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Portraying People of Color:

There are a couple of PO Cs (People of color) in my series. I think it would be great to avert the unrealistically mono-racial stereotype commonly found in fantasy. (I shy away from referring to them as African, Hispanic, ect. because the series doesn't take place on Earth) I just have a few questions regarding characterization:
  • I'm aware it's not particulary in good taste to refer to skin colors as food items (chocolate, honey colored, ect.) But could using other items (sandy colored, ebony, etc.) be interpreted as dehumanizing?
  • I don't want the character's race to completely define who they are. I plan on doing this by not immediately pointing out their race when they're introduced to the story. With not so much attention being brought to their race, I'm afraid the readers could potentially not pick up on it and not realized that, indeed, the character is a POC (ex: Rue) Any tips on how to maintain a good balance?

edited 9th Jan '13 7:18:13 PM by TheMuse

Dapper Gentleman
To be honest, I could probably use some advice on this topic as well, given that my novel takes place in a future world in which various ethnicities are mixed together more than they are currently, and much of the cast could probably be described as "of color." Avoiding Unfortunate Implications is important, to say the least.

My one bit of advice would be to steer clear of overly poetic descriptions of skin tone, which tend to come across as trying too hard. I've just been going with "...tall and with dark tan skin" or "...Looked more or less African-American" and similar. You raise a good point, though, about whether mentioning skin tone/ethnicity is always even necessary. Not every Caucasian character is introduced with "He was a white guy, " after all.
"And every life is a special story of its own." —The Stargazer, Mass Effect 3
Easily entertained
In describing the skin tone of my human but non-Terran characters, I typically go with just "pale", "light, " "tan, " "medium", or "dark." It's broad and a bit bland, but it does the job.

As for people forgetting the characters' skintones... eh, whatever. Side-effect of a non-visual medium and not making a big deal out of skin color. If you find yourself doing well enough to develop a fan community and a bit of money to spare, you could pony up for some official art and/or prod fan artists early on with corrections if it really bugs you.
Tumblr, of course, has ... probably a lot of references but I only have a couple on hand. Describing Skin Colors can help you get started, and Gee, I donít know how to research writing Characters of Color tastefully is more extensive.

If you're going with the bland version, people would probably recognise a difference between "tan" (a colour) and "tanned" (skin darkened by sun exposure, usually, which is different from someone being born with darker skin than a white person), so that's a thing to be careful about, I guess.

As a terrible description-writer myself, I can't give personal advice, though.
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 5 Ninjaxenomorph, Wed, 9th Jan '13 8:56:33 PM from Texas, Texas Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Behind you!
I can do skin color descriptions. What I have trouble with are skin colors that are fantasy. For example, in my book, the Umber Shades have brown-grey skin. Darker than the actual color umber, ironically.
Me and my friend's collaborative webcomic:

Forged Men
Not sure how much this falls into the whole "stereotyping" issue but one way to portray "people of colour", as you so put, would be to employ Fantasy Counterpart Culture. If a fantasy race dress like Egyptians and are culturally similar to Egyptians, readers will automatically imagine them to be Egyptian-esque in appearance without the need to explicitly say that they have dark skin.
 
Easily entertained
@Greedling: Y'know, those are actually quite useful. Thanks! [Heads off to quickly change the adjective for Alice's skin from "pale" to "pallid".]

edited 10th Jan '13 5:10:03 PM by KillerClowns

And also something I heard is
  • "If you're going to mention something along the lines of 'this character was black/dark/whatever...' it should be done of other non-POC characters as well

edited 12th Jan '13 9:46:10 AM by TheMuse

 9 JHM, Sat, 12th Jan '13 10:24:25 AM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up] Well, that depends on where the story takes place, doesn't it? In Ireland, a pale redhead with blue eyes isn't particularly curious, but it is in Angola; likewise, it wouldn't be too out of the ordinary to see a dark-skinned person with very light blond hair in Vanuatu, but it would be downright peculiar in South Korea.

Of course, there are problems with this as well, but... meh, I'm too tired to get into them right now. The point is, there's a difference between a "default" and a "mode."

edited 12th Jan '13 10:29:58 AM by JHM

Yeah, I understand what you mean. But yeah, writing a modern day fiction that takes place in the US (in most regions) with a very monochrome class would be pushing it a bit.

But that really depends on the scale of the story. If it takes place entirely within a single neighbourhood or school, having a largely monochrome cast entirely believable.
 
 12 Wolf 1066, Sat, 12th Jan '13 3:19:04 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
In one of my WIP, I'm planning on having the POV character describe the skin colours and racial characteristics of all the characters. Of which one will be "of African heritage" (from America, as it happens) and one who is "Chinese" (revealed later to be born and raised in Liverpool), while the remaining three, the POV character included, have caucasian features and skin tone.

The mix is stown in story to be pure random chance out of a much larger, even more mixed, population.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
I'm kind of curious about this too. In my novel I have a character I describe as brown-skinned, but she's also a member of a race of winged people who are an oppressed minority in that world. However, there are other winged people who are pale-skinned, and one of my other characters is a black guy who is not a member of the winged race and thus not a member of the oppressed class. Still I'm worried that having the one character be both dark-skinned and winged will cause unfortunate implications.

 14 chihuahua 0, Sat, 19th Jan '13 2:23:29 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
[up] I see no problems with that set-up.

Quick thought: If the POV is 1st or a limited 3rd, how the narrator describes another character's race might depend on the person. For example, the perceived "default" might be different.

Is it me, or are we, as a forum, getting more worried about Unfortunate Implications? The mindset should be: "write first, worry later."

edited 19th Jan '13 2:25:26 PM by chihuahua0

 15 Mr AHR, Sat, 19th Jan '13 2:48:42 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Not more worried no. You always get people making threads like this. Par for course, aw yeah.
 16 Wolf 1066, Sat, 19th Jan '13 4:52:33 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
[up][up][up]If your story already makes it clear that the winged race is subjugated/reviled, one of them being unusually dark-skinned and likewise subjugated/reviled as a member of the winged race should not carry Unfortunate Implications - especially if the dark-skinned non-winged person is not subjugated/reviled and the winged people do not revile their unusually dark-skinned fellow - it may be unusual, but she's still one of them.

You could conceivably use it to mess with the readers' heads - have the dark-skinned winged girl being mistreated by non-winged people and then reveal through later interactions that those people hate winged people and have no such negative reaction to the dark-skinned non-winged character, so some readers start off thinking "skin-colour" (some, because not everyone's going to make that assumption) and then have the realisation that their perception was wrong.

People might also assume that the winged girl is being mistreated because she's female.

edited 19th Jan '13 4:55:19 PM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 17 Prime of Perfection, Sun, 20th Jan '13 10:28:56 AM Relationship Status: P.S. I love you
A noble thief is not seen, heard, or felt
I find it easiest to just treat people as people. It's really no deeper than that.

For example, this is most I say on one of my character's appearances during their introduction:

He too adorned a black suit, as instructed, but it was modified it to suit his tastes. His suit jacket was unbuttoned, white shirt never tucked, and he went sans tie more often than not. It was a shame too; otherwise, there were elements of him that could be considered attractive. At the very least, I did acknowledge his olive complexion, slate hue eyes, oval facial structure, and ebony hair he combed straight back as being inviting to some extent.

That's it. It's as a much apart of their introduction as the color of their hair or eyes and such. It's only a big deal if you make it a big deal.

As for describing words, eh, just do whatever sounds right. Here, example if I was writing someone who was black, I'd say charcoal black, chocolate if I felt it worked well for description (as you can clearly see from avatar, I'm black myself and don't give a damn) though I will say it's cliche, ebony, espresso, mahogany or whatever.
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Total posts: 17
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