I have a confession to make. It’s not something new. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. When I write, I’m nervous about writing characters that are of a minority. I know it sounds weird, but there’s so much hate floating around against poorly constructed or poorly executed characters of minority by majorities.
I feel as though if I write a black character, no matter what I do, someone will point the racism finger at me. Then, if I don’t write a black character at all, someone else will point. It feels like there’s no way to win. No matter what I do, I’m not doing something right or I’m doing something wrong.
It’s not just with black characters; it’s characters that aren’t white/straight/average. I mean, that’s the character that I understand the most, because that’s me. I understand myself. But does that mean that I can’t write a Hispanic character? I don’t see why not, other than I’m not very in tune with the modern Hispanic culture.
I want to say that things like race are skin deep, and that it’s the personality underneath that I’m writing. In Devil’s Blood, for example, if Malone had been black, nothing in the story would have changed. She’s still Malone. However, in fantasy it doesn’t seem as hard. I don’t write a lot of modern-world stories. But if I did, it feels like no matter how I write a minority character, I’m either following stereotypes or I’m not, but either way I’m not doing something right.
Then, at the same time, it’s my characters and my story. Can’t I write it however I want? So what if my black character follows some stereotype? There’s a lot of real people out there that seem to follow stereotypes. Am I being racist for not doing anything?
It’s just…sometimes it feels like it doesn’t matter what I do or say; I’m racist no matter what because I’m white.
It feels like someone is always upset and “offended” by how someone is portrayed or not portrayed in a book or movie. I understand; I would be annoyed if I went to see the next big movie and didn’t find a single character that I felt was similar to myself.
But what’s the response to this? I don’t want to write in characters simply for the sake of writing in characters of a certain “type.” I don’t want to make my stories seem like social propaganda. I think it’s because, in a way, things like race and sex and gender don’t matter to me the way the seem to matter to other people. People are people no matter what they look like or what they think or believe or who they share a bed with. We’re all pink and squishy on the inside.
I really thought about this stuff while I was plotting out Tehdi from Devil’s Blood. I envisioned her as black, or Pacific Islander. She’s very dark skinned. If the book ever gets made into a movie or TV series, I see a black actress as her. However, I didn’t write her that way – she evolved through the process and became that way.
However, I do worry that I’ll offended someone. At the same time, I don’t care. She’s my character, take her or leave her. These are the stories that I’ve written. Take them or leave them.
P.S. to my American friends: Happy Thanksgiving!
To my non-American friends: Happy Thursday!
6 thoughts on “Confession Time”
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Hello! Stereotypes become ingrained in us through culture and habits. So they make for frustrating writing when you don’t want to portray someone negatively in your story and be called a racist in today’s society. And, like you, some of us are of a mind to say that’s my character. It’s all I can do with it. I have dealt with this myself and with other writers who asked for advice. Following so many questions, I have written a 742 word article about how I broke away from stereo types in my Novel Down to the Needle. The article is published in my Write It Right – Tips for Authors – The Big Book. If you like, you may read my article. If you post it, I would request a link to my website and to my Amazon Author page. Fair trade? But you must like the article first. Let me know if you would like to read it. It would make great info for your readers as well. firstname.lastname@example.org
Acters (that’s a non-gendered term) have a thing they call ‘character’ acting. They put a lot of effort into ‘getting inside the skin’ of the character they’re playing, right down to the walking and talking and doing of things the character does.
When I write a character, I am inside the skin of that person and I write as them. Only that part of the split(personality) is visible until I take off the amulet that makes me them (yes, I do have something for each character, and once it’s on, I’m them, and when it’s off, I’m not – won’t say I go back to being me, though).
I’ve just written a story with animal characters – and I’ve put a reasonable level of cliche/stereotype, but not fully. People need to feel comfortable with the fact of the character, and then to see the inner and differences that set him (or her) apart from the rest of the group. So, mostly identifiable, but not ‘just like him, her, or everyone else.’
The same, but different. The uniqueness. As we all are.
Personally, I never consider things like age, race, gender, height, culture, sexual identification, or any of the millions of other things – unless it is what the character really is, under the social norms of the culture they’re in within that story. Then they become real, distinct, individual. If they are non-sexual, I’ll figure it out, if they’re a manic cleaner, I’ll find out, if they’re [ you get it – they are what they are, and the ‘real’ person within emerges as they live through the story.]
So, are you a ‘character-acter’ writer? Most likely.
Yes, I’m a bit crazy and faded now that the NaNo project is finito (but I just had a look at the next one …. ooooooohhhhhh).
I’ve found that a lot of my characters tend to be like people that I know, or characters that I love – characters that I can really get into.
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Don’t tell anyone, but I use a lot of the foibles from my foster kids (had a few, both in terms of kids and idiosyncrasies, so a wide variety of chars). I think the more life experience we have (not age-related, life-related), the more we have to call on.
I like your assessment of the situation for an author. So many of the negative opinions I read concerning the horrors of cultural appropriation by authors of fiction who do not happen to be of the race or ethnicity of their characters, are puzzling to say the least. Imagination should be free to roam where it might.
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