Guest post, Indie Author Month

Indie Author Month: Guest post – C.T. Callahan

Writing Diversity: Eliminating “the Default” in Sci-Fi Fantasy

When it comes to writing fiction, “the default” often refers to the way that white, allocishet, abled characters are often the go-to character design. For instance, in a book that doesn’t describe its characters’ races, every character is presumed to be white. Oftentimes, a book won’t describe race for its white characters and will only stop to touch upon it for the story’s one or two people of color.

The problem with this design is that it sets up a dichotomy of the “default” and “other”. Anyone who doesn’t fit into this majority default setting is now an outsider, something “strange” that needs to be explained in the world.

When an author writes a complex sci-fi or fantasy world but still writes a white allocishet abled “default”, it estranges readers who don’t fit cleanly into this default.

Because sci-fi and fantasy worlds have limitless possibilities, white, allocishet, abled sci-fi fantasy worlds tell the reader that the author has no problem imagining aliens, dragons, and talking doorknobs, but minorities are out of the question. It says thatin a world of endless possibilities, the writer would rather minorities weren’t included.

To make a story welcoming for all readers, it’s important that authors work to eliminate the idea of “the default”. Treating all identities as equal is the best way to make sure that people of all identities feel welcome.

This doesn’t mean that all people have to be represented equally. Numbers don’t determine the default, though being aware of these numbers can definitely help. The key is making sure that authors don’t bring their own biases into the story by setting what theyperceive as “normal” as the default for their fictional worlds.

Many authors have asked me about how they should go about writing diverse characters in their own books. They’ll often say something along the lines of, “I live in a diverse world, and I want my stories to reflect that.” This is always a nice thing to hear, but more often than not, writers take this to mean that it’s their job to write stories of marginalized people that they don’t understand.

When white people write people of color stories, when abled people write disabled stories, etc. they often take the few spaces in publishing open for these writers to tell their stories. They also run the risk of perpetuating biases that they may not even realize they have.

Instead of approaching diversity by focusing on how to write stories about marginalized people, the first thing authors should do is approach how to eliminate the default. A white author can tell stories about white protagonists while still dismantling the white default, and doing so not only helps showcase the world as diverse but also works to make publishing more accessible to people of color by showcasing that stories can hold appeal to demographics different than the that of the main protagonist.

This is why, regardless of the story you aim to tell, confronting and dismantling the default is important.

Plastic Wings is told through Evie’s perspective, so the only sense of “normal” in the story is in what she perceives as normal. Because she lives in a largely mixed-race society, she views mixed-race people as “the default” and monoracial people as rare. This subversion of typical perceptions of “the default” showcases how people can so unwittingly establish a notion of “normal” when it comes to the world around them. The story explores Evie’s growth and the changes in her perceptions as she comes to realize that her original idea of how the world works isn’t necessarily universal.

The goal of the story wasn’t to show a lived experience—it was to showcase that fantasy worlds can exist without relying on the default conventions that have been established over the years. Evie’s story isn’t about what it means to be biracial and it doesn’t offer much insight into what it is to be biracial in the modern world. Instead, it offers the same elements of escapism to biracial readers that fantasy worlds have offered white readers for years. It’s an exploration of what magic can happen when we look beyond the default to create something new.

About the author:

C.T. Callahan is the author of young adult fantasy, sci-fi, and a weird assortment of short stories. Hailing from a mixed-racial background, they’ve pledged their writing to contribute to the spread of diversity in fiction and the fight for equality. When away from reading and writing, you’ll most likely find them engaged in art or snuggling cute dogs.You can find them on Twitter & Instagram.

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