(repost) Selfishness. Boredom. Monotony.
(reposted from an entry to a similar challenge)
In a world where all authors write about themselves, all singers sing about themselves, all artists only depict themselves, and all people are limited to themselves;
We shall not write about our everyday lives unless we live all to ourselves in a glass box.
But from inside the glass box, we can see the world, so it should instead be a metal box.
That way, we will only see our own reflections.
How did ancient writers of old express themselves, visit faraway lands, and teleport us to fantasy worlds? None of us are unicorns, aliens, animals, or inanimate objects, so why do we write about them?
How can we write of social interactions, unless we imagine a sci-fi world where everyone is a clone of ourselves? How can children write about adults and adults about children? How can males write about females and females about males?
Should artists paint the sky? Should singers tell of birds? Should writers write at all?
Racism isn't writing about a white character when you are not, or writing about a Hispanic character when you are not. The race of your character depends on you. For a long time, I only write/drew white characters, because I was scared that people would be offended. But then I realized that people will get offended no matter what you do. And after that, I didn't care. If you want to make a character a race that isn't your own, by all means, do it. You might have to do research to get all the cultural nuances correct, but you can do it. Go do you.
You know what that means, and I suggest you take that advice. Stephen King wrote one of my favorites of his "Mr. Mercedes". The lead character is a black kid. The killer is a white guy. He even drops and "N" bomb quite a few times throughout the book! As a black writer, I encourage people to write characters of different backgrounds, as long as you've done some leg work about that type of person's life. Actors follow people and live like them to get into the mindset of a character they will play. Writers should do the same. If you did the research, it would show. If you make up some generalized bullshit, it will show also.
Your Muse, and You
You find yourself at the keyboard, ready to give to the world. The muse inside yourself cackles as it takes over and sets the scene. Your fingers tap the board like a guitarist doing a riff on autopilot. Your muse doesn’t care about you or the others as it works its magic. It cares about the story. It cares about the characters in it, and how they react in your mind’s eye. The keyboard sings a song, you melodiously plod along. You sip your coffee. Perhaps it’s tea? You continue, and long after your hot cup turns cold, so does your muse. It loses inspiration, and vanishes away for you to edit and clean its sloppy creation. Do what you will with that unfiltered story. However, I have a few things to say for the writer that questions their muse and the characters they create.
In Episode 137 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Far Beyond the Stars”, a preacher was telling aspiring black writer Benny Russell, a dream version of Captain Sisko, to: “Write the words.” During the entirety of the episode, Sisko’s dream character was perplexed about the preacher’s meaning, but took his preaching to mean it was about the story he was writing. Through hardship, Russell kept asking the preacher why, and he only kept telling him: “Write those words,” not just for himself, but in the name of the prophets! Like the muse screaming inside your head to get its idea on paper, damn it!
So Russell digs deep, and writes an epic story about the leader of Deep Space Nine, Captain Benjamin Sisko, and his adventures. Familiar? While receiving high praise from his writing peers, Russell’s editor in chief thought Russell’s black character was too unbelievable for readers to accept. He offered Russell to change his character to a white man, but there was no such thing. It was Russell’s character, and his alone! Towards the end of the episode, Russell broke down sobbing after refuting that the world could not tear away ideas that were his.
In my opinion, Russell was talking about his creativity. His muse. His story. Why take away something so plainly created despite racial intolerance? The episode brings home the point that whatever your muse creates should be set in stone. It’s not something that should be changed easily. If you wrote the story, it’s offensive to the author to demand a change of character to satisfy the reader. It would certainly offend me. I would say it was my muse that created the story, and that’s what it came up with. There is no compromise there.
Some may rebut: “But the writer is black, creating a black character. That should be fine. We’re talking about a white writer creating a black character!” Phooey. That’s like saying Stephen King can’t write The Green Mile. That’s like telling Kathryn Stockett she should never have written The Help because she could never understand the suppressed black minority of the 1960’s era. That’s bullcrap. Can people not empathize with people? Isn’t sharing the plight of others not a caring deed? Did you not retell the terrible story that befell your friend to others? People talk. It’s what we do best. The fact that authors write down what they hear and see doesn’t make their storytelling wrong. Stockett has become a best selling author because of her courage to tell an uncomfortable yet riveting story, not out of ignorance for African American hardship. Steven King put John Coffey on death row, and I’m sure some people find King’s story to be rather racist because of it. Those that do must have limited imaginations, as they only pay attention to the facts, and not the story. I’m sure Mr. King would be happy to report that he doesn’t care about the feelings he hurt when writing about Coffey. Though, I certainly want to curse his muse for putting such a lovable character there.
So when does it become too much? If Steven King could write about a black man on death row, why can’t I? And there’s truth to this. I think that for a majority of unpaid and free style writers, nothing is too much! Be racist and spiteful to your heart’s content! Like I said, stereotypes should mean nothing to your muse. But be warned. Racism and bigotry without context will make inconsistent money, and few friends.
What if you were a serious writer then? Well, there’s King, and Stockett. These two writers have the understanding that it takes care to make these characters realistic despite the authors deriving them from out of context. (Out of skin?) Though, I’d argue that King didn’t need stereotypes when the reality of Southern racism explains Coffey’s predicament perfectly. Stockett’s book has the exact same underlying theme, except it dives into the workplace instead of a penitentiary. Their stories work for publishers because that context helps make Coffey, Aibileen, and Yule May real to readers. Even if the truth hurts. We all know what it means to not be accepted, and it’s not all black and white. Realism matters to readers because if they can imagine it, then it’s real enough to them. They’ll go with you and the characters your muse creates.
What about profanity? Should I be afraid of cuss words? Should you? Do certain words belong to certain people? No. All words belong in the dictionary, and it’s all free to use. You don’t have to be black to say the “N” word in your story, but I do think you have to respect the context of the word, and take care for how realistic it is in the setting. You should certainly be ready to take responsibility for it.
Ultimately, I think you have to respect the work it takes to make the characters real. A better writer should focus on making great characters, not trying to find ways to make the writing harder for the writer. I would recommend you write the words, but your muse is already telling you that, isn’t it? Well, you better do it soon. It’s preaching, and I can hear it.
Write the words!
I am More than a Color
You know that black friend who comes in a sitcom and has one funny line and exits to wait for the next awkward moment when they, the black friend, can come in with a cliche black joke? Of you course you do. Those black supporting roles are everywhere from Friday to Law and Order: SVU to Mike and Molly. That friend is more than a color, but you know that. You’ve done research. This character isn’t just a filler character or an attempt to make a socially relevant piece without embodying a character. One of my favorite Rupaul’s Drag Race quotes is that April Carrion didn’t “embody the role of a fat character”. (Spoiler alert I guess, if you live under a rock.) That means being fat is about more than pressing a bunch of padding against your body just like being black is about more than having melanin close to the surface of your skin.
Being both fat (despite my best efforts >.<) and black, I can identify with both roles. I have seen fat people who embrace their curves without ever wanting to be skinny, and fat people who will go to every length possible to be skinny. Being a part of the later, I really envied the former because of how easily they love themselves. How dare they embrace who they are when everything in the media says they should be different, and if they aren’t, they should hide between self-deprecating jokes and try to wedge themselves behind the main cast and tag alone quietly until it calls for a socially conscious moment to talk about whatever minority they fit that day? Why does the media think people have to tokenize every minority there is? Of course, this is a question you’ve pondered and yelled at and is most likely the root of you trying to be different and asking this pretty awesome question.
There are two answers, depending on what you are trying to do here. If you would like to not be offensive, you have to take into account what everyone wants. We don’t want tokenism, so toss that out. Only have a minority character that adds more than comic relief or fill a quota. That’s easy, right? But what should they look like? Looking at a black character, how should they look? Dark or light? If they’re light, you’re a colorist. If they’re dark and go against a public view, it may not sell. What about their style? Afro? Box braids? Perm? Do black people do perms anymore? We don’t want to look like white people. We go natural. Should they fight? Why do all black people have to fight? Is that too aggressive? Fighting makes you aggressive? What about them? What did they do to deserve that ass whooping? What’s wrong with aggression? Tattoos? Piercings? Glasses? Let’s face it, every decision you make will be shot down by the inner social wokeness editor if you let it.
The second answer is to say fuck that and write for you. Writing for you means to make that character your best friend. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never looked around a room and chose a friend based on what society thinks about me or what friends I already have. Your best friend’s appearance typically means nothing. If it does, it’s not that they’re black or white or have box braids, an overbite, thick glasses, and a slight limp. It’s that they wear Twenty One Pilot hats every day or they wear an Arizona Cardinals hoodie or they wear shorts even if it’s -8 outside. Just like you wouldn’t pigeon hole your best friend into a comic relief role or a “savior of the media”s cruel mistreatment of black characters since they started doing black/yellow/redface to avoid hiring minority characters.
Now, that’s not to say that their race and background don’t matter, but let’s face it. If in the first ten minutes of meeting a person, you know their whole life story, you are most likely going to run away from them. Just like knowing someone lets you slowly learn about them and their quirks and their story and whether or not you like them, your story should do the same for the reader. Take us by the hand and introduce us to your character. Tell us who he is. How he is as a person. That he keeps his shoes crispy (clean, so you don’t have to consult Urban Dictionary). That he hates Kraft mac’n’cheese. That he only listens to opera and Mozart. Then as we get to like him, add more. His mom works late and he has to take care of his younger siblings on Tuesday. Then keep going, unwrapping layer after layer like you’re peeling an Ogre. (It’s a Shrek Joke.)
If your characterization is good and you pull us into a friendship with this man, no one will even notice when you make a socially unconscious mistake since normal people don’t walk around charting their social unconsciousness. Long story short, make it unique and be you and don’t worry about what other people say because, let’s be honest, if they’re complaining, they already bought your book and you’ve already won.
What’s Stopping You?
I'm an atheist writing a series of stories featuring demons and angels. I don't believe that a god, a heaven, a hell, a devil, angels, or demons, or any the like exist at all. And yet I write a series featuring them. What's stopping me from writing this?
Absolutely fucking nothing.
You wish to write a fantasy about a bi-racial character. My question for you is this: what's stopping you?
A Question of Appropriation: When is it okay for a white writer to create a black character?
People are always going to find something wrong with everything. Conflict is a social need and people will nitpick everything for an argument. No one can truly please everyone, unfortunately.
My belief is that we need more culturally diverse characters, and that can be contributed to by respectful authors of any background. Yes, there are many things that a writer of the same cultural background as their character can appropriately say that you cannot, but honestly, as long as you aren’t being explicitly racist (which goes without saying) and making sure that you don’t try to make light of/gloss over the injustice that comes with being of a specific race, (although if in your setting that type of discrimination doesn’t exist, that’s alright), I don’t believe that it would be a problem at all. As long as you are respectful towards the subject, people shouldn’t have a problem with it, and if they do, it shouldn’t be your fault.
I know this is pretty much common sense, but much like writing about any experience that you haven’t personally gone through, you can do research to make sure you are informed and realistic, but there’s only so much you can do. If you’ve never truly experienced racism and being discriminated against, your novel probably shouldn’t revolve around that topic specifically, as some may see THAT as cultural appropriation.
Just a thought.
Smells Like Overthinking
the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual is listed as the first definition for what a character is if you type it into Google.
That said, most characters are individuals, which is noted as single and seperate.
Due to this solidarity in the very nature of the being you intend to portray I would think it obvious that they can be from whoever is manifesting them to the page seeing as their influences and origin are up to you.
No one will be considering you as they get to know your protagonist and your protagonists everything is defined by the parameters you lay out. This means that they are only defined by their skin color if you make them to be.
The archaic Belief of your physique defining you to the extent that would be necessary for yourself to not be okay to create the character in question is one you are applying seperate from anything naturally occurring in a person’s experience of your characters development; Therefore there is only a problem if you make one.
So this is a topic I’ve thought and written a fair bit about. I’ll link to two other pieces that I’ve written about it for some more in depth thoughts. My general thought is that the framing of the question such that there is an iron clad absolute moral answer is stupid. Intstead I think it is better to ask oneselves some or all of the following questions:
How can my writing respect people of all races, ethnicities, religion, abilities, sexualities and genders, while also respecting and agnowledging the histories of suffering, oprression and apropriation that are attached to many of those identities?
How can my writing show or encourage a world of inclusion and diversity that is often unrealized in reality?
What biases do I have that show up in my writing and how can I agnowledge them and avoid passing them on to my readers?
How does my work interact with racist, sexist, ableist, classist, homophobic etc. tropes?
How does my work interact with the history of white cis men aprropriating the stories of marginalized people?
I don’t think there are many specific rules that people have to follow, but I think that every writer should grapple with these questions. So while I don’t have a solid answer to your question I hope you can think about these questions and find your own way to move forward in this excessively problematic world.
Here are links to the other 2 posts I mentioned:
Don’t even try.
As far as I’m concerned, the whole social justice bollocks has gone too far as it is.
You just can’t win with ’em.
If you write something with a black character, they’ll very likely accuse you of cultural appropriation.
If you write all white characters, they’ll winge and whine and complain that your book isn’t “diverse enough”.
So, don’t try to appease them. Social justice warriors (the worst of them) have no common sense beyond the end of their own agendas. Incredibly unpleasant, judgemental hypocrites the lot of ’em.
At least you said you’re only a social justice progressive rather than an SJW.
In other words, write what the hell you want and screw everyone else. Only you matter. Well, you and your potential readers and most of them will not fall into the SJW category anyway.
The SJWs are likely to complain whether they read it or not. Just like the religious nutjobs did when Life of Brian came out. Complain without even seeing it.
Just as the easily offended did with the Brass Eye Paedophiles special. Thousands of complaints. None of them saw it. It was hilarious.