1. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    How to write race?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by colorthemap, Mar 12, 2011.

    Simple question how do you write your characters race?

    I want to be diverse but I don't want to introduce every character as, "a [insert adjective] [insert race name] [insert gender]".

    Can I get away with their name? I mean would a native american be named "Fred"(not now but you should get the point.)
     
  2. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    The way I would do it, I would say..Tanned skin? Bronze skin? Brown skin? Pale skin? Their hair type gives it away too.
    And people should get the idea. It doesn't really need to be emphasised unless it's apart of the story.
    I think there was a thread about this before.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if a character's race is vital to the plot, then mention it one way or another, as long as it's not derogatory... but if it's not, don't...
     
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  4. Pallas
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    Pallas Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I think there was a thread about this before, recently. I believe the general consensus was to to mention or describe a race only if it vital to the story, and if not, make any note of a character's racial 'color' or 'features' quick and glancing.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Race is an element of description, so in that sense your choice comes down to whether you favor a minimalist approach to description or prefer meticulous detail. Personally, I lean toward minimalism. I want the reader to supply details if they don't matter.

    On the other hand, race can be a factor in how people relate to one another. I don't defend that fact, but it does make race a legitimate characterization/plot component.

    With that in mind, the point of view you choose also affects whether you will bring up race, or leave it unspoken. If your POV character is a frothing bigot, race will b e among the first details mentioned about every new character who enters the story.

    Like every writing decision, your choice will subtly or grossly affect the story you end up telling.
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    The best thing to do is this: Don't single out one race.

    Like if I mention that my sci-fi protagonist (Helen Chert) is a black woman, I should also mention elsewhere either in dialogue or description that someone else is Asian, or Hispanic, or white. Make it so that it's not a big deal that your character is a certain race.

    Names do provide a clue as to where someone came from. If I have Helen meet a man named Alexi Ivanov, then there's a very good chance this man is from Russia.

    However, don't resort to stereotypes, like naming an Irish woman Molly Brown. If the nationality isn't important to the story, then it shouldn't matter what the names are. Take Helen's name. Is there any clue that she's from the USA? Or the UK? If anything her dialogue will reveal where she came from.

    Dialogue is important as well. Of course, that too could easily be stereotyped, so tread carefully.
     
  7. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I'd agree that naming an Irish woman Molly Brown is a bit cliche, but most people of Irish descent are in the Caucasian melting pot with people of German descent, English descent, Swedish descent etc...I mean I'm part Irish and it's not like it's a big unique culture thing among my relatives, you know? For the most part though, various ethnic cultures like Asian-American, African-American, Latin Americans etc have names unique to their culture. Not to say this is always the case, as I have a Mexican friend named Tracy and an African-American friend named Jennifer...but more often than not, my African-American friends have names like Aiyana, Shauntrelle, etc not commonly used among Caucasian people and my Latin American friends usually have last names that sound Latin American.

    I'm not trying to make sweeping generalizations - I'm just saying that naming an Latin American character something like John Smith won't come across as very realistic.

    EDIT: Actually, even among the harder-to-distinguish ethnic groups (i.e. German descent versus English descent), the names still often give a clue as to what origin it came from. For example, someone of German descent might have a name like Schauman or Schulman or Wilheim.

    However, names often get mixed and matched when people get married and take their husbands' name and so it's not always an accurate indicator.
     
  8. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the responses!
     
  9. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or do. Doesn't have to be "vital to the plot" to make it worth mentioning; it's worth mentioning if it adds even a little bit of spice or interest or energy to the story.
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I concur. It doesn't have to be vital. Take dear Amos, protagonist of my Colonial Detective series. It's not vital that he be a French, but it's something that adds some uniqueness to his character.
     
  11. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    Agreed. It would be odd to have a character that's pure Scottish that has a last name like Von Wilhelm or something. McDonald, Sutherland, and so on make more sense and make the character more believable. It's not racist, it's just a feature of nationality.
     
  12. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    Matter of fact today my character had an incident over race esclate resulting in the death of a poodle. I am in the creating art bizness I refuse to let political correctness censor me
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a controversy in the UK over the TV Whodunnit series The Midsomer Murders and the fact that (almost) all the characters in a fictional English rural community are white. One of the co-creators did make some unfortunate remarks, and has been suspended, but I thought it telling that in a radio interview a commentator complained that the problem wasn't the remarks, it's that the writer "thought he had the creative right to only write white characters". In some contexts you might find political correctness forced on you.
     
  14. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    Race is subjective, at least in the states, most people are mixed races.
    I am Cheroke/Irish/German(in reverse order of greatest percentage)
    BUt the other races are mixed as well.
    If you don't need to specify, then don't. People of various races will naturally read it as their race, rather then some race they might not be motivated to read intentionally or not.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i love the series and have to admit i never noticed the lack of any but white characters... if that is indeed the case... should it matter?
     
  16. Alvaro
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    Alvaro Member

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    I agree with some of the other comments - if it is not vital, don't say it, you can drescribe as you go along. You can mention eye colour, skin tone, hair colour, even hair texture and thickness. All these things will paint enough of a picture not to have to actually say African or Black or Asian.

    You can also mention people's backgrounds, ie where there roots lie, which will often tell someone's race rather well.

    Hope that helps at all.
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I agree. It's not offensive to mention "pale skin", "brown skin", or "olive skin".

    If people want to throw a hissy fit over it, let them. They're just more bark than bite, if you'll forgive the cliched phrase.
     
  18. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    It is not racist to mention someone’s race. Agreed ‘race’ is somewhat subjective, but popular categories still have legitimacy. Why not say, “Jack was a hansom Negro” if that is how you (the writer) envisage him?

    And be derogatory if you want to. Stories and characters don’t have to be nice. They can bigoted, sexist, racist….these things are part of life and may be a legitimate part of anyone’s writing.
     
  19. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have found this blog to be tremendously helpful for this (and other diversity issues).
     

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