Cultural Diversity in Fiction

I tried writing a review on Kelley Armstrong’s The Gathering, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and it also made me think…about cultural diversity in fiction.

I like cultural diversity: different countries, different sexualities, different lifestyles, different viewpoints. It’s all interesting, and goes toward grounding fiction in reality, making it more accessible. But I prefer diversity to appear incidentally, and not just there to serve the plot.

You can have a gay character without making the story about sexuality. You can have a transgender character without making the story about gender studies. You can have a Christian character without making the story about religion.

And you can have a Native American character without mentioning shape-shifters. Though not in the case of The Gathering.

Maya Delaney was born and left abandoned as a baby in the US state of Oregon. She has Native American blood, but isn’t sure which tribe. Meanwhile, her adoptive father is Irish-American, and her adoptive mother is Canadian, from the Haida tribe of the First Nations. The Delaneys accepted jobs in the medical-research town of Salmon Creek on Vancouver Island in Canada, and Maya’s grown up here.

The medical research in Salmon Creek features Native American genetic manipulation, so Maya’s ethnicity serves the plot. But I don’t want characters to be a certain race to serve the plot – I want cultural diversity in fiction because we have cultural diversity in real life.

I live in Australia, and have Irish and Scottish ancestors. That doesn’t mean if I were a character I’d be all about the dreamtime, leprechauns, fae, or highlanders. Japanese characters wouldn’t just be about the samurai. Romanian characters wouldn’t always involve vampires. Norwegians would be about more than Norse gods. And hopefully there’d be more to Native American characters than shape-shifting.

It’s true that The Gathering couldn’t work without Maya’s Native American genes. But I want cultural diversity to not be a plot point. Can’t characters be diverse just because? Not to suit the plot, not to preach a message, but just because?

Characters, like people, should be more than the sum of their parts.

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