This is the first in a number of posts that I will drag up from the “archives” of my old website. Reviews and thoughts that I think are still useful or interesting. Some of the references might be a bit out of date, but the messages are the same. Enjoy!
Originally published on Mark Walker Screenwriting (and Stargazing) 18th August 2018
Well, it’s been while (again) since I posted so, as I have just finished Lucy’s book on writing diverse characters, I thought it was a good opportunity to get a post up on the old page.
Despite recent (slow) changes with films like Wonderwoman (2017), Get Out (2017) and A Wrinkle in Time (2018), the majority of mainstream media product is designed around white, middle-class males who are also most likely able-bodied and most definitely not gay. As Lucy opines in her introduction, this is frustrating, and inaccurate, when you consider a world where the majority of the population are not white, where up to 10% identify with the LGBT community, 51% are women and nearly 20% of people are living with a disability.
Changes are coming, but progress is slow. Writers and creatives have a responsibility to tell stories that are truthful (whether they are pure fiction, fact, fantasy or reality) and that can’t happen if the image of the white, middle-class, able-bodied, hetero, male hero persists. He will always have a place, hell, who doesn’t love a good Tom Cruise actioner or a bit of Bourne? But the world is a huge, mixed-bag of people, all waiting for THEIR story to be told; and audiences want to see themselves reflected on screen or in the pages of a novel. And this is what Lucy’s book is about; thinking about diversity (whether you like that word or not – read the book, you’ll see what I (Lucy) is getting at) and how we can all write better characters and stories by thinking about the norm and how we can shake it up. It’s like the process of subverting tropes – so much of the stuff we write has been done before (white male leads) but how can we shake things up and put a fresh coat of paint on it by simply thinking more about diversity?
The book itself is split into 6 sections, with the majority of the “good stuff” in the central 4 chapters (not that the rest of it is bad or anything):
- What is Diversity?
- Heroes, Sheroes and Vile Villains: The Protagonist and Antagonist
- Secondaries, Sidekicks and Subordinates
- Peripheral Pointers
And, as you can see, the structure is all about exploring what diversity means and then looking at how that can be applied across your characters . This is not just about a token effort to make your lead diverse; it is not called a “range” of characters for the fun of it!
The advice within works equally well if you are working on a novel, or a screenplay (or any kind of writing that requires character development) and explores the current “white standard” characters that we are all very familiar with, promoting consideration of how those characters can be traded up to embrace more diversity, or, if you like, more reality, when considering the make-up of the world around us.
However, this book is not just a primer for discussing diversity, although it does a very good job at that. It is, actually, a great introduction to the art of writing in itself. It may not go into the detail of structure and concept like Vogler, Field or McKee (all men!) do, but it does provide a good grounding in what is definitely one of (if not the) most important components of a good story – Character. If you have never read a screenwriting book before, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. While understanding structure is vital, understanding your audience and how your characters affect story and create sympathy and empathy with your audience is just as important, and Lucy gives you a crash course in how to do this in her book.