Dangers of Following a Trend

In any form of expression driven by public participation and desire for an audience, trends will develop. Whether you’re talking fashion, artwork, music, slang, marketing, social media, scientific inquiry, or any number of other dynamic human forces, popularity and the desire for approval will affect what direction expression takes. One of the biggest areas of social life where trends can and do take over is in storytelling.

Within the course of my teenage years merging into new adulthood, I saw story trends in pop culture go from vampires and high fantasy to zombies and superheroes. Reality TV shows became more and more outrageous as the years passed, going from family-friendly to hedonistic and sometimes violent train-wrecks of no-privacy social interaction. (At least the talent-based competition shows and adventurous pursuits still respect the fact that they have a young faction to their audiences and try to maintain a PG atmosphere.)

Although I rarely attend movie theaters or watch the first season of new TV shows when they air anymore, there is one trend that affects both of these and literature too which I find more concerning than many others. That is the trend of diversity just for the sake of gaining a broader audience. Too many times I see characters whose identity seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought. Cookie-cutter personalities and histories which could just as easily belong to an everyman as to the unique subcultures or minorities which the writers are trying to represent with these characters. (Worse yet are TV/movie adaptations where the identity of a character gets changed from the original with no thought given to how those changes could or would impact subplots within the storyline.)  Such characters turn into stereotypes which do not represent any group and run the danger of becoming Mary Sue/Marty Stu characters. (I see a lot of female characters whom I would consider Mary Sue’s in teen-focused shows now.)

While I will never tell anyone they can’t or shouldn’t write about diverse characters, I would caution them against using such characters for the sole purpose of conforming to a trend or marketing strategy. If a certain identity doesn’t matter to the plot or subplots, then why are you including it? Writing diverse characters should be done for the sake of giving them unique and individualized voices. Don’t turn it into an exercise in stamp collecting by using diversity to check off little boxes on a characters list.


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