Blog 2015

Race in Fiction

As a writer, it’s sometimes hard to tell what race to make my characters.
Meaning, should a given character be white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, etc. It can break further down from there. If I decide a character should be Asian, should they be Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese?
Sometimes, as characters evolve and develop in my stories, their race becomes important. Sometimes it doesn’t. I can never tell what makes the difference. In Crossworld, Chip Masters is white. I don’t know why that’s important to the character, but it is. He has to be white. His character is, somehow, in some intangible way, informed by that aspect of himself. If I changed him to black or Hispanic, he just *wouldn’t work*. Vincent Pierce, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be white. If Crossworld got picked up to be made into a series (and the rights are available, Hollywood), and somebody wanted to make Vincent black or Indian, I wouldn’t bat an eye.
In Red Moon Rising (formerly Teach The Sky), Everett Kendall is black. I couldn’t make him white. It might seem a little odd as he isn’t a ‘typical black character’ (read: stereotype), but his being black is still an important part of who he is. Ledger, too, is black. At the same time, Marilyn, Roland, and Sydney are white, while Armand must be Indian. Edgar…Edgar could go in a variety of directions. I can’t see him as black or Asian, but I could see as Hispanic.
I don’t know why some characters must be a certain race and some don’t seem quite so set. I imagine there’s a certain element of ‘default’ to it; that as a white male, I sort of default many of my characters to being white males. So as I write, as stories develop and characters take shape, I find myself asking ‘could this character be a different race?’
Sometimes, it’s a simple change that adds some variety to the story. And sometimes, it’s a breathtaking transformation that makes a character come to life in ways I didn’t anticipate. Slate in Deadman was that way; for most of the story’s development, I saw her as white and she felt like a knock-off of Sydney from Red Moon Rising. Once I ‘realized’ she was black, however, it all sort of clicked somehow. In some strange way, I realized that she’d always been black; I’d just been missing that key element of her.

Race can be a touchy subject these days, especially for creators. The entertainment industry has a bit of a sordid past when it comes to race (among other topics). But I hope I’m not the only one who likes to explore and play around with the ‘default settings’ when it comes to characters.

Heterogeneity is so much more interesting.

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