1. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Revealing Race

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by arron89, Jun 18, 2009.

    Ok so this isn't really Character development, so move as/if necessary...

    I've hit a small snag in writing a new...thing....
    I have this Chinese chick character, and I don't know how to reveal to the reader without a) straight out saying "She is Chinese", cuz that just doesn't fit at all into the story so far (and I'm not a fan of those kinds of she was blah blah, with blah blah hair and blah blah descriptions) or (b) using cheesy racial stereotypes. She doesn't have a name that screams "I'm Chinese!!!!" and I don't really want to change it, but I'm having considerable difficulty revealing her racial identity without sounding like a douchebag. And I mean, I guess its not essential to the story, but as a writer, I want the reader to see what I see, and when I see it, she's asian.

    So! Any ideas? The style/genre is sorta....literary romantic surreal comedy? but for the sake of this section i guess romantic comedy is the key bit....
     
  2. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    If this is comedy, putting in description is fine... As long as it's funny, of course. For example, you could use a stereotype but twist it to your comedic style.

    Another possibility is to reveal it through dialogue. I'm not talking about "And then Mary said, 'Oh, by the way, I'm Chinese'"

    Here's a badly written example:

    Bob the rascist said, "Hey, you, little Jap girl, get out of the way!"

    The girl got red in the face, and roared, grabbing the 300 pound Bob and throwing him all the way across the room. "I'm no Japanese, I'm CHINESE, FOR GODS SAKE! CAN'T YOU PEOPLE TELL THE DIFFERENCE!"

    ---

    Yes, I just thought of that example up in 2 seconds, but it gives you the idea - this could be for character development, in conclusion. So, like in my horrid example up there, we've just learned this girl has a pretty bad temper, besides the fact that she's Chinese.
     
  3. Velvet Muse
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    Velvet Muse New Member

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    Using bad English may also imply that the character is foreign (such as the classic old-Asian-clerk-lady). Also, using simple foreign words like Hola or Bonjour, Madame will also imply ethnicity.

    EDIT: I guess for a Chinese girl, it would be hard to use simple foreign words (since almost no one knows Chinese). But if you did, you'd probably have to spell it out phonetically, since they use funky characters.
     
  4. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Yeah, your problem can best be rectified through interactive dialogue, maybe between your character and her lover, or through internal musings, possibly about her difficulties as a woman of Chinese origin living in the West. I would suggest just getting down to it and trying out a few scenarios to see which suits better. Good luck with it.
     
  5. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    "So, are your parents from China?"

    Dialog seems to be the easest way.

    "You're Asian, right?"
    "Chinese, but yeah."
     
  6. 67Kangaroos
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    67Kangaroos Contributing Member

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    perhaps just describe her the way you see her?
    straight raven (black) hair, olive skin, height and weight (though if raised in the west, she will generally be a bit taller than the average girl raised in china) and other such characteristics are easily described without being rude. eyes, too. (i constantly heard the girls talk about how they wished they had double-fold eyelids, maybe your character does too?)
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why worry whether the reader sees her exactly as you do? You already said that the fact she has Asian features is not essential to the story. You can always let slip a feature or two as the story progresses, refining the focus of her appearance.

    But if he sees her for the first time in your book, it's fine for him to take note of the beautiful young Asian woman walking toward him, or something of that nature.

    If, on the other hand, he has known her for years, and every time he still sees her he thanks Asian or Japanese, you are basically telling the reader that he is racially biased. When you get to know someone well, you stop thinking about ethnicity and other unchanging characteristics.
     
  8. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    U.u I hate it when people do that, I mean, Bonjour, Hola and Madame (etc) are most likely to be the first words one memorizes when learning english.
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Thanks for the suggestions! I think for now, I'll have to go with just describing her...there isn't really an opportunity for dialogue that would reveal her ethnicity at this point....so yeah, thanks for the help and ideas!
     
  10. Seppuku
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    You don't need to tell the reader that she's Chinese, but show them. Names can't do it and fitting in cheesy stereotypes won't help. Interestingly I was reading a short story a little while back where the writer had the characters a black American family who later had racial discrimination issues, yet, race was not hinted, not until later, yet you could see this African American family in your head and it was the little things that did it, revealing cultural characteristics and playing with the assumptions of the reader - I think the first sign I suspected the story to be about an African American family was when the praising and singing of the Gospel Church across the road was mentioned.

    So you could have in your environment something a Chinese person would have or anything distinctly Chinese so that the reader can make assumptions and later confirm their identity by another means. There's always dialogue - a person could mention something about her that is Chinese, or the way she speaks, though some Chinese people can speak very good English, so if she's one of them or if it doesn't feel right, then you don't need to do that.
     
  11. lazerus reborn
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    lazerus reborn Member

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    Cultural references, jewelery, adonement, the way the carry themselves.
    Food, can she cook , her speciality, family recipes her mother

    you dont actually have to address the issue directly, or as so many have said above, dont just spit it out.
     
  12. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    These are all good suggestions, but the problem is that she is a minor (yet ultimately important) character that has very little dialogue/description at this point, but her presence remains even when she doesn't appear often, so until later in the book, talking about things like culture and food and things won't really fit.

    Since she is a minor character, I guess it doesn't really matter, I'm just worried that having the reader think one thing and then tell them that it was actually meant to be something else might put them off...would it annoy you as a reader if you thought a character was white and then you later found out she was Chinese? I'm not sure :S:S
     
  13. Seppuku
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    It could be a little bit confusing, but I think that always depends. If she's a minor character, the small things could work. Does she eat? Will she use chopsticks to eat? Does she bow when she greets somebody? Or does she go to bow, but realises that it's customary to shake hands? That could be a mistake that would draw attention to her nationality. Do we see her house? If we do, then what objects do we see? Does she wear Jewelry, could we have a Chinese symbol? Or something Taoist?

    Just a few thoughts on small things that might give away her nationality.
     
  14. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'm thinking the jewelry thing could be good.....she becomes the love interest, he could mention her jewelry to flirt with her.....hmmm....
     
  15. Taino
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    Can't you describe the province where she was born in China, briefly have her flashback to memories as a younger child in her native land?
     
  16. Fabulosa
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    When I write I like to think I'm giving readers the basic hints that they can go away and run a movie in their head - telepathically transmitting some visuals.

    There, and considering that she is a minor character - (describe her from a major characters point of view?) - I would be a bit annoyed not be given this important visual clue when she first makes her appearance. Why be precious about it?
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    When you meet someone on the street, and notice that he or she looks Asian, do you know that person's history?

    Keep it simple. If someone is seeing the character for the first time, note a first impression. She looked Asian. perhaps Korean, with a mop of reddish-brown hair. Let the readers imagine the facial features from that -- or not. Don't force feed it.

    If the character is known to the other characters, you can bring in a walk-on character to react to your character's appearance. It doesn't have to happen right away, just wait for a convenient opportunity.

    Just don't force a description from a viewpoint that wouldn't be making a point of it, and avoid contrived machinations just to convey an unimportant detail of appearance. Just because the author has a clear picture of the character doesn't make it necessary that the reader see exactly the same thing.
     
  18. PrettySiren
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    PrettySiren New Member

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    I agree with those who've said the description should be A) based on whether she's a major or minor character and B) how long your main character has known her.

    Remember, the readers are seeing your world through your main character's eyes. So, you have to describe other characters the way your main character sees them.

    That said, base your descriptions on this Chinese girl's environment. If she was raised in America, she most likely won't be speaking Chinese -- especially if she's a third or forth generation American. However, if her grandparents were immigrants or something, you could show her saying something like "xie xie" (thank you) to her grandmother or something -- that would be enough to tip of the reader that, at the very least, she has at least some Chinese blood in her veins.

    I had a similar problem with one of my characters, though, perhaps, to a lesser extent. My character was Jewish. In her case, she isn't a "stereo typical Jew" and her being Jewish isn't central to the plot. Instead, I only fleetingly mentioned that she was going to celebrate Hanukkah at her grandparent's.
     

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