1. carsun1000
    Offline

    carsun1000 Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
    Messages:
    158
    Likes Received:
    31

    Using Blatant Racist Terminology in Fiction. Will it work?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by carsun1000, Aug 4, 2012.

    Hello fellow writers.


    I found myself working on a piece that requires the MC to be an evil racist who hated anything that is not white. This will force me to use words like ni**ers and what not. I know Stephen Hunter got away with it when he wrote Dirty White Boys in 1995 (good novel by the way).

    I feel the story can only be told to its fullest if I can demonstrate the MC's level of hatred by using those terms we consider an omen these days. I fear the heat I will catch if I go ahead with this work. Any advice? Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Thornesque
    Offline

    Thornesque Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    456
    Likes Received:
    71
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    If it's an adult novel? I think you could definitely do it as long as you show that this is the views of the MC, and not yourself or the majority of the people in the books. You may want to add something in the beginning warning that there was strong language of that nature. But otherwise, I think most readers could accept that this is a character.
     
  3. EldritchDwarf
    Offline

    EldritchDwarf New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    If I wrote a racist main character I would have the culture he lives in to consider his attitudes the norm. Then I'd have a few other characters (probably the antagonist) be even more racist, to the point that the main character thinks their views are wrong.

    Of course that is assuming you want your character to be sympathetic.
     
  4. carsun1000
    Offline

    carsun1000 Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
    Messages:
    158
    Likes Received:
    31
    It is going to be an adult novel. It is about a supremacist group whose leader kidnapped a black woman married to a white FBI agent. There is more to the story but that is where the racist attitudes were derived from.
     
  5. Thornesque
    Offline

    Thornesque Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2012
    Messages:
    456
    Likes Received:
    71
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    I think Eldritch is right. So long as you give some sort of...explanation as to why the character feels as they do towards blacks, then I think it would be alright.
     
  6. Dryriver
    Offline

    Dryriver Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2011
    Messages:
    113
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Istanbul, Turkey
    You should not censor a character's language in my opinin.

    If the character is racist and throws racial slurs like "nigger" around, then you should write that character that way.

    Don't worry. 99% of readers will understand that it is not you saying "nigger", but rather a character in your novel.

    I also don't think you'll catch heat for use of such words, unless you glorify your racist character, which I assume you probably won't.

    Hope that helps...

    Good Luck!
     
  7. carsun1000
    Offline

    carsun1000 Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
    Messages:
    158
    Likes Received:
    31
    I dont have in me to glorify racism in any way shape or form. Just using it in a fiction work is hard enough.
     
  8. B93
    Offline

    B93 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2012
    Messages:
    297
    Likes Received:
    32
    You'll get a more sympathetic reception if readers expect and ultimately see a change of heart in the character due to the events of the book.
     
  9. carsun1000
    Offline

    carsun1000 Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
    Messages:
    158
    Likes Received:
    31
    That is the kind of end I am shooting for (hopefully)
     
  10. marktx
    Offline

    marktx Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2012
    Messages:
    202
    Likes Received:
    8
    Sure. If the character's racist, he should talk like a racist. But as with a lot of other things, a little dab will do you.

    In other words, his attitudes should manifest in a myriad of ways, most of which do not involve spouting the n-word. Use it somewhat sparingly. If he uses it all the time, it will dull the impact of the word itself, so choose your moments carefully, when it will provide the most fuel at the most important times.

    And although he is clearly an unsympathetic character, give him some complexity. Try to come to some understanding as to why he's this way and how he came to this place. This is not about excusing racism, it is about giving his racism a three dimensionality so that when he comes to his change, the impact of that change resonates deeper and carries greater significance.
     
  11. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    By the way, you won't be able to post it on this site. You might also have problems getting a publisher to take it.
     
  12. marktx
    Offline

    marktx Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2012
    Messages:
    202
    Likes Received:
    8
    One other tip about how racists talk. Do your research on the subtler ways in which racism is communicated. Because explicit racism is frowned on in most quarters, it has mutated into code words and "dog-whistle" manifestations.

    Before you go into the delicate terrain of race and racism, make sure you have a clear understanding on its dynamics. I highly recommend that you also learn the history of the Civil Right movement (most Americans outside of the African American community are shockingly ignorant on the subject), and Taylor Branch's trilogy is a very good place to start. The first book in that trilogy is "Parting the Waters," and it won the Pulitzer Prize.
     
  13. vVvRapture
    Offline

    vVvRapture Member

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Northeast
    I'd say you probably can't get away with an MC that's just racist just to be racist. It has to be in context - if he's a pre-Civil War slave trader, then maybe it'll work. But, even then, you're the author. You don't have to write down every instance in which that MC says a racial slur.

    To be honest, if you have to require this character to be the most racist person of all time, maybe you should consider writing from a different perspective.
     
  14. LuminousTyto
    Offline

    LuminousTyto Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2012
    Messages:
    118
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    At my computer desk?
    Movies, novels and TV series do it all the time. I just watched an episode of True Blood where this dude yells out the N-word to a black guy. As long as your story isn't racist itself, I don't think a racist character will be a huge deal.
     
  15. carsun1000
    Offline

    carsun1000 Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
    Messages:
    158
    Likes Received:
    31
    Not to belittle your position here, but you are telling me that NO publisher will take a look at it because of its racist contents? I know it's tough to get published these days but if you have a good piece and the publishers know your personal stand on these kind of social issues, I think one desrves a shot.
     
  16. E. C. Scrubb
    Offline

    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2012
    Messages:
    413
    Likes Received:
    25
    Location:
    Southwest US
    I'm in complete agreement with the first paragraph here. It will allow you to write your book in such a way that you're not beating the readers over the head with blatant stereotypes of racists either, which is also important.

    Marktx's second point, I'm not sure about. If you are trying to paint a picture what a racist MC is going through, then to the degree you're staying to his POV, the less you need to know about the deeper history of the Civil Rights movement, unless your character has taken the time to study it honestly. So, if this is a first person POV, then if he could care less about the true history, there's no reason for you to know about it (bookwise, personal knowledge is a different issue I won't discuss here). If he has learned a very distorted view of the Civil Rights movement, then that is the history you need to know. If however, you're writing a 3rd person omnipotent (I'd suggest not), then it might be good to learn the history so you portray it correctly.

    In other words, the closer you stay to your character's world view and understanding, the less you need to know about other world views or histories when you write him.
     
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Of course not. I am telling you it MAY limit your publisher choices.

    This site has content restrictions. All publishers have standards as to what they think is marketable and what is not, and the sensitivity of market segments is certainly a factor in that calculation.

    It IS a business, you know.
     
  18. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,199
    Likes Received:
    4,209
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    I would have him show his racist tendencies in more varied ways than using the N-word every fifth paragraph. Few examples:

    #1- He holds the door open to everyone, but when a black person walks up to the door, he slams it in their face.

    #2- He makes sure to walk all over their lawn when he's going for a walk, even though he is careful to not step on anyone else's lawns.

    #3- If his dog takes a crap, he just leaves it if it's on their lawn, yet he picks it up with a poop bag if its on someone else's lawn.

    #4- He doesn't say 'thank you', he doesn't say 'good morning' or 'good evening' to them. He just grunts at them in a 'screw off!' way.

    #5- Say they get a new car, he manages to fine ONE thing that's imperfect, like there's some dirt on the door, or the tires don't look right, yet if someone else got a new car, all he thinks of are nice things about it.

    #6- He alienates them from neighborhood gatherings and makes up half-assed excuses like "Oh, I just forgot you all!" or something like that.

    Stuff like that, I think. Now, I could be getting it all wrong, but my idea is that he doesn't have to be shouting racial slurs at them every fifth paragraph to show that he hates them for some reason.
     
  19. ThievingSix
    Offline

    ThievingSix Member

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2012
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    1
    Racism is never as simple as calling someone a "nigger" or a "cracker". It often stems from a fear, or ignorance that is ingrained in an individual, or indoctrinated through group influences. Usually when an individual is removed from a negative influence their racist qualities tend to disappear. The exception is when racism stems from a mental disorder itself, such as xenophobia.

    To depict racism correctly, you'd need to form the character well. Racism does not necessarily present itself in verbal terms, but also physical and emotional. I.e. the simple act of excluding an Asian person from a public gun range while your on duty is racism. Often though this will be underlying, and won't present itself that simply, often the person will say "your licence isn't up to standards", "You don't have the proper safety gear", "I don't think your experienced enough to shoot here". These are all legitimate statements, however racism will often be bending the truth to exclude an individual or group.
     
  20. carsun1000
    Offline

    carsun1000 Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
    Messages:
    158
    Likes Received:
    31
    I was gearing toward some of the things you mentioned. Looking at using both actions and dialogues to depict this MC
     
  21. vVvRapture
    Offline

    vVvRapture Member

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Northeast
    Oh, by the by, I would definitely watch, "Gran Torino." Main character is an old racist white guy. Clint Eastwood's performance is absolutely amazing. You could learn a lot from that. Though he does get over his racist tendencies by the end of the movie, how he acts in the beginning would be a great starting point for you.
     
  22. psychotick
    Offline

    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2011
    Messages:
    1,371
    Likes Received:
    307
    Location:
    Rotorua, New Zealand
    Hi,

    This is one of those tricky balancing problems. You want to show your MC's character without offending your audience too much. My thought would be to yes let him use a few racist words in his dialogue, but keep them out of the narrative. Instead for the narrative show him doing racist things as the others have said. I mean even talking about something as simple as the look of disgust on his face as he passes an interacial couple can be powerful in terms of placing your character's ideology.

    I would also agree that putting an advisory on the book to warn readers would be a good idea. I don't know if that would limit your readership or increase it. It could actually be seen as promotion, just as every kid in my day wanted to go to an R16 movie.

    The other thing you need to do is to paint a picture of the character to explain why he is what he is. Its not just that without it he'd be a two dimensional character, but also readers often want to find some way to connect with the characters. If he's your MC then that's even more critical.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  23. ThievingSix
    Offline

    ThievingSix Member

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2012
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    1
    Gran Torino played on the stereotype of the "old american war vet", so in most people's minds it was acceptable for him to harbour hatred and be racist without being terribly offensive towards racial minorities. Had the MC been a young police officer, or a Walmart clerk, the audience response would have been different entirely. His language never really changes, nor does the way he treats Thao on the surface, however there are subtle changes such as when he gives Thao several of his tools and finds him a job etc.. He is able to find a sense of connection through Thao and his family that Walt and his own family don't share.

    By choosing to represent the MC as a war veteran, it was a clever cloak, and prevented public backlash because people would hesitate to speak out against a war veteran character. Hence forming a character around stereotypes can sometimes prevent a controversial piece from significant backlash.
     
  24. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Advisories are the publisher's call, not the author's. The author needs to coax a publisher's interest. That's who you don't want to offend.
     
  25. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,922
    Likes Received:
    5,458
    On the one hand, you don't want to give your character an unrealistic vocabulary. On the other hand, you don't want to seem to be relishing the shock value of his speech.

    One thing to consider is that using certain words have substantial consequences these days. I'd guess that if your character used them at work or in social situations involving anyone but his own known-to-be-deeply-racist friends, he'd be in deep trouble. Would he be willing to be fired or face other serious consequences just for the pleasure of using those words? If not, then that will limit the number of scenes where he'd use them.

    Also... _do_ most racists use these words? I mean, I hate racists but I still don't use vulgar language to describe them, because I consider myself above that vulgar language. I know that the average stereotypical TV racist uses them all the time, and probably also flexes a lot of muscles, spits, and drools, but do we know that any of that is actually realistic?
     

Share This Page