Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Additional Tips on Writing Characters of Color

The lovely mod of WriteWorld composed a post with A Few Tips and Resources for Writing POC Characters, which has some fantastic points and links that everyone should check out. It’s the perfect start for all writers who don’t know where to begin.

Since I’ve been engaged in this process for quite a while and inundated myself in research, here’s a few things I cross off my list as I research:

  • Know the history of the particular country or region in question. If you write fantasy, white monocultures are highly unlikely, which is why it’s important to understand why having a basic grasp of non-Eurocentric college level history is so important. If college courses are unlikely for you, don’t despair and read On Doing Research. This will give you a strong foundation for everything else you’re going to research.
  • Speaking of the myth of monoculture, understand that Influence Bleeds Over. Culture is not defined by borders, and in regards to the history of man, borders are only a fairly recent development and not always recognized.
  • Read How to Interview People and talk to real people about their real experiences.
  • Make sure you don’t discount the importance of names.
  • Describing Skin Colors is more than just describing what kind of desserts you like to eat.
  • Don’t wonder “Is this how an Asian person speaks English?” because you’re probably wrong. Instead, understand how someone adapts to English when it’s not their mother tongue and look at Language for those writing ESL characters.
  • Google Maps is an easy way to get a vague concept of how other places in the world might look, but I’ve found that searching Tumblr tags of various cities will get you a more in-depth, personal visual story where people who are familiar with the area post their own pictures.
  • It’s important to break out of what you’re culturally used to. Such things as daily showers and a hot water heater that’s constantly working is fairly odd, even in other first world countries. This helps with gaining perspective.
  • Be careful what you read. Sources may be biased, exaggerated, or ill-informed. If you read “Memoirs of a Geisha” to get an idea of what a Geisha’s life was like, you might not know about the controversy around it.
  • Researching clincher details like regional diets and clothing also helped me get a better grasp of resources, skills, trades, indigenous plants and animals, religious practices, and so forth. Some Tumblr blogs are specifically dedicated to such things.
  • Despite whatever predispositions or beliefs you might have before you begin your research, the best thing you can do is wipe all of that away. Keep open-minded. Be fair to yourself and what you’re researching. It’s scary, as unknown territory tends to be, but let yourself be excited: you’re about to learn a whole bunch of awesome things that you’re going to want to tell all your readers about.

Research is part of writing. Cheat your research and you cheat your story. Don’t throw in a character of color because people “expect” it these days. Don’t create a character who’s skin is darker, but their culture is American, and give them an ethnic name and then say that’s good enough. It’s not. Writers have a responsibility to write their characters as accurately as possible, and as the almighty C said:
Try to write without pity or condescension or idealism in your heart. This is a sure way to mess up writing any character, but most especially a character based on a real group of people who are culturally different from you.

(cross-posted from KSW on Tumblr)

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