1. WaffleWhale

    WaffleWhale Active Member

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    Can I just not mention character ethnicity?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by WaffleWhale, Oct 16, 2018.

    I'm writing a fantasy story, where the four MCs are a human, a dwarf, a dark elf, and a dryad.
    I know lots of fantasy writing kind of misses the shot on any type of diversity, and I don't want to make the same mistake.
    For my dark elf, her skin is pure white due to her being a fantasy race, and the dryad is made of wood, so we're good there.

    However, I'm worried about the human and the dwarf. They aren't really explicitly any race or ethnicity at the moment, because it isn't really relevant to the plot in any way.
    I personally have certain ways I picture them, but I don't want to do any accidental stereotyping or anything like that.
    All the cultures are entirely made up, but for ethnicity/race can I just not mention it? If I should mention it, how do I do it organically?

    Also, please none of that "it's a different world so races are different and it doesn't matter" stuff.
     
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  2. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    Without any clarification, it's likely your Dwarf will default to Scottish, and your human will end up being Aragorn.
     
  3. WaffleWhale

    WaffleWhale Active Member

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    Not sure why scottish, and all I know about Aragorn is that he's from Lord of the Rings, which I only learned from a quick google search just now.
     
  4. Irina Samarskaya

    Irina Samarskaya Senior Member

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    Yet "it's a different world so races are different and it doesn't matter" is actually true.

    Why not just do what you will and make up your own human races? There's plenty of extinct races to draw from (such as the original Cumans, who supposedly were mostly blond and blue-eyed yet had very Asiatic eyes and other facial features) and should those fail you, you can always just mix and match what already exists.
     
  5. Irina Samarskaya

    Irina Samarskaya Senior Member

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    For dwarves: because it's a trope started since (at least) Lord of the Rings. If not Scottish, then Nordic since dwarves (and elves) have Nordic roots mythologically.

    As for the human being that famous human dude from LotR; simply because LotR is a rather popular depiction of multi-special relationships and most of everyone was English or Britannic. It's like how, unless otherwise specified, most English speakers assume characters in fantasy have English accents; because it's a very common trope.
     
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  6. AbyssalJoey

    AbyssalJoey Member

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    Yes, you can just not mention it, in fact, unless we're talking about low fantasy calling a human "british", "american", "irish", "indian", etc, would be really (reaaaaaaaaaaally) out of place. Of course, you can mention where they come from in a fictional world but unless the reader knows the place and the culture that it holds it's just going to be flavor text, for example, Aragorn is a Dúnedain but we really don't know a lot of them from TLOTR.

    Also, why is it that having 4 characters of different races isn't diverse enough???

    P.S: I find kinda weird having a black elf that looks like a high elf but whatever, fantasy it is.
     
  7. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    You can just not mention it -- that's frequently the case.

    If you want to work it in organically, just mention it in the same way you mention one character's a dryad, and what that looks like. She had the icy white skin of a dark elf. He was a dwarf with dark brown skin. It often feels awkward to remark on these things at first, but then you just start thinking of it as regular description -- because it is.
     
  8. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    Yeah, I would be stingy on that front.
    Dark Eldar anyone? :p
    Dark Eldar with Whips.jpg
     
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  9. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    It really depends on how relevant the ethnicity is. If one human is from some asiatic-type region, and that region has some difficult relations or history of whatever kind with the main setting region, then that would definitely be a reason. If a character has a number of interesting cultural traits from their home region, that would be a reason. And you can always mention ethnicities in passing if they're less relevant, when you're describing general appearance you can sneak in a reference to it. But in a fantasy particularly there will be an expectation, however fair or not, that it's either quite relevant or interesting, just some familiar european, or not mentioned at all.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2018
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  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I struggle with the idea of a book where I have absolutely no idea what the characters look like, so I'm never happy with the "just don't decide" strategy. Plus, of course, if you don't decide, people will assume that everyone looks like a white Western European. But how you handle appearance and geography is going to depend heavily on the world.

    I totally identify with the concern about stereotyping, but I think the solution is to grit your teeth and get past it, do the best you can. You say that "all the cultures are made up"--do you have multiple human cultures? Is there any reason why all of them need to be white-Western-European types?

    My world is all human. I decided that I wanted one of my major cultures to be majority dark-skinned, I established a few facts that made that work, and that added useful detail to my geography and politics. Now that it's established, it's all working reasonably smoothly. I'm not free of the worry of somehow displaying some innate racism in myself--after all, I was raised by people who were raised in the American South in the 1950s; what are the odds I didn't pick up issues?--but I'm trying to just deal.

    For whatever reason, I feel more clueless about introducing anything that looks toward an Asian culture. I should figure out the reason.
     
  11. Just a cookiemunster

    Just a cookiemunster Active Member

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    I agree with all of the above. As a reader I NEED to know what my characters look like. But I also do not care if they are white, black, blue, or green because at the end of the day they are just humans (or non humans) with whom I am traveling on a journey with. I know sterotypes and racial sensitivity exsists but you just have to go beyond that. As long as you are not intentionally being offensive to anyone I do not see the issue.

    Your character is a creation of your imagination and I do not see how the color of their skin or race will define who they are or how you choose to make them.

    I have heard many times people saying "White people do this," or "Chinese people do that," "Indian people eat this."
    But I learned that people are only a product of how they were raised and the culture they grew up in.

    After reflecting on myself wondering why I am the person I am today I realize that I only beleive what I beleive in, eat the way I eat, behave the way I behave etc. Because of what my parents taught me, things I expirenced in life, what I saw on TV, who I grew up around and those sorts of things. And I saw that my skin color was only an outer decoration but It never had anything to do with who I am. And even if I turn purple right now I will still just be me.


    Now I look at my characters that way too. Their skin is merely an outer description. I think back on their childhood to find out how they grew up and what experiences made them the person that they are.
     
  12. Carriage Return

    Carriage Return Member

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    Last edited: Dec 31, 2018
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  13. Privateer

    Privateer Senior Member

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    Well, the dwarf is a bleedin' Dwarf. That is his ethnicity.

    If the human's ethnicity doesn't matter then just pick one. People will want to know what he looks like.
     
  14. pyroglyphian

    pyroglyphian Word Painter

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    I don't need to know the ethnicity, unless it has some sort of impact on the story, obvs.
     
  15. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Which POV are you writing in? 3rd limited, 3rd omniscient, 1st person...

    In order to give you any kind of meaningful answer, we need to know that piece of data. In 3rd omniscient, my answer would be more about the word choices to be made in order to give the reader the visual you want to give since the POV is external to the story. In 3rd limited or 1st person, then the POV is internal to the story and now we have to think about what the POV character (or characters) would actually notice and think about.

    Think of it this way, and if possible put aside current politized talking points:

    If you're a white person and you live somewhere where most people are white people (Midwest USA), then you notice the occasional brown people and black people. You do. It's natural to notice because statistically speaking, if they are in the minority then it's a much rarer event to see a brown person or a black person. But if you are a black person and you live somewhere where most people are black (Congo, Africa), then you don't notice blackness because it's the norm, the default. Trevor Noah once mentioned it, and it stuck with me. In Africa, there are no black people, just people-people and occasional white people or brown people.

    So again, what's the POV for the story because that's going to strongly shape the relevant mode of an answer.
     
  16. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    So you have invented races but real ethnicities? Why? And no, you don't have to mention an ethnicity, or skin color, although it's nice to be able to visualize a character. The more real ethnicity you put in a book the more controversy it will bring. Would a chinese dwarf be offensive? How about a black one? I'm personally offended by the dwarf being Scottish :D. It's a quagmire.
     
  17. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Diversity in literature is about representing and giving voice to often marginalized and overlooked segments of the population. It's not just about making everyone look different. And if your goal is to have an eclectic looking cast of characters in terms of creatures and so forth, that's really not the same thing as diversity or part of what people talk about when it comes to promoting diversity in literature. Now what your characters represent could be reflective of this matter, it doesn't sound like that's what you're trying to do. And if that's the case then it really doesn't matter too much what your characters or creatures look like. Fictional creatures only play a role in promoting diversity if they and the story actually tackle some of these issues.
     
  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    From what I've read, yes and no. More than once, I've seen people expressing appreciation for protagonists/main characters/heroes who look like them. I'm sure that more detailed representation would be good, but I don't see dismissal of "looks like".

    Now, I may be misunderstanding you, since you're talking about "fictional creatures" rather than specifically about fictional people.

    https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/white-until-proven-black-imagining-race-in-hunger-games

    She points out that the white default—in books, as in other forms of mass media—is learned and internalized early, including by children of color. It takes vigilance—and self-awareness—to overcome. “I picked up on the [character and racial] descriptions in ‘The Hunger Games’ immediately,” Adam, who is of Caribbean descent, says. “But, then again, whenever I read something, I wonder, Where can I find the character who represents ME?”
     

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