Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Inclusion By the Numbers

As I noted in a previous post about "Milestones and Principles," my third rule for Tanner's world is that it is not all that white. I never set down a ratio formula or anything like that, nor did I go through the text and start changing names or inserting descriptors for the sake of diversity. I just tried to keep diversity in mind as I wrote, but I also knew that on some level I'd be doing this out of habit. There are three reasons for this. One is that I grew up in Phoenix and Los Angeles, so I'm used to diversity to begin with. Second is that I can't look at things like global population growth and think that the future will look anything like it does on American television. The third factor, though, is that I genuinely believe inclusion matters. It matters a lot. And it doesn't come without a healthy, sometimes jarring bit of introspection.

So, yeah. No statistical formulas or anything. Just a general principle that I wanted to include as I wrote. I don't plan on establishing any sort of ratios in the future, either, but lately I've done some small bit of unscientific analysis of my work and seen room for improvement on this score.

It's worth noting that a great many readers (certainly American readers, at least) will presume that characters are white unless shown otherwise through descriptors or names with obvious ethnic origins. It's easy to assume that Joe Smith is a white guy, when of course he could be anything (or maybe even a she), but it's also pretty reasonable to assume that Takashi is probably Japanese. Yet sometimes readers will even assume whiteness when told otherwise, as was the case with Rue from The Hunger Games. (I still haven't read the books or seen the movies. Yes, I know that's a crime. I'll get to 'em. I hear nothing but good things.)

It's also worth noting that a lot of writers have unfortunate habits in describing people of color. I don't claim to be free of this myself. I know I've used "mocha" to describe skin at least once, probably more.

Recently, I've completed a project of going through Poor Man's Fight and Rich Man's War to draw up a continuity database (technically a spreadsheet, but whatever). The primary purpose of this was, as noted, continuity: I didn't want to lose track of who had red hair or a scar on their cheek or who hadn't survived from one book to the next. It might be a bit embarrassing for someone who died in Rich Man's War to show up alive and well in my next novel. I also needed to make sure I was keeping track of names, lest I use one repeatedly for different characters (and I've caught myself doing it once already).

The exercise gave me a chance to tally up some numbers on that concern for inclusion, just to see how I'm doing for myself. I shared this with friends. I figured I'd share it here, too. These numbers, by the way, come mainly from me staring at my database and counting out loud. I don't have fields for gender or ethnicity. I just try to keep track of that through names and by writing down physical descriptions when they appear (again, I wanted to keep things like hair color consistent).

To offer a quick but very important caveat: MANY names in these two books are only names thrown out a couple times over the course of the book. Things like ethnicity and gender are never really specified, and left open to interpretation. In my head, a lot of characters are of mixed-race backgrounds -- it's a couple hundred years in the future, after all -- but if it's not specified, I believe the default assumption many readers will make is that these are all white males, which I think is worth remembering when looking at the numbers.

Poor Man's Fight has 138 named characters.
44 of those named characters are explicitly killed by book's end.
7 more (named character) deaths are strongly implied, but not explicit.

18 named characters are (explicitly) women. Almost all of them speak and most play significant or major roles. PMF passes the Bechdel Test, though it could've done better there.
The cast includes only one named character whose homosexuality is explicitly referenced. The character is of great significance, while his sexuality is pretty much irrelevant to the story. This is by design -- I wanted to establish that these things are not such huge issues in Tanner's day as they are in current society, but it is also how I originally imagined that character. Nobody is a "token" representative of anything. 1 other major character (female) is hinted to be either bisexual or homosexual.
Only 2 characters (Gunny Janeka and Ravenell) are specified as black. Several others were black in my head but it's not explicit in the text.
19 names are Hispanic (including Gomez and Other Gomez). Obviously there's some potential crossover there between Latino and European Spanish, but in my head they're overwhelmingly Latino.
18 names are East Asian.
5 names are South Asian (Indian, etc).
11 names are Arabic/Middle Eastern.
3 characters are known by nicknames without ethnic details, though easily inferred to be white males. (1 is Latino, actually, but I never made that explicit.)
...aaaand 74 names are presumptive white Europeans.
6 characters are straight-up Tuckers (people I actually know inserted into the book).
16 other characters are strongly based on people from my past, including the entire crew of St. Jude (minus the protagonist).

Rich Man's War adds 111 named characters, bringing the total to 249.
30 characters who appeared in RMW are explicitly dead by book’s end, along with 6 deaths of characters who first appeared in PMF.
RMW has a far bigger body count in unnamed “on-screen” deaths, and then there are a couple little matters of planetary bombardments/invasions, but do those really count?  J

Additions by gender and ethnicity:

RMW adds 15 women, along with giving a female face/identity to a character mentioned only by name in PMF.  RMW passes Bechdel repeatedly.

Still only 1 (explicitly-noted) homosexual character, but he appears again in this book, along with the 1 strongly-hinted bisexual character from PMF. RMW also features a prominent bisexual male character, which becomes a point of conversation and an opportunity for the protagonist to stick his foot way, way down his own throat. Of all the books I’ve written, RMW places the least attention/relevance on sex and sexuality. No time for love, Dr. Jones!

Black characters: Both from PMF return in RMW to greater prominence. RMW introduces at least three characters whom I imagine as black but whom I left un-specified (Lt. Booker being the biggest example), but only one new character (not of those three) is specifically described as black (Capt. Bernard).

16 new names are Hispanic/Latino.
5 names are East Asian.
5 new names are South Asian.
1 name is Arabic/Middle Eastern.

9 characters are Tuckers (people I actually know whom I made into characters), though two are just name call-outs. There are 2 other semi-Tuckers, in that I cast them in my head as people I know, but changed either the first or last name because reasons.

So as for inclusion: There’s a definite downturn in overall numbers in RMW compared to PMF, but it’s masked in part by how many of the women, people of color and gay/bi characters return from PMF. This also doesn't reflect the attention placed on those characters over the course of the narrative, which goes well beyond what those numbers show. Still, I definitely feel like I could do better.

Also, for what it's worth, Tanner Malone himself isn't entirely white European by descent, either. That's something I've known from the beginning, but it hasn't worked its way into the narrative yet. 


  1. Although the name/description distribution is great information, I have a few comments off this topic. If there is a better way to submit, please let me know.

    What sequence of your two series do you plan on publishing? Any thing you can mention on the "Alex-Rachel-Lorelei" series? Do you have any rough ideas on your publishing schedule (just checking to see if it will be like George R.R. Martin :-)) ? Have you thought about another "Days of High Adventure", either sequel or similar standalone?

    In one of our discussions, you mentioned that Lorelei was just looking for her freedom and not necessarily a license to look for new sexual partners. One quasi-philosophical question: if you do not exercise that freedom, is it really a freedom? What I ended up justifying was that choices remain freedoms until/unless they come with penaltys

    1. David, right now the plan is to focus on the next book for Tanner and then take things from there. I want to do more with the Good Intentions crew, but Tanner has priority right now...although I make no firm promises. If I wake up tomorrow with a solid idea for a complete new story for Alex & Co., I may well run with that.

      As for Lorelei having the freedom to jump into bed with other guys, there's a lot to unpack there. To get to your question, though -- you only know if you're really free if you try it and you don't suffer a penalty, and as of the end of NatCon Lorelei has already found this to be true. I can tell you she's not actively looking for other guys or anything, but that wasn't really the point. It was more about equality all along.

      I know several readers have been very alarmed by that development and fear it will ruin the relationship between Alex and Lorelei, but I just don't see that happening. I've been in an open relationship myself. Turns out it's not an inevitable force of destruction. If one wants monogamy, one should say so, and there's nothing wrong with that. Alex and Lorelei aren't exactly looking for that, though, but they also aren't looking for a free-for-all.

      Every relationship has to establish its boundaries. Alex, Lorelei and Rachel are all still working on theirs.

  2. Just wanna say that you are a fantastic author. This might sound like a back-handed compliment, but I think for writing just good old adventure stories and character driven narratives you are up there with the best
    I read more "serious" stuff too, but I can't read that all the time, without reading becoming a bit like a chore.
    I've bought everything you've published so far except for the novella because amazon trying to jib me (4 bucks for 100 odd pages).
    Keep up the fantastic stories, you've given me several late nights already.

    1. So it turns out I'm the one that sets those prices. (All indie authors get to set their own price.) I'd have gone for something a little lower, but the breakdown for Amazon's royalties splits is 70/30 in my favor for anything $2.99 - $9.99, and 70/30 in their favor for anything less. I hate to sound greedy, but I kinda wanted to make some money on that. Plus I've seen plenty of shorter stuff go for less. :)

      Anyway, that's not Amazon trying to rip you off. Kinda feel like I should own up to that.

  3. You know I really enjoy your books Elliott, and its certainly nice seeing some Hispanic characters. I Just hope you don't go all Scalzi and start soapboxing though. The internet has a way of bringing out ideology in people and even when I agree with said ideology I just can't take being preached to in fiction.

    Sorry if that sounds accusatory/hostile or whatever. Just wanted to say my two cents. Definitely looking forward to the next Poor Man's/Rich Man's War book.

    1. I think there's room for it, but soapboxing isn't why I write. The education system in PMF is something I can see people advocating, and I presented it with what I believe is its natural outcome -- providers "raising the bar" in order to increase their own profits rather than improving education -- but it's also pretty obvious that I didn't plan on dwelling on that long. Mostly I just wanted to write a story about a guy dealing with the military & space pirates. :)

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  5. Kind of off topic for this post, but if you could cast both of your series as movies, who would you choose for the main characters? (no budgetary constraints, it's perfectly okay to choose all A-listers)

    1. What a great question! This needs to be its own blog post!