disAbility and Diversity in Romance by Caroline Lee
There’s a movement in the romance world I hope you’ve heard of called #WeNeedDiverseRomance. Very simply, the idea behind this movement is that every reader, regardless of what s/he looks like, acts like, or believes in, should have the chance to read about him or herself in a romance novel.
There are many differing opinions about how and why authors can make this happen, so I don’t want to go too in-depth. However, I do want to talk about choosing to write diverse characters.
Now, diversity doesn’t necessarily have to mean racial or ethnic diversity. We could be talking about religious diversity, lifestyle diversity, or ability diversity—to name a few. The important thing to remember is that at the root of all good character development is the knowledge that humans are humans, regardless of where they live, when they live, or how they live. Our lives might be different, but we all have hopes, dreams, and aspirations which exist independent of our race, religion, or ability level.
You’ll notice I keep mentioning abilities. That’s because I’m a big proponent of working disability into romances. Disability is defined in so many ways, and it’s all around us. Why shouldn’t our characters have to deal with that? I make a point of working differently-abled characters into my manuscripts whenever possible; from an amputee civil war veteran, to the aquatics manager with ADHD, to the deaf student falling in love with her teacher’s brother.
Now, just like their race, my characters’ abilities and disabilities do not define them. Sometimes a disability will be such that dealing with it is a major part of the plot or character arc. But those characters still have the same hopes and dreams—and desires for a Happily Ever After—that my able-bodied characters have.
I also want to point out that in the real world, disability isn’t solved. My characters don’t regrow their leg or regain their hearing, just because they fall in love with someone “pure of heart.” Integrating disability into romance involves finding a partner who loves that character despite—and because of—that disability.
It’s part of who they are, but does not define them.
And frankly, that’s my viewpoint on all characters: what a character looks like, or what they can do, does not define them. It’s part of who they are, and can be part of the story, but it doesn’t need to be the focus.
“But, Caroline,” you whine. “I don’t think my readers care about diverse characters!”
Well, okay. But why not ask them? Several months ago I made a very simple diversity survey using SurveyMonkey. I had to sign up for a membership (which I cancelled after the first month) in order to have more than a hundred responses recorded, but it was worth it to get a better idea of who my readers were. I’d urge you to do the same; it’ll probably open your eyes to just who your readers really are. And then, talk to them about what they’d like to see in books, what they like or don’t like, and if they have any opinions about how characters—all characters—are portrayed.
So how can you choose write diverse characters well? That’s simple. Go out and meet diverse people. Make diverse friends. And then write them into books. Your readers will thank you!
More About Author Caroline Lee
USA Today bestselling author Caroline Lee has been reading romance for so long that her fourth-grade teacher used to make her cover her books with paper jackets. But it wasn’t until she (mostly) grew up that she realized she could WRITE it too. So she did.
Caroline is living her own little Happily Ever After in NC with her husband, sons, and brand-new daughter, Princess Wiggles. And while she doesn’t so much “suffer” from Pittakionophobia as think all you people who enjoy touching Band-Aids and stickers are the real weirdos, she does adore rodents, and never met a wine she didn’t like. Caroline was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006 and is really quite funny in person. Promise.