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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

context: a hot button of mine, the idea that if you're going to have a character who is gay/black/Asian/Jewish/Muslim/something non-North-American-percieved-monoculture-baseline, it has to "have some bearing on the story," because otherwise it's "extraneous." Because you know, a character can't just be Jewish because she came that way. It has to be Relevant.

[19:12] matociquala: Because you know, then you can't have white, straight characters in a story unless their white straightness effects the story.
[19:12] matociquala: affects, even.
[19:12] matociquala: *thump*
[19:12] leahbobet: *pets the stick*
[19:12] leahbobet: Good stick.
[19:12] matociquala: How dare you deviate from baseline!
[19:12] buymeaclue: Dirty!
[19:12] matociquala: Ethnic people must be made invisible!
[19:13] matociquala: Along with all the queers and commies!
[19:13] matociquala: *THUMP!*
[19:13] matociquala: Grrr.
[19:13] matociquala: *sits down and shuts up*
[19:13] stillnotbored: *pats Bear*
[19:13] jmeadows: *watches Bear*
[19:13] stillnotbored: good Bear
[19:13] ospreys_view: so that's what I did wrong with my trees. They weren't white or straight.
[19:13] matociquala: indeed.
[19:13] jmeadows: duh, Katherine :P
[19:13] stillnotbored: silly you Katherine
[19:13] matociquala: and sort of innofensively baseline protestant.
[19:13] matociquala: You know.
[19:13] ospreys_view: Hmm a white oak meets a red maple...
[19:13] matociquala: But not church-going.
[19:14] leahbobet: Bear's washroom is obviously breeding Bolsheviks.
[19:14] melinda_goodin: "no axes!" - that kind of Protestant tree?
[19:14] matociquala: Unless it affects the story.
[19:14] matociquala: Heh.
[19:14] matociquala: My washroom is *infested* with Bolsheviks.
[19:14] ospreys_view: I only skim the mlist these days.
[19:14] matociquala: And you know, I even use Scott toilet paper.
[19:14] ospreys_view: It takes too much mental energy to read it in depth.
[19:14] leahbobet: (and I read that as "I only skin the mlist these days")
[19:14] leahbobet: (And approved so very heartily.)
[19:15] matociquala: hee
[19:15] ospreys_view: geeze...you make a few typos and people are putting words in your mouth.
[19:16] leahbobet: See, am I the only one that makes characters of a certain ethnicity because they inform me that's where they were born?
[19:17] stillnotbored: no
[19:18] melinda_goodin: no
[19:19] matociquala: That's pretty much what I do. *g*
[19:20] katallen: it depends, sometimes their ethnicity etc is plot important
[19:20] katallen: ::grins::
[19:21] leahbobet: Back to my novel where everyone is brown. *g*
[19:21] stillnotbored: *g*
[19:21] jmeadows: and hurry up! ;)
[19:21] katallen: I have freakouts about things sometimes
[19:21] matociquala: Hee.
[19:21] matociquala: Novels with brown people!
[19:21] leahbobet: *hides from Jodi*
[19:22] leahbobet: Well, one person is blue-green.
[19:22] leahbobet: But everyone else? Brown.
[19:22] katallen: but what's with the generalisation thing?
[19:23] katallen: ::sprawls::
[19:25] melinda_goodin: It's really sunny? They're all sunburned? (except the blue-green one)
[19:26] leahbobet: They all live in ancient Mesopotamia.
[19:26] leahbobet: They don't keep white folks there.
[19:26] leahbobet: The blue-green one is Tiamat. *g*
[19:26] matociquala: all the white people in my book were eaten by nanites.
[19:26] matociquala: so sad.

Anyway, it was funny. *g*

Further contextualization--I'm currently writing an article for RE on writing characters who don't conform to baseline.


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Friend of mine and I are actually discussing the same list topic on AIM. (I'm Ann K who posted to the list, BTW.)
I think this is one of those wrong things that's close enough to right to be dangerous: if a character is a gay black Asian Jew, in many societies that will affect how the character acts and reacts. I really hate books where the only way you can tell the difference between the characters is that one of them prays to Mecca and another gripes about her period, and otherwise they're identical, because in that case the author is using the Funny Hat school of characterization, and religion and gender are just the same as funny hats for distinguishing characters. There should be other ways even if the characters were all of identical gender, background, and religious-cultural practices. Doesn't mean the story has to be about those differences, just that characters need to be more than Author Avatar #37: The One With The Russian Accent.

Of course, as I think about this, I decide that if you wore a funny hat all the time, it would probably either stem from or cause a different view of the world, so even funny hats aren't okay with me in Funny Hat characterization. Apparently I am Just Being Difficult.
Oh, sure. That's a different issue--you're talking about Good Characterization. I'm talking about if there are three teenagers in the story, and one of them happens to be Asian-American, and one is Polish-American, and one is a WASP whose umpteenth great-grandfather came over on the Mayflower, sure they're going to have a different set of worldviews, because they are different people with different cultural expectations.

But the story does not have to justify the fact that one of them is Chinese-American any more than it has to justify that the other two are white.
You guys should come into the OWW chat sometime. You know where to find us, right?
what you need to do is write a story where white people sit round in trailer parks and pray to mecca :)
I think that one's ALL YOURS.

Interesting conversation

I think it's a matter of perspective. I suppose you can write about a different ethnic group if you're familiar with them but the problem I see a lot is writers falling into writing stereotypes. Let's say, for example, I were to write about a particular ethnic group. Unless I'm familiar with them, there may be a tendancy to either 1. Make them like my ethnic group or 2. Live down to stereotype. The third (and correct way) is to do research.
I think the point where I started exploring non-anglo characters was where I wrote my first suburban girl, since the entire point was that although she looks different, she's just one more suburban girl who listened to pop music and shopped at the mall and had all the same suburban understandings of the world, even when the world saw her as different. I don't really see a chinese-american kid, raised by chinese-american parents, as being that fundamentally different from a spanish-american kid, but then, it's more that they have more in common with other american kids than they do with kids of their heritage who remained in their old country. (The children of new immigrants have a different story, since they do straddle the old and new.)

What gets me, though, is what I call the rainbow approach. You see it in advertising all the time, and can practically count it off on your fingers. One white kid with blond hair and blue eyes, male, check. One black girl. Check. One brunette girl, possibly hispanic or just slightly darker coloring, check. One asian boy, check. Line them all up, and don't forget the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy gets put smack dab in the middle.

I find that almost as annoying as all-anglo casts, where you get the sneaking suspicion the author/advertiser wanted to be as 'fair' as possible, and it just ends up feeling contrived.
Yes. The Benetton-ad syndrom. How can they make kids that are all so different seem so much alike?

The thing about fiction is, hopefully, there is enough of a character and backstory that a multi-ethnic cast doesn't feel contrived. You can totally make people Chinese, or gay, or whatever, for no reason... as long as you make them true to that, and not just a different-coloured white person. If that makes sense.
There's a wonderful I Spy episode where Scotty (Bill Cosby) is in China, and the little Chinese kids keep following him around in a flock because they think he's so wonderful to look at. *g*
"relevent to the story" ????!!!! *stands straight up*

That's what they told me! Sheez, are these people all reading from the same track?

Them: "I don't see what relevence Yoshi's orientation has to the story; you should take it out. You'll have a hard time selling it."

Me: "Uh . . . pretty major scene here, and he's talking to his lover. I can't just write the lover out. He was there. What, do you think I'm running this horse and pony show?"

That's when I fired them. Oh, so fired. And that's how I found FMWriters, and kaigou, and came to Live Journal, and since then it's been nothing but good, even when it's been hard.

Because as a writer, you gotta have certain principles to stand on. Coz if you don't stand on them, they'll slither away.

Enter the reader...

So, I don't play a writer on TV. I don't even play one on the internet. However, I found myself strangely having an opinion on this...

When I was in my younger years, it seems that no one told me what the nationalities of the characters were. They were described to me, where I could make my own conjectures.

Hell, when I was terribly much younger, I may have thought that every character I read was a bisexual fat American Indian French Canadian German Polack because it somehow made it better to believe that the character could be *me*.

What's that thing Bear always says about not just telling me what I'm seeing but describing it? (I'd go look for it, but I haven't had coffee yet and it could be risky.) Telling me that a character is half-anything or non-white or whatever by just telling me is *cheap*.

Make me work for it, man.

Re: Enter the reader...

It's not about the telling.

It's about the people who think you have to justify any deviation from "baseline." Where baseline is (natch) straight WASP 20-something. Because we assume all characters are straight WASP 20-somethings. And anything else is an exotic.

This book needs more Bolsheviks....
"the idea that if you're going to have a character who is gay/black/Asian/Jewish/Muslim/something non-North-American-percieved-monoculture-baseline, it has to "have some bearing on the story," because otherwise it's "extraneous." "

"points to the kaleidoscopian variety of races in her novels" I think that's a superficial notion. However, there is a way in which you can draw attention to the race of the character. If you wave it like a flag in the reader's face and don't do anything with it, the reader will understandably demand to know why. I think there are three broad categories in which race can be handled aside from it being a crucial part of the plot: natural, misleading, and disconnected.

Frex,for natural, I'd point to Ursula le Guin's... Ummm... I seem to have hit a brain glitch... you know, the series on the islands. What is the name?... Earthsea. The hero is dark-skinned. I always pictured him as polynesian. A perfect example of handling the race in such a manner as to prevent the reader from assuming that it will be somehow significant to plot.

Misleading occurs when you make a point of saying that a character is an Native American and say it over and over and over, the reader may expect some conflict or some plot tie-in but it never occurs.

There is also the Disconnected Ethnic syndrome. We are never truly separate from our racial/cultural roots. Frex, I am as proficient in English as most native speakers. However, now and again an odd Russian world may slip out. When I say something I think may jinx me, I spit three times of my left shoulder and knock on wood. It's a cultural thing. My daughters are as American as you can get and yet I caught them doing the knock-on-wood routine. Our parents and graparents before them passed certain things to us through their behavior and their values. The superstitions, the odd things we do, the love of culture, they are what makes us who we are. So if a writer takes a character and claims that he is Russian or of Russian descent but there is nothing at all even remotely related or pointed to Russian culture in his life or behavor, then the writer in fact created a coloring-book character by picking a color at random and filling a generic image. It doesn't mean the character must run around guzzling vodka and spouting russian curse words but it does mean that once in a while he might recall his grandfather who fought in Sevastopol during WWII.

Readers read to be entertained. They enjoy a taste of something different, something unusual, but DE leaves them completely cold. They know it's unnatural and they feel cheated.

This is all true. By the time you hit second generation, the cultural havits are small, but they're still there. Even if it's as simple as the endless irritation of having to spell a non-English last name over the goddamn phone for the goddamned 25th time...
Frankly, I don't even knowwhy people get upset about it. But they do. I seem to get Teh Gay on people on a regular basis. (Why are there gay people in this book?! Well, ma'am, because there are gay people in the society in which this book takes place....)

This is happening a little more in movies

without people squawking "Oh, they're just being PC/tokenist!" finally - colorblind casting isn't *quite* mainstream yet, but at least it's starting to happen. Instead of casting a buxom blue-eyed blonde as the CEO's of-course-beautiful-and-elegant secretary which would have been so predictable as not to even be noticed, the bestselling Batman Begins cast the svelte Christine Adams (who's also in Dr. Who, more fannish fun.) Which, given our jangled society, is itself a daring statement, just like using non-skeletal models, alas...

And there was no reason to cast Morgan Freeman as the Batcave's Q, except that Morgan Freeman rocks and everyone I know loves him and would indeed be happy hearing him read the phone book. What was important is that here's someone who's good at projecting integrity and intelligence and moral authority (which makes me wonder, like with Cary Grant would Holy Wood ever dare to cast him as a bad guy now?) and is plausible as a genius inventor kicked off the board for tangling with the CEO.

The Brotherhood of Idealistic Ninjas contains European and Anglo-American and African assassins, too - which is in keeping with its goal of world domination rescuing humanity from our self-destructive vices; there are Italian-American mobsters and black police chiefs and Irish-American barristers and Middle-Eastern falafel vendors in Gotham because in its RL analog there are immigrant entrepreneurs, Italian-American mobsters and Irish-Americans and African-Americans in the criminal justice system (some of whom are also criminals) in big port cities on the Atlantic. Flass' scuzzy thuggishness has nothing to do with his race, he's the archetype distillation of your crooked undercover cop (something Chicago could tell us more than a little about). In a lot of ways, they cast the movie more like a TV CJ show than a Hollywood product.

Role Model Syndrome

I think this thread has a lot of interesting POVs and strains of thought, but what I don't see anyone bringing up is the Role Model Syndrome. Let's take race. Let's pretend I wanted to write about a character who was a hero who gets tempted, and makes a series of bad decisions, and explore the corruption of power. But instead of making the character a WASP, I also give them my ethnicity, because, hey, it's what I know. Why not?

I think if I wrote that story, there'd be complaints that I was portraying X minority in a negative light, and the story was implying that X Minority had weak morals, and that I was playing to negative stereotypes, and why aren't there any positive portrayals of X Minority in the media? It's the Role Model syndrome at work--the idea that a diverse character has to be a paragon of virtue to be a role model to people who are X, and a goodwill ambassador for other people to understand X. I get where it's coming from, because we have had to deal with negative, stereotypical portrayals in the past, and there is a lack of diversity in the media, such that making a main character diverge from the baseline becomes noticeable. So instead of writing, "Hero gets corrupted," I'd end up writing "X Hero gets corrupted and how does this reflect on general portrayals of X?"

Ideally, you can diverge from the baseline and write your story, and make your characters fallible and screw up in spectacular ways, and it won't matter. Because there will be a ton of other portrayals of diverse characters out there. Then again...I'd thought there was enough diverse portrayals of women as main characters, (being good, bad, smart, flawed, weak, conflicted, strong, etc.) that one author's treatment of women wouldn't be a big deal, but apparently it is.

what the crap?

That argument (it has to have bearing on the story) will make for boring fiction.

Does the character's sex have bearing on the plot? No? Don't tell us.
Does the character's name have bearing on the plot? Doesn't need one, then.
How about the way something smells? A texture? Not important, who wants to be grounded in the reality of the story if it doesn't impact the plot.

My Boring Story

Character 2 laughed in the way C2 always laughed, and made Character 1's heart beat a little faster.
"You're going to make us late to pick up Character 3," C1 said.
"Sorry. Let me finish eating my cardboard flakes," C2 said.
The phone rang and C1 answered it. "Hi, it's C3. Are you characters coming?"
"We're on our way," C1 said.

They left the place they were in, got into their vehicle, and went to the place C3 was. They got into an accident and died.

The end.

On a related issue: I loathe when there's a disabled character who only exists to provide Tragic Angst. Every five pages, there's a mention of the character's disability and how worn/frail they are. They are excuses for Good people to be Good and Bad ones to be Bad. And, the thing I hate most...

Whenever we get the character's POV (ha!), all their thoughts revolve around their fucking disability and how HAAAAAAAAARD their life is in this CRUEL, TRAGIC WORLD and how no one will ever Wuv them because they are REPULSIVE!!!!!!!!!11111111

Um. No. Especially not if the character has been disabled for life like me. Sure, I think about it sometimes, but there are other things in my life. There are even other things in my life to feel bad about.

It seems to me that there are very few disabled characters permitted to be characters. They must either be Ambassadors for the Kind or Horrible Examples of What Can Go Wrong with This Kind of Pressure. Actually, scratch the second. That might hurt someone's feelings.

I do not exist to show how open-minded and tolerant you are, and neither should your characters. Bad writer. No biscuit.

(This is part of what I liked about Hammered. Genie's illness was there, and it affected Gabe's actions, but he never went on a five-page soliloquy about how hard it was to raise a *cough* different child, unlike some mothers I know in real life (not mine.) Jenny was even allowed to admit Leah was her favourite!)
Oh, yeah, I loathe that, too. I do like it when a disabled character is allowed to be competent despite her disabilities. When it's a part of her character rather than defining her character.

Actually, I seem to have a fair number of disabled characters, though I don't think of them that way. I recently remarked to a friend that I needed to stop blinding people and cutting off their hands, because it was becoming a tic....

Genie actually gets to do stuff in books two and three, for what it's worth. *g*
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