Diversity and World Building

Now this month we are talking about world building. Last week we talked about some basics of world building, but today I thought we’d talk about diversity and world building. You don’t want to just rewrite the same old stories. You want to create new, diverse worlds that reflect our own expansive world. There are so many differing cultures and religions and identities. Why limit yourself to one (traditionally Western) view of ours? Diversity is about inclusion. It helps add depth and realism to our stories.

Let’s look at the traditional genres where world building occurs, sci-fi and fantasy. You’re creating a fantasy or futuristic world with fantastical elements. If magic or long distance space travel can exist, then why not a transgender character or an Asian? They exist in real life after all, so would feel natural in your world. Just as you would research archery, medieval weapons, and feudal systems (for example), research your diverse identities as well. Talk to people from that culture for insights into their stories and life. Read interviews and articles. Research is your friend to get those stories right.

World building is about more than just setting. And it isn’t limited to fantasy and sci-fi stories. Even if you’re writing in the known world, you still need some world building. What are your people like? Are there other creatures or races? What are their cities like? Let’s move beyond that to what are their daily lives like? How are their days structured? What holidays do they observe and why? What are their relationships like? What does your MC believe in? What does she do (occupation or hobby)? Go into the details of your world. Get down to the nitty-gritty. The more you know, the more informed your writing will be. Not all of this will make it into your final story, but you will need to know. Your reader will be able to tell if you have all the answers or not.

chezbeate / Pixabay

You can always borrow for real life. Real life cultures, real life religions, real life history. Many famous authors use real life elements to inspire their own worlds. Just do your research and accurately represent that culture or religion.

You can also create a hidden world within the real world. Like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe where the wizarding world hides within our own. Or create an alternate reality. How does your world differ from our Earth? How does the history differ?

Another thing to watch out for when writing diverse characters is not to reduce them to that one element. They are more than just a skin color, or sexual orientation, or identity, or disability. And they do not represent that element as a whole. Make them fully fleshed-out characters, a realistic human being with a personality and goals and flaws. In other words, make them a good character. Don’t limit them to a stereotype version of themselves and don’t tokenize them. Make sure they serve a purpose in the narrative and don’t just exist to meet some imagined quota. Make them real.

Diversity and world building. Don't reduce that character to one element. Make them real.… Click To Tweet

I wrote more on diversity here. What do you think about diversity and world building? What are your tips? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

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J.K. Allen

Columnist/Illustrator at Our Write Side/OWS Ink, LLC
Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.
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3 thoughts on “Diversity and World Building”

  1. Stephanie Ayers says:

    Thank you for the in depth article and tips on adding just the right (and correct) diversity here.

    1. juliakyong says:

      Thanks for your support!

  2. Adan Ramie says:

    Writing from a genuine place about diverse characters is a challenge more writers should take on. I know I haven’t always written from a place of inclusion, because I stuck to the old adage to write what you know a little too strictly. The place I grew up was predominantly white, straight, Christian, and lower-middle class, so those were the types of characters that populated my fiction.

    As I grew to accept my own sexuality and moved out of that small community, I started to see that my world was a lot different than it had been before. Diversity made it vibrant in ways I never would have known if I had kept myself sheltered.

    Now I try to bring that same vibrant inclusion into my writing, because even if I mess up, I’m moving forward and making changes that will bring life to my work. Thanks for the food for thought, Julia!

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