1. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Do the races of your characters really matter that much?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Youniquee, Jun 18, 2012.

    Somehow, through the search engine of the site, I managed to find an old thread about 'white supremacy' and how there's a lack of different races in literature.

    I always thought that it didn't really matter. Skin colour is a physical attribute of a person, not who they are. Despite not being white, I write about white characters because that's how I imagine them. The thread kind of made me feel like I should be writing about my race. I wonder if it makes me a bad person at the fact that I don't...I wonder if I do ever get published, that people of my race will criticize me for this...:\

    I don't see why people make such a big deal out of it, y'know? (But people will anyway because that's just life.) -sigh- What's your opinions on it?
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on what you're writing. There have been many instances when a film or television show has been made, either adapted from a book or simply written as a screenplay/television show, where a character was written as a character of a specific race (usually white), but someone later changed it, or an actor of another race wanted the part and got the part.

    You should write the characters you have in your head. Someone's always going to criticize, so you should do what you feel is right for the story.
     
  3. SuttonMichael254
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    SuttonMichael254 Active Member

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    I would think it depends if it matters in the story line. Diffrent races are going to come with diffrent attributes depending on the story. And no, i wouldnt say you are a bad person for not writing about your own race. If that is how you see your characters then there is not a whole lot you can do to change that.
    I personally dont think it is a big deal. But like i said i would think it would depend on the story line.
     
  4. GillySoose
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    GillySoose Member

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    I usually include physical descriptions of any sort only if they're in some way significant to the story. Say if character A needs to pick up character B and throw him off a building, I'd mention A being large/tall/strong/whatever, otherwise it might seem awkward. Same way if some character's race was playing a role in how he was being treated or something, I'd include it. Otherwise I figure readers will imagine the characters however they want anyway.
     
  5. louis1
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    louis1 Contributing Member

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    there's no such thing as your race, scientifically speaking to different races couldn't have fertile kids. but as you know, any one on earth can have a healthy baby with anyone else that what ever their origin. so there's only the human race. now as for skin colors, well it can add to your story or not. it depends what your story is.
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    The protagonist of both my sci-fi and my fantasy are black women. I'm a white guy from the American South, and I'm writing two stories in which the protags are black women.

    Should I worry, or even think about it too much? No. I'll write them as I see them. The story isn't about their race, it's about other things entirely. They just happen to be black women.

    Don't feel like you HAVE to write only a certain race. Write the character, not the race. If he/she appears as an Asian girl and you're (just a general 'you', not you specifically) are clearly not an Asian girl/Asian, don't worry about it. Research as needed and write that character.
     
  7. Catzeye
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    Catzeye New Member

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    It really depends on the story. If the story has racial issues as a major plot point then of course the character's race matters. It will affect their treatment in the story and how they react. If the story does not focus on race then the characters can be whatever race and it not affect the story as much.

    I know how you feel though about writing about my own race. I'm not white but my MC in my WIP is a white male. For that matter I'm not a boy either. But just because I'm not white or male doesn't mean I shouldn't write about them. Write what you want to write and not what others think you should write. I too worry that if I ever get published that people of my race will ask "Why didn't you write about us? Are we not good enough?"

    I think that race is a big deal when it comes to fiction is because people want to see people that resemble themselves portrayed in a positive manners. A lot of the books to have become mainstream in the past few years have MC who are white. My friends (who like me are not white) have said although they enjoy the books they would like to see a well-written book come out with minorities as the main focus to become a big hit.
     
  8. Program
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    Program Member

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    I don't know if it's we "default" to white, or stories actually tell us their skin color is white. I never really pay too much attention to skin color, except when it is actually significant to the plot or a connection, and that's not often. In fact, when I think back to books I've read before, I don't recall many of them actually stating their skin color was white. Instead, I feel like I just defaulted to that... well I guess because the character spoke English (I want to look like I'm sterotyping though... it's just I'm from U.S.A and the majority here seems to be white)
     
  9. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    My university must be one of the rarest universities in America, because it's pretty diverse! There are blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and students from other countries who come here. I was friends with two men from the Middle East, and even had a professor who was born and raised from Japan!

    But yes, I do agree with Program. I don't pay attention to race, unless the plot calls for my attention to it.
     
  10. indy5live
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    indy5live Active Member

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    Where a character is from might be important to the story but race shouldn't really be braught up unless it's relavent to the story. For example, I expect avatar to describe the various races on the planet because it's completely foreign to me, the reader. But when I'm reading about 'black' guy Joe talking to 'white' guy Steve about a missing fax, do those descriptions really add anything of value to the story. No. If you want to say he had fair skin or tan skin or dark skin or pale skin, etc. go for it but leave it to the reader's imagination to visualize the character. I remember a lot of people getting upset over some character in the Hunger Games because in the movie they made her black when most readers assumed she was white. The author didn't feel that aspect of the story was important, and it wasn't, so she just described the girl as being from a district that had mostly dark skinned people and left it at that. It's more about who the character is anyways, not what they look like (Unless looks play a part in the story)
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know when reading I pay no attention to how the author describes characters, so I just haven't worried about in my writing. Not, as others said, unless there's something about it that's important to the story.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Race may not matter, but culture and life events matter, and culture and life events and race can certainly be interlinked. Do a black American, a white American, an Asian American, and an Hispanic American all have _precisely_ the same life experience? Do none of them have any differing experiences whatsoever, in childhood or adulthood, that can be attributed to their race and associated traditions and cultural differences and societal attitudes? Do none of them have any differences whatsoever in family and culture? Are there no cultural events or traditions that are the least little bit different?

    I'd say that, no, there's a fair chance that there will be a lot of differences. Sure, you can easily find Americans who have a homogenous experience that's essentially the same and is totally un-influenced by their race, but is that the most likely situation?

    ChickenFreak

    (Edited to add: Yes, I realize that not all posters here are Americans. :) But that's where I am, so that's where I'm placing my question.)
     
  13. naturemage
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    naturemage Active Member

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    Definitely depends on the story. If it makes a difference, I'd say yes. Though, it is important to stress that if you don't SHOW that they're a certain race, people will view them as whatever they prefer.

    Good example: I had a writing class in college, and we had one African American student. He wrote a fantastic short story, but everyone said that they didn't really view his character as a person who would do this, or do that. They weren't sure why, but it didn't feel right. Later on, my buddy and I, both in the same class as this guy, overheard him complaining to his friend about how angry he was that no one saw his character was black. Well, point and case, he never mentioned it in the story! Clearly, he thought that because he was black, everyone would view his character that way.

    So, if it matters, it has to be told or shown. Otherwise, I believe readers have a tendency to just assume the character is white, or of their race (which definitely doesn't work out in some cases).
     
  14. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I say it might be advantageous for you to write a character of your own race simply because it'll be easier to find the voice of the character and your own voice as a writer. More often than not when the character is closer to home (and heart), you are somehow able to pull a fresh perspective out of the hat. It may be in the form of a little extra detail, or in the form of the broad theme of the story, this can give your writing the originality.

    Unless the race of the character is an important factor, some may find it quite advantageous to make the readers' imagination assume whatever they want, specially if the story is run-of-the-mill kinna story.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If it doesn't matter to your story, leave it out.
     
  16. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Which brings home a very important point. Being black means something--it's not just a set of physical attributes, at least not in the U.S. Now, what it means exactly is something that black folks work out for themselves, and the answers vary greatly. So unless your character is a small walk-on part, it's a good idea to explore that question in your own mind when creating an African American character.
     
  17. spiffeh.mary
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    spiffeh.mary Member

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    Definitely don't make your characters all one race to please anyone reading your story. Race shouldn't matter in the story unless it adds to the characterization or is a plot point.
     
  18. Three
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    Three Member

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    Not to me. They simply are as they are. Just like some are women and some are men. I never sat down and decided "Ok, I want most of my characters to be DUDES" Or "Soooo many dudes. I need a LADY." It just happened. The gender as well as the ethnicity of my characters neither defines nor is independant of them. It's just part of the package, like eye colour or home town. I couldn't imagine Laura Whittock being a boy, John Goodwin with red hair or Jeremiah Charles being caucasian.

    That being said, most of my characters are actually caucasian. They're also mostly dudes. (I'm a caucasian female, btw. Why are there so many DUDES?! >.< )

    An excellent point. I read quickly and, for the first few books, thought Artemis Fowl had red hair because he was Irish and reminded me of my (also ginger) brother. *shrug*

    Yes. This.

    In short, don't overthink it. :)
     
  19. NeedMoreRage
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    NeedMoreRage Member

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    I've often found character descriptions to be unnecessary in almost all stories. Readers will imagine a character the way they want, regardless of what the author says. So why bother mentioning things like race? Unless it's important for the plot that a character looks a certain way, don't mention appearance.
     
  20. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    BTW, I'm an Asian girl, and none of my (main) characters are Asian girls, either in the story I'm drafting now or the other one. They're boys, and one is a mixed-race (Black/Spanish/American Indian) Cuban, and the other is North African Arab with Black ancestry. Race plays a very strong role in that one, as it focuses on colonialism. It's fantasy. (The other one focuses on colonialism too, but a different type of colonialism, and it's alternate history.)
     
  21. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I understand people saying that race isn't important which is true.
    But it's kind of a big physical attribute to just miss out, especially if it's someone you've just met.

    My character at one point meets a character who isn't white. Do I not mention it at all when describing him? I find it weird if I don't...then again mentioning sounds like I'm putting emphasis on it.
    Maybe I'm over thinking this, but I'm sure if someone told me to describe someone, I'd probably include their race.
     
  22. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    I always describe race.
     
  23. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    True.

    I would just think don't make a huge deal about it, and if you're going to describe one race, describe all races so they get equal attention. If I'm going to mention that my sci-fi character, Helen Chert, is a black woman, then I should mention the race of the other characters.

    Helen couldn't help but admire the smooth, olived complexion of Kuji's face, the nicely-trimmed black hair, his watery brown eyes...

    We know from the description that Kuji's Asian. I just describe it this way, because it's more showing than telling.

    Or, if I'm describing a white man she sees...
    A red-faced, freckled man sat in his chair, his brow furrowed as he studied the datapad he held...

    Or, if she meets a Hispanic...
    The young Hispanic officer looked up from the navigational controls and saluted her...

    Again, just show attention to all the races, not just one.
     
  24. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    That was a big help :3 Thanks

    But the issue I have with 'olive skin' and 'dark skin' when it's not a fantasy setting, is that no one really describes someone like that.
    If I was describing a black person, I wouldn't say 'She had dark skin' I would just outright say she's black.
    I think the showing is more effective when from a omniscient point of view, but for first person it's weird imo.
    I have no idea how to mention skin colour realistically in first person, without making it look...bad? :\
     
  25. Creos
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    Creos New Member

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    Rue's portrayal in the Hunger Games film comes to mind. Even though she was noted to have dark skin in the novel, people still seemed to be somewhat racist when Rue was portrayed by a 'black' girl in the film.

    I think people do care about race. Society just expects the protagonist to be white, or all the 'good' characters to be. I don't like it, but that's the way it is.
     

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