1. writtenlove
    Offline

    writtenlove Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2010
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Philly

    Does race have a part in writing a story?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by writtenlove, Jan 18, 2010.

    I am a black female and I write how I see a character as soon as I get the name I see who they are in my mind before anything else. The reason I am only bringing this up because I write and I don't particularly care about my race when it comes to writing. If the store is well written and is good who cares about the race of me or the characters. I for one don't really care for black novels or hood literature. I know it happens but I why doesn't something good come from it. My point is I let a black friend read my story. First she said what kind of name is Ella James (The girls' name is really common, too, first & last). And then why is all the characters white was the second question. It was the first chapter. The main character is bi-racial, white & black, female who lives in Philadelphia. The the 4 other characters were white and the fifth was Asian (Chinese, Japanese, etc) mixed with Indian (not Native American).

    When I read books I want diversity. I can never find books with an black character who isn't having sex with the whole neighborhood, addicted something or other or just a life so dramatized that it doesn't seem true on some level. I want to read about a female who has a good family, going to school, and crushing on her best guy friend or deeply in love and they broke up.

    Sorry, I go on and on and cannot stop!:D
     
  2. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    Unless culture plays a big part in the story, it shouldn't matter. Your own cultural or genetic background does not dictate what you write. It's just easier because you don't have to do as much research. Create a cast that is diverse as you want that is realistic for the setting. Ie, I would have a more diverse cast with a story set in New York or Toronto than a small town in Alabama.
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Race has as much to do with writing as any other part of the writer's background and experiences.

    But a good writer is a keen observer. A good writer can write characters of other genders, races, or religion than the writer's own, and make them come alive.

    If you are asking about te writer's race, a prospective publisher need not know that at all, although he or she will likely figure it out when they arrange a photo shoot of the author for the back of the dust jacket, or when you are interviewed on the Today Show. So it should not have any impact on the publisher's decision whether or not to accept te manuscript.

    By all means, if you see racial stereotypes cluttering up the bookstore shelves, do something about it!
     
  4. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    Yes, it does influence it, but it doesn't decide it. I write stories with Jewish characters a lot unless I want Christmas to play a part in the story, but not just because I'm Jewish. I do it because I see something missing in books with Jewish characters.
     
  5. InkDream
    Offline

    InkDream Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2009
    Messages:
    197
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    the Evergreen State
    Your race shouldn't be relevant in your writing unless you're writing about your personal experiences. You character's races aren't important unless it's relevant to the story. As the writer, you decide if it is important to the story or not. ;)
     
  6. DvnMrtn
    Offline

    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2009
    Messages:
    250
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Canada - Winnipeg
    Express yourself! That is the point of writing. If you want a black main character with an Asian best friend then so be it. We are at an age where we should be trying to break down racial barriers. Art, writing, is one place it should already be gone. :)
     
  7. soujiroseta
    Offline

    soujiroseta Senior Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2008
    Messages:
    199
    Likes Received:
    26
    Location:
    Harare, Zimbabwe
    Ive found that i often try to write my characters without first picturing their race but soon come to the hurdle where i have to make a decision. But i agree with InkDream, relevance is the deciding factor for the author.
     
  8. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    I second Cogito that
    'Race has as much to do with writing as any other part of the writer's background and experiences.'
    and I empathise with Rei when she says
    '...I do it because I see something missing in books with Jewish characters.'

    I try to challenge stereotypes of mixed race/culture/religion marriages or families in my stories because they don't reflect the reality (for me) of e.g. living in a modern Muslim country, having parents of different nationalities, growing up bi-lingual or having several religions in one family.

    It doesn't mean to say I can't create characters with a more conventional background, but I find it harder to get into the mindset of a person from a radically different background than myself (though not necessarily a different race).
     
  9. arron89
    Offline

    arron89 Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2008
    Messages:
    2,460
    Likes Received:
    91
    Location:
    Auckland
    I think the question goes deeper than having black/Jewish/whatever race characters in your text, it calls into question how different races perceptions are different from each other (because it's incredibly naive to imagine they're not). So yes, I think race plays as large a part as gender, sexuality or class in how you write, because those things will play a part in determining not only what you write about, but precisely how and why you will write about it.
     
  10. Operaghost
    Offline

    Operaghost Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2009
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    0
    I think cog put it best, race does have a part in as much as the experiences you yourself may have picked up, but this is no different to other aspects of your life, including your gender, age, and location all of which will create different experiences to other writers. None of these should make any difference to the story unless it is something you specifically want to draw on specifically, but I agree that there aren’t enough examples of fiction out there which deal with race in a way you have described, and in fact, like other forms in media, there does even appear to be an inherent form of racism in as much as many of the popular novels and series do predominantly focus on white characters or stereotypes so I agree it would be great and refreshing to read novels which show a more diverse section of society, and encourage you to do all you can to help address the balance
     
  11. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,915
    Likes Received:
    10,108
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    To the OP:

    Discern your purpose as a writer because the answers to this kind of question are going to be all over the board given that one can only live in one’s own skin and thus the answers to the question are going to be colored by that point of view.

    You have already expressed a dislike for what is offered in contemporary Black Literature. Does this matter to you as a writer? I don’t mean the greater you, I mean you, the individual? Does it matter to you? Is it your purpose as a writer to affect a change to correct what you find wanting in the literature that is supposed to be representative of the racial/ethnic/gender identifying/sexually oriented/religious/cultural group to which you belong? If the answer is yes, then yes, race matters significantly. If the answer is no, then no.

    I write gay protagonists almost exclusively because it matters to me that the group to which I belong be represented. I don’t think the task falls to anyone else because it is something that matters to me, so to me falls the task.

    As for Black Literature, or literature with black protagonists. I would be more than delighted to hear that you are unaware of Octavia Butler if only to know that I was the one to bring her to your attention. If you’ve not read her work, then I think she is very much worth your time. Miss Butler will change your perspective as to what Black Literature can be. ;)
     
  12. writtenlove
    Offline

    writtenlove Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2010
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Philly
    I just really want black people to be shown in a good light and not be associated with being a murder. In my story the dad is a family man, a cop, and really wants to make it work with his daughter that he just found out about. I just want books with equal footing on life. It seems most books ignore other races.
     
  13. ManhattanMss
    Offline

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2009
    Messages:
    626
    Likes Received:
    14
    I think the answer posted by Wreybies is right on target. Personally, I don't know so much about genre fiction, but in literary fiction I don't think it's unusual to find novels flavored with the particular culture the writer is part of--Zadie Smith, e.g., or Toni Morrison come to mind in terms of very particular ethnicities and fiction highly infused with very particular cultures. Same is true for Southern culture or African or gay or Jewish--whatever shapes the authors' interests, viewpoints, and themes.

    When I subscribed to The New Yorker (I don't anymore), I used to especially enjoy what I thought was a lot of cultural diversity in the authors they published (I've heard others disagree with that opinion). But I often found authors I hadn't yet read whose short fiction made me curious about their novels. Many--maybe even most--of those authors reflected cultures distinctly other than my own comparatively unflavorful white. And most of those authors I chose to read more of have not disappointed me in their novels.
     
  14. soujiroseta
    Offline

    soujiroseta Senior Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2008
    Messages:
    199
    Likes Received:
    26
    Location:
    Harare, Zimbabwe
    Don't know if this is entirely relevant but one of James Patterson's protagonists, Alex Cross, has a whole series about him and how he solves crimes and what not.
     
  15. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    I've done a lot of looking and the vast majority of the books with Jewish characters tend to have some antisemitism references, or the conflict is very overtly about the problems within the Jewish culture. I've found very few in which characters just happened to be Jewish.
     
  16. Gallowglass
    Offline

    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 2, 2009
    Messages:
    1,617
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    Loch na Seilg, Alba
    This only happens if your character's race is connected to their culture. The former isn't that relevant to what they do, how they act, or what their opinions are; but the latter is what decides our beliefs, clothing, speech, music, and opinions. And that's what makes our character - it's no different in books. That's not to say that there are no exceptions, but people from two different cultures, even in a small geographic space, will obviously be more different than two people, picked at random, from the same culture.

    That works for both writers and realistic characters; it's easy, and fashionable, to avoid stereotypes, but, to a certain extent, they do exist. People are affected by the culture which they are brought up in; the gap is sometimes immensely wide, with different attitudes to the most basic human needs.

    That's true. I'm probably one of the first to attempt to publish Gaelic fiction (no, Gaelic fiction - not fantasy, such as Braveheart and Highlander), written in English, since the Linn nan Creach. I realised that no-one else out there will do it, regardless of the size of the Gaelic diaspora, because they were exactly that - expatriate, no longer connected with the Gaidhealtachd unless it's St Andrew's Day. They also support the kilts and shortbread stuff, so what chance was there that they could publish something that truly represented Gaelic culture and society, both then and now? None.

    I had to accept that I was the only one who could do it - it's amazing how few people realise that they are the only ones who know what they want to read, and the only ones who can write it. If the OP wants black people to be portrayed in a more balanced light, then the only advice that will be of any use, without a copy of the book they plan to write, is to simply write it.
     
  17. thewordsmith
    Offline

    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2009
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    124
    Location:
    State of Confusion
    I am Caucasian and, for most of my life, lived in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood, so, obviously, everything I experience in life, and write about, is going to, necessarily be influenced and colored by my own life experiences. Thankfully, I had a professor in college who taught me the art of aggressive observation. I can never know what it is like to grow up African-American. Having lived in a predominantly black neighborhood with less than 5% population being other racial background, I do, however, know what it's like to be gawked at and treated as something of a genetic freak. and I know, too, what it is like to be surrounded by a world of people who look at you and talk together, their voices low and secretive, and you know they are talking about you but they speak a different language and you don't understand so you can only feel a bit angry and self-conscious when they laugh.

    I don't know what it is like to lose my spouse to a form of cancer so rare there have been only 13 cases diagnosed in the U.S. - EVER! - and doctors from around the world follow his every breath until the day he dies. But I have watched a friend deal with the horror of her husband's fight. I don't know what it's like to be a black woman or to have breast cancer but I have watched that same woman barely recovered from burying her husband, be diagnosed and have to undergo surgeries and chemo, being sick for says on end only to rebound in time for the next round of treatments. And all this while being a single mom raising a little girl alone because her parents can't help since her father is in another state waiting for a kidney for transplant! Believe me, this woman could give Job lessons in patience!

    I don't know what it is like to be Arabic, but I have a female friend who is Egyptian and has earned a Master's degree as well as her doctorate. I have seen how she works a full time job then goes home and waits on ALL of the men in her family hand and foot because they expect her to do so because that is the nature of her heritage and culture.

    I have an Iraqi friend from whom I learn of his culture and many Russian friends, from whom I learn their unique and distinct cultures and habits from Moscow and Ukraine on the western side of the country, to Vladivostock all the way on the eastern border.

    Like you, writtenlove, I do not consider my own ethnicity when I write; I don't necessarily try to remove myself from the equation, but I focus on the characters not their creator. The characters dictate their own backgrounds and I draw on my collected library of experiences and knowledge to attempt to bring them to life. But, I can only write from my own personal frame of reference. When giving birth to a character, I strive to create 3-D, 98.6, living breathing, real people. (That's always the goal anyway!) I draw on people I know and have experienced in my life, regardless of their racial heritage. It is their character and personality or a particular little quirk I borrow from them, and I may borrow a bit from this AA person, a little from that American Indian person, and just a taste from that bubbly Vietnamese guy whose company moved him to Texas three years ago just to spice up the portrayal of a single character. Sometimes, I am quite surprised to discover, long into a manuscript, a character may be of a specific ethnicity or sexual inclination. (Which is to say I don't come out of the gate with a distinct stereotype for a character unless that ethnicity is pivotal to the storyline.)

    It has been said that, in every stereotype, there is a grain truth. But the stereotype develops because it is, oddly enough, not the norm. Yes, the world is full of blacks who are drug dealers, murderers, pimps, hookers, wife beaters, and junkies. And that is the stereotype of a large class of black people. It's sort of the "Dog bites man - that's not a story. Man bites dog - now THAT's a story." Why? because it's interesting and different. Have you ever seen the morbid crowds who gather at a fatality accident? They will tsk-tsk at news reports of such events but, if they are close by when it occurs, they will crane their necks to see all the gory details. Why? Because it's the curiosity, the gruesome newness of the event. People have an almost innate curiosity for the morbid.
    Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were married for ... how many years? Nobody wrote about them because their personal lives were not sensational. Newspapers didn't want to write about it because they didn't figure it would sell papers. Instead, they wrote about the latest celebrity hook-up, engagement, break-up, marriage, divorce and/or remarriage. The same is true of the rest of the newspaper. What's on the front page is the sensational, sell papers, story. The black cop who jumped into a frozen river to save a kid? Page 3. The black guy who works at the Toyota plant and spends every spare minute and spare penny repairing homes in his town for less fortunate neighbors and has taken in, over twenty years, more than three hundred foster kids and, with his help, those kids have helped put each other through college - he's barely a blip on the radar screen.

    People like to read the sensational. And that is why newspapers print the sensational. And that is why novelists write the sensational. It is what people expect ... until someone educates them and shows them another facet to the diamond.

    So I guess the bottom line is, yes, being black is going to affect how you write and what you write, if only because you can only write through your eyes and your experiences. But, if you feel called-upon to fight against the stereotypes through your work, do it. Don't question where it's coming from. Let it move you so that you, in turn, can move others. If you just long to show the world there is another side to the black experience, show it. Educate us all to something more beautiful. You'll be in excellent company.
     
  18. NaCl
    Offline

    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2008
    Messages:
    1,855
    Likes Received:
    58
    Then write it. What's the big deal? Write the kind of stories you'd like to read. Your race, or the race of your characters, only matters if it fits with your plot.

    As far as getting published, there are only two issues...1) the quality of your writing, and 2) the market for your story...i.e. if you write a great story, but most publishers do not have a market for it, then you're going to struggle to get it published. If you write a crummy story, no publisher will want it.

    Everything starts with your talent and skill as a writer.
     
  19. ManhattanMss
    Offline

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2009
    Messages:
    626
    Likes Received:
    14
    I'm not sure what you're expecting from a Jewish character whose Jewishness doesn't matter in any way within the storyline context. But you might try Jonathan Safron Foer's EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED for a ton of great character-building stuff that highlights communication differences between two cultures (and languages) and provides a complex story of tracing an American Jewish writer's ancestral roots with the help of a Ukrainian guide who fancies himself to be a writer, as well, and the complications of sorting out language and cultural differences in order to communicate clearly. It is and it's not about Jewishness, per se. I mean, another pair of cultures could have served as the basis for some thematic aspects (the communication issue, in particular). Just happens Foer is Jewish, and so the theme of choice happens to be Jewish-centered, with thematic threads that draw from that.
     
  20. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,223
    Likes Received:
    4,228
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    I agree with Cogito.

    Race may not have everything to do with a story, but you certinaly don't want to clump EVERYONE into one group.

    For example, I'm a white guy, so if I write a book where my character interacts with a black guy/girl, I should observe and, if possible, talk with black guys/gals, even make friends with them if I can. (I've got a lot of good friends who are black. :))

    The last thing anyone from an ethnicity you're writing about needs is to open a book where his/her race is stereotyped.
     
  21. ManhattanMss
    Offline

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2009
    Messages:
    626
    Likes Received:
    14
    There's also great value in understanding and being able to communicate your story that includes a person of another race than yourself through the lens of a like-cultured character. If we cannot necessarily get inside the mindset of someone from a different ethnic group or culture (even a fictional one), we can certainly identify with the frustrations and impressions and misimpressions that come or might come from the vantagepoint of not being able to completely relate (and can sometimes more easily create characters with those same deficiencies). With some skill and particular interest in doing so, we might even be able to slip into a character of another gender or sexual preference or culture or age. But that's not essential to creating a story that includes such characters as seen through the eyes of someone we can more easily identify with as writers.
     
  22. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    Here's something to give everyone a little perspective. When I was in high school, my English teacher told us about a writing contest that she was on a judge on. There were no names or anything on the story when they made their decisions. It took place in the southerns US during slavery times, and the main character was a white made who owned slaves. The writer happened to be a black women. If you learn enough about the setting and all that, any skilled writer can write in any setting about any type of character.

    And Mss, that doesn't really sound like what I'm looking for. What I am looking for is more like the TV show Numb3rs, where the characters are overtly Jewish, but the conflict generally has nothing to do with cultural issues.
     
  23. Blackspade2012
    Offline

    Blackspade2012 New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2010
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Carbondale, IL
    I didnt really notice/understand the importance of a character's race/background. But as I attended more writing/film classes in college it became clear of just how important a role it can play. These days, most hollywood films are filled with white actors/actresses who perform a story that is usually pretty great and all around enjoyable to one degree or another. However sometimes, without noticing (at least me anyway); with the exception of that token character(s) in a tv show or film, its hard to find a diverse cast that doesn't seemed forced. In the end it doesn't really bother me, but it is in the back of my mind from time to time. Take the tv show "friends" its more or less a funny/entertaining show taking place in NYC. Although all the main characters are white. I still like the show and watch it if its on. The same can be said for seinfeld. Another great tv show but just missing that x factor.

    When I write stories/screenplays I include a range a of characters, from race to social class, age and gender. Too many times have I read stories where its an all male cast, or all female cast. The same can be said for the working class, although i know not always an issue depending on the narrative, when it is relevant its either 100% the middle-upper class or 100% poverty/lower class.

    Then again, Im really just getting into literature and writing so im by no meand an expert on the subject, just based on fellow student's works i've read/critiqued.

    I'm an hispanic 21 year old who is adopted, so i suppose my opinions are subjective. Either way, just some thoughts.
     
  24. ManhattanMss
    Offline

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2009
    Messages:
    626
    Likes Received:
    14
    I don't know the TV show, nor much about TV scriptwriting. TV scripting would likely incorporate a dose of stereotyping, no? I imagine that's quite different than writing short stories or noveling.

    But tell me, how is a person "overtly" Jewish? I've had two prospectiive daughters-in-law and my sister and her family--all Jewish. Aside from the holidays they celebrate and traditional ways of doing that, I can't honestly say I can identify their Jewishness at all.
     
  25. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    I've read alot of books where the characters races are never mentioned. Should I then assume they're caucasian? They might be any race, really...it's just not relevant for that story.

    It could be a fun experiment... The next 20 books you read, assume that any character is asian or black or something else, until proven otherwise in their description. I wonder how many caucasian character one would end up reading about, then.
     

Share This Page