1. Lilly James Haro
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    Lilly James Haro The Grey Warden

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    A Couple of Questions About Writing a Narrator (and one about POC)

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lilly James Haro, Jul 16, 2014.

    So I've recently started writing my first novel, it is set in a post-apocalyptic world and is written like an autobiography of a woman born in a privileged position who had the opportunity to save the protagonist's life but ended up not taking it. However, this is my first time writing in first person instead of third person, so I have a few questions.

    First of all, should the narrator be a good person or someone the reader relates to?
    I am asking this because it seems a lot of first-person stories are written so that the reader can relate to the narrator or the narrator is the protagonist. Whereas the narrator in my story is weak, she allowed herself to be manipulated by the antagonist because she was afraid of how it would effect her life. I am not sure if this is something a reader wants to read or not.

    Secondly, should you describe the main character and does your main character require a first name?
    Again I am asking this because at the moment the only description of her is that she is a woman who is around 50-60 and is referred to only as Dr Black. After pages of descriptions I have read in other books, again I am wondering.

    Lastly, (this is about all characters) is it acceptable for a white author to write people of colour like this or is what I am doing 'whitewashing'?
    This is a question that has been bothering me for a while and I have tried to look it up before but I have been getting conflicting answers. While some articles say as long as you don't create a caricature or use negative stereotypes you can do whatever you want, whereas others say if you don't write a POC a certain way you are whitewashing them.
    In my novel, the antagonist is called Dr Erika Yamashita and is of Japanese ethnicity and is strong, smart, motherly but her flaw is that she is very much about the rules, she is not a 'rules are made to be broken' type but a rules create order and order creates happiness for all involved. Her ethnicity is only hinted at, though her religion (Buddhism) is a big part of her character.
    On the other hand, Corisande 'Thea' Kotori who is half-Japanese and half-Kiwi and is more aggressive and untrusting due to both mental and physical suffering she had suffered in her life after being kidnapped and essentially abandoned by her parents and family. Her ethnicity is only hinted at as well, as Dr Black observes behaviours she developed in her youth and she talks about growing up in post-apocalyptic Japan.
    So do either of these characters sound like they are being whitewashed to you? Do they sound to European or do they sound fine? Because honestly, I thought of their ethnicities after creating them as characters but the last thing I want to do is alienate an entire race of people.

    Um, sorry for the essay...but if you could help me in anyway or even point me in the direction to a book or article that could help me that would be awesome, thank you :)
     
  2. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    For the first question, I think a character who allows herself to be manipulated out of fear can work if the reader understands why. Plus, if she eventually changes, that would show growth.
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    First of all, should the narrator be a good person or someone the reader relates to?

    They don't have to be the first, but definitely the second. Now, bear in mind, "relates to" does not mean the reader likes them. But they have to be able to understand why they do the things they do, say the things they say. Make them interesting and 'goodness' doesn't come into it.


    Secondly, should you describe the main character and does your main character require a first name?

    Description is up to you. Personally, I only describe as necessary and skip over descriptions when reading - but others like descriptions, both as writers and readers. As to names, if she's only addressed as Dr Black by other characters, it kinda speaks to her personality and relationships with others - which you can use to your advantage.


    Lastly, (this is about all characters) is it acceptable for a white author to write people of colour like this or is what I am doing 'whitewashing'?


    Considering how often we see articles/blogs/etc about the lack of PoC in fiction, I don't think it's a problem. As mentioned above, just don't make them stereotypes - and if you're writing the character and not their race/gender/religion/etc, you should be okay.
     
  4. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    First of all: What shadowwalker said.

    Secondly: If there's a moment where she has reason to comment about her appearance, take it and show us what she looks like (if you're looking to slip it in). "Maxwell acquiesce to my point of view. Perhaps it was the (insert description that indicates to her age) and (insert wisdom in here along with eye color)"

    Lastly: Your world is post apocalyptic. The descendants of your current world should be more concerned with surviving that injustices done before that. They may not even know of a racial divide or and significant cultural differences. At this points you're okay with only dealing with appearance, not history. Unfortunately some readers are going to be offended and claim you're whitewashing but don't let that stop you.
     
  5. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    There are many anti-hero's in fiction. Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Convenant is just such a character. Self-pitying, lacks internal fortitude (at least in the beginning) and generally reviled all round. It works.

    It's only so if you have little understanding of your ethnic persons cultural background and influence. By doing so you may make cultural faux pas and portray not so much a Japanese person, as a white person's assumption of what a Japanese person is.
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It is probably more reletable to read about someone with human weaknesses. However, if your character does nothing to improve her situation, she might be difficult to root for. Why should we care if she doesn't? -- that kind of thing.

    No need to describe her or even name her if you don't want to.

    Are Europeans decidedly obssessed with rules? Mentally and physically broken? Strong, smart, and motherly?

    To me those sound like qualities that anybody could have, regardless their skin color or ethnicity.

    It might help you to build backgrounds and back stories for your characters so that you'll learn to know them better. Most likely very little of it will be revealed, but if you know that stuff, your characters will be psychologically plausible and you have created indiviuals, not representatives of certain races who are defined by their ethnicity alone and presented in a way a white person (as if we were one single-minded group...) would imagine a PoC.

    Good luck!
     

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