1. Mara Winter

    Mara Winter New Member

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    Is a white protagonist bad

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mara Winter, Jul 3, 2014.

    I am writing a YA Sci-fi novel in which my main character is a 17 year old white girl. She is average looking, skinny, with slightly pasty pale skin.
    Her looks are not random, they are actually slightly modeled after me. I know this is not a very good thing to do in writing, but I decided to let it slide just this once. I like how the protagonist (Hope) looks, and since I have already written a lot, I'd rather not change it. But a problem I ran in to is that many people who read what I have so far called me unoriginal or racist because most YA novels have white protagonists.
    I do think its strange that most YA novels are whitewashed, but I don't think it should be such an issue if I only made a character a certain way because of who I am. I am white with weirdly pale skin and brown hair, so I made Hope look a bit like that too.
    Should the white protagonist be a problem because of how overdone it is, or not?
    I'd love to hear opinions
     
  2. stevesh

    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with modelling a character after yourself. I wouldn't worry about 'many people' you've run into say about the racial aspects of your story. Sad to say, there are many, many people (maybe most people) who feel the need to automatically try to kill other people's dreams with unwarranted criticism. It isn't just with writing and other creative pursuits, either. Try coming up with an idea for a small business and see how many people you describe it to find all sort of fault with every aspect of the plan.

    If you like the character, use her and just write the story. If it's a good story, no one who matters will care about the apparent lack of racial political correctness.
     
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  3. shadowwalker

    shadowwalker Contributor Contributor

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    In my mind, it's just as racist to declare that you have to use a PoC or you're racist. Good grief. My only caution would be not to get too hung up on how your character looks, or her similarities to you. Let the character grow and develop as their own entity.
     
  4. jazzabel

    jazzabel Contributor Contributor

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    Personally, I try hard to separate myself from my characters because when I don't, the lameness creeps in. I think having them look like you, or have the same name, or name that was your internet nick, are all pretty slippery slopes because they tend to result in the wrong kind of identification. Perhaps that was proven in the reaction to your character?

    I think if your character was well-written and story engaging, you should have absolutely no problems with skin colour of your protagonist. It should be something the reader just accepts without even giving it a second thought. There's only a few different options anyway, yes there's a whitewash, but it isn't necessary to pile the responsibility for dealing with it on a single novel. I believe characters come fully formed, at least in their essence. I know immediately things like gender, and who they remind me of, because I can already 'see' them, even if it's somewhat vague. So it isn't easy changing these things because of other's expectations. Instead, focus on how to improve the character you have, on the inside.
     
  5. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    It's your story, you can make your character look any way you want. All I want is for the protagonist to be interesting. She doesn't have to be likeable, she just has to be interesting.
     
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  6. purplehershey

    purplehershey New Member

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    Most of the time spent in the story is more on what a person is feeling inside, what they are doing, how they are doing it, wouldn't you say?

    Besides a general description that might be sprinkled throughout the physical look kind of takes the back burner for an average looking character, now if the characters face was green and made of slime...we have another issue on our hand.
     
  7. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    Most important thing is that the protagonist is interesting and has something to struggle with. If race is part of that, fine, it it's not - also fine. That and write what you know, and if you're Caucasian than that's your experience.

    I have a pretty expansive "foreground cast", and most of them are white (one Indian-American, maybe one Aboriginal Australian...long story), and all but one or two are from upper-middle class, two-married-parent homes, did not struggle to get into college, etc. However, that aspect has become a major plot point in itself, and the entire point has become the idea of telling the American story as witnessed by those "yuppie/hipster rich white kids" who actually end up being the ones making decisions that effect people (of all colors) who don't have it so easy. So like I said, it's more complex than white vs. minority or male vs. female or whatever.

    Also, think about "diversity" in terms of more than just race. Almost all of my characters are white and middle class - but they are not culturally similar. I have a Greek-American protag who grew up working in her family's diner in Appleton, Wisconsin. My villainess grew up in small-town Pensylvania with a harshly devout Catholic father who had no clue how to raise two girls after her mom died. I have a decadent and drunken celebrity-gossip reporter who grew up as a military brat and lived all over the country, an East-European-American secretary who grew up in Connecticut and whose mom was a radical feminist professor at Yale, a farm kid from Oklahoma who became a news cameraman, and my one minority is an Indian-American who grew up as an L.A. valley girl and has a serious obsession with fashion and pop-culture.

    The point being that despite their race and social station being mostly the same - they all have extremely different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to pull from.
     
  8. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    Actually Khan was South Asian (despite being played by a Hispanic and then a Brit) but the point stands :p
     
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  9. Bryan Romer

    Bryan Romer Contributor Contributor

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    Why should being white be a problem. You would most likely understand the world from a white person's point of view than anything else. This PA obsession with promoting "minorities" is absurd when applied to your own writing. Your character is what he or she is. Being apologetic about it will only weaken your character. Adopting an attitude of inferiority is just as bad as feeling superior.
     
  10. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi Mara, welcome to the forum.

    We had a related discussion about the preponderance of male protagonists and the stereotype of females in leading roles in movies. I agree with the previous commenters here, you don't want to force your characters to fit any mold they don't fit for the sake of political correctness.

    On the other hand, for some of us, the characters and the story we want to tell do involve such considerations because it's what we want to write. My protagonist is the not the female I've been annoyed reading about. She's the female I wish others would write, not the more commonly seen female stereotype. She can't beat up a guy and she isn't gorgeous and popular with few other redeeming qualities besides having a boyfriend. And she isn't a scientist that takes off her glasses and lets down her hair then becomes beautiful because that's of course, more important than being a scientist.
     
  11. thearchitect

    thearchitect Member

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    It definitely wouldn't affect me reading it, for someone to say you're racist for having a white MC is simply farcical. If you want a white protagonist, by all means do it :)
     
  12. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Aren't those characters antagonists? ;)

    I like your point, though. :)
     
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  13. Annalise_Azevedo

    Annalise_Azevedo Member

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    Honestly, it doesn't matter whether the character is white, black or yellow (cue Black and Yellow plays in my head) - as long as the story is great and the character isn't a Mary sue/Gary Stu then it should be fine.

    I try not to model characters after myself any more, but it's kinda hard not to when I'm a brunette with brown eyes. Then that led to most of my characters having blue eyes or hazel eyes.
     
  14. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Rue in the Hunger Games was described as being dark-skinned, and then the movie was completely attacked when Rue was played by a black girl.

    Some people are going to be unhappy no matter what you do. Don't make your main character a different race just to appease people. Write the story you want to write, write the character that fits your story, and don't worry about changing anything to adjust for those few who might think it's racist to not include minorities in your novel.
     
  15. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The necessity of this thread is the first horseperson of the Political Correctness Apocalypse. And in that sentence is also the answer to the question.
     
  16. daemon

    daemon Contributor Contributor

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    It would be reverse racism to change the character's race just for the sake of being different.

    However, I usually prefer when an author reveals as little as possible about a character's appearance. The more that is left to the reader's imagination, the better. A book is not a movie.
     
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  17. outsider

    outsider Contributor Contributor

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    Write the thing and don't get hung up on complete non-issues such as this. Sorry if that's blunt but if you don't take it personally you'll find it's sound advice.
     
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  18. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm glad to hear this because I'm using this technique. In my story class divides play a big roll. What I didn't want though, was having the groups fit any particular ethnicity. It's important the discrimination be irrational, luck of the draw, not based on ethnicity that allows the reader to say the class divides make sense.
     
  19. S-wo

    S-wo Active Member

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    Well yeah it is sort of played out, but it's your story and you can do what you want.
     
  20. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It was hard for me to get used to 'protagonist' not meaning antagonist. I looked up the word etymology and it comes from Greek words meaning first in importance.
     
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  21. Red Herring

    Red Herring Member

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    I think others have answered your question very well, but I'll chime in. The people who have read your story have no reason to invalidate you for writing what you want to write with such an erroneous accusation. There is nothing racist about writing a protagonist with white skin, or any skin colour. That's not being racist. Unoriginal? I think one could make an argument for that, but it's not racist.

    Now if you presented characters of other skin colours or demographics in illegitimate ways that could be deemed ill informed and hateful, then yes you would be a racist for doing so. But having a protagonist with a light skin pigmentation, if that was the complaint of your readers, doesn't make you a racist. In fact, it is ridiculous that they even called you one for it.

    Just write what you want to write, no rational reader is going to care what skin colour your character is. If you want your protagonist to be white, black or purple then go ahead; follow your whim.
     
  22. DLeo

    DLeo Member

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    I am happy to say that I agree with everyone's responses. Equally glad that there was a Trek reference a few posts up.

    I'm ~15k into my Fantasy and I've yet to mention the color of my main characters skin. It simply hasn't come up. I mean...it has flushed red, broke out in goosebumps and burned from a lashing once or twice but that's about it. Personally, I do not see the reason to mention skin color unless it's vital to the story. Like... an ashen face or he/she was the icky greenish grey of four day old pea soup, or the white skin of his arm wound to the floor, winding up as a pile of bruised, wet, red ribbons next to the lathe. Ew. But yeah.

    If I had to explain this pretty, though, I'd spend some time worrying about skin color. chameleon-1-mirror.jpg
     
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  23. Mans

    Mans Contributor Contributor

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    I wonder. why you think choosing a white character is considered as a problem even with pasty pale skin like you.
    No problem, you can choose every kind character for your novel, white, yellow, black, short, tall, able,disable, bald, hairy etc. Nobody can blame you, what sort character you have chosen for your story, except a nosy person.
    Feel free about a white character while the most of people are white or bowed to the white. Also the black or yellow people are respectful as well.
    A man who is white can't demonstrate himself black by rubbing coal on his face. Or a man who is black can't show himself white by rubbing plaster or flour on his face. This is a natural thing that every human has an essential color genetically. But all are human and this is important.
    I think, people think to personality and humanity of a character and not to his color. Also the shape of a character dependent on the theme of a story.
    For example, when you want to write a story about a famous character like Nelson Mandela you can't use a white character or when you are writing a novel about Vikings you can't use black people instead, because this replacement doesn't make any sense for readers. There is a Persian poem that says :

    The universe is like eye, ear and eyebrow
    Everything is beautiful, but in its location.

    However, you can continue your stories with a white pasty pale skin but please be careful it doesn't drag you into racism that it makes you hateful of other people with different color
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2014
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  24. Man in the Box

    Man in the Box Active Member

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    First of all, let's tackle the first "issue": the fact your character looks like yourself.

    There's nothing wrong with it. All of your characters will have something from yourself. Some more, some less. Even those who are based on other people, they're based on YOUR opinion of these people.

    As for race... I don't think people would care.

    I mean, I bet it's frustrating for a black person to see that most pop icons are white. When I played a Sega Genesis NBA game as a kid, I identified with Larry Bird because he was the only blonde player among a predominantly black squad, and I'm blonde. But a character is so much more than their appearance! I give them detailed appearances because I'm visual and I like it, but you don't have to, and some people actually prefer it.
     
  25. Jack Asher

    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    For some reason I'm reminded of Anansi Boys where Gaiman writes over 60,000 words and never once mentions that his main character, Fat Charlie, is black.
     

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