Oh NOW you find something you're not allowed to do.
This was meant to be a response to a post but apparently Tumblr App doesn’t want me to repost anything. Instead all you get is the response with no context.
I’m tired of the idea that white people “aren’t allowed” to write non-white characters. Have you ever met a non-white person who’s stated this as a flat out rule? I haven’t. And I’ve been doing this for a while.
Here’s the bottom line. It comes in three parts.
There are not enough non-white characters in fiction, especially in big budget high profile fiction (including animated movies). There are also not enough non-white creators working in these industries. These are related phenomena. But they are not the same phenomenon. That’s part one.
It’s true that non-white creators will always be better qualified to write characters and stories that match their own lived experiences and historical and family experiences than any white creator attempting the same story. I don’t know what it’s like to be black. Someone else does. But, part two is important- a black creator can write the story that they want to write. They don’t owe it to anybody to write The Black Experience. They probably know white people pretty well, as well as any white person does, and if they are inspired to write a story with a white protagonist, that is the story this hypothetical creator needs to write. This means that even if the gainfully employed writers in every industry match perfectly to the racial demographics of their audience, you will still have slightly more white characters than makes sense.
Part three drives the point home. You are a writer. So write! Being a writer means writing characters who are not yourself. It means climbing inside the heads of fictional people and moving them around through a landscape. A good writer does their research. Do yours. Read some books by the authors from part two. A good writer doesn’t NEED to write characters exactly like themselves, they can write ANYONE. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. The writer in part two has an easier job than you (for once). Do your job regardless. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to consider things like misappropriation, misrepresentation, and stereotyping. If you’re worried about these things, GOOD. You should be. They’re kind of a big deal. You will make mistakes. You will occasionally offend people in ways you didn’t mean to. Learn from your mistakes. Fess up to them. That, already, is more than anyone in Hollywood has ever done. Listen to people. Get better at your job. If you’re too scared to write characters who aren’t white, learn enough that you’re not scared. It’s in the job description. Or get out of the way and let someone else do it.
A little while ago I made an announcement about the The Whole Story: Broken Telephone project I’ve been invite to work on. It’s a project put together by Ryan Estrada, who’s single-handedly brought together 18 different artists around an opportunity to create…
Take a couple of minutes to read the premise of the actual story this ebook set tells. It sounds amazing! I really want to get my ebooks, so you all had BETTER buy your own copy.
Pointers on writing kids, especially smart ones. GO.
As with most things in life, there is no substitute for real world experience. I teach kids for a living. I think I “get” them pretty well. But here are some suggestions for places to start that should work for just about anyone.
First, think about the age of your character. A two year-old is not an eight year-old is not a twelve year-old. They act differently, and understand the world differently. Four year-olds, generally speaking, are incredibly self-centred. But can also be super sensitive to their surroundings, when they occasionally remember to be.
By six years old that awareness of other people has sharpened into a keen sense of justice. Six year-olds still remain profoundly selfish, but they know what’s right and what’s wrong and will tell you all about it. They definitely care what other people think, as evidenced by the high level of gendering that they inflict on each other at that age.
Between eight and ten they’re very self-conscious of their peers. That doesn’t really go away until adulthood. At this age, though, kids tend to have a much better sense of self identity. They know a few things about themselves- things they like, things they don’t like, and tend to have ideas about what that means for social interaction. When they say they have best friends, they mean it now (they didn’t before).
By twelve, their little brains are starting to fill with hormones. Generally speaking they have something to prove- that they’re cool, that they’re popular, that they’re worthwhile, and that they don’t need adults to tell them what to do. Remember that girls grow up sooner than boys. And remember that none of them actually knows how to be an adult yet, it’s all just a thin veneer over a slightly wiser version of that same ten year-old. Characters at this age can seem very dichotomous- a child one minute, a miniature adult the next.
Second, try your best to get inside their head. Too many writers seem unable to do this. Treat them like any other character. What is their motivation? What do they need and how do they plan to get it? If your character is goofy, or cute, or terrified, or brave, or cruel, or kind, try to figure out WHY (from their point of view). Kids don’t have a lot of life experience to base their decisions on. This is why they rely on what adults or peers tell them is true, or trust their instincts (groundless though they may be). They can be flighty. But they’re not stupid. Their brains have all the processing power yours does. They just don’t have the data, and they don’t have the skills to know how to best access their own potential.
Third, think about their surroundings. As a teacher, I’ve seen time and time again how kids will act differently when their parents are around compared to when they’re not. I’m also pretty sure they act differently again when there are no adults around at all, or depending on what other kids they’re with. That kid knows who else is in the room and how self-reliant they need to be. This is why so many stories with kid protagonists turn them into orphans or find some other way to get the parents out of the picture. It makes the difference (both in fiction and in real life) between an active character and a passive one.
And finally, treat them like an individual. Two kids who are the same age are not the same person. They have the same range of personalities as adults. Some are quiet, some are loud, some are wishy-washy, some are grimly stubborn. There are powerful social forces pushing kids to feel like they’re all the same, that they should like the same things and do the same things. A lot of the interaction between them seems to be about the tension between conformity and individuality.
It can be really difficult, as a writer, to remember how you saw the world when you were a kid. At least I find it to be. I think the only real option is to try and put yourself in their shoes now. How would YOU act if you were that character, if you subtract your years of experience and knowledge of how the world works? That’s probably not far off from how your kid character would act.
do you ever look around at the big crowds of people around you and realize everyone has a story and memories and family and troubles and achievements and a first kiss and a broken heart but you’ll never know any of it and every human life is really intricate and expansive but oh they’ve walked into a shop and you’ll never see them again and you’ll never know just what they were thinking
I think about this a lot
There’s a word for this:
Woops, just stole this word to use as a character’s name in a future storyline. ;-)
As someone who actually is black and is frustrated by the lack of diversity in media, the numerous attempts you make to justify PoC on PoC racism angers me. Why is it ok for Studio Ghibli to not have a single black character in…
"If they desire representation, they should demand it!" is a lousy excuse. I’m sorry. How do you know they haven’t? How many have to demand it before it counts? People ought to be represented accurately just by virtue of existing in the world. Demanding action is not required.
I would actually be willing to give Studio Ghibli a pass on representing non-Japanese, non-white characters in their movies- they have spent decades giving a spotlight to Japanese characters and stories that would not have received any attention without them- but one glaring error is going to revoke their pass (as far as I’m concerned).
This is a movie based on The Wizard of Earthsea, a fantasy book by American author Ursula LeGuin. Nearly every character in the original story, apart from a few villains, is clearly described as black in the novel. Look at that trailer. These characters are not drawn as if they are black.
Studio Ghibli whitewashed (or possibly Japanese-washed, it’s hard to tell) one of my favourite stories from one of my favourite authors. They have no reasonable defence against any and all charges of poor racial representation anyone might care to lay at their feet. Given the history of racism against black people in East Asia, this is unacceptable.
If policemen and doctors would just do their jobs, we wouldn’t have any crime or any death.
Look, I know you cops like hanging out at Dunkin Donuts most of the day. I know you doctors like playing golf every afternoon. But if you want to keep your cushy jobs, you’re going to have to step up and show us some RESULTS to justify your pay.
If a police department has more than three crimes per month committed in its jurisdiction, funding for the department will be cut, and some police officers will have to be fired until the crime rate goes down. If a two or more patients under a doctor’s care die (for any reason) in a single year, fifty-percent of that doctor’s salary will be garnished by the government, and he will risk losing his medical license if the survival rates do not improve.
Now, I already hear you complaining. “I’m a police officer in a dangerous area. We risk our lives each day, and we can’t afford to lose funding or manpower.” Or, “I’m a doctor who specializes in treating cancer patients and the elderly. I work as hard as I can to keep them alive against incredible odds.”
Well, guess what? Nobody forced you to become a police officer or a doctor. Get with the program, or get out of the field.
”—What If We Spoke to Police Officers and Doctors the Way We Speak to Teachers? (via edukaition)
I LOLed, but then I remembered that police departments DO have quotas and targets, and bad things happen when they focus on meeting them rather than doing what’s right.