My first publication, The Wind and the Spark, comes out this week in Fictionvale Episode 6. It’s one of my older stories, originally written in 2013; but after revisions in late 2014 with wonderful editorial help of Venessa Giunta at Fictionvale, I’m very proud of the tale. But I noticed one deep problem that I couldn’t fix in editing.
There are no female characters. None whatsoever, main or secondary or background.
Let me explain why:
The Bad Answer
The story takes place in the middle of the 19th century, on an Arctic military installation. Male-dominated profession, a cooped-up location. Within the story’s logic, there shouldn’t be any women there. This world is slightly more egalitarian than real history because of manpower shortages (pun intended) arising from long-term war, but we’re in the wrong geographical spot to see that in action.
So why is this a bad answer?
Nobody forced me to write a story about men in their manly Nordic outpost of manliness. I chose to write in a setting that excluded women. Therefore, I definitely need to have…
The Good Answer
Honestly, it’s just chance that I sold this sausage-fest first. As I’ve said before, diversity in fiction is a good thing for many reasons. The point is not to meet quotas, but to write fiction that reflects the world’s real diversity.
I don’t want to be one of those guys who pays lip service to diversity while writing about the bros and their manly manproblems, or blithely pasting in all-white futures, pasts, and secondary worlds. So it’s time to test myself, and check the demographics for all the stories I currently have out on submission, plus my works in progress (WIP).
For these statistics I limited myself to the top 3 characters in each story, though I sometimes included major presences who never come onstage. I only examined how the characters reflect real-Earth society, not how they fit into their local setting. For fantasy settings I’ve assigned characters to the Earth civilization they most evoke, though that obviously makes for crude approximations.
- 19/37 female, 7/14 protagonists.
- 19/37 white, including the three “unspecified but assume white” and the many European Jews.
- No, I’m not going to try to define “white;” that’s above the pay grade of this blog post.
- “Hispanic” is probably the right word, because those three characters are all Hispanic-American. (Additional data not shown on chart: 4 stories set in USA, 6 in Europe, 2 in space, 3 in secondary worlds.)
- † indicates a sexuality that’s identifiably other than cis/hetero (6/37 characters). Of the remaining 31, 11 are unambiguously cis/hetero. For the remaining 20, sexuality is ambiguous or not identifiable. (Authorial vision varies, but I don’t want to take credit for anything not in the text.)
- The three *’s are the same character, as are the two **’s. I counted each appearance separately.
- “Unspecified-white” means the story has no physical descriptions for anyone, but the character’s names are an “American generic” that probably implies white. The fairy is “bronze-skinned” but not any human ethnicity.
- The MC of Custom Made is an inhuman entity in a female human form, but when it comes to Meltwater, this whole question gets utterly incomprehensible. I can’t even explain how incomprehensible it is without spoilers. This pleases me immensely.
Is this perfect? Surely not, even if I knew what “perfect” would be. This list has some definite strengths and successes, but also gaps and weaknesses. (For instance, compare diversity of characters vs. cultures/nations.) Nevertheless, it lets me answer this post’s question with data-driven certainty: I’ve only written one story on Frozen Sausage Island, I promise!