by: Jason Henry Evans
A couple of Fridays ago my wife and I sat down and watched “Always Be My Maybe.” A good, old fashioned romantic comedy about a hyper successful woman whose best friend and personal assistant arranges for her to run into a mutual friend they hadn’t seen since high school.
The movie was funny in unexpected ways. It was lighthearted. Both the male and female leads were quirky and flawed – which made it easy for the audience to like them. And since we already liked them it was easy for us to root for them to fall in love. It was a little formulaic in the 3rd act, but considering rom-com’s are a dying breed, I’ll take a good one when I can.
So why am I writing about a romantic comedy produced by Netflix? What does this have to do with writing historical fiction?
Because this movie was DIVERSE. I mean SUPER diverse. The male lead was Korean-American and the female lead was Vietnamese-American. The mutual friend who set them up was African-American and gay and pregnant! The male lead’s dad was a diabetic. The male lead’s best friends all played in a hip-hop band in San Francisco.
All this diversity was done so effortlessly. It did not feel self-conscious or awkward. The characters’ diverse backgrounds enriched and informed the story. It brought context to the main characters upbringing and personal flaws. It just made sense.
And did I mentioned none of it felt awkward? It just was. This is how diversity in your fiction should feel. Breezy, yet important to the plot and character development.
So how do we get there?
Remember that diversity literally means diverse. Uncomfortable with having different ethnic groups in your fiction because you feel someone’s going to scream at you? Start with something you’re comfortable with. There have been many great characters with physical disabilities. What about having a character who is morbidly obese? Try having a character in a wheel chair or one who uses crutches. What about diversity of age? In many stories the mentor of the protagonist is always someone older. But once the mentor is gone, everyone slides into the same age range as the protagonist? Why? Why not have a minor character in their sixties or seventies? It would be quite unique.
Writing a military historical taking place before the 19th century? Remember civilians followed the army to provide services. Everything from the washing of laundry to commissioning new armor. Many of those who followed the army were women. (Heck, English Crusaders took their washer-women with them to Palestine and by all accounts they were treated like the mothers of the army.)
Diversity doesn’t have to overwhelm your story. It doesn’t have to be self-important or stuffy. It should be natural and obvious to everyone. Start with something you’re comfortable with. See how that story turns out. Good luck!
Jason Evans wanted to be a writer his entire life. He just didn’t know it. He has been an educator in public & private schools for twelve years. He has earned Double bachelors from UC Santa Barbara, teaching credentials from Cal-State Los Angeles, and an MA from UC Denver. He has two short stories published and is the editor-in-chief for Man-gazine. He lives in Denver with the Fetching Mrs. Evans and his three dogs and one haughty cat.
His debut novel, The Gallowglass, releases July 10th. Details are here.