Math and Science Week! (for my fellow ‘nerds’)
Short answer: yes, you should write more characters of color. But let me tell you why, really why.
I have said it before and I will say it again: The reason to include diversity in your work (and this goes for race, sexuality, gender, ability status, everything) should not be because you are afraid people will complain if you don’t. The reason to write POC is because we deserve stories, too. Please do not join the ranks of people who ignore us. You have recognized a problem in your writing—call it whitewashing, lack of diversity, what have you. But what I want you to do is recognize that it is a problem, and take the initiative to learn how to fix it.
- Troubleshooting: But my story isn’t about race. Why do I need POC in a story about [not race]?
There is a misconception out there that characters of color need a reason to be characters of color. White characters never face this kind of criticism, as if “white stories” are “normal stories” and “POC stories” are “race stories.” Race does not need an explanation.
"By saying that a character’s skin color needs to be essential to the plot to be described, you are saying that only white characters are worthy of having stories that don’t have anything to do with racism, racial identity, and other issues related to race and colorism. It’s not that hard to say your character isn’t white. Their ethnic and/or racial background does not need to tie into the plot for them to exist."
- Troubleshooting: I can just add in a few more characters and it’ll be fine.
The answer isn’t to toss in a few extras just to have characters of color. This is tokenism, and is not at all going to solve the problem. People of color deserve more than to be relegated to the background. We deserve to be represented as more than set pieces and one-off characters that revolve around a white cast and their problems.
- Troubleshooting: I’ve never done it before. / People will be mad if I do it wrong.
I get that it can be daunting to write POC if you have little or no experience doing so, if you have written them poorly in the past, or if you aren’t used to it. These are not valid reasons to avoid characters of color. These are flimsy excuses that writers hide behind to explain why they don’t write characters of color.
If you find yourself thinking this, it means that you need to do your research and get to writing. At some point, you need to buckle down and commit to writing what you learn about. This is not a task for next time, this is not a task for later, this is a problem now and there are answers now.
And it’s true—if you do it poorly, people will get on your case. This does not mean the only characters you are good at are white characters, but it does mean you had a misstep somewhere in your writing and research. That’s why we edit and have beta readers: to catch and identify these things before they go to print. Do not be afraid of criticism, it’s how we learn. There are plenty of kind people in the world who can help you, but they cannot help you if you refuse to start.
- Troubleshooting: I don’t know where to start.
We have plenty of resources here on the blog, and there are plenty of others out there that can help you get started writing characters of color:
- writingwithcolor. PLEASE FOLLOW IMMEDIATELY.
- Is It OK for a White Writer to have POC Main Characters?
- Racist writing is a craft issue
- Visibility Matters: Why POC Must Be Described As POC
- Tokenism vs. Representation vs. Inclusion
- NK Jemisin’s Guest of Honor Speech
- Why Representation Is Important: a bunch of links on the matter
- Diversity tag
- Race tag
So here is the thing: Maybe you wrote exclusively (or at least mostly) white in the past. Maybe this is the first you are learning of the whitewashing phenomenon in fiction and you want to learn more about diversity and representation. That’s great, and I am glad you want to learn more. What is going to cause problems between you and I is if you take all this information and decide that none of it applies to you. It does. It applies to everyone.
Now you know better. So—do better.
Thank you :]
but aren’t there any free online courses about arthuriana?
I tought I would ask D:
dang, I’d love to teach one, but I don’t know the first thing about designing an…
May I add that the website medievalists.net has an excellent archive of essays, a lot of which are on literature and arthurian legend. IT’S REALLY GOOD???? AND YES, CAROLYNE LARRINGTON IS AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD TOTALLY GO CHECK HER WORK OUT. Also: Jean Markale, he is a classic in French unis, and a lot of his work has been translated. I COULD REC BOOKS FOR HOURS BUT I WILL RESTRAIN MYSLEF FOR NOW
Added reviews : DD
Just to remind myself to check later:
Okay, so it sounds like what you’ve got is a fictional monarchy with a type of primogeniture that allows for rulership to pass in a gender-neutral line.
A Prince Consort or a King Consort is the husband of a queen regent, who is not a king. That means that he does not have a claim to the throne by anything other than his marriage, though if he outlives the queen, it is possible for him to rule, in a scenario similar to when dowager queens rule.
The spouse of the queen might also be referred to as simply ‘Prince’ or ‘Consort’, especially if the queen/parliament/precedent does not allow him to rule or inherit.
That’s the system for several European monarchies- but I recommend checking out some other systems of inheritance and noble titles before deciding- you might find something that fits your scenario much better.
Finally, rather than last names, I personally would use titles. In that scenario, the non-royal would probably have their title added too- so you’d have something like Pen, Queen of FYCD, and Peewee, Duke of Milkbone and Consort to the Queen. Typically, rulers have a bit of freedom over what they want to do with titles, as well.
Searching for a writing community? A critique group? More amazing writing advice blogs (aside from this one, of course)? Guides to getting an Agent? Well, look no further!
Every body has it’s natural limits.
It sounds simple but many a writer has forgotten this. Say it with me; every body has it’s natural limits. Can your character still run with a dislocated knee? I’m going to hazard a no, mainly because the dislocation of a joint destabilises it i.e your character does not have that leg to stand on.
Another uncomfortable fact for you; It takes roughly 1000lbs of pressure and the drop of the body to break the neck when hanging a person.
With that in mind ask your self this; is it realistic that my (badass) character could do such a thing with their bare hands? Just another one of those questions that will draw strange looks for others if you utter it aloud but, trust me, it’s one you should ask. Nothing will undermine the realism of your story more than characters that, while being apparently unremarkable, suddenly sprouting super powers.
Don’t get me wrong, you most definitely can have a non-hulking man do such things or, further still, a tiny woman besting such feats but you must account for it.
Consider the following;
- Is your character male or female?
- How old are they?
- Are they healthy and fit? (in this category also consider weight, previous injuries, senses and psychological factors. E.g a healthy, fit young woman who regularly weight trains and takes self defense classes would have more of a chance of fighting off an attacker than an overweight, older man who was partially blind.)
- What size are they; weird question I know but think about it; a very small man has different combat/maneuvering options compared to his larges more muscle bound compatriots.
I wont bore you with the facts about how much damage a body can take before it becomes incapacitated (though there are resources detailing this at the bottom) instead we will look at the active capabilities of the human body in practical terms. Lets stipulate, first, that for now the character in question has no superhuman abilities whatsoever; we’re taling entirely tabula rasa. No training, no powers. there will be alot of things they simply cannot do but this doesn’t mean they are not impressive.
Consider this example;
Four subjects are locked in identical rooms and need to escape; the rooms have one door (locked with old, shaky hinges), one window (not locked but high above the ground with only a rickety series of ledges to descend by), one ventilation shaft (covered) and a steel framed bed. They are all equally intelligent; what matters here is physicality.
One is a large man (perhaps six foot fours, weighing two hundred and thirty pounds) he is well muscled and extremely strong (and heavy!). he has bad knees. He cannot shimmy through the ventilation shaft to freedom as he is too physically large, neither can he exit the window as, though it has a small ledge, his size makes it unlikely it will support him. Bad knees make it unlikely that he can kick the door down, despite his strength, for he could well hurt them further. This leaves him two options; pull the door from its hinges (if it opens inward) or use the bedframe to put pressure on the hinges and pull them from the door frame.
The second character is a large woman; maybe five eleven and one hundred and eighty pounds she is also strong but less so than her neighbour. She has an old shoulder injury. The likelihood of her pulling the door open with brute force is very small; even if we discounter her shoulder injury…unless she were a veritable Goliath then this is unlikely, though possible! She might however kick the door down as the legs are often much stronger than the upper body. She too could put pressure on the hinges with the frame. However her size may prevent her from using the grate or the window.
Character three is a smaller man (five ten, one hundred and seventy pounds) missing his left hand; though still too big to fit through the grate he could also use the bedframe, kick the door or pull the door (though pulling a door off its hinges requires so much force that I would say this is unlikely, though not impossible). He could not realistically and safely, however, drop down the ledges to the ground.
The final character is a small woman (five four, one hundred and thirty pounds) relatively agile but not overly well conditioned. This character could use the grate and stands a fair change of applying enough leverage with the bedframe to escape though her chances of using brute force to break the door down are slim. She, however, stands most chance of using the shaky ledges being small, light and more agile.
All characters are capable of being formidable if put under enough pressure, they simply have different capabilities which leads me to an important point; bigger is not always better- a character need not be a powerhouse to be remarkable.
Next time - characters who do more than they are (technically) capable of.
In one sense, every story that is made up, or imaginary, is a fantasy, and a hundred years ago, if a writer were discussing fantasy, he would have used the term fantasy that way.
Today, when discussing fantasy as a literary genre, we more often are discussing a branch of literature that offers some strangeness as a primary draw, such as a strangeness in the setting for the story (such as imaginary places or magic systems), or perhaps in the characters that inhabit our own world—vampires and supermen.
Some people consider science fiction to be a subset of fantasy, though it can be quite different. Science fiction is most often a literature that deals with speculation about the future, and to some degree might even be predictive of the future in a way that fantasy is not.
The editor Donald A. Wollheim once suggested that bookstores create a section called “Wonder literature” that would include stories meant to arouse a powerful sense of wonder. Science fiction and fantasy would thus be sold together under his model. I rather prefer this. You see, we tend to categorize books nowadays by the primary emotions that they elicit—humor, romance, horror, thrillers, and so on. Wonder literature makes sense, though there are those who recognize that horror is often closely aligned to fantasy. After all, the strange is often terrifying as well as wondrous.
Some of the big players in the fantasy genre include people like Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. Most of the bestselling books of all time are fantasies—things like Harry Potter, Twilight, or the The Alchemist.
In fact, I’m going to make a prediction: eight of the ten top-grossing films this year will be fantasy or science fiction. I’m pretty safe in making that bet: it’s been true every year for the past 20 years.
Yet many folks don’t recognize how important fantasy is in our lives.
I grew to love fantasy as a child, sitting on my mother’s knee, as she told me bedtime stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Hansel and Gretel.” I don’t think that I recognized that animated stories—cartoons like Bugs Bunny or movies like Peter Pan—were roughly the equivalent of those bedtime stories.
Yet fantasy permeates society and my love for it blossomed as a child—from bedtime stories to cartoon, from cartoons to comics and fables and myth, from myth to more contemporary fantasies in the form of novels.
So what is fantasy for? What good is it?
Quite simply, fantasy is what we as storytellers use to hold the attention of our audience as we prepare to tell them something important.
Whenever something strange is introduced in a story, it grabs the attention of the audience. Whether we speak of a haunted house, or bring out a ghost, or have a character sucked back in time as we introduce a strange conflict, that grabs the reader’s attention, but quite often the story carries lessons that are of more value than mere entertainment.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, we learn about the need for courage to face the future, but we also learn about the duties that soldiers owe to brothers, and the ethics of how one should entertain strangers in our own homes, and so on.
In the same way, fantasy today carries lessons for life. I have a theory about fantasy. I suspect that the human brain is incapable of storing most of the information that we need to know in order to really understand the world. So very often, ancient history gets stored under the guise of fable.
Let me see if I can explain it more clearly. Take an incident from your own family history, something far in the past, and try to examine what you really know about it. The truth is, you probably don’t know anything—just the fable.