There’s a major issue in psychology that may be inhibiting your writing too. Or is it just your audience preference that’s the “problem”?

Every day there is a report in the media using the word “could”. Coffee could cause cancer, Britain could be blanketed with snow in the next week or so. Journalists could be time-starved and/or lazy, knocking out the same stories in the same way year after year. Often these non-stories are attached to scientific reports that are at worst misleading and at best misguided, An extreme and devastating example of this was a report a few years ago that a certain vaccine could cause autism – there is no evidence of this whatsoever and several children have died of diseases that we’d nearly eradicated, thanks to their anti-vax parents trusting discredited science and celebrity endorsement.

Even when the science is sound, reports that that tell us things about our behaviour suffer from two major problems and the first is the manner in which it’s received by the political climate. Anything that doesn’t agree with prevailing attitudes towards gender and sexuality, for example, isn’t reported on and a recent headline from the BBC claiming that girls suffer with loneliness more than boys was ( in my opinion purposefully) a torturing of the data for the purposes of virtue signalling. (BBC Article/ ONS Report)

The second problem is the one that impacts writers and their audiences as much as psychologists: the subjects that we work with are WEIRD.

When a psychological study is done, the scientists need a handy supply of participants that are willing to undergo simple tests for very little money (or often none at all). As most of the testing is taking place in universities then an obvious solution presents itself. The problem is that these universities conducting the most reported studies are inclined to be populated by certain sections of society who are:

  • White
  • Educated
  • Intelligent
  • Rich
  • Democratic

They are W.E.I.R.D.

Often in fiction, be it YA, romance, sci fi, horror or literary, the characters fit that exact bill. There are often calls for this to change, in a manner that suggests that writers the world over are prejudiced, racist or colonial in their work. I don’t agree with this for two main reasons:

  1. Writers have little control over the market. People will buy what they buy and often they want to buy work that they relate to i.e. that is about people that are like them. That’s true of all humans which is why minorities will naturally feel left out but because they ARE minorities, the audience sizes simply aren’t able to justify wide publication, economically speaking – the clue is in the name.
  2. Men are famously criticised for the way they write women (though this complaint is rarely reversed, despite suffering from exactly the same problems). What criticism would I receive, for example, as a white, straight, able-bodied, “CIS”, middle-class, educated man if I tried to write a character that was somehow intersectionally different to me? One might say its impossible to win.

So it might be true that, like psychology, popular fiction is WEIRD – it is overwhelmingly dominated by people like me (though any idea of my personal dominance is laughably inaccurate). It makes it unrepresentative of our society and leads us to make general assumptions about the human race that might be true of only our particular corner of it. I can sympathise with the point of view that things need to change. I would also argue that the solution is available NOW. Big publishers won’t touch minority work for the most part but in the modern landscape we don’t need them. Self-publishing allows anyone to write about their own ethnicity, sexuality, gender, ableness and everything else, whilst social media allows us to reach an incredibly diverse array of audiences. Education has changed too in that awareness of the “other” is higher than it’s ever been and many good people work hard to continue that positive trend. The solution is not trying to force audiences a certain way by making them feel bad but twofold:

  1. We, as writers, can do more to research solid and three-dimensional characters that are more representative of those around us, as difficult as that may seem and in the face of constant criticism by those we are trying to represent.
  2. We can better educate people to empower themselves, make them feel like their voice, every voice, can be heard. If those self-published books that are created by a newly forthright underclass never get read, then all of those writers can join me in the club. Very few of us DO get read and it isn’t because of our identities.
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