Race and Writing

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If you read my work, you might notice that I don’t describe a lot of physical aspects of my characters. I generally give height if someone is unusually tall or short, and maybe any other specifically identifying characteristics, but I tend, as a whole, to leave out hair color, eye color, and, particularly, skin color, unless it is necessary for the story.

Why?

I do it very deliberately. My real-life world is a colorful one. On a daily basis, I interact with people with a wide variety of backgrounds in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, age, nationality, orientation, weight, you name it. I chose the area where I live because of its diversity; it is important to me, as a person, to have diversity around me.

Because of that, in my mind, my books are widely diverse places, stocked with characters of a range of backgrounds. But the way I imagine my characters may not be the way you imagine my characters.

People like to see themselves in the books they read, and so I try to keep their ability to do so as open as I can. The way I envision the skin color of one character may not be the way you do. If it doesn’t matter for the plot, I’d rather let you have your vision, unencumbered by mine. I try to give my characters life through their personalities, through their dialogue, through their choices and actions, and not through the color of their hair or the shade of their skin.

I suppose this works in reverse, too, with people uncomfortable with diversity mentally stripping the color from my imaginary worlds. The reality is that, though I wish everyone saw the world the way I do, not everyone does.

But if it leaves room for a person who doesn’t often see himself or herself represented in literature to find kinship in my pages, then something’s working the right way. I can’t put every kind of person in my books, but if I leave it open enough, you might be able to find every kind of person in my books, and for me, that’s a big win.

Have a minute? Watch this video.

Rather read? Check out  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only) .

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One thought on “Race and Writing

  1. Jon

    I meant to reply to this yesterday, but forgot. This is an interesting take on the topic, and it coincides rather neatly with my having to think about this. As a fantasy writer (he said pretentiously) I can of course have my characters all colours or none, with no regard for the real world at all, but I confess that so far they’ve all been pretty pale, and described as such. But the other day I was introduced to some software for making fantasy maps, and while playing with these it got me thinking about the ethnic make up of my world. Because once you’ve started mapping, and generated distances, you realise that, actually, that location is quite far South, and the people who live there aren’t really likely to be very light skinned. Which leads to all sorts of questions. Is there race prejudice in this world? If so how does it relate to the already established class prejudice? It’s interesting and I think quite important to think about. My heroine comes from the wiley windy moors of the North, because so do I. But the story has moved on since then.

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