Gee, I Don’t Know How To Research Writing Characters Of Color Tastefully:

Gee, I Don’t Know How To Research Writing Characters Of Color Tastefully:

What the fuck is this?  I haven’t gone through all the links (and I probably won’t) but I have lots of opinions on what I’m looking at right now.

This person (and probably all the writers of the links) are coming from a kind place.  At least one of the pieces, the writer identified a problem in writing and is trying to fix it in her own work.  It’s the “issue” of describing people.  We live in a diverse world, especially in America.  We’re not one homogenized ethnic society: there is a need to define our characters in such terms.  But you don’t have to constantly reference that distinction.

One writer in one of the links points out in a book she’s read that at least once one of the black characters is compared to a cockroach.  She felt that being compared to a bug wasn’t all that flattering.  She also doesn’t want to start sounding like she’s describing coffee drinks when talking about her characters.  These are completely valid points.  But what’s got me confused is how often is she going to be describing her characters?

+ Lily smiled wide, her pearl white teeth nearly glowing amidst her dark brown skin, like dark chocolate and just as smooth….

+ Ebony hammers came flying at Paul’s face and before he knew what hit him, he was lying on the ground with Lily standing over him, her fists so tight light brown spots showed on her black knuckles…..

+ She picked up the light blue envelope with her chocolate fingers….

+ Her kinky curls bounced as she shook her midnight face back and forth.  “No!” cried Lily.  “It isn’t true!”…..

+ He kissed her on her brown sugar lips….

You don’t need to do this, writers of the Western world!  There is no reason for the crap I’ve written above.  Tell your reader about the character and move on.  That’s all you need to do.  But make it obvious, or else we’ll have a Hunger Games casting racist twitter scandal all over again (Man, that was annoying).

I understand we live in a highly visual world, and I am a visual learner, but the amount of description that happens in modern writing is getting out of control.  We don’t need to know the color of the wallpaper unless it relates to the main plot.  If it’s a major plot point that the wallpaper is blue with yellow cornflowers, then so be it, mention it in detail.  But if it doesn’t matter, skip the interior decoration.  If it’s essential that we remember a character is white, black, Indian, Chinese, Puerto Rican, or from L.A. then mention it, work it in.  But, again, if it’s not central to the plot, then leave it out.  When in doubt, man…

Sensitive white American aspiring writers, you don’t need to worry all that much about this “issue”.  Unless it’s very important to your story, it’s highly irrelevant.  When they make a movie out of your story, if you’re around to have any say in it, then you can make sure things are adhering to your vision, but ultimately it doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to worry about being ethnically sensitive quite as much as this blog seems to think you do.  In John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief, Gray Grantham is a middle aged white guy; in the movie he’s Denzel Washington — and there’s no real difference between the characters.  In Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” Red is a red-haired Irish guy; in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, he’s Morgan Freeman.  Still totally cool.  No one knew that Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter series was meant to be black until they made the first movie and J.K. was adamant they cast a black boy as that character.  Suzanne Collins specifically mentions that two of her characters are black and, apparently, a quarter of her readership completely missed that detail.

It doesn’t much matter how you describe your characters, as long as you don’t over describe them.  Let your readers know what they need to know about the characters’ physical description and move on to your story.  The less you worry about descriptive words, the more you can focus on your plot — because it’s plot development that modern writers need to be working on, trust me.


Also: “characters of color”?  

And: Not all of these links are about writing about non-white characters; some of them, I’m sure, are useful.


2 thoughts on “Gee, I Don’t Know How To Research Writing Characters Of Color Tastefully:

  1. I guess repeating over and over that a character is (not-white) is not a good way to go. But alas, if color is not given, people automatically assume the character’s white. So you have to put down somewhere that the character is not. Preferably more than once in a novel, since you can end up with a Katniss situation.

    • Thanks for your comment! The whole casting of Rue and Thresh debacle was weird and unfortunate. My hope is that by stating it plainly in language most readers should understand will get the point across and they will remember that Lily is black and June is Asian and Eva is white. It’s almost a disservice to the readers’ intelligence to do what I hyperbolized.

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