Responses

  1. mooderino (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    My current story routinely deals with issues of race, gender and sexuality. I am routinely accused of being racist, sexist and homophobic. I think many people shy away from the more controversial side of these subjects because internets. Unless you're writing a very vanilla 'racist guy is bad let's get him' people are going to attack you for it, whatever your actual intention might be.

    I think there are lots of reasons for that, not least of all the writer's poor execution of what was a brilliant exposé of hypocrisy in his head. But the larger an audience you get the more aggressive the reaction can be and that isn't always easy to deal with. And also trolls aren't fun.

    My point being it's always going to be slow to get the kind of thought-provoking fiction (in any genre) that we would all like to see because society itself is struggling with these issues, and will demand better representation for all on the one hand, and crush it as soon as it appears with the other.

    Personally, I'm not all that interested in more diversity because most of it will be of poor quality and merely state the obvious. There is some merit to blanket-bombing a message. It helps change what is considered the norm. Racism is wrong, everyone got the memo. Message received. But racism is still here, so what next? Stories that explore these subjects further is what I think we should be encouraging. Not by telling everyone to write more black characters (or the equivalent), but by identifying writers doing interesting work in this area and bringing them to the attention of others.

  2. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 3 years ago

    A couple of people have pointed out that male authors write female characters and female authors write male characters, but I don't think this is equivalent to tackling characters who are from a completely different race/culture/sexual orientation.

    I already feel a bit insecure when I'm writing male characters. Nobody has complained that my male characters are unrealistic, but a couple of them have commented that my female characters feel "deeper" and better fleshed-out. I'm constantly working on observing the world and expanding my "sample size" both passively and actively to improve my characterization.

    However, while it's totally fine and often done to post in forums topics such as "Advice on writing male characters?", I don't think it would be as acceptable for me to post something like, "Advice on writing gay characters?" or "Advice on writing black characters?" Correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like people would get offended.

    Though if somebody would not find find the questions offensive, I really would be interested if people had advice on writing such characters. I'd be happy to trade my Taiwanese-Canadian perspective on things.

  3. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    One of the things about having a character who can change appearance drastically is that I have the potential to explore some differences with the main character. The problem is being able to pull it off. Probably the best I've done at it is that said main character doesn't change much, even when he went as physically female as he could go without rewriting genetics. Probably about the main point made in that was just that, no matter the relatively insignificant physical difference of being a different race or sex, the character was the same. Just made fewer penis jokes as a woman.

    Though wearing metal nipple cups as an offensive weapon wouldn't work out so well in real life as Gecko's patented Brass Nipples did in-story.

    As far as sexuality is concerned...I haven't gotten enough feedback to know what they think of the main character's bisexuality, except that one reader was about to go crazy over the main character not having a romantic partner to actually date. Which, for me at least, is a weak area. I could write sex scenes ok, but I lack experience on relationships.

    So I can definitely understand not wanting to try something you think you'll probably mess up, at least now. One of the advantages of writing superpowers is that a lot of people don't have experience shooting lasers from their eyes or unaided flight. We could write that almost any way we want to and no one will stand up to go "Uh uh, that's completely unlike anything my friends and I have experienced." Works with aliens and fantasy races, too. The same can't be said of racial or sexual differences, which makes them a bit more intimidating. Then again, I have it on good authority that some men can be quite adept at fooling experienced lesbians when writing sex from a female perspective. No comment.

    As for how that applies to race, I think someone else mentioned that there's that view amongst us crackers that white is the default. Which it is, to us, because of how we were raised in a society that makes it the default. I remember an interview that got someone from the show The Adventures of Pete And Pete in some hot water, this guy felt that diversity was unnecessary unless it was for a point. That is, unless a character had any particular reason to be anything other than white, just make them white because, in his mind, the audience will be able to connect with the character anyway. And make them male, while you're at it, he thought.

    I'm not a fan of that line of thinking myself, especially the idea that you shouldn't have a character of a certain race unless their story is about an issue affecting that race. Because regular people can be regular people, regardless of adaptations to sunlight. But maybe looking at is an author will give you a chance for a more nuanced perspective. I'm a big fan of research for writing (and am probably on a watch list because of it), so maybe try a bit of observation in your normal day to get a better understanding of how people act and react to those differences. People always have a reason for doing something, even if the reason itself isn't very good.

    Now, to take a break from mansplaining race from my white perspective and listen to some Blues. Maybe some Billie Holiday and "Strange Fruit"

  4. Dary (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Wait, people will ditch a story because it doesn't feature a straight white male protagonist? Wow. I've always thought one of the great strengths of fiction is that it allows you to experience the world through the eyes of somebody who is not yourself...

    I remember looking at my "important characters" list once and noticing it was 2/3 female. It wasn't intentional, it's just the way things are. Straight white men are somewhat lacking in representation, too. Damn.

    I will admit that I intentionally modelled my (initial) protagonist on the usual self-insert cliches (loner, nerdy, awkward, surrounded by women, implication that he's really the Chosen One and will win the heart of the hot badass chick) and then showed him up as a self-absorbed, delusional, entitled coward with a major Oedipal complex. There was a drop in readers around that point. Mission accomplished?

  5. TheAdamBo (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I'm just gonna jot down a hodgepodge of my opinions on various subjects we've discussed so far.

    I've written female lead characters before. Amber Silverblood is written in first person from a girl's perspective, and one of The Slayer and the Sphinx's two main characters is female. Zashiel in Juryokine is a girl too, though the story's only told from her POV in the prologue. I felt like I did pretty well writing all three of them, though maybe it's a bit telling that Amber and Zashiel are both tomboys. Sarah from Slayer/Sphinx is the most "girly" girl I've written, but the fact that she's a sphinx, not a human, might still make a big difference.

    There are three PoC characters in Amber Silverblood, and while I haven't been yelled at yet... well, I'm waiting for it. They're a pack of werewolves called the "swag pag," and I intentionally played off all the gangsta/thug life stereotypes I knew of. That serves a dual point, because 1. the pack alpha was the bad guy and really abusive, so the fact that Amber fights back and ends up killing him in the end speaks to her growth as a character (and that was secretly the reason she was put in that pack in the first place). 2. It was to show that appearances aren't everything, because the other two members of the pack were deeper characters than they first appeared, and were only going along with the whole "swag" thing because the alpha would kill them if they defied him.

    There are a couple of PoC characters in The Slayer and the Sphinx as well. One guy has black skin, and the other is kind of Arabic, though I never really pointed that out. Then again, the fact that one is a ten foot tall giant, and the other is a fire-blooded djinn, neither of them human, might weaken that a little. Oh, and there are two Asian characters. Admittedly, I made them that way mostly so that they stood out in a crowd, making it easier for one to recognize the other as being his sister when they meet up.

    My experience with stories featuring minority characters is that it seems like at least part of the story has to deal with people's prejudices against them. You can't write a black character without someone being racist to them, you can't write a female character without someone being sexist to them, and you can't write a gay character without someone being homophobic to them. I just... my stories aren't about that, so I'd either feel like I'm wasting my readers' time with the obligatory "life isn't fair for the MC" moment, or selling my readers short by not giving them what they want to get. And looking at some of the female-centric movies that have come out lately, like Maleficent and the Ghost Busters reboot, it seems like a lot of people are happy to throw out a decent plot in order to hamfist a poorly thought out feminist moral into it. Again, that's just not what my stories are about, and I'm afraid if I were to start having more "diverse" characters that people would expect me to do the same thing... which I won't... which might drive them even further away.

    Everyone says to write whatever you want, but again I feel like that's a catch 22. If you're writing stories you expect other people to read, you have to take their expectations into consideration, at least a little. Otherwise you risk ending up with a story that nobody but you can identify with. That's what happened when I read Lev Grossman's "The Magicians", and I absolutely hated that book because I couldn't identify with Quentin at all. But you also can't satisfy everyone, so you have to pick and choose which readers are worth your time trying to make happy. Either way, just writing whatever you want isn't really a viable choice if you expect to be popular and commercially successful.

    And that has been my conglomeration of poorly thought out opinions. Should I take cover now?

    My Fiction is Fantastic, Fabulous, Freaky, and FREE! Check it out on BolanderBooks: http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  6. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    "@Shaeor - I think it is possible to write without your beliefs seeping in, otherwise only evil folk could write interesting villains ;)"

    @ChrysKelly - Not to be a stinker, but in my opinion villains are a great example of how people parade their beliefs around. There are numerous examples of politically and morally charged story points/villains. Meaning is what makes a story great. As I said in an earlier post, I believe, the difference between a morally grey story and non is how strongly the narrative reinforces its views. You can see that in opinion articles too when the writers show no doubt for their black and white perceptions. I find a piece is almost always better when there is self-imposed neutrality. I'm one of those people that are touchy about being preached to, so more than any other criteria, that will turn me away from a story.

    My approach to this has been to try and constantly empathize. Similar to my approach in real life politics. The moment you dehumanize an 'opposition' you undoubtedly shut down some aspect of truth. You lose a better middle-ground, of which there always is one. So, in that, I've made the Utopians in such a way that I couldn't tell you whether they are the good guys or the bad guys. Which is itself a way of preaching my beliefs. You see why I say it's impossible not to - for those that write with an eye toward reality, at least.

    My main character, he is actually not from the Utopian civilization, is confronted about their race by a demon. I handle this when the MC brushes him off, recognizing that the demon is just looking for a foothold to get under his skin. The issue is really just not on his radar, because of how focused on other things he is. I've also touched on the topics of rape and religion - separately.

    @TheAdamBo - The way I've seen it, the best stories are ones which explore aspects of life we can all relate to. Fundamental emotions like loss. Those have been the stories I walk away from and keep loving. You don't remember a story if it doesn't make a connection.

    Thems are my spiels.

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  7. Sten Düring (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I've taken part of that (or maybe more than one) thread on Wattpad. Now I'm doing teen-fic, so maybe it was a different thread on the same topic.

    As far as I'm concerned the problem lies on two levels.

    Ursula K Le Guin should exemplify one with her Earthsea series. And that example grew into a minor uproar with the live-action installation of Nickelodeon's Avatar (no, I'm not talking about the atrocious rendering of the story). 'Coloured' characters represented by 'white' representatives in order not to alienate the watchinfg audience.

    Then you have the level where amateur writers try their hands at writing and start from what they're familiar and comfortable with.

    The latter is, as far as I'm concerned, a non-issue.

    The former, not so much. If the audience requires white male middle-class US citizens in a fantasy setting, then we've got problems. From what I've seen the US citizen may be replaced by a Brit (insert Canadian, Australian or whatever white native-English speaker floats your boat), and 'he' is allowed to be female, but that's pretty much it, which means we do indeed have a problem. Sure, write in Japanese, and you're pretty much required to fix 'white' and 'US', but the essential problem remains.

    The problem then infects amateur writing communities. Age based censorship is firmly adapted to the dominating white collar culture. For example, as a Swede I'm dumbfounded that a healthy naked woman can't be shown to an adolescent consumber of the story, unless her entrails are spilled on the ground. Let's just say that the old Swedish censorship rules ran an 180 on that...

  8. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 3 years ago

    For me, the question of "Should there be a diverse cast?" is answered by "What fits the setting best?"

    In The Legion of Nothing, I'm setting the story in a modified version of the city I actually live in. Thus, I feel that I should reflect the actual demographics of the city. When doing something historical, that means doing research because the past I imagine is often different from the past that happened. It's even different from the past that didn't happen.

    For example, in Arthurian legend, there are references to knights who are Saracens. That is to say that they were Muslim--which means that they were Middle-eastern or African. In short, if you write an all white Arthurian story, your story is less diverse than the source material.

    More to the point, there was more trade going on in the ancient world than we typically think of, so with the right background just about anybody could be anywhere. Rome, for example was a crossroads of many cultures. Traders made it to India.

    In the future, of course, just about anything is excusable from diverse colonies to very homogeneous ones. The same is true of fantasy too. For me, though, I have a hard time believing in fantasy (or science fiction) where it turns out the people have perspectives on life that are very similar to those of white, middle class, 21st century people.

    There are a lot of those out there.

    When I was in school, culture was a strong interest and I was amazed at how different people from different cultures in our own period think. Imagine how different a culture that's technologically behind us, but has magic would be?

    In short, I think it's possible to set up a situation where you don't have to be diverse, but the world we live in is a fairly complex place and I don't like oversimplifying it.

    EDIT: I should add, by the way, that my readers at least like it when I make race or gender relevant to the story. It's worth noting that I do that only when it moves the story forward.

  9. Sharkerbob (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Honestly as a writer you should not write anything but the story and characters you want to write. Unless you are specifically trying to cater to a certain demographic, or you're trying to do a story that addresses the issue of race relations, or perhaps if you're worried about historical / geographic accuracy, I would not worry about just including certain races or genders just because.

    Done insincerely, it will very obviously come off as forced and not please anyone. Yes that means that 90% or more of all your characters are straight white men so be it.

    Especially as an independent writer with niche audience on the internet it is not your responsibility to cater to the nitpicky demanding whiners who care less about literary integrity and just want to score points on their representation checklist. If they really want representation at such a level and then they can damn well do the work themselves.

  10. Team Contract (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I see diversity as a tremendous opportunity to add texture to the setting of the writing. I much agree with Jim and Chrys_Kelly's approach to make it an organic extension of the demographics. Even if you are making up new worlds and such, the ethnicity of the people should tell a story in itself. That way its not a tagged on politically correct 'box check' so to speak.

    One series that did this amazingly was the xenowealth series by Tobias Buckell. In it, descendants from the Caribbean are stranded on a terra formed planet for 400 years after being blasted back into the iron age by an emp pulse. The result is a genuine afro-Caribbean culture in a steampunkish world. As a Caribbean islander myself, his work inspired me that it was possible to use these kinds of cultures to greatly enhance a Sci-fi story.

    In fact, it was in a workshop that he hosted here locally that I wrote the short story that became the pilot of my Novella series. In the series, I have people from many different descents besides typical white Americanized males. Although I suppose the main character, Tina, is a white American female, but she's also been living Brazil for the last 20 years and pretty much adopted that culture. In contrast, the second main character, Shay, who is also female, is Latino, but living in the US and is pretty much an Americanized white girl. And this was all intentional to make interesting characters that break stereotypes. One of my favorite scenes was one where they meet and Tina is speaking Spanish but Shay can't understand her. Stuff like this makes for great texture and reality anchors for your world. The story also globe trots all over Africa and up into Europe so its a constant opportunity to feature different cultures.

    In the end I would say its less about ethnicity and more about culture. If you're going to include different ethnicities, give them cultures and make them mean something.

  11. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 3 years ago

    On more thing before I shut up on this...

    If you're thinking that avoiding writing minority characters will save you from having people criticize your writing because you don't have the necessary background to do that right, it won't.

    I read a book once that was set in an alternative post-colonial period where there was no United States. In that history, the Dutch kept New Amsterdam and the British never turned it into New York and the government of the country that came into being included a much more important Dutch population.

    That's all well and good, but here's the thing: I'm descended from relatively recent Dutch immigrants, and it was fairly clear to me that the author had no personal acquaintance with Dutch immigrants and the culture they brought with them.

    While I wasn't angry about this, I was a bit disappointed because I knew how I would handle writing a world like that. And it would be fun to try. Part of the reason for that is making fun of my own background is fairly entertaining.

    To get back to my point though, Dutch immigrants are indistinguishable "white" people from the outside. This is also true of all the other European descended people in the US to a greater or lesser degree. Beyond that, there are differences in ways of thinking between someone from Boston vs. Los Angeles--especially when you bring class into account.

    For me, as I tried to say in my earlier post, it's all about verisimilitude. As an IT professional, I'm just as likely to get annoyed when authors allow computers to do impossible things (and maybe more so) as I am when they get elements of my ethnic background wrong.

    The solution is the same either way though--research.

  12. TheAdamBo (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Jim, as someone on the WattPad thread I linked said, you can research all you want with books and the internet, but unless you've actually LIVED in that culture, you'll never be able to accurately depict it. And, like we've already said, a false representation of someone else's culture is just as offensive as leaving it out altogether, perhaps more so. Like I said, it's catch 22, lol. I don't think there's a right answer, because no matter what you do someone is going to get pissy about it.

    My Fiction is Fantastic, Fabulous, Freaky, and FREE! Check it out on BolanderBooks: http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  13. Stable (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I dunno Bo, there's a difference between a lazy representation of someone's culture (especially one based on stereotypes) and a well researched attempt at it. I mean, if we only wrote about exactly what we knew we'd all be writing autobiographies. As an English guy I've seen all the Hollywood representations of my culture, from "Everyone is basically Hugh Grant" on up, and it's only the lazy ones that piss me off.

    The two main rules of writing are 1: Be interesting and 2: Don't be boring. It's boring to only do the same type of characters from the same type of culture, and that goes double for fantasy or scifi. Sure you might stuff it up a few times, but that's part of the learning process. If people say "You messed my culture up, stuff you", well, ask them where you went wrong and do better next time. It takes a thick skin and is easier to say than do, but it's worthwhile.

    The Archive Of Unusual Events
    https://theunusualarchive.wordpress.com/
  14. Billy Higgins Peery (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    You shouldn't expect a reward for diverse representation. In fact, you should expect to get called out for bad representation no matter what you do. We all make mistakes, we'll all make mistakes when it comes to diverse representation, and we all deserve to be called out on these mistakes. The truth is that it's a writer's responsibility to writer diversely, anyway.

    Why?

    Because of the black kid who thinks he can't be a hero because he doesn't see black superheroes when he goes to the movie theaters. Because of the trans girl who can't work through her identity because she's never seen a trans* person work through their identity -- in the real world or a fictional one.

    It all comes down to the power of stories, which is that they help us cope with our lives. They gives us examples of people to aspire to, people to despise. They show the tragic flaws that reside within us, and that we should do our best to control. When groups that aren't straight white men don't get those examples, they're less equipped to deal with the problems they face in day-to-day life.

    Take this little girl, who was ABC News's Person of the Week recently. Look at how emotional she gets, seeing a doll that looks just like her. I think we all have those moments where we think we're alone, where we think no one's gone through what we've gone through. If you don't see yourself represented in culture, that feeling can be greatly magnified.

    It's that feeling you're supposed to fight. It's our duty as writers, because it's the writer's job to reflect their perspective on the world as truly as possible. And one would hope that perspective includes more than just straight white men.

    I'm seeing a lot of negativity in this thread, so I think it's important to point something out. The people who complain about diversity aren't being whiny or entitled. They just want to know that they're not alone. And when they complain, they're giving you an opportunity to a) see the world in a new light and b) improve your craft. Because if you can only write straight white men, that's a restriction on your craft. Eventually, things will begin to feel a bit same-y.

    I'm not saying I'm perfect when it comes to representation. In fact I've been far from perfect, making huge mistakes about cultures I didn't know, using them as punchlines, etc. But I try. We all should.

    Frankly, it's not a Catch-22. It's about doing your best and failing. Then trying again, but better.

    "Any number of hitlers, are still not my problem." -Tempest
  15. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Part of my point is that people will potentially get annoyed about anything you do--not just because you got details about a character's racial/ethnic experience wrong. I'll be at least as annoyed with an error related to history, religion, martial arts, sociology, or computers (in a recent Pen & Cape Society podcast, I complained at length about that) as anything to do with my ethnicity.

    It's impossible to be right all the time, but if you do some research and start from the premise that your human protagonists are human, I'm inclined to think you'll get more things right than not. That's at least what I try to do.

    More to the point, I'd argue the important thing is to get the character's internal emotional life right. You don't have to make a character the perfect representative of all black people, for example. You just have to make the character a believable human. People will forgive imperfection--the decent ones will anyway. There are some people who will rage against something minor you've done forever, I suppose, but that hasn't happened to me so far.

    I have characters from different sexual preferences, racial, and religious backgrounds and have yet to hear any complaint about it (and having seen pictures of some of my readers I know I have readers of various racial backgrounds). This is also true of ethnic backgrounds (around 40% of my readers come from outside the US, many from non-English speaking countries). One Filipino reader was happy simply to see a Filipino character appear, for example. Though he did point out that I'd spelled the word Filipino incorrectly.

    Similarly, I have Jewish characters, but am not culturally Jewish. I also have readers in Israel and Jewish readers from the US. People have asked me questions about decisions I've made but haven't gotten angry about it. The characters work for them.

    So yes, while you can't know what it's like to be from a particular background without being from that background, my experience is that you can get close enough that people from that background will be happy to see themselves represented.

    More than one person has asked for a side story about a character of mine who was a black superhero in the 1950s and 1960s. I am a little nervous about writing a story about him because I've never been black during the 1950s (or ever), but I'll probably take a shot at writing his story anyway.

    Past experience argues that it will probably go okay provided I pay attention to the time period, the character's personality, and his relationships.

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