: It can be, if you do it wrong. That's pretty much the exact reason I don't often mention character's ethnicities, or leave them intentionally vague. It'll be defined if it's important, or if I want to deliberately explore a certain culture. If not, well, it's kind of like the Fan Wank that ensues over Ambiguously Brown characters. What do you want to see? (Random tangent: When I read The City of Ember for the first time, I pictured the main character as being Polynesian, just because her actual appearance wasn't well defined, and it seemed to fit her. When they made a movie of it, it was weird to me that she was all blonde 'n' stuff...)
Well, I guess I see it as just another trait. Along with hair color, eye color, personality, clothing style. So I cannot fathom why someone would choose the exact same trait for all their characters. That is what bugs me, I guess.
It's interesting to note that, for Japanese Manga, the artists historically wanted to include visual variety so much they started giving characters hair and eye colors that don't exist in nature, just to keep everyone from having black hair and brown eyes. I think the "color" of your casting should be appropriate to whatever you're writing. A lack of (at least visual) ethnic diversity isn't inherently evil, it's just a fact of life for some people in certain parts of the world. If your story takes place in a multicultural area, than by all means, include people of every ethnicity you can imagine. If you're telling a story set in Arthur's Camelot, however, despite what you may have seen in some recent iterations, you probably don't want to include Asians or Africans unless it's a specific story point (note that I say "probably;" you can still do it, and have it be great, but, for instance, making Sir Pelinor or something be, say, Chinese for no discernible reason probably wouldn't be a good idea).
I dunno. To me, that feels like it's going towards, "People must be defined by their ethnicity." And while it's true that a person's ethnicity will affect the way they are viewed by society, depending on where they grew up, the circumstances of their family, their social prominence, etc.—racism is an ugly and inescapable thing—it's far from the only thing shaping their personalities. I've seen it argued that making a character of an ethnic minority whose primary motivation or conflict concerns race relations is in itself somewhat racist, since it's really another way of defining a person by their ethnicity. And while such things do occur, applying aspects of this conflict to a character is going to be dependent on a lot of other things about them.
People aren't defined by their hair colors, and everyone always liberally applies those, why should it be any different by ethnicity?
Which is exactly why I make most of my characters ambiguous. Few of them have a defined ethnicity because it isn't relevant to their characterization. That's exactly why I leave it open to interpretation.
Ambiguity can be a great thing, where done effectively. I've read books where you never even realize that the characters have only ever been vaguely described (tall, short, etc) since their characterization is complete enough that you don't really need it.
Of course, I can't be as ambiguous as most, as Feo pointed out. So maybe that's just my lot in life, to go off describing people down to their nail lengths.
: Indeed. In one of my favorite books of all time, none of the main characters get any physical descriptions at all (aside from clothing). Only the villains get their appearance described; the main characters get to look like whatever you want them to. I didn't realize this at all until my second reading of the book, when I wanted to draw Fan Art of the characters and realized... the book never tells you what they look like.
Less than you might think. People have a bad habit of overestimating how monochrome, say, medieval Europe was.Depends on the setting. The US is and was very ethnically-mixed for its whole history, but if you're writing a story about its military set before the Civil War the vast majority of the people you're liable to see will be white, not non-white. Who's there =/= who you're liable to see and in what roles.
edited 7th Jan '12 12:10:59 PM by Flyboy
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@51: When my Dad and I watched the movie, he was a bit surprised at the darkness of some of the extra's skin colors. He said that three hundred years underground would make each generations' skin color lighter and lighter.
edited 7th Jan '12 12:23:07 PM by chihuahua0
@Chih: apparently skin color of a population changes to suit the environment in a surprisingly short amount of time — something like ten generations. However, considering the people live underground, they're probably getting their vitamin D from a source other than the sun, so that might not happen.
Of course, it's set in the future, so they could have supertech lightbulbs or something.
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Thread Hop, although I will mention that people have made very good points about "Race =/= Skin."
Even characters who come from the same race will have very different tones!Fixed. My family is as Filipino as they come, with exception of my half-Chinese niece. My dad's family lived in Maine, and Dad could pass for black. My mom and her family lived in the Philippines for most of their lives, and she's extremely pale. My sister and I are light/medium tan most of the time and darken very easily, and my brother is fair-skinned but not quite as much as Mom. And let's not forget that people can have extremely different hair types. There's African-textured hair (often soft and extremely curly), Asian hair (stick-straight and thick), and Caucasian hair that's usually a mixture of the two. However, there ARE exceptions to the rule. Personally, I hate when I find someone focusing so much on skin color and then copping out on hair somehow. Even in the same family, hair can vary between both parents' hair color plus any recessive genes they might both be carrying. Two black/brown-haired parents could produce a blonde or redhead if they're lucky (but note that the reverse is impossible, except in special cases).
I mostly wanted to focus on skin tone, because there is that assumption that people from the same family/race/country would all be carbon copies, race wise. I'm fine if we derail into race discussion in diversity, since I've done it myself, but my original point was how people look is not as simple as it first appears to be.
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Mm, I suppose I tend to fall into this. I've always lived in small towns with a largely monochrome society, so I never really gave much thought to how much I did that in my own stories. Huh. You write what you know, I guess.
I dunno. To me, that feels like it's going towards, "People must be defined by their ethnicity."This is definitely a thing to avoid, you're right. I think part of the problem, though, is that a person who grows up in a particular region can often face different experiences as a result of their ethnicity, you know? That is, they may have been presented with different opportunities, exposed to different accents and artists and pastimes, oppressed in overt or subtle ways that people not of that ethnicity have little cause to even suspect. The problem, I think, is more that people tend to write characters from Ethnicity A having the experience of Ethnicity B, rather than anything to do with personality.
"I generally don't explicitly mention my character's races, but in my head, they're mostly white. As a consequence, when I do explicitly mention a character's race, it's usually white. I had a major character who was Argentinean once, but that looks white so it probably doesn't count." As a long haired blond, blue eyed argentinian guy... it sounded like you were implying all argentinians must be tanned, or dark skinned
edited 25th May '13 11:05:32 AM by herrblitzdiktator
I am one of those writers who does tend to describe his more important characters' racial characteristics. I don't necessarily want racial tension to dominate my stories' themes, but I do want to make it clear that my stories invoke non-European characters and settings. As for monochrome casting, I'm rather conflicted on that. I like juxtaposing different races and cultures together in my stories, but sometimes it doesn't make sense. You wouldn't expect too many Vikings running around ancient Nubia, for instance.
I have a tendency to do monochrome cast, very unfortunately. Mostly because I have a fascination for European culture and history, so I mostly focus on that area of the world [which becomes somewhat hilarious when one notices I'm a south American who doesn't have a single story set in South America]. Part of it is also unconscious: I come up with the character, he just happens to be white and usually blackhaired. It's my subconscious messing with me. At least I have some variation within the European cultures at [my book has: A frenchman, a englishman, a scot, a irishman, a german, a Italian, a Russian, one American, a spaniard, a swiss, an australian, some swedish folk, and that's just the beginning].
The best and the worst.
In my Melahawk series, the main characters are different (sort of) fantasy equivalent ethnicities. The main character pretty much German, with light skin, light brown hair and green eyes, Allezzio is Italian with dark brown hair and...something eyes, another character is Asian, with black hair and brown yes. The last major human character, Naea, is a fantasy ethnicity, with dark red straight hair and tan skin. The majority of the people met are either Asian or this race. One of the webcomics I work on, Forged Men, is kinda monochrome, but I (and my friend who is the artist, who in her other comic Debre Insonis has NO problem averting this) try to justify this as having most of the characters part of different genetic castes. While as a whole they have as much phenotype variance,the top caste, who were genetically made from scratch, all have white hair and light multi-spectrum eyes. However, their skin tone varies. For example, the first member that one character sees looks Indian. However, I only have physical descriptions or picture of a handful of characters, so Rory might have something else planned. One major character is Asian, though.
edited 25th May '13 10:03:34 PM by Ninjaxenomorph
Me and my friend's collaborative webcomic:
What annoys me more than that is when people only get into relationships with people from their own race, even when there's some attractive people existing, if they're from a different race, a new character is introduced to make a 'matched' relationship. think about it; how many movies have interracial couples? My W.I.P. has a vaguely Mediterranean protagonist, who would be white/tan, a mongol (Fantasy Counterpart Culture) warrior, a medieval knight (white), a viking (very white), and two celts (white), but then again it's vaguely in the middle ages so the lack of diversity makes sense. I reckon The Lord of the Rings is Justified in its monochrome casting, but anything set closer to modern times should have some more diversity. Also, on others' points on just leaving the characters racially ambiguous, they call that 'writing colourblind' and unfortunately some (sadly, myself included) just pick white as the default skin colour when reading about a character because they simply don't know that many ethnic people. I find it hardest describing Asian people, because at least with black people you can just say 'black skinned', but I write second world fantasy where 'Asia' does not exist, but their fantasy counterparts do, and they are very difficult to physically describe.
edited 26th May '13 3:02:35 AM by VincentQuill
I did not say anything about a character's race and then people were surprised when in my drawings she was black. It just didn't seem worth mentioning.
I happen to think language and geography are historically more divisive than color or even religion, so I mention the language and origin of characters but not "race". One protagonist was an Obasu man from Alistair Island in the north; his antagonist was an Ifesha woman from Bernard Island in the east. I'm not sure if my characters are based on Indians or Middle Easterners or on Latin Americans or Italians but they're very brown and have blue, green and hazel eyes often enough that they're not anomalies. Also, they don't have afro-hair, so I don't expect that they're based on Africans.
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I was guilty of this and I'm trying not to do it now. I might have gone in the other direction where I worry about it too much.