Well hallo thar. I vaguely promised a post during the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, but I forgot to take into account that I was not planning on bringing my computer. Which made posting difficult. Thus why I did not do it.
Only BAMFs have unread messages. The rest of us read them right away.
Anyway, so all in all, I didn’t learn much at the festival. Well, not much that I didn’t already know from the program. My workshop was pretty informative, though. My teacher was only slightly older than I am (well, so it seemed. Maybe she was older than she looked. I’m not the greatest judge of ages.) and that gave me hope for my becoming a professor soon. At least as long as I publish something. That’s apparently important.
She said one or two interesting things about making sci fi/fantasy stories fresher and more appealing to wider audiences. She told me, in fact, not to call my book a book of short stories but a novel in parts because that would make it more marketable. Which I agreed with. But I’m not publishing it, so there’s that. But she was right, so whatever.
We did, however, have an interesting discussion about dealing with the race or ethnicity of your characters. I was all “Race? LOL, wut’s that?” because, you know, I don’t see skin color. I only see the colors of the American flag. And I also see the horrendous colors some people think go together.
Seriously, though, most writers are guilty of making their characters white. It’s just what happens. Although, I’m sure non-white writers make it a point to create characters that aren’t white. (I only did it just recently, but that’s because the concept of race bores me. I’m more interested in witty banter and a good story, not giving a very important lesson to my reader about tolerance or whatever. I’m not saying tolerance isn’t important, but that’s not what I’m writing about). It’s easier for them to be able to do such a thing because there won’t be a question of authenticity. The moment you create a character that is non-white, everyone is going to be all in your shit about authenticity. “Would a black kid say something like that?” “Do hispanics really call everyone mami and papi?” “Why isn’t your asian good at math?”
Okay. Yeah. So, you get it. Also, unless your editor is a racist, that last question probably won’t be asked. And if it is, maybe get a new editor? That shit ain’t right.
My teacher said that she was once told by a professor of hers that race is never mentioned in a story unless the character isn’t white. Everyone is going to assume that the character is white right from the get go. And think about it. I’m sure you’ve done that. I do it all the time. I did it a couple of finished books back while reading The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan. It was mentioned, a couple of times now that I’m looking back on it, that the narrator was black but it went over my head. When it was mentioned again in the last couple of pages of the book, I was all “She’s black? When did that happen?”
The point is, not only did Brennan do it so seamlessly (race was mentioned but it didn’t become a BIG DEAL because there were other more important things for the characters to consider at the moment. Like, you know, demons.) but the character didn’t become a token. She didn’t force stereotypes onto the character to make her more real or some bullshit. And she didn’t use race to gain sympathy for the character. It was fantastic (In fact, if you ever want to know how to correctly write a character who isn’t of your race, I suggest you read that book. I give much props to Brennan).
And I believe that’s the key to writing a non-white character. Honestly, there’s no need to continuously draw attention to race unless it’s a central issue of your story (Which, I think that’d be sort of lame, but whatever you want to do is up to you). Non-white characters are no different than white ones in pretty fundamental ways. They’re still people, damn it.
I’m not saying you should just write a non-white character completely as you’d write a white one. That wouldn’t work. It’d confuse the reader, since there are things that will come up with say, a Puerto Rican character that wouldn’t come up with a white one. For example, I recently created a Puerto Rican character who occasionally slips into Spanish. I modeled that off of my mom, who will toss in a Spanish phrase or two in passing. My character doesn’t do it all the time; she doesn’t get all sassy and call people chica. She’ll just swear in Spanish every once in a while. Her boyfriend thinks it’s sexy. Which it is. Because hispanics are fucking sexy.
If your character interacts with his/her family a lot, then culture and whatnot is going to come into play. The dynamics of an Asian family are going to be different from a black family. That’s when research comes in handy.
And that’s the main thing. If you’re going to create a character who is of a race you’re not familiar with, you’re going to have to research. Then you’re going to have to determine what part of that research is relevant. Is the Han Dynasty important to your Chinese character? Probably not. So don’t force a dialogue where that comes up just to point out that your character is Chinese. You’ll look like a douche. But maybe your character’s favorite food is a traditional Chinese dish that her grandmother makes. Maybe she gets a craving for it when she’s fighting off a zombie apocalypse. You see? You see what I did there?
Basically what it comes down to is don’t be a douche. Do your research, but also don’t treat your character like some sort of alien. Avoid stereotypes like Tea Partiers avoid logic. Don’t have him shouting “BEANS AND CORNBREAD“. Not all white people say “bro” and “dude” all the time.
But yes, all hispanics are fucking sexy. True facts.