- Heterosexual man
2- Heterosexual man
3- Bisexual man
4- Homosexual man
5- Transgender (roll again to determine target sex)
6- Asexual (roll again to determine biological sex)
7- Homosexual woman
8- Bisexual woman
9- Heterosexual woman
10- Heterosexual woman
Note: Obviously this chart does not provide for an exact representation of humanity, as it consigns 60% of characters to non-heterosexual roles, which would result in over-representation of a minority (most social scientists estimate that a maximum of 10% to 20% of people are non-heterosexual), but it provides for variety within the body of named characters in a work. You could also assume that any minor or unnamed characters are heterosexual, which would likely bring the sexuality balance back in line with normative human ranges. The point here is to provide representation for classes other than heterosexual men in your work, and thus it may be necessary to slightly inflate the representation of other classes, as any novel with fewer than 25 characters would otherwise be unlikely to contain even a single non-heterosexual character. If you feel that this is excessive, you could count asexual and bisexual as heterosexual, bringing the chance of heterosexuality back up to 70%.
Ancestry – Roll d10
1- Native American (north, central, or south)
2- Indian (general)
3- Indian (minority group or nearby small nation)
4- Chinese (eastern)
5- Chinese (western or nearby small nation)
6- Japanese or Pacific Islander
7- Other Asian
9- European, Russian, or White North America
Note: Remember what I said about representing non-europeans in your work? Here’s your chance. Now, before you go and say that I’ve gone overboard, take a break and go look up the global population. This chart approximates the population of the world in 2017. If you are writing for a global audience, or just trying to represent a variety of people in your work, use this chart to determine the cultural origin of your character (if you intend the character to be a citizen of America, Britain, or wherever else you might be, just make them first or second generation immigrants).
Hair – Roll 2d10, one for color of hair, the other for texture.
1- Blond or Dyed
3- Red or Dyed
10- Very Curly
Note: These percentages approximate the global color and texture distributions. I’ve combined blond, red, and dyed because both blond and red are extremely rare colors for hair on a global scale.
Eye Color – Roll d10
9- Silver/Grey OR blind (roll again for color)
10- Amber/Red/Yellow OR Heterochromatic
Note: All colors except brown have a greater chance of being selected than percent of representation in the global population.