January 4, 2017
Hello Soplings! I hope you had a very Merry Christmas! Now that the chaos of the holidays are over, it's time to jump back into writing, reading, studying, and today, world-building! Today is key 4: Diversity
This article is going to be discussing diversity not as it exists in our world, i.e. Earth, but in fantasy worlds. Diversity is an area where the fantasy genre really has the opportunity to shine. The beauty of a fantasy novel is that it is entirely fictional and separate from our world. Fantasy novels present the opportunity to explore societies with any combination of sexuality, races, norms and taboos, etc.
(See Key 3: Landscape)
This post focuses on Key 4: Diversity.
(Next Up is Key 5: Balancing Realism with Magic)
What disappoints me sometimes is that some readers don't make the differentiation between diversity in an Earth-setting and a fantasy novel. It disappoints me when I see an author who has especially taken the time creating an amazing and unique fantasy world being harassed for "lack of diversity," when really what the reviewer means is that it doesn't conform to their idea of diversity. Fantasy novels are essentially a "playground" where authors and readers can explore any kind of world conceivable.
Every fantasy world is an original entity with unique races, sexual relationships, societal norms and taboos, etc… They will not always conform to what we, on this planet Earth, find normal, acceptable, or taboo.
(After all, not all books are social commentaries about the world's current issues.)
So now we get to the heart of diversity! Woo!
Fantasy novels are not in any way limited to worlds similar to what we have on Earth (after all, if you wanted a book about our version of Earth you probably wouldn't be reading fantasy). Fantasy instead offers engaging worlds based on its own history, cultures, peoples, landscapes, etc... There can be no wrongs here! Even with those authors who have not given much time to world-building before they jump into their novel--at the end of the day, it's still not Earth (even if it holds strong similarities to the Earth you know). ^_^
I’m going to talk about a few of the diversity aspects from a strong world-building view: gender, sexuality, race, and societal norms and taboos, and what fantasy novels are capable of offering. (This is not necessarily the same as what we would personally want to see in our ideal fantasy landscapes.) Think of diversity in the fantasy world as a mental exercise--we want to use them to push boundaries and explore ideas.
Gender in the fantasy world could have a whole slew of reasons why it could favor one sex or the other across its different societies. (And that may be the first consideration for the genders you may see in a fantasy work—what is the society like? This very well may determine how many men and women grace the novel.) In a well-developed fantasy world, you should see the balance of genders shift based on the societies involved and what story is being told. No good novel should deliberately force either gender into a book simply for “balance.” A good book is not concerned about a person’s genitalia, but the story, the plot, and the personality/actions of the characters. A good character will fall into place naturally--not because it has boobs or a dick, not to fill some gender quota (whoa, you need to have at least 50% women to men ratio), but because they are--whole package--the perfect character for the role (whatever gender that is)! ^_^
Throughout history, the acceptance of non-heterosexual practices and diversity of genders has varied. The same concept should apply to a well-developed fantasy world. Perhaps it is forbidden in one society, tolerated in another, and all-together encouraged somewhere else. How the world reacts to these differences should also be apparent (should this topic be relevant in the novel): but most importantly, the reactions should be diverse. Just as there are societies who find the practice acceptable, there should be those who do not (if the world is big enough to have a few societies!). You may not get to see the whole picture in just a single novel, but just as with the possibilities for gender, a well-developed fantasy world holds many windows for the future.
The races in a fantasy world are numerous and diverse—but not every world has as many as the next. I know a fantasy series that has no elves (le gasp*!), while mine has over a dozen different races! In my own series, black skin in found only in a small number in the people south of Ryekarayn—as that region produces the proper climate for the melanin. In the far north, the people are grey and white as death—as the sun is so ineffectual that melanin is wholly unnecessary. And in between these two extremes, the skin color varies by location (as the sun/climate varies). Some races have abilities, disabilities, more eyes, less eyes, etc… And that’s what makes each one unique and beautiful. “Missing a skin color” or “missing a race” in a fantasy world—where climate and evolution are well-thought out and realistic—is not a “thing."
It’d be like saying that, because there are no dragons in space, space is lacking diversity.
Societal Norms and Taboos:
Last but not least, we get to societal norms and taboos. This is my favorite aspect of diversity, hands down. It is the life in every culture in a fantasy world. It can be traced through their history and breathes complexity into their present. Societal norms and taboos may, at times, excite the reader and, at times, frustrate them—just like a real society. Perhaps one culture is patriarchal and oppresses women. Perhaps one is matriarchal and oppresses men. Perhaps premarital relations are punishable by death. Perhaps sex slavery is a common practice. Perhaps one culture burns their dead and eats them in banana soup.
Each culture should accept things in different ways (prostitution in one, ok. Necromancy in another, bad. Necrophilia in one, good. Homosexuality in another, bad.) But that’s one of the complex and fascinating aspects of cultures in a well-developed fantasy world—they contribute immensely to how the characters behave, what troubles they encounter, and where, indeed, they ultimately go.
The diversity in an original-world fantasy novel is not earth. But that's what makes it unique and beautiful. Sometimes it's just a simplistic beauty. A beauty to be admired for just the tiniest flakes of non-Earth like originality--even if it's just names and landscape. And sometimes, you find yourself a gold mine!
What are some of your favorite takes on diversity in the literature you read or write?
Copyright © 2020 Steps of Power. All Rights Reserved.
Our site content may NOT be sold or used for any commercial purposes.
The artwork on this site is the sole property of Steps of Power and may not be used without permission. When sharing our artwork you must give credit to www.stepsofpower.com.
Free shipping offers only apply to orders shipped within the U.S. For international ordering, see our support page.
Webdesign by Michael Broering: Click here to contact