I went into greater depth in my previous post about this, but it's still something that makes it to the top of my list. Many writers love to claim they embrace diversity, but it comes down to it, they end up relying on the same handful of stereotypical token minorities (the black thug, the nerdy Asian, Latino housekeeper/landscaper). That isn't diversity. It's just insulting.
The modern world has broken down so many racial and ethnic barriers and it's time for us to start using that in our writing. Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes and, as I explain in my previous article, this just happens to be a group of people that are either exploited or left out entirely. This needs to change.
Sure, if we all think long and hard about it, we can come up with some examples of elderly characters narrating the tales of their youth, but that isn't exactly helpful. When you get a story set up like that (while it can work), it often suggests to the reader that there is nothing of importance going on in the life of the older character after they have aged. Which is to say, the most interesting and valuable thing about them is something that has already happened. I want to see more elderly characters as the MC's. I want to see the drama between two old ladies cheating at Bingo, the mundane and the exciting, the adventures and the daily life. It doesn't matter what, I want to see more Senior citizens as the main characters.
3. Mental Illness
We really need to break away from lazy writing that inserts "crazy" character here or there so we don't have to deal with giving them an actual reason to kill. To sensationalize mental illness is not only harmful to non-neurotypical people, it perpetuates misconceptions about mental health in general which then contributes to shame and reluctance to seek treatment. It's just bad all around. It's an evil snowball which gets out of hand and it all begins with "he committed that crime because he's crazy". Please don't do that. We need more stories about characters with mental illnesses that aren't exploited for the sake of a flashy punchline.
4. Disabilities and Impairments
This includes characters over a wide range of options which includes everything from suffering with a hard to pronounce disease, to being hard of hearing, to using a wheelchair, to wearing glasses. Yes. I said wearing glasses. This might sound silly, but what I really want to see is more characters with glasses (who aren't portrayed as nerds). Reality check: How many people do you know with diabetes? How many characters can you think of who have diabetes? It's a small detail for any writer to include and seriously, its not that hard. This is true diversity.
5. The Caring Mother
In far too many books and movies, family is portrayed as either distant or dead. And while that may be the case for many, it isn't a universal experience, despite lazy writers' reliance on it. Disney is well known for killing mothers and, allegedly, this allows the main characters to experience more freedom to be active agents in the story ... but really ... is it so much to ask for some better representation of a good, emotionally healthy family? Sure, every family has their quirks (and dysfunctions), but I still think this is something many genres could do a much better job with. It doesn't necessarily have to be biological mothers, but I think we do a great disservice to the literary world if we only ever portray single parent households. We need to keep things interesting so we don't become repetitive or, heaven forbid, cliche and irrelevant.
What types of characters would you like to see more of?
I started reading Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain a few months ago. Though I found it to be very entertaining, I put it down for one reason or another, and eventually it was due back at the library.
I decided to check it out again, and this time I simply couldn't put it down. The story takes place in Depression Era LA. It follows FMC Mildred Pierce amidst her financial and marital troubles. After getting fed up with her husband's unemployment and extramarital shenanigans, Mildred kicks him out of the house. With the bills coming in, she soon realizes she has to step up and find work to put food on the table and keep the roof over their heads. She swallows her pride and becomes a waitress (much to the haughty disapproval of her spoiled daughter Veda).
Being the ambitious woman she is, she doesn't stop there. Her side business (baking pies) begins to take off after she convinces her new boss to buy and sell her pies instead of wasting his money on his old subpar vendor. Soon, she can't shake the idea that she should open her own restaurant. But it doesn't end there. She's driven and she'll stop at nothing, whatever it takes to provide for her family.
Mildred is a strong independent female character (before that was a thing).Typically women in this era (and genre) played one of two roles. Cain breaks away from that and presents Mildred, despite her many flaws, as what we might call a "modern woman" (for better or worse).
She's not a great mother (seriously, Veda is a god-awful child that deserves more than the occasional slap to the face she gets), but Mildred typically makes an effort. After all, she's a working mother with secret lover(s), and drama with her ex so her priorities have shifted.
I was struck by just how believable of a character Mildred was (all things considered). We often see female novelists write from a male POV, but rarely do we see that sort of gender swap go in the other direction, much less in 1941. It can be a bit like a soap opera at times, which is possibly why it was made into the iconic Joan Crawford film in the 40's. The story itself takes a slightly softer approach to the typical high testosterone hard-boiled style (still plenty of implied sex, booze, & cursing). Some of the hard-boiled stuff out there, while entertaining, can be overwhelmingly objectifying and dismissive of women (not to mention, shockingly racist). Cain carves out that middle road keeping in the best aspects of the genre and leaving out the worst.
Pros: It has a wonderful literary style, nuanced characters, timeless classic, page turner, the female MC makes for a wonderful little step outside of the usual Hard-boiled detective.
Cons: It could have been a bit cleaner in that it had a similar appeal as reality television. I was unable to relate to any of the characters, but still wanted to stand on the sideline and get swept up in their personal drama.
There are many books that I'll never pick up again, but this definitely isn't one of them. After reading a copy from the library, this has made it to the top of my need to own a personal copy list.I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone so long as they're neither easily scandalized nor expecting a redemption story.
If you get a chance to read it, come back and let me know what you think!
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