Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Review: Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film

In a time where things are uncertain in film and television, a question that gained renewed relevance is diversity - how do we ensure people form different communities and backgrounds don't lose out on work, training and opportunities as production crawls back to life? Just as important, how do we reflect that in our writing? How do we show off the multicultural society and times in which we live, in a dramatic and compelling plot?

Consultant and Bang2Write head honcha Lucy V. Hay, a name familiar to my readers and anyone in the online writing community, is no stranger to providing writing advice, as well as advocating for more thoughtful debate and open-mindedness in writers. This crystalizes in arguably her greatest book, Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film, as she discusses the value of diversity in novels and screenplays, how writers can better implement it without being tokenistic, and contextualises it with current success stories in media.

Combining industry insight with a good all-rounder on character, Hay provides a guidebook built on what feels like a painfully obvious yet overlooked aspect of writing: WHO your characters are and what they represent. Hay, chapter by chapter, writes in a bubbly and lively style, making the many stats from surveys and institutes regarding representation in media and literature, much more digestible than it should be. Through this, she then breaks down, in wholly unpretentious terms, how this correlates to spec scripts and books, the mistakes new writers make and how to fix them. 

She's comprehensive with character too: not only going over the old chestnuts of heroes and their character development arcs, but also encouraging you to think about your supporting cast and even incidental/background characters. These kinds of 'blindspots' are something every writer has, at some point, done in their writing. Hay is not interested in shaming you - rather, she just wants you to engage more thoroughly with your process and ask 'why?' Indeed, that warm tone I described above helps what could be patronizing come off as not only welcome, but compels you to want to do better.

Hay, however, is also critical of the pro, as well as the anti-side, when it comes to this discussion, arguing that true representation should not just be about simply heroes, nor the ever-sticky question of 'role models' in stories that defy the standard white-hetero-male paradigmn that, regardless of your own politics or tastes, has been the default for a long time in media and literary canons. Why, Hay posits, can't women, BAME and LGBT persons get the fun parts like villains or sidekicks? Why does every story have to draw attention to their condition or orientation: why can't they just have adventures and escapades like the regular white guys in movies and TV shows do? In turn, from an industry perspective, this could only broaden the available opportunities for people from under-repped backgrounds.

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film is, to put it succinctly, a great primer on creating layered and varied casts. It comes highly recommended, as does her free E-book, Writing Female Characters.

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