1. afrodite7
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    afrodite7 Senior Member

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    Your character:Race,ehnicity ,religion

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by afrodite7, Oct 25, 2012.

    -Many books I've written have too homogenous of a cast.Everyone is the same race,ethnicity and religion.Example ,most books written by black people have an all black cast ,or books by whites an all white cast.This is america and while I believe a cast can be like 80% one ethnicity(This being because cities and suburbs are seperated by racism,but people deny it) the probability of it being one hundred percent is pretty slim,if it is,people shrug like its not a problem.I mean,can't the cop rolling through your all black neighborhood,or the security gaurd at a store at least be white? Or that old lady across the street in your buisness could easily be an old latina woman,that bad ass kid from three houses down can be chinese american...

    -So your cast is white.Someone's irish,someone's jewish and someone's italian,different cultures.Why does this never come into play? I'm pretty sure someone who's sir name is Castello and someone with Jackson for a sir name don't exactly live the same,religious difference being one.

    -I'd argue the same for the sex and gender binary,only I imagine romance scenes would be awkward

    -What about the relatively common situation of someone being mixed race,but always interacts with only one half of the family? Unless there's a reason for it,I don't buy it.Is it that much easier to write your own race/religion? Are there that many people in america who never met someone from a different background? Or do you think of ethnic people as a tv stereotype and don't want to research religion? I hear people say they're afraid of 'getting it wrong'.What is there to get wrong?

    -There's also the fact that when interaction between different races and religions occur,its the plot.Why can it not be the plot.Something as simple as going to a diner with your muslim friend and him just ordering a drink and something uncooked because they don't eat pork and they serve it at the place and cook it on the grill (i know people who do this)
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't think you should beat yourself up about it.

    I live in Canada - I grew up in a home that had a multitude of changing faces
    and changing Nationalities. And no offense but I've met Indian, black people - Canadian-Jamaican?,
    Puetro Rican, Cuban, Asian and a lot of them were Canadianised- if that's a word? My attempts
    at creating a cutural character would (but not always ) seem forced - but wouldn't that
    happen to anyone if that was there goal, to create
    a cutural character and not just merely a charcter who happened to be hispanic?

    I think if you can handle ethinicity without turning the characters into a cliched joke than weave it
    in but nothing burns me up more than someone tackling my religion when they are
    basing their knowledge only as a contrast to their own belief, or by t.v. personalities, or by
    out dated thinking. This doesn't just go for religion - I'm also a redhead and I've had it up to
    here ( hand over head ) with spitfire redheads. Lol!

    People should be treated as just that - people, with different opinions, choices, lifestyles,
    diets, too often the author can be seen between the lines either preaching or gloating.
    Create a character first if he's lead to be ethnic go for it - but don't over describe him any more
    than anyone else - that would be the Gloria and Michael disease of showing off how liberated
    you are.
     
  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I think part of the issue is that most authors don't set out to write a piece specifically about a racial or ethnic issue. So to have a scene where this is highlighted may seem out of left field as far as the main plot of the book. In addition, there is often the issue that people tend to 'hang out' with other people of their own socio-economic status, so it wouldn't necessarily be relevant to much of the story to note the races of other minor characters. For example, my MC is a white Jewish guy. He's married to a non-Jewish woman and one of their kids was adopted from Korea. Those are all noted, although those particular aspects are not the key elements of the book. My MC interacts with several friends, and in thinking about it, those friends *could* be Black or Asian. His best friend is a Protestant white guy. If they were ever to adapt my story to film (which of course they will :) there's no reason they couldn't make the friend Black, even though as I wrote him, I thought of him as white. Other characters that he interacts with really could be of any race. On film, it would be obvious what race the characters were. But on paper, given that people of all races do live in the town where the character lives, and are represented in the professions he and his wife are in, their friends and neighbors can be of whatever race the reader imagines.

    There's also the practical consideration that if an author is trying to convey a certain time/place/environment/community, it's easier to focus on the characters all being of the one ethnicity, since that is what the author is trying to portray -- i.e. all the stories of families, whether they're Jewish, Irish, Italian, Greek, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Chinese, etc. So if you try to do that with more than one ethnicity, the story could very easily become jumbled and burdened with way too much explanation of the various ethnicities (when, at heart, they're all pretty much the same).
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't worry about it in my writing because most of the time race, ethnicity, religion - none of that matters one iota to the story. As a reader, it rarely matters to me either, and many times it seems like it's crammed down my throat, which can be irritating. I really don't care what the character is as much as who the character is.
     
  5. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    so thoughts from a Sciance fiction guy, who really does not care about alot of this. But i love being a white male :)

    i don't know if your first part is true. from what i have noticed in a lot of stories, its never mentioned what ethnicity many of the characters are, its just something for the reader to fill in.

    2nd part. i don't meet many people that identify themselves as a hyphenation american that are not pricks. seriously your family has been hear for how many generations and your "Irish". i had family that left Europe too, in the 20th center y ( so many communist not enough firepower) i still am just an american.

    don't really care about gender binary ( i am guessing its about their being male and female), but i love being male!

    ill agree with you that their seems to be a limited amount of religious used in literature,( when religion of different characters is mentioned). granted, areas generly have a few dominet religions. i had a gf from high school who was Russian Orthodox. she liked being Russian Orthodox because as she put it "no one has prior knowledge about it so people don't have preconceived notions". ( that should have been a warning sign) needless to say i wish their was a stereotype about these people to warn me. everybody complains about the Muslims, but the ones of them that are nuts are strait forward about it and act like they need to work for it. not these people, they felt they where entitled to having their version of god rule the world. the " i understand when we come to make you a theocracy by force we will trade gunfire and it will be glorious" vs " what, you ungraceful tweet im doing this for your good, oww piety mee im sacrificing for you, why would you ever oppose me"

    once again the reader often does not know the characters race/ religion. i will say though that when religions interact ( or the religious and irreligious) that can be serious drama.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Does it matter that the neighbor is a Chinese woman? How would the story change if she were Italian instead? I only bring up race/ethnicity/religion if it matters to the story. Otherwise, I leave it up to the reader's imagination.
     
  7. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    Exactly. Race can inform the reader's perception of a character, and I definitely know what race the character is, but I prefer to let the reader form his or her own impression of the character's race, in most cases, unless it advances the story. I might drop hints in via how the character talks, what they eat, or so forth -- and I might even make a passing reference in description ("his olive skin", "her Afro 'do"), but unless race is vital to the story being told, I don't make much of it.

    Regarding religion, again, if it matters to the story, it gets mentioned, or as a passing detail, it's occasionally handy. But gratuitous mention is grating.
     
  8. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Part of the OP's observations may simply be caused by the fact that, say, a black author grew up knowing more about his black family, black friends, and black heritage than that of other groups - same for 2nd generation Asian-Americans, whites, Catholics, New York Jews, and so on. It's simply easier to write about what you know.

    I think it's more meaningful for non-white people, since they feel "less" mainstream than, well, European Americans. Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans, for instance, are already pretty well-assimilated into America even though this wasn't the case a few generations ago - compare this to an Asian-American, such as myself, who might not necessarily feel the same connection to (the vaguely defined) mainstream America. I was born here, sure, but when I look at the media, I don't see any real Asian characters. All I see are caricatures of Asians and Asian-Americans - if they're male, they're either a martial artist, nerdy, or eccentric at best. For me I'm bothered not so much that there aren't that many Asians in the media, it's rather that they never seemed to be portrayed as actual people. I suppose other non-European Americans also feel similarly, which is why the hyphenation thing is much more meaningful for us. It's really meaningful particularly for those of us who are 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd generation immigrants as well. Even if we were born here and raised here and barely know about our homeland culture, it still affects our experience growing up, as I can attest from personal experience (as a 2nd generation Asian). For us, that hyphenation is often much more meaningful - I think (and this is just an opinion, of course), that that hyphenation is very symbolic of our struggle between balancing two worlds: that of our homeland and that of the one we grew up and will live in. So for us, hyphenation isn't merely something to show off unlike, say, a 10th generation Irish-American. It's an integral part of who we are. But I won't say much more than that. I just wanted to bring that up because there is a clear difference between a 7th generation mixed Italian-French-Scots-German-Russian American who is only vaguely aware of his roots, and a 2nd generation Chinese-American who is constantly reminded of where he came from. And I do think that if your character is a 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd generation, this is something to be considered and shouldn't be ignored easily - certainly you shouldn't make your character revolve around that unless if that's the point of the story.


    I don't really know what else to say here, but simply that when you write a character belonging to a certain group, be careful not to fall prey to stereotypes and assumptions. Sometimes it appears even when you don't realize it. It's easy to make an Asian character not wear glasses and like math class. It's hard, however, to make sure that he's ambitious and driven to succeed not because he's a stereotypical diligent Asian but because that's his personality. I think it'd be easier to pull that off if you were Asian yourself, but even then it won't be easy.

    I grew up in a very diverse place, so that's reflected in my writing too. Even then, I remember that race, religion, and so forth, only do so much to influence a person's attitudes and behavior. My most mundane story has 6 major characters: three Asians (one Japanese and two either Chinese or Vietnamese), two whites (one Italian, one Franco-Italian), and a Middle Eastern (Arab). Their race rarely comes up in the story. When it does come up, it's when they're making fun of the stereotypes associated with their respective groups. It otherwise technically doesn't affect the story, though since the main characters are Asian that aspect does pop up now and then when they're having identity crises or the like because I do want the characters to pose those sorts of questions to themselves - but not too much, since it isn't the main point of the story, rather just one of many aspects of it.

    So tl;dr version:

    1. Don't make the character revolve around their background unless if that is the point of the story (i.e. a Jewish-American trying to struggle with his identity, or a Protestant questioning his religion when he moves to a mostly non-Christian country).
    2. Don't use stereotypes and assumptions as shortcuts if you're not deeply delving into a character's background.
    3. Ignoring a character's background completely, however, is silly, if not outright offensive in some cases. But that doesn't mean it has to be with them every single moment of their lives. Still, it has to be something to consider.
     
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  9. jg22
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    jg22 Member

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    I think you should only write what the story itself requires. If it requires racial diversity etc, then include it, otherwise don't worry about it.
     
  10. dudemitch
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    dudemitch New Member

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    My current story, actually almost everything I've written take place in either the middle class white suburbs about 40 minutes south of Chicago, or small semi-rural white towns in central Illinois. The characters tend to be white because that is who lives in these places for the most part.

    Like some others have suggested, it is also easier for me to write about what I know. I have zero knowledge of what life is like for someone of a different ethnicity, socio economic status, or even gender. Hence, my main characters tend to be middle class, young, white males, and the associate characters tend to be middle class, young, and white.
     
  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I write what the story demands, and its characters as I see them.

    Like Thumpa, I don't make a big focus on the race other than passing description to get a better picture of the character.

    I care more about the character's personality, not their outward apperance.
     
  12. afrodite7
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    afrodite7 Senior Member

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    ---

    how common is this ,out of curiousity?
     
  13. afrodite7
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    afrodite7 Senior Member

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    --

    Completely agree with you.I'm writing a post-cyberpunk/urban fantasy/romance about and african american girl and an korean american/japanese american guy...who happen to be vampires.So lets be honest,the story is not about their ethnicity at all and its only briefly commented on .Its just that the plot calls for these specific ethnic characters to come together due to Yoruba and japanese lore involved in the universe's history.I admit I wouldn't try to write an asian character from asia who spent their entire life there because I have never lived in any asian country and am not asian ,therefore limiting the experience.I could always sit down and interview a bunch of asian people,but I don't think I'll be needing that yet.
     
  14. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    lets be honest, who thinks about ethnic/ social message/ all that other stuff when they write?


    i know i don't but now i am curious.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My characters have had a variety of ethnicities and beliefs. It's no more significant than that they have a mix of the genders and different body shapes. Variety and diversity are just more interesting, not to mention realistic.

    Why make a big deal of it? It's a non-issue.
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well you'd still rarely see an all-female cast, unless it's a chick lit or a book aimed at women. On the other hand, an all-male cast or majority-male cast with their one token female are both very common and widely acceptable.

    Anyway, ethnicity, I've never thought about it until I decided to write a book on human-trafficking - ethnicity matter in that book. Gender also matter hugely. But then it's a book that's actually about existing world issues, not just a story.

    I'd say include ethnicities if you want, or if you book requires it, but I wouldn't worry too much about it :)
     
  17. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I do, to a certain extent, if what you mean is "consider how their ethnicity/social background might effect their character." But perhaps, as I suggested above, that might be of more personal importance to me considering that I'm part of a minority group, and one who grew up in a racially and ethnically diverse area, so I feel it is more important to consider, but I can definitely understand why it won't matter at all to others.

    That said, again, I think it's foolish to believe ethnicity and social-cultural background has no relevance whatsoever to a character. Culture and notions of ethnicity does influence the way people act and think. It's simply up to the writer to determine, however, how much of that actually will be shown throughout the story and be relevant to it.
     
  18. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    This. Most books I read tell me nothing about the race, ethnicity or religion of the characters unless it's directly relevant to the plot. If I make assumptions that they're all white and so on, that's my issue, not the writer's.
     
  19. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    I think it really comes down to the writer's own comfort zones--People will generally write within the areas where they feel most confident.

    But of course the fact that those "comfort zones" often seem to exist along racial lines points to something you said in your post:

    ...which is absolutely true.

    Why? Because as a society we've still got a very long way to go on this stuff.

    But as "a black chick livin' in da hood or more appropriately an 'african american female urban youth'" you already knew that, and you don't need this Texas white boy to tell you that.

    But I think your post touches on something extremely important. Which is that realities are changing. Too slowly, of course--two steps forward and one step back--and not nearly as quickly as many us of would like to delude ourselves into thinking. (We "guilty whites" can be especially bad about this because it helps us sweep uncomfortable feelings under the rug.) But it is changing, and that part is real. Take it from someone who had been watching this stuff change for nearly fifty years.

    But the other aspect of it is this--as things continue to change, how do you as a writer go forward with it?

    I've seen your posts. I know that you are not looking to re-do what has already been done. You are moving in the direction of taking your own passion in your own unique direction: post-cyberpunk/urban fantasy/romance about an african american girl and an korean american/japanese american guy...who happen to be vampires.

    (Told you I've been reading your posts. :D )

    But the main thing is this...Don't worry about what other writers are doing or not doing. Don't worry whether other writers are staying too homogenous or whether you are not seeing enough African American work that branches into the cyberpunk/fantasy channels you wish to explore.

    Just do the d$#m thing and show them how it's done. Seriously.

    If Teri Woods had waited for somebody's approval or a "green light," then True to the Game would never have happened. She did what she believed in, and the rest of the publishing industry has been scrambling to keep up with her ever since. Now all the major houses--the same ones that turned up their noses at her manuscript--have created their own divisions for the street fiction genre.

    Now, you're not writing street fiction. You're doing something different and new.

    And that's an exciting thing to be doing. So go for it, and don't worry too much that others don't get it right now. If you are passionate about your craft and committed to your vision, eventually they will.
     
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  20. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your job as author is simply to write the story how it needs to be written - not to 'represent society' or any ivory tower pap. If a character needs to be a certain race or gender, make sure they are. If not, no-one (other than a journalist or slacktivist who's made a career out of that sort of thing) is going to care whether they're rich chocolate, sunset mellow, or custard cream.
     
  21. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Of coarse, that depends entirely on where and when the story takes place.
     
  22. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    I don't notice this in my own writing really. I love to explore other cultures and periods of history -- in my opinion, the mental expansion that comes from writing and the pre-requisite researching is one of the greatest benefits to be reaped. Maybe it's because I'm from Toronto, the "most multi-cultural city in the world", or so I'm told, where there's a lot of racial and religious intermingling. Write in the voice of different colours, cultures, and creeds, not only is it fun, it's educational.
    Of course, there is the danger of getting it wrong, even being offensive, but mistakes are inevitable.
     
  23. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    To start with the disclaimer: I not only have friends across all racial lines, I have lived for an extended period as a guest in the home of a racially mixed couple (neither of whom shared the same ethnic background as I). I was privileged to learn early in life that it's not the skin but the soul/spirit/integrity of a person that determines their quality.

    These are issues of the author not the characters. If there is something inherent in a person's ethnic background or other cultural diversity that is critical to a story, it is included. If not, then there is no issue involved in alluding to a character's peripheral identity characteristics. If, however, it is necessary to a scene to know the specific character's background, then I will present that in description, mannerisms, language patois, etc. Otherwise, it is left to the reader to decide for him or herself what he sees in the character.

    Maybe it's my fault but I have never noticed that the books/mss. I read are so heavily lopsided, racially.
     
  24. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I must apologies and disagree with you on one point here. Authors are artists in a way, and art reflects culture and society. Many writers write or rote to represent society --Think of Frankenstein, Heart of Darkness, Anpao, Farewell to Manzanar, and almost anything done by Shakespeare ooor even a classic American author like George Orwell or Mark Twain or Hernest Hemingway! ha ha!

    My point is this: The job of the writer is to write the story how it needs to be written, but this becomes important when you consider what story they are trying to tell. Not every story is simply about telling a great and compelling story, some are written to reflect specifics of society or incite a trend.

    On that note I really appreciate what cybrxkhan had to say on the matter. It was very insightful and very true. The culture of the characters matters a bit. As the writer, it is best to know the culture of your character so you can present them effectively and give them motives. I know as a young black man, there are aspects to "black culture" that make me, but I went to school in a white community-- not many black people around-- so that "white culture" [as some may call it] is in me too. I don't live like the "typical" [stereotypical] black guy-- rock music, not rap, drive a Nissan Versa, and hardly hang out with black people. But HERE IS WHAT I'M GETTING AT: I have black, white, korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Latino, Indian, and native american friends because I lived my life in a multicultural environment. Writing a story about me, It may not be the focus of the story, but it would be relevant to consider that as an honors student I am more motivated to talk to my indian friend about physics than I am about to sit and listen to the new lil' wayne song with "the homie". It is my life.

    To the OP, When you write a character, base them in their life, not their ethnicity. If their life has a culture attached to it, make it important to shaping the character. But make every Character their own. One black man, like me, may be very different from the next, and likewise, one white guy may be different from the next. Consider financial standing. Consider an asian girl and a white boy may be very similar if they lived in the same wealthy neighborhood for their entire lives, but they would see the world very differently than the white boy or asian girl who grew up in "the ghettos". Religion rarely matters to the story. What makes it matter is when it matters to the character. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. As a christian, I'm more inclined to write a christian character than a Buddhist or a Hindu because it is what I know. Or even an atheist... and it would only matter if it is a motivating factor for the character. Say the christian boy has sex for the first time, there may be a lot of internal conflict there, even if it isnt a part of the main plot.

    If you have a story you want to tell and you know little about a topic that is brought up, any writer will do the research and read up on it if that's what they want to write. THAT said, I also agree with marktx. Write your vision and make it work. No matter what other writers write, we aren't writers to be the next so-and-so, we write to create our own names and legacies. When I write, since I rarely write realistic fiction, I don't mention race because it doesn't matter. I create the character and their origins. Their motivations are driven by the lives they lived according to what back ground I gave them.
     

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