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chocowrites
07-18-2013, 11:01 AM
hello all,

I'm in the beginning stages of a new wip, and I figured now rather than later is a good time to sound out a few ideas and try to ask questions.

My preferences as a writer rn are to write POC MC's. if there's a choice between having a white MC, or a POC MC, I would much rather actively choose a POC MC. This is because I'm pretty tired of only watching and reading things where the main character is a white dude (i'm not white or a dude so I don't have to add to the already abundant material out there). I figure that unless I have valid reason not to, my works will feature FMCs who are POC.

I'm fine with writing contemporary books with POC, but when it comes to fantasy (which I haven't written as much of), I really get unsure about how to handle things.

The story I'm currently writing is sort of a loose retelling of a bunch of German, Greek, and Scandinavian fairy tales and literature mushed together. My intent before starting it was to cast an Asian FMC. But I started to get confused as my worldbuilding interacted with the myths I'm trying to build off of.

For example, I was going to name my MC something like "Mei" or "Lin," as a sort of cue to readers that You Don't Have to Default Her to White. But other than that, I'm kinda questioning how I can make my character a specific ethnicity that corresponds to a real-life one. For world-building, I'm pretty much keeping Earth's climate and general geography, but I'm wasn't planning to carry over the specific history and countries.

I was thinking that you would have people of all different skin color, according to where they are in the globe, and who looked like say, Asian people, if they lived in the equivalent area in this fantasy Earth, right? I mean, people would look the same, based off where they live? I think.

But I kind of ran into some problems about dealing with culture. If I'm not specifically trying to carry over, for example, an Asian-influenced fantasy culture, what does this imply for an Asian looking MC? My MC would look Asian, and possibly have an Asian name. But I wouldn't necessarily have the "markers" of an Asian fantasy, such as an Emperor ruling the kingdom, or kung fu magic, or the same cultural practices, social hierarchy, or a lot of markers that would cue readers into this being an fantasy set in an Asia equivalent.

And if I'm basing this off European/western myths does it follow that my MC should then be white, since that's their cultural heritage? (I'm not sure.)

The way my setting plans are as of now, the book starts off in a small town where the MC is born, but then she travels a bit and works as a servant in castle in the far north of the world.

I'm especially concerned that since I've mostly read British types of fantasy, that this influences how I write fantasy, so I'll have a lot of western "markers" in my story. But then I'm trying to make my character Asian, when she's a baker's daughter who works as a maid at a manor, and I'm talking about footmen and ladies and castles an such, which I feel like are more associated with western culture.

I'm wondering if this is a kind of mutually exclusive thing: most of the fantasy I've read, if you're writing about an equivalent area, you carry over the culture: like they'll be "Sultans"if it's supposed to be based off India, or kimono-like clothes if it's supposed to be Japan-influenced, etc. Maybe it's necessary to write fantasy versions of already existing cultures? I mean, what would it imply if I create a 18th century western-like society in what would geographically be Asia? Isn't that kind of problematic, bc it's like I'm creating a world that supports colonization and imperialism? In that case, it would be a lot better just to make my MC white in Europe.

Another possibility is to set it geographically in Europe (probably a Germany-equivalent), but to have a POC MC anyway (like Beethoven at that time!!), who would be a minority among mostly white people. I feel like this would actually be more helpful than erasing POC cultures and only retaining character's appearances based off race. I know how an MC looks can still be important to readers hoping for representation, but disregarding the corresponding culture, even if it's fantasy, is something I feel very uneasy about. Are there any books that people can recommend me which deal with POC society but in cultures not based off their real-life equivalent? I've only read fantasy books that retain cultural markers of wherever they're equivalently geographically set.

But then, I'm kind of worried, cause whoops I was planning to make my MC cursed into the form of basically a harpy and so maybe that also would have notsogreat connotations? (I remember a tumblr post going around about how in disney movies like emperor's new groove, princess and the frog, and brother bear, the POC MC spends most of the time as an animal and that's kinda sucky.)

I don't know. As you can tell, I'm really confused and probably making a bunch of wrong assumptions. This is the first time I've tried to write a POC MC in a fantasy. I'd welcome any thoughts/ corrections/ objections/ suggestions all of you more wise people can spare :)

lolchemist
07-18-2013, 11:51 AM
I have a fantasy WIP too and I just made it like modern-day America where all races already are living together. In my story they've been living together and intermarrying for so long they don't even see themselves as different races anymore. It's totally normal for one family to have literally black, white, Asian looking, Hispanic, looking, Persian looking, and all sorts of mixed-race looking people in it. Andof course, the MC and pretty much everybody are mixed. Except it's not earth so I can make their culture whatever I want too.

I'd say since you're writing your own fantasy now, don't chain yourself down whats going on here on earth. You're allowed to make up your own cultures!

J.S.F.
07-18-2013, 12:06 PM
Sounds like you're doing a mashup of everything out there. Since it's not exactly like Earth, you can write it however you want it. As long as you stick to the basic rules of world-building and make your characters consistent in what they say and how they act, there's no reason you can't have a mixing of various cultures/myths/manners of dress or whatever. Just make it interesting and readable. To me, it sounds like a good story!

Mr Flibble
07-18-2013, 12:35 PM
And if I'm basing this off European/western myths does it follow that my MC should then be white, since that's their cultural heritage? (I'm not sure.)

Nope. It's your fantasy -- you can do what you like as long as it's internally consistent.

Really. Go for it. Why does an Asian(-like, if this isn't Earth) MC have to live in a culture based on a particular Asian culture? There's no real reason, especially if this isn't Earth. Why shouldn't a culture of non-whites have footmen, if they are rich enough? Footmen are not a factor of being white -- they are a factor of showing off your wealth through 'having my man do that for me'. Maybe the Asian-like people are the colonials, so that would work. Or perhaps you want to find a different cultural marker that shows off wealth. You can mix and match and clash to your heart's content (and I hope you do, that's my fave type of fantasy) The choice is endless, and yours.

Really, all you need to do is a) write what you'd like to read and b) be internally consistent.

If you set it up right, pretty much anything will fly. That's the beauty of fantasy. You can make a new world, and make it right this time.

Rachel Udin
07-18-2013, 07:19 PM
I'm going to caveat it a bit.

As long as your MC doesn't have an explicitly ONE Asian name saying something like "Aigoo", while wearing samurai gear and saying she practices "Kung fu" rather than "martial arts" while practicing pseudo-Hinduism it should be fine.

Mei and Lin are both Chinese (Mandarin) names. Mei *can* be Japanese (But the name meaning would be different), but that excludes Korea, Mongolia and the rest of Asia. Iran....

In another words, avoid the major usual pitfalls and don't use the world building as an excuse to put in subconscious amounts of racism.

=P

In option 1 of taking an equivalent area, most people do fail. Because they don't realize basics, such as Sino-chinese language is not grammatically related to Mongolian, Korean or Chinese. And is definitely not related to a lot of SE Asian or S Asian or Russian or Farsi... Not to mention the mess of languages in India... Tamil is not related to Sanskrit/Hindi.

Putting an Asian character in a European setting usually fails too. Most people force the character into being white. Plus it kinda defeats the purpose. (You'd have to really research Anthropology to cleanly get away with making it no particular place on Earth) And even if you got away with it and pretty much did the say, Indian in Britain thing, you'd still have another culture to build so you can write for an against it in the identity. (Being the only one kinda sets up for issues).

The other thing you can try is to research as much as you can about the history of Asia, borrow bits that OVERLAP, (which is how scenario 1 fails) for a specific part of Asia and loosely build on the overlapping bits and then use the overlapping bits+Anthropology to build it up.) It's tricky, as Jemisin puts it, but you can do it well with care and thought. The problem is subconsciously falling into pitfalls, even if you belong to that group, for example, thinking that Asians always have a good income... (Which is proportionately not true) Which just means doing more research and kicking yourself when you make a wrong turn.

Either way, unless you've been working at it, you'd have to research a whole bunch to do it well. Even people who write about their own groups claim to had to research a whole bunch in order to do a good representation.

So I compliment you for being anxious--being worried and pondering isn't a bad thing in this case.

patskywriter
07-18-2013, 07:43 PM
I'd say just be fair, thoughtful, and mindful of what you're doing, and you'll be fine.

I could write a story based on my people, African-Americans, and easily come up with a fantasy/science-fiction scenario. This could be because so many different types of blacks were brought here to the USA and pretty much thrown together. As a result, as a "newer" group, we often live our lives as a mash-up. I personally know black people with names like Keiko, Adolf, Jean-Pierre, Muna, Elizabeth, Aasim, Bouna—they're all so different from one another that I can honestly say that the only thing they all share is an Africa that for some is in the distant past. Don't overthink what you're doing—pay attention, but don't overscrutinize every little detail.

chocowrites
07-18-2013, 10:02 PM
I have a fantasy WIP too and I just made it like modern-day America where all races already are living together. In my story they've been living together and intermarrying for so long they don't even see themselves as different races anymore. It's totally normal for one family to have literally black, white, Asian looking, Hispanic, looking, Persian looking, and all sorts of mixed-race looking people in it. Andof course, the MC and pretty much everybody are mixed. Except it's not earth so I can make their culture whatever I want too.

I'd say since you're writing your own fantasy now, don't chain yourself down whats going on here on earth. You're allowed to make up your own cultures!

Oh, I like that-- as a mixed person myself, I'd love to read a book where a lot of the characters are mixed. (:

And duly noted, I think it might be best if I made up a whole new culture that's not based on a particular place.


Sounds like you're doing a mashup of everything out there. Since it's not exactly like Earth, you can write it however you want it. As long as you stick to the basic rules of world-building and make your characters consistent in what they say and how they act, there's no reason you can't have a mixing of various cultures/myths/manners of dress or whatever. Just make it interesting and readable. To me, it sounds like a good story!

Thanks! And I think you and Mr. Flibble are right about being to mix myths as I want, especially since it seems like a lot of myths have influenced or have echoes of myths from very different countries.


Nope. It's your fantasy -- you can do what you like as long as it's internally consistent.

Really. Go for it. Why does an Asian(-like, if this isn't Earth) MC have to live in a culture based on a particular Asian culture? There's no real reason, especially if this isn't Earth. Why shouldn't a culture of non-whites have footmen, if they are rich enough? Footmen are not a factor of being white -- they are a factor of showing off your wealth through 'having my man do that for me'. Maybe the Asian-like people are the colonials, so that would work. Or perhaps you want to find a different cultural marker that shows off wealth. You can mix and match and clash to your heart's content (and I hope you do, that's my fave type of fantasy) The choice is endless, and yours.

Really, all you need to do is a) write what you'd like to read and b) be internally consistent.

If you set it up right, pretty much anything will fly. That's the beauty of fantasy. You can make a new world, and make it right this time.

Yes, the footmen work at one of the richest houses in towns--but perhaps I'll just call them all "workers" or "servants" (which is a universal thing that rich people have had in all cultures) since I feel like "footman" is a term specifically from European aristocracy?

I think I will try to dream up some more "markers" for class that are not completely taken from one culture.


I'm going to caveat it a bit.

As long as your MC doesn't have an explicitly ONE Asian name saying something like "Aigoo", while wearing samurai gear and saying she practices "Kung fu" rather than "martial arts" while practicing pseudo-Hinduism it should be fine.

Mei and Lin are both Chinese (Mandarin) names. Mei *can* be Japanese (But the name meaning would be different), but that excludes Korea, Mongolia and the rest of Asia. Iran....

In another words, avoid the major usual pitfalls and don't use the world building as an excuse to put in subconscious amounts of racism.

=P

In option 1 of taking an equivalent area, most people do fail. Because they don't realize basics, such as Sino-chinese language is not grammatically related to Mongolian, Korean or Chinese. And is definitely not related to a lot of SE Asian or S Asian or Russian or Farsi... Not to mention the mess of languages in India... Tamil is not related to Sanskrit/Hindi.

Putting an Asian character in a European setting usually fails too. Most people force the character into being white. Plus it kinda defeats the purpose. (You'd have to really research Anthropology to cleanly get away with making it no particular place on Earth) And even if you got away with it and pretty much did the say, Indian in Britain thing, you'd still have another culture to build so you can write for an against it in the identity. (Being the only one kinda sets up for issues).

The other thing you can try is to research as much as you can about the history of Asia, borrow bits that OVERLAP, (which is how scenario 1 fails) for a specific part of Asia and loosely build on the overlapping bits and then use the overlapping bits+Anthropology to build it up.) It's tricky, as Jemisin puts it, but you can do it well with care and thought. The problem is subconsciously falling into pitfalls, even if you belong to that group, for example, thinking that Asians always have a good income... (Which is proportionately not true) Which just means doing more research and kicking yourself when you make a wrong turn.

Either way, unless you've been working at it, you'd have to research a whole bunch to do it well. Even people who write about their own groups claim to had to research a whole bunch in order to do a good representation.

So I compliment you for being anxious--being worried and pondering isn't a bad thing in this case.

I agree about it being really tricky with approximating languages and names; I was a bit worried about this too. If I'm not trying to set it in real-world China, it wouldn't make sense to give my characters Mandarin names, and try to imply they're speaking Mandarin. But trying to create pseudo-Mandarin, like naming a character "Qeng" (which i don't think exists in Mandarin) is worse, I'm thinking. I feel like it can be pretty easy to be racist trying to create a naming system and language that approximates what American people think the Mandarin language sounds like (I feel like the average Americans have no idea how to tell apart Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese names and language, judging by all the racist as hell jokes about Asian names, and the recent fiasco with making fun of the Korean air pilots by using Chinese names *shudder*). So unfortunately, I can't say I trust the average reader to know the differences between Asian cultures, and how an Asian language should be written in Latin script. Plus, I'm worried about how people just amass all Asian cultures together into this one blob, when they're quite different. So yeah, appropriating Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian cultural elements and setting them in one Asia-like place could be really problematic, as you mentioned. So I definitely won't be going that route.

I definitely will be doing more research :)


I'd say just be fair, thoughtful, and mindful of what you're doing, and you'll be fine.

I could write a story based on my people, African-Americans, and easily come up with a fantasy/science-fiction scenario. This could be because some many different types of blacks were brought here to the USA and pretty much thrown together. As a result, as a "newer" group, we often to live our lives as a mash-up. I personally know black people with names like Keiko, Adolf, Jean-Pierre, Muna, Elizabeth, Aasim, Bouna—they're all so different from one another that I can honestly say that the only thing they all share is an Africa that for some is in the distant past. Don't overthink what you're doing—pay attention, but don't overscrutinize every little detail.

Thank you for the advice -- it was a good reminder that people who might have the same race can have different mash-ups of culture. And i think I have a problem with over-thinking ha ha :)

To everyone, thanks for replying! It's definitely set my thinking/word-building on a different path. I'm thinking of either upgrading the hometown to a city, where it would make sense that there are tons of people from different races and cultures mingling, and cities around the world seem to have a lot in common with each other, so it could more easily be "anywhere".

Or I'm also thinking, to just try to invent a non-Earth culture that doesn't closely parallel any currently existing culture. My MC would still be a POC, and I would definitely state her appearance so it's very clear she should be imagined as a POC and not a white person, but I wouldn't try to carry over the characteristics of a specific real language to name people and places, and would invent things that don't specifically recall a real culture.

I think this route makes me happier and more at ease than trying to write a culture that's supposed to be a stand-in for a POC culture that exists in real life! :)

sohalt
07-18-2013, 11:39 PM
In my current WIP, I have a POC heroine in a faux-European enlightenment setting, so the general tenor of my advice would be "Go for it!"

Couple of Caveats:

Yes, if you consistently evoke "faux-Europe" with worldbuilding details (castles, knights, generally European/Christian sounding names, etc.) and you just give that one character an Asian name and the corresponding complexion, without any further explanations, some readers will find that a bit jarring at first.

1) So what, they'll get over it.

2) You can avoid that if you feel you have to, by providing some plausible backstory why a faux-Asian character would make it to faux-Europe in this the faux-middle ages, or whenever the whole thing is set.

eg. in my WP, the heroine's mother came to faux-Europe essentially as part of the loot after the emperor's latest victorious campaign against the faux-Osman empire. She became a lady in waiting for a countess, and then the mistress of a powerful Prince-elector and was later married off to my MC's dad, a Baron, which led to the birth of my MC. She has been socialized in a faux-European culture and has a faux-Christian name, so I feel I don't have to worry to much about cultural appropriation, because the culture that shaped her is consistently faux-European.

There is actually a historical person whom I modelled that particular character after, so it should feel plausible enough.

Your MC's Dad for instance could have been some kind of faux-Marco Polo, exploring trade routes to faux-China and returning from his travels with a wife and a kid. Voilą - faux-Asian person in faux-medieval Europe with a perfectly plausible backstory.

(Or maybe he even was some reverse Marco Polo, hailing from faux-China to explore trade routes to faux-Europe....).

And I would probably still have the majority of the population be white. As soon as you say "knights" that will be the readers' default assumption anyway, and if you don't want to specify the skin-tone of every single minor character who's mentionned, I'd rather just roll with it. Your MC still doesn't have to be the only POC in the story (POC might have been a minority in medieval Europe but they certainly were not as rare as media representation would have you believe), but readers will ask themselves how she got there, unfairly or not, and you can ease things a bit by having an answer ready.

I think there are lot of fun things one could do with that kind of premise - eg. a reverse-Mighty-Whitey-scenario, a Mighty-POC, where the POC character comes to the white people to save them from themselves, by surpassing them in their own traditions and becoming the prophecied hero of their own legends. Since I don't believe in such a thing as reverse racism (preferring to go with the definition of racism that is concerned with entrenched power asymmetries and institutionalized injustice), I would be rather delighted to see something like that.

Kim Fierce
07-19-2013, 01:11 AM
I have a future where it's supposed to be a post-racial era 200 years in the future with all multi-racial characters. Despite the fact that I also have them talking about racial differences of the past and learning history which the government is trying to deny them, I had one review which said PoC STILL might feel left out and that I "conveniently" made the world post-racial so I wouldn't have to deal with racism (even though the characters have conversations about it) and that I had written a single-issue book (it's about a world where gay and straight people live divided...see my avatar for cover lol.) I was soooo upset but sometimes no matter what you do some people might try to look for things that weren't perfect. But I'm still trying to apply this to Book Two. (ETA: I know, I'm sorry to add it. But I have read so many books where race was an issue that I thought maybe it would be NICE to have a world where it wasn't as bad. But . . . things are changing in Book Two. Turns out my character was just sheltered and naive.)

An example of a character in mainstream fiction is Jem from The Infernal Devices series (Clockwork Angel, etc.) who is part Chinese/part white in Victorian era Europe. He does not have much connection with his Chinese heritage at all, and I think this might have been very interesting and enlightening for the book if he did have. (See, look at me, even I am criticizing other people!) I think, though, if you are writing a fantasy world, it could work to use a different setting with a character who looks a certain way but doesn't have ties to an echo culture which sometimes ends up turning out bad or seems demeaning.

Mr Flibble
07-19-2013, 01:41 AM
(POC might have been a minority in medieval Europe but they certainly were not as rare as media representation would have you believe)Considering the Moor influence on Spanish culture etc, they weren't even rare in many parts. (and that's just for starters -- they've found evidence of POC in England back to 1300, and they were probably at least known before that - Vikings and others travelled extensively beyond Europe and it's not beyond comprehension some people would have traveled the other way)

Now, people's perceptions may be different, but ....


And again, if this isn't on Earth, you can play it how you like. Maybe the 'Europe' of your world is POC. Setting it up right is the key here. Do that, you're gold.


eg. a reverse-Mighty-Whitey-scenario, a Mighty-POC, where the POC character comes to the white people to save them from themselves, by surpassing them in their own traditions and becoming the prophecied hero of their own legends. That would be so awesome! A kind of 13th warrior on steroids*.


*Note, not that this was without problems, but if I'm remembering correctly, without him the white dudes would have failed big time.

Rachel Udin
07-19-2013, 04:04 AM
There is a story I was told that is kinda typical... which you could also play with as a theme.

There is a place called "Crater Lake" (and put more quotes around crater in your mind).

The local native population told the scientists, "You know there was a volcano here and it erupted." But the Scientists said they were full of it, it was clearly a huge meteor and stubbornly called it "Crater Lake". Fast forward one hundred and a few decades and scientists recognize there was a volcano there after all and the Native population was correct.

Not the first time idiocy like that happened.

Much of the Moor's history was willfully destroyed as well (made into barbarians... despite the empire that was built). And it's still suppressed for double the reason. (religion and later, probably racism, since the majority were black/South West Asian)

I guess you could throw in the Ainu as well, though the culture and peoples were persecuted, I don't think one would say their history was willfully erased in the same way.

I think playing with something along that line might be fun. It's a human pattern that seems fairly universal.

It would come into line with Sohalt's suggestion, and give you a good edge of satire on the whole racism. There are so many ways to play with it too, especially since trade is older than homo sapiens sapiens... and trade can erase origins of things.

It's kinda like saying you hate Muslims, especially Middle Eastern ones and then saying you're going to the doctor and picking up your child from their math exam afterwards. =P Irony abounds so much from that.

MumblingSage
07-19-2013, 05:42 AM
There is a place called "Crater Lake" (and put more quotes around crater in your mind).

The local native population told the scientists, "You know there was a volcano here and it erupted." But the Scientists said they were full of it, it was clearly a huge meteor and stubbornly called it "Crater Lake". Fast forward one hundred and a few decades and scientists recognize there was a volcano there after all and the Native population was correct.
I was having a conversation with someone a few years back who had been to Crater Lake and the tour guide *still* told him it was from a meteor crash...despite the cinder cone. The ignorance runs deep.



Quote:
(POC might have been a minority in medieval Europe but they certainly were not as rare as media representation would have you believe)
Considering the Moor influence on Spanish culture etc, they weren't even rare in many parts. (and that's just for starters -- they've found evidence of POC in England back to 1300, and they were probably at least known before that - Vikings and others travelled extensively beyond Europe and it's not beyond comprehension some people would have traveled the other way)

This website (http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/) has been invaluable in educating this particular white girl on that account.

frimble3
07-19-2013, 10:32 AM
2) You can avoid that if you feel you have to, by providing some plausible backstory why a faux-Asian character would make it to faux-Europe in this the faux-middle ages, or whenever the whole thing is set.

eg. in my WP, the heroine's mother came to faux-Europe essentially as part of the loot after the emperor's latest victorious campaign against the faux-Osman empire. She became a lady in waiting for a countess, and then the mistress of a powerful Prince-elector and was later married off to my MC's dad, a Baron, which led to the birth of my MC. She has been socialized in a faux-European culture and has a faux-Christian name, so I feel I don't have to worry to much about cultural appropriation, because the culture that shaped her is consistently faux-European.

There is actually a historical person whom I modelled that particular character after, so it should feel plausible enough.

Your MC's Dad for instance could have been some kind of faux-Marco Polo, exploring trade routes to faux-China and returning from his travels with a wife and a kid. Voilą - faux-Asian person in faux-medieval Europe with a perfectly plausible backstory.

(Or maybe he even was some reverse Marco Polo, hailing from faux-China to explore trade routes to faux-Europe....).

Or, some sort of a faux-Mongolian Horde was a big menace, invaded, got defeated, leaving scattered clumps of POW's, runaways, etc. The MC is the descendent of some of these people. With the resultant baggage that the people she meets may have preconceptions, memories or myths of what 'her' people are like. She may have been totally raised within the dominant culture and know very little about her roots.

Reveen
07-19-2013, 09:28 PM
I personally don't think a PoC ending up in Northerneuropa land needs too much finagling to justify. People get around, end up in places real far from home or in strange social positions for their background. There were quite a few people throughout history like this, like Zheng He (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zheng_He)and Thomas Alexandre Dumas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas-Alexandre_Davy_de_la_Pailleterie)

But yeah, if you're worried about cultural appropriation it's probably for the best to work out a reason for their integration with a white culture.

Kitty27
07-22-2013, 05:32 AM
Well,darn.

I can add no more. This is why I love AW so much!

Dawnstorm
07-22-2013, 10:16 AM
For example, I was going to name my MC something like "Mei" or "Lin," as a sort of cue to readers that You Don't Have to Default Her to White. But other than that, I'm kinda questioning how I can make my character a specific ethnicity that corresponds to a real-life one. For world-building, I'm pretty much keeping Earth's climate and general geography, but I'm wasn't planning to carry over the specific history and countries.

I was thinking that you would have people of all different skin color, according to where they are in the globe, and who looked like say, Asian people, if they lived in the equivalent area in this fantasy Earth, right? I mean, people would look the same, based off where they live? I think.

But I kind of ran into some problems about dealing with culture. If I'm not specifically trying to carry over, for example, an Asian-influenced fantasy culture, what does this imply for an Asian looking MC? My MC would look Asian, and possibly have an Asian name. But I wouldn't necessarily have the "markers" of an Asian fantasy, such as an Emperor ruling the kingdom, or kung fu magic, or the same cultural practices, social hierarchy, or a lot of markers that would cue readers into this being an fantasy set in an Asia equivalent.

There are two kinds of problem here.

In secondary-world fantasy, you can't put every single detail onto the page, and what you're not putting in gets supplemented by a sort of default. And here the problem is that you may want to keep it abstract, but by, say, choosing a mane like "Mei", you're giving markers for what sort of default to expect. In this case, you risk playing up to the all-asians-are-Chinese default that nobody likes.

Research won't address the problem, as all you'll do is make the default from which you draw more specific. That is: you will suddenly have a culture that gets judged to very specific real-world-standards, where you'd have liked to keep it more abstract. (Detail level in fantasy worlds is an interesting topic.)

No matter how much research you put into it, you need to figure out how to relate fictional-cultural-relations to real-world-cultural relations. With naming that is fiendishly difficult. My own solution is to mess up all the naming, so it sounds familiar but strange across the board. The problem I have is that this doesn't work as well as I would like, since I'm simply more familiar with some sets of names than with others. Until I figure out what to do with naming (and many other less obivous aspects) I'm not sure I can go on (1st draft is done).

Research does help with this problem, as it's easier to improvise the more you know, but there isn't an obvious target to research, since there isn't anything in particular that you're imitating. You're making up your own fictional work, and it's going to consist of what you care most about.

So basically you have two problems:

What does it mean to you that your character is an "Asian" called "Mei"?

What does it mean to your character that she is... whatever it is that an "Asian named Mei" translates to in the fictional world?

And how do the two concepts relate?

You don't have the problem (to that extent) if you base a fictional culture on a real one (and make some modifications). You don't have that problem (to that extent) if you make a very out-there cuture (say a world of sentient bats rather than of sentients apes - as is the anthropocentric default). But if you're going for fairy-tale generality this is a problem, especially if you want to introduce diversity. For diversity, a bottom-up approach is best; but if you have a world loosely based on Earth, the bottom simply doesn't exist, apart from inference and what you bring to it from your own experience.

Research, as important as it is, won't solve the problem, as you'd have to decide what to research, and something as dauntingly big as "Asia" is just too much for something that isn't at the core of the concept.

Sure, not making the protagonist a PoC would get rid of the problem; but would take away a lot from your basic motivation to write.

My suggestion is this: Write the story. Don't think of your character as a PoC; think what being a PoC means to her. Think of all the people she met in her life, and what they mean to her. How they treat her, and where her identity lies. You don't have to be specific unless the story demands it. At some point, you'll find yourself faced with problems akin to the name ("Mei", "Lin"...). The advantage is that - if you think of research as a lever - you know where to put it. Your problem now has a face.

The more you write, the better you get to know your world, and the better you get to know your wolrd, the easier it is to relate the real world to it. Just stay open-minded while writing.

In my own WiP, for example, I based one of my political factions on a very lose version scriptural monotheism; during the writing I found that a scriptural version of ancestor worship would work better. I've finished the first draft; half-way through the story the faction simply loses their god and gains "the Unity". If I ever go back to the WiP, I'll research the heck out of various versions of ancestor worship. I wouldn't have known to do that before I started writing. I expect during the composition of the second draft, I'll refine the research problem even more.

I find this sort of thing scary and daunting, but it's also a great opportunity to discover more about the default assumptions you have in real life. What is it that is important to you? Many of the problems you'll encounter during the writing will help you grow as a person, even if the story goes nowhere. It's not wasted time.

So:

Your character is a PoC. Now go and write her so you can be more specific. I love the idea of a PoC being cursed to look like a harpy. Can you imagine the bigots accusing her to steal their curses? That is just so odd.

Of courese, a harpy in your fictional world =/= a harpy on Earth; so how do those two relate? ;)

Rachel Udin
07-23-2013, 04:29 AM
Researching for a Other World Fantasy.

This is what I would do:
1. Anthropology is your friend.
I don't think you can go far, writing about humans without going into anthropology, which is the study of humans. You need to know basics, such as subsistence systems, religious systems, etc. This is so when you do research, you have a grounding in how to pick it apart, where it really does overlap and where you can piece it together.

Alternatuives: Sociology and Psychology. Somewhat History, but often History classes and the Internet run really thin on cultures outside of the Western European world. (As I found out the hard way). So it is much, much easier to just do the subjects that look at humans as a whole. (mind you psychology is better with cultural psychology).

If none of those are available, then doing cultural geography is the next best thing.

This helps you strip the cultures back to their crossing basic parts, without having to rely on one entirely and can seem like a particular area.

2. How to research an area.
Narrow down your intended time frame and the countries you wish to work with. It's also convenient to narrow down your subject matter too.

If you narrow it to a particular character POV in the world, you can get away with a lot. For example, if your character is focused on clothes, making barrels, making wheels, etc.

Then find commonalities rather than specialties, focus on it and you can short cut a lot without it seeming like cultural appropriation.

It's true, though you have to really, really know your stuff to be able to file off the numbers well, but it can be done with enough thought and research.

3. Research stereotypes of the real world.

Sometimes you internalize crap that you didn't know you had, and you don't want it showing up in your story.

msforster
08-07-2013, 03:01 AM
Researching for a Other World Fantasy.

This is what I would do:
1. Anthropology is your friend.
I don't think you can go far, writing about humans without going into anthropology, which is the study of humans. You need to know basics, such as subsistence systems, religious systems, etc. This is so when you do research, you have a grounding in how to pick it apart, where it really does overlap and where you can piece it together.

Alternatuives: Sociology and Psychology. Somewhat History, but often History classes and the Internet run really thin on cultures outside of the Western European world. (As I found out the hard way). So it is much, much easier to just do the subjects that look at humans as a whole. (mind you psychology is better with cultural psychology).

If none of those are available, then doing cultural geography is the next best thing.

QFT.

The problem, as I see it, with just writing a totally new culture with no influences from anywhere is that cultures are complex. They involve a lot of different aspects. And our tendency as humans is to fill in the blanks with what we know. So there's a danger that your new culture will still default to basic European fairytale setting, even as you're trying to create something new.

Does that make sense?

Anthropology and history are fantastic at helping you offset this. The world is so much bigger and so much more amazing than the generic Western tropes that some of us *points to self* were raised with. There are people in the mountains of India who build living bridges out of tree roots. That's some elf-like awesomeness there. In Dubai, they hire guys with trained hawks to chase pigeons away so they don't poop on the buildings. Tubu women cross the Sahara with only one tiny oasis between them and the city, and only women can make the trip, because they believe only women have the memory and sense of direction to find the water. And European history is full of POC that no one talks about. That Medieval Poc tumblr that MumblingSage mentioned is just one awesome resource for that.

Sorry, got carried away. Um....people are cool and if you want to build a new culture, it's good to learn as much as you can about people and cultures. I'm pretty sure that's where I was going with that. :tongue

*wanders off to watch Human Planet again*