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Putputt
10-11-2013, 03:43 PM
So...I'm Asian, but I'll be damned if I know how to describe my own race. My book is set in a fantasy world, so I can't say they're "Asian". Aside from saying that they have black hair and eyes, how can I make it more explicit that they're Asian?

Chris P
10-11-2013, 04:04 PM
Does Asia exist in your fantasy world? (Wow, taken out of context that sounds really bad!) How do you have Asians with no Asia?

I would stick to describing how they look and let it go at that.

Ken
10-11-2013, 04:05 PM
... maybe have them eat a traditional meal.
Sushi, etc. Also eating with chopsticks.
Just details. But they do add up.

evilrooster
10-11-2013, 04:43 PM
I eat sushi with chopsticks sometimes. I get it from Albert Heijn, the traditional shopping place of all the tall, light-haired, blue-eyed Dutch people. I'm not Dutch, but I'm not Asian either.

Putputt's characters may be ethnically Asian, but that doesn't mean they follow all the Asian traditions. Heck, the traditions of the world in question may be that the people with straight black hair and epicanthic folds climb mountains in lederhosen. So maybe they do follow all of the traditions of their people. That doesn't help describe how they look.

Maryn
10-11-2013, 05:03 PM
I think the problem stems from needing to describe your characters physically being a separate issue from any cultural traits, which won't match Earth's Asia in your fantasy world.

World building and inventing a cultural background for your character is way harder than telling the reader how s/he looks to others, isn't it? How would you describe an Asian person to someone who's visually impaired? That might be a starting point for discovering words and phrases which might work in fiction.

Maryn, Irish woman eating sushi from Wegmans

EMaree
10-11-2013, 05:35 PM
I write in first person and my usual trick is for the character to draw comparisons to the people around them. My British-Italian character will mention the Italian side of the family, his grandma in Italy, his sister's Italian features.

Rachel Udin
10-11-2013, 07:25 PM
I am Asian and I used things such as, (which I know you are too)...

East Asia? or the entire continent of Asia?

East Asia:
describing if the person does or does not have the eyefold. (So single v. double lid)
The shape of the eyes: Long and thin (which is something East Asians will describe for themselves about themselves), Half moons, or (loosely) rounded.
East Asian shows describe that a lot... the women tend to say they like men with long thin eyes and a single eye lid with a dark face in Korea. And then the men say they like women with a lighter face and rounder eyes with a double eyelid. (Which is what shows up on TV, but doesn't seem like the reality... =P--basic genetics.)
Avoiding the whole "Slant" business and the food descriptors. (But I think you get that).

Long black hair... though some East Asians also have wavy and curly hair (natural). Probably won't matter.

I also give tip offs in clothing. Such as a robe crossed in the front... or a high collar, etc. (There is variation, so I tend to choose a specific time period or where it overlaps if I'm not chasing after, say, China specifically.)

But Asia is huge... and varied with a lot of different countries.

India has internally a *current* obsession with skin color. (Brought by the British, it's thought, though there are some light mentions in older texts). Long single thick braid down the back, description of wrapping a large cloth in regional ways. Something about religion and the tolerance and acceptance of religious diversity historically. And I think you're pretty safe evoking India.

You can use culture and specific markers. Or just go with your favorite celeb and try to describe them.

BTW, sushi isn't always eaten with chopsticks... just saying. (Also not all East Asians use chopsticks either... Koreans use silver chopsticks and spoons. Japanese tend to use enameled chopsticks. Chinese use ceramic or bamboo (from what I saw) The Emperor used real silver to test for poison.) And Mongolian not at all. Then you have the Ainu...

Narrow your field. Or choose a specific person/people and then describe them.

ETA: Oh and eye color variation too. (People outside of Asia who aren't Asian don't pay attention to this). India has a larger range, sure, but there are also black-colored eyes in East Asia and also lighter, darker and redder browns. (Don't forget Taiwan has a lot of variation.)

Amadan
10-11-2013, 07:50 PM
One of the main characters in my book is of Chinese descent.

His name is very Chinese, and there are some references to Standard International Chinese (this is a far future SF novel), so I believe readers will be able to infer that he's at least partially ethnic Chinese. But I never mention the shape or color of his eyes or otherwise give a physical description that explicitly marks him as Asian. It just isn't necessary.

Readers can pick up on small clues like that. But this is an ongoing debate - the degree to which physical descriptions are necessary in fiction. Some characters, the author wants to paint a detailed picture for the reader. Others can be left fairly vague. To use an over-used example, all we actually know about Hermione after seven books is that she has curly brown hair. Rowling never mentions her eye color, body, or even her skin color. I don't think she ever explicitly described Cho Chang as Asian either. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the name (and "dark hair") is the only real hint as to her ethnicity.

Putputt
10-11-2013, 08:24 PM
Wow, thank you for the great responses! You have given me a lot of food for thought.

And Rachel, yeah, I've been trying to avoid the food-related descriptions :D So thank you for all the great suggestions.

MostlyBecca
10-11-2013, 08:39 PM
Whenever a character is described as having almond-shaped eyes, I know immediately that character is Asian. I don't think this is really necessary, but it's probably the most obvious you can be if the similarities to real world Asians ends at appearance.

Unfortunately, people can be surprisingly dense when it comes to race in books. I think you could be as explicit as humanly possible and a lot of people would still assume the character was white. :Shrug:

Amadan
10-11-2013, 08:42 PM
Whenever a character is described as having almond-shaped eyes, I know immediately that character is Asian.


Whenever a character is described as having almond-shaped eyes, I know immediately that author is a lazy cletus.

cornflake
10-11-2013, 08:43 PM
Write mor Ashun-y!

If it's a fantasy world without Asia, then they're not Asian, no? They have whatever characteristics they have. Are they the equivalent of Asian, in which case there should be a name for the ethnicity/race or other people can notice she's whatever, or make a comment about her having such straight black hair because ... never have to worry about frizz or whatever.

I think if you want it brought up that she is a particular race that may or may not exist, even if it only exists in the mind of the readers and isn't explicitly identified as a thing in the world, using other characters as, basically, shards of mirror, is the smoothest way. If it's spread out and the comments are natural, the effect will build the picture and the characterization without obvious trickery, imo. Or, she could just wander about lamenting that she fights all Ashun-y.

MostlyBecca
10-11-2013, 08:44 PM
Whenever a character is described as having almond-shaped eyes, I know immediately the author is a lazy cletus.
Can't say I disagee with you. But it's obvious, no?

slhuang
10-11-2013, 11:53 PM
So I've beta'ed Putputt's book, and I totally got that everyone was Asian-appearing . . . in, like, the second to last chapter. ;)

In other words, I don't think you're doing it badly, I just think you need more markers earlier, sprinkled in throughout the story. But I could be wrong, because the other posters are right that some readers are super dense about race (Rue, anyone?). So, did your other betas get that it was supposed to be Asian!Fantasyland? Or did everyone else picture everyone as white?

Here are some ideas for markers you could drop in:

* Hair color mentions can happen whenever your MCs are looking across a sea of heads (like in class), noticing someone's appearance (the love interest), describing age (S--'s hair not having any black left in it, frex, with the narrative making the assumption that she would have had black hair), describing hair style ("so-and-so's black hair was ").

* Hair texture can also be mentioned in a lot of the same contexts.

* Ethnic markers can be described in contrast to your other regions, if (?) the other regions are different ethnically. "Unlike the people in X, everyone in TA . . . etc.." This could even come into play in practical concerns, for example, maybe it's hard for TAans to work covertly in P-- because everyone in P-- has dark brown skin and super curly hair, even curlier than your MC's, or only the students with an A+ in Stealth get sent to X other country, because in X everyone is pale-skinned, brown/blond-haired, rough/large features, and they assume everyone who looks like a TAan is an assassin and arrest them. Of course, this only works if your other countries are racially diverse enough; if it's all Fantasy!Asia a la The Last Airbender, this is a little harder, but I think it still could be done -- contrasting different Asian races with skin tone / features would still emphasize those traits. (Of course, THAT won't work if there's no racial diversity according to geography!)

(Btw I'm abbreviating all your char/place names since we're not password-protected in here and I don't want your agent to yell at me.)

* I've seen a lot of other books mark people as Asian using Asian-sounding names or other *cultural* markers that match, rather than appearance markers. For instance, if you were to write The Last Airbender as a book, I think it would still be terribly clear to everyone that it was based in Asian mythology, because the architecture, writing, etc. would all be cues (to everyone except M. Night, groan). Of course, this only works if those cultural cues are also true to your world -- if everyone looks Asian just 'cuz and there's no cultural similarity (which I unsurprisingly totally approve of, btw, I think we need more people who look Asian just 'cuz!), then this won't work.

Like someone upthread said, I think if you do a lot of little stuff continually throughout the ms, the atmosphere will become pretty obvious pretty fast.

It might (or might not) help to see how some other authors have done it. Even lit-fic that's all Asian people, nary a white person in sight, can be helpful, because there's nothing for the authors to compare against in description. And fantasy that has Fantasy!Asian people is of course helpful. Here are some examples:

* Ying in Genevieve Valentine's (dystopian otherworld steampunk fantasy) Mechanique is pretty clearly Fantasy!Asian. The name helps, of course, but the way she's described also makes it clear. Of course, she's described in contrast to (presumably) white characters, so it's not quite the same thing.

* Someone else mentioned Cho Chang in Harry Potter, who is pretty much a name marker + shiny black hair. Like Ying, though, she's a sole Asian character in contrast to a bunch of white people, so it's not quite the same.

* I haven't read Malinda Lo or Cindy Pon, but I'm pretty sure they write about Asian!Fantasylands. Might be worth glancing at the "look insides" on Amazon to see what they do.

* I have read Ken Liu and will recommend him to anyone who will listen, because he is utterly fantastic. Most of his short stories have an Asian milieu, so it might be worth a look to see how he describes people.

* Check out lit fic with a lot of Asian characters, like Amy Tan or The Good Earth. In books in which everyone is Asian, authors can't fall back on a shorthand of describing "the Asian character" as being Asian with black hair (the way Rowling does). They have to differentiate description within everyone being Asian, which might be helpful to you. I found this via a quick google search: http://forums.soompi.com/discussion/158005/asian-books-w-asian-characters-or-settings

* Here's a wonderful vampire story (http://giganotosaurus.org/2011/12/01/the-house-of-aunts/) that takes place in Malaysia. It's in our world so it's steeped in real-world settings and Malaysian culture, but IDK, maybe there are good descriptions in it? It's worth reading anyway. ;)

* Hunger Games actually might be worth a look for Katniss -- a lot of people (except the casting folk, grr) assumed reading it that Katniss was multi-ethnic. I haven't read it, but it might be worth a look to see what markers Collins used with her.

One thing that might make or break your readers' mental images, unfortunately, is your cover. If your cover shows two white girls, then I'm not sure anything will convince readers you're in Asian!Fantasyland. Of course, this is something you have little to no control over, but hopefully you can at least mention it to your publisher/cover artist. For example, here's what Malinda Lo's Huntress looks like (http://www.malindalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/huntress_arc_cover_web.jpg), and readers are pretty much going to go in assuming the MC is Asian.

Hope that helps! Again, I don't think you're in a bad spot here. I *did* get eventually that everyone looked Asian, so I don't think you're doing a bad job at it, you just need a little more earlier. ;)

[B]Edited to add: Write more Asiany, Put.

Ken
10-12-2013, 01:33 AM
I eat sushi


sushi

... good to know,
if opportunity ever arises for gathering of sorts :-)


enameled chopsticks

... neat. Bet some are illustrated, too,
with flowers and maybe even birds :-)
(Good to know distinctions between utensils.
Will be all set if ever get up the loot to travel.)

Rachel Udin
10-12-2013, 02:09 AM
or make a comment about her having such straight black hair because ... never have to worry about frizz or whatever.
*cough* East Asian with wavy to curly hair *cough* and I'm 100% sure I'm not half. (I'm like, blood-wise super South Korean.)

There is variation in every population and East Asians with curly and wavy hair. (Chinese even). Google it. Mostly, probably because of inter-marriage between China/Korea/Japan/Thailand (etc) and India, and India with the rest of the world.


Whenever a character is described as having almond-shaped eyes, I know immediately that character is Asian.

Yeah, Slhuang can field this better with her blog post on why this is so wrong...

But needless to say, not all Asian eyes look this way and not any more than Europeans, so I would avoid when possible. I'd rather go with home-grown descriptors of eyes.

"Long and thin"
"Single lid"
"double lid"
"round"

or the one I'm using "Half moons" (My character has a long thing about the other character's looks and how she loves his eyes, which meant I had to find uninsulting ways to describe them.)

"almond" is an import.


For instance, if you were to write The Last Airbender as a book, I think it would still be terribly clear to everyone that it was based in Asian mythology, because the architecture, writing, etc. would all be cues (to everyone except M. Night, groan).

I still don't see how he thought Aang was WHITE. (Sorry, derail) Because Aang is a Sanskrit name. It sounds Sanskrit and the directors is INDIAN. =P Sorry... just had to insert that in.



* I haven't read Malinda Lo or Cindy Pon, but I'm pretty sure they write about Asian!Fantasylands. Might be worth glancing at the "look insides" on Amazon to see what they do.
Cindi Pon used markers like clothing (Hanfu on the cover), names (which were clearly Chinese, full stop.), Chinese mythology, the structure of the palace (IIRC Han Dynasty?)

She did use almond-shaped eyes, which I felt 50-50 about. But she also use idioms, comparisons, and mentioned food and rice a lot. It's was pretty clear from the first page it was set in China, even without the cover (the original). *cough* twitch*cough*

BTW, almonds originated in the Mediterranean... so there is a world building lesson in there too. (For those who are writing Asian experience and not Asian)



* I have read Ken Liu and will recommend him to anyone who will listen, because he is utterly fantastic. Most of his short stories have an Asian milieu, so it might be worth a look to see how he describes people.
Second, though he doesn't tend to describe physical features that much from what I remember, but uses cultural cues more.




... neat. Bet some are illustrated, too,
with flowers and maybe even birds :-)
(Good to know distinctions between utensils.
Will be all set if ever get up the loot to travel.)
Uhh... I get the feeling from this you don't know what enameled means... but I won't explain it...

Vespertilion
10-12-2013, 02:51 AM
Uhh... I get the feeling from this you don't know what enameled means... but I won't explain it...

I will. "Enamelling" is a process, and does not by itself suggest a decorative design, unless you're talking specifically cloisonné, or champlevé, for instance. The term is also applied to paints (used to be just for oil-based ones, but now the term is an indication of durability and gloss.)

Most of the Japanese chopsticks I've seen are lacquered, with and without designs.

J.S.F.
10-12-2013, 03:44 AM
My children are half-Japanese. My older son has almond-shaped eyes, large and expressive, while my younger boy has the rounder 'biku' look. ('Biku' is an expression meaning 'surprised'). So not all Japanese or half-Japanese have the almond-shaped look.

For the OP, you could describe the skin color although if it's handled incorrectly it will come across as being racist (I know you aren't, but a reader unfamiliar with your style might think so), the manner of dress, or even some of the customs associated with Asian people. The thing is, as Rachel Udin mentioned, there is a huge variety in how Asians dress, eat, do their hair, etc. So FWIW, I'd focus only on one or two descriptions at a time and then let the readers develop their own image of your character(s).

J.S.F. who is a very white dude and who sometimes uses chopsticks--lacquered, as well as the disposable type--to eat sushi.

fourlittlebees
10-12-2013, 03:48 AM
I'll second the recommendation to check out Cindy Pon's books, as they are fantasy outside the standard conventions we know of as Asia.

My recommendation would be to stay away from the lid issue; I don't think that's something the average Joe Whitebread reader will know or understand. Sure, the "almond" issue seems to be lazy shorthand, but the important thing is to cover what is best for the majority of readers to be led in with and educate them later, not marginalize their understanding from the start.

Cloven One, thank you for the explanation. FTR, I have multiple sets my father brought back and friends have sent me. All are lacquered. Some have illustrations that appear to be cloisonne, but a different process than I think I've seen on things like ceramic-type objects.

Also, when it's already a difficult task getting POC books out there, it can only help to simplify things and explain them to prospective readers and writers alike rather than expect them to understand everything at the outset. The more they learn, the more intrigued they might become.

Ken
10-12-2013, 04:06 AM
I will. "Enamelling" is a process, and does not by itself suggest a decorative design, unless you're talking specifically cloisonné, or champlevé, for instance. The term is also applied to paints (used to be just for oil-based ones, but now the term is an indication of durability and gloss.)

Most of the Japanese chopsticks I've seen are lacquered, with and without designs.

... neat. Thnx :-)
(Am interested in ones with designs.
Google Images here I come.)

edt.
They even have Hello Kitty ones! ^..^
Not that I'd be interested in those myself. Grr, grr.

MostlyBecca
10-12-2013, 06:49 AM
Yeah, Slhuang can field this better with her blog post on why this is so wrong...

But needless to say, not all Asian eyes look this way and not any more than Europeans, so I would avoid when possible. I'd rather go with home-grown descriptors of eyes.

"Long and thin"
"Single lid"
"double lid"
"round"

or the one I'm using "Half moons" (My character has a long thing about the other character's looks and how she loves his eyes, which meant I had to find uninsulting ways to describe them.)

"almond" is an import.

I didn't realize anyone found that description insulting. It just never seemed like the most accurate description to me. Seems really common though.

ETA: I've only ever seen that description used for Asians. I see things like "round" when talking about other races, but never almond-shaped.

Alessandra Kelley
10-12-2013, 07:12 AM
Koreans use silver chopsticks and spoons. Japanese tend to use enameled chopsticks. Chinese use ceramic or bamboo (from what I saw) The Emperor used real silver to test for poison.) And Mongolian not at all. Then you have the Ainu...


I will. "Enamelling" is a process, and does not by itself suggest a decorative design, unless you're talking specifically cloisonné, or champlevé, for instance. The term is also applied to paints (used to be just for oil-based ones, but now the term is an indication of durability and gloss.)

Most of the Japanese chopsticks I've seen are lacquered, with and without designs.

Lacquer is the shiny, hard, slightly warm finish found on many Chinese and Japanese items of furniture, dishware, boxes, and chopsticks. It is made from the resin of a tree.

Enamel, when discussing artworks, is generally undstood to be glass fused onto a metal ground.

There are also what are called enamel paints, which are a solvent-based, generally hobby or automotive paint as I understand it.

I have seen chopsticks made of untreated bamboo, varnished bamboo, enameled (probably) wood, plastic, and semiprecious stone. Some have pointed tips and some blunt. I do not know their cultural significance.

The chopsticks of an emperor of China, circa. 17th century, which I saw in a museum exhibit were blunt-tipped and finer and thinner than modern standard ones.

Rachel Udin
10-12-2013, 09:59 PM
I didn't realize anyone found that description insulting. It just never seemed like the most accurate description to me. Seems really common though.

ETA: I've only ever seen that description used for Asians. I see things like "round" when talking about other races, but never almond-shaped.
No worries. That's the dominant voice usually erasing the voice of the culture. It's frequently that way.

Describing people with food, especially minority groups tends to be a no-no. (and super especially when you don't belong to that group.)

Wilde_at_heart
10-13-2013, 03:27 AM
Does Asia exist in your fantasy world? (Wow, taken out of context that sounds really bad!) How do you have Asians with no Asia?

I would stick to describing how they look and let it go at that.

That occurred to me too. :D

Also, I'm guessing you mean 'oriental' or 'far Eastern'? In Britain 'Asian' often refers to Bangladeshi, Indian, etc... For the purposes here, I'm going to assume Chinese...

I find the easiest way is with names. If physical description is necessary, then the 'typical' slender, almost boyish build that many of the younger women have, or the coarse, straight hair, or rounder heads (http://www.helmets.org/round.htm). If it is Indian, then again, names, incredibly thick hair, or a long silk scarf that gets caught in everything ;)

Since it's fantasy, perhaps some reference to either weaponry or myth. A Lian Nu is an old Chinese siege weapon - pretty much a crossbow, and then there's references to Feng Shui or Qi energy (or references to Ganesh, etc for Indian), depending on your story. Most Westerners should have a grasp on the basics of those by now. Or superstitions regarding luck, herbal remedies, etc.

I also think food can work, but less rice and chopsticks, more shrimp paste or longan berries.

calieber
10-13-2013, 04:22 AM
Now I want to describe the Jewish protagonist of a WIP as "round-eyed" (her love interest is sansei).

Cathy C
10-13-2013, 05:25 AM
Okay, keeping in mind this is a fantasy world where Asia, as we know it, probably doesn't exist, I vote for skin color. Simply have your character wear long sleeves and gloves to a public area like a market or shop and when the character removes a glove to reach inside a pocket or bag, have the shopkeeper notice the skin color. Whether it's a good mention or a bad one is up to you. Is skin color a sign of high caste or low caste? rich or poor? enemy or friend? If the.MC is hiding their nationality because they're in a hostile area, or they're hoping to get a better deal in the shop because the shopkeeper is from the same region, it's a very simple fix and doesn't need to be a strong or noticeable moment. :Shrug:

Polenth
10-14-2013, 02:02 AM
Don't forget noses. They're really noticeable on a person, even from some distance. Plus, you always get some variance, so it's more likely you'll have someone in the population with an atypical nose (in order to do a comparison where the oddity of the nose is highlighted compared to everyone else).

Rachel Udin
10-14-2013, 11:13 PM
That occurred to me too. :D

Also, I'm guessing you mean 'oriental' or 'far Eastern'? In Britain 'Asian' often refers to Bangladeshi, Indian, etc... For the purposes here, I'm going to assume Chinese...

You probably don't know this, but at least in the US oriental as referred to a person is offensive. A heads up.

Asian, I would think is the continent of Asia, and one should specify which region of Asia, not matter which side of the pond you are. (I'd like to at least enforce that, 'cause there is a lot more than South and East Asia in Asia... I'm aware this is currently a losing battle though. Much like the "default" is white dealie.)



I find the easiest way is with names. If physical description is necessary, then the 'typical' slender, almost boyish build that many of the younger women have, or the coarse, straight hair, or rounder heads (http://www.helmets.org/round.htm). If it is Indian, then again, names, incredibly thick hair, or a long silk scarf that gets caught in everything ;)Stereotypes. ^^ Just pointing it out rather than faulting you for it. I wouldn't default to stereotypes for characters of color since they are mostly set by the dominant group. Be wary, very wary of them.

(Excuse the following) But at some point it kinda sounds like the stereotypes that were offensive in Tin Tin in the Congo with African Americans. *cough* (Google that at your own risk)

Also, just for general edification, not all Indian women wear a scarf. (Cultural variation of Sari. I learned it the very, very hard way).



Since it's fantasy, perhaps some reference to either weaponry or myth. A Lian Nu is an old Chinese siege weapon - pretty much a crossbow, and then there's references to Feng Shui or Qi energy (or references to Ganesh, etc for Indian), depending on your story. Most Westerners should have a grasp on the basics of those by now. Or superstitions regarding luck, herbal remedies, etc.

I also think food can work, but less rice and chopsticks, more shrimp paste or longan berries.Chinese food is regional, but since I didn't read puttputt's entry, I'm not sure it's Chinese-based specifically. I'm trusting that Puttputt, being Chinese would know the cultural variations, etc, if it is indeed Chinese-based rather than continent of Asia-based.

Not trying to be negative or anything, but pointing out how the dominant voice has overwritten much of the variation within the Asian population_S_. It would be nice to be able to describe the variation within the populations using intra-culture terms without having to rely on the dominant narrative which is filled with stereotypes and only one body type, etc. And for that, I do think one has to augment with culture. (Names, food, what have you).

Personally, I'd like to stick it to the stereotype that there is only one look for X type of PoC. That there is real variation within the population of Asians just as much. 'Cause I've actually read/heard that writing Asian physical features is "boring" 'cause they all look alike. *cough* --;; Cultural dominance much?

BTW, noses also are a stereotype (I can pull images). And there is variation in skin color too...

Establish the range, I think and the limit of that range and then augment with cultural cues.

J.S.F.
10-15-2013, 02:11 AM
Now I want to describe the Jewish protagonist of a WIP as "round-eyed" (her love interest is sansei).
---

Please don't mention the size of the nose. I don't have to tell you about the stereotypes. This isn't directed at you, just a general comment. It's one of my pet peeves.

Apologies for the derail.

Wilde_at_heart
10-15-2013, 04:06 AM
Asian, I would think is the continent of Asia, and one should specify which region of Asia, not matter which side of the pond you are. (I'd like to at least enforce that, 'cause there is a lot more than South and East Asia in Asia... I'm aware this is currently a losing battle though. Much like the "default" is white dealie.) Siberia and Kazakhstan aren't terribly populated. Hence the emphasis on South or East. Much further West than India and people start calling it 'the Middle East'. And maybe writers 'default' to white to avoid getting 'stereotype! appropriation!' lobbed at them regardless of what they write if someone else doesn't think they're an 'insider' enough based on their own assumptions.


Stereotypes. ^^ Just pointing it out rather than faulting you for it.I don't know how well-travelled you are but to a degree, stereotypes are inevitable. The human brain filters all the information it is bombarded with into categories because it's simpler to process. For better or worse, categorization will always happen to some degree and if it isn't race or ethnicity, it'll be social class, profession, subculture, etc. Lazy, outdated and negative stereotypes are best avoided, of course, but if you want to emphasise that an MC is a particular ethnicity or whatever, *some* stereotypes *can* be useful. Of course when it all boils down to it we're left with individuals, but let's face it, there aren't very many baby-haired blondes native to India in proportion to the overall population, are there...

I wouldn't default to stereotypes for characters of color since they are mostly set by the dominant group Not always. It depends on what you consider a stereotype and some of them don't arise in a vacuum. Many 'groups' have stereotypes for each other as well.



(Excuse the following) But at some point it kinda sounds like the stereotypes that were offensive in Tin Tin in the Congo with African Americans. *cough* (Google that at your own risk)really not sure what point you were trying to make here

Also, just for general edification, not all Indian women wear a scarf. (Cultural variation of Sari Nope. I learned it the very, very hard way). Obviously. Not all white people wear jeans and tshirts either. Don't assume ignorance on my part; I have a large number of Indian relatives btw (mostly from Mumbai or Goa). Enough of them do wear the scarves, etc. - IF what you are looking for are relatively easy ways to clunk the reader over the head that this character is 'Indian'. Not all Muslim women wear a hijab either, but plenty do and when a writer mentions one, most people will assume that person is Muslim.

Also, a Sari is something else entirely and closer in size to a tablecloth when unwrapped than something you can put around your neck. The most common 'streetwear' in a lot of India, and even among *some* Indian people living abroad when they don't dress Western, is the salwar kameez. The scarf that accompanies it is sometimes called a dupatta and that is the sort of scarf I was referring to.


Chinese food is regional, but since I didn't read puttputt's entry, I'm not sure it's Chinese-based specifically. I'm trusting that Puttputt, being Chinese would know the cultural variations, etc, if it is indeed Chinese-based rather than continent of Asia-based.Puttputt said 'Asia', at which point I picked Chinese just to illustrate a simple point (which I said explicitly in my response) since I'm more familiar myself with that culture than with, say, Korean or Vietnamese. I lived in Toronto's 'Chinatown' for six years, my mother lived for a decade in Hong Kong and has travelled all over that part of the world. Of course the cuisine is 'regional'. So is Italian but nobody gets that bothered about it.


Not trying to be negative or anything, but pointing out how the dominant voice has overwritten much of the variation within the Asian population_S_.A lot of people paint 'Europeans' with an equally broad brush, or even the English for that matter - the more remote any place is geographically or experientially from the observer, the more they are bound to generalize in broader terms.
However, 'dominance' has nothing to do with what grows or is available in particular areas, which is then what people tend to eat (getting back to 'stereotyping'). In cities where it's economically viable to do so, various fruits, vegetables, packaged foods etc. get imported. Recipes and cooking methods are typically passed down within families and while people often modify what they eat when moving abroad, some dishes (or their variants) will stay relatively intact - particularly ones for holidays, etc.


It would be nice to be able to describe the variation within the populations using intra-culture terms without having to rely on the dominant narrative which is filled with stereotypes and only one body type, etc. And for that, I do think one has to augment with culture. (Names, food, what have you er, that's one of the points I was making despite your zeroing in on a few other things. There's also a difference between something that's prevalent (like redheads in Ireland and Great Britain) or the 'distance' I already noted, and 'dominant narrative'. )

Roxxsmom
10-15-2013, 07:15 AM
I have a character in my fantasy novel who is of a different ancestry than most of the other characters in the part of my fantasy world the story takes place in. When one of my pov characters sees her for the first time, he notices that she had dark, glossy hair, delicate features and light brown skin, so he guesses she's of [insert made up fantasy name] ancestry. In my mind's eye, I see her as looking like some people from India, or possibly south or central America do in our world. If she were the pov character, I might possibly have a scene where someone's reaction to her makes her aware of how she looks a bit different from many of the people around her.

I struggle with this sort of thing too, as I don't want to fall into the trap (even in a fantasy world) of exoticizing someone's appearance (or fall back on those old food stereotypes, like almond eyes or caramel colored skin--erk.) if they aren't northern European looking, but I also don't want to create the false impression that everyone in my fantasy world looks like they're from Northern Europe. I want to get out there that the world has people of differing backgrounds and that there has been trade and travel for long enough that larger cities at least are pretty cosmopolitan.

But when writing "in" point of view, exoticizing may not be unrealistic. If you're seeing someone with very dark (or very light) skin for the first time, you might really think he or she is the color of coffee or the color of milk or whatever. Sometimes we have competing goals--to write in the pov of someone to whom a certain range of appearances is the most common norm they know and then to describe their reaction to meeting someone who falls outside that range without being offensive. As others have said, some stereotyping may exist, as people are very good at categorizing people according to their own experience and assumptions. For instance, my protagonist is surprised at this character's green eyes, as he assumed people of her ancestry always have brown eyes (which he himself has). I want to work in a scene somewhere where she tells him that when she was a little girl and her family first emigrated, she was surprised to discover that not all people in the north had lighter colored hair and eyes.

I read a book while back where the protagonist saw her first "white" person and thought his skin was the color of a maggot with hair like dirty straw. Not flattering, but it was a nice change from the assumption that white people often have that people with darker skin always think their skin is like milk, their eyes like sapphires, and their hair like spun gold (anyway, milk, sapphires and spun gold were not things this gal had likely seen yet in her childhood).

And it's true that in a second world fantasy, there's no reason that people who physically resemble people from, say, Japan would have a parallel culture, religion or languages, although many writers do it this way. Constructing my cultures, I try to think what sorts of clothing, foods and architectural conventions might be logical (like, how do people in warm climates tend to design buildings compared to people in cooler climates) given the climate, proximity to other cultures and species available, but given the huge variety in existing human norms, there's not one solution to any problem.

Putputt
10-15-2013, 09:09 AM
You probably don't know this, but at least in the US oriental as referred to a person is offensive. A heads up.

Heh, yea...after spending eight years of my life in California, I was pretty surprised by the use of the term "oriental" when I moved to England. I still feel very uncomfortable with it, and whenever someone refers to me or another Asian person as "Oriental", I always go, "...carpet?" :D



'Cause I've actually read/heard that writing Asian physical features is "boring" 'cause they all look alike. *cough* --;; Cultural dominance much?



A lot of people paint 'Europeans' with an equally broad brush, or even the English for that matter - the more remote any place is geographically or experientially from the observer, the more they are bound to generalize in broader terms.


I have an interesting story about this...Mr. Putt (he's hapa -- Caucasian and Chinese, but looks more Caucasian than Chinese) and I got married in Indonesia. A few of my friends from Cali came for the wedding, a couple of them white. Even though Mr. Putt had stayed with us for weeks, my family still kept mixing him up with the other guys. When I scolded them about it, they said, "Argh, you white people all look the same!" which my friends and Mr. Putt found hilarious.

I was pretty surprised by their inability to tell the guys apart, but I came to the same conclusion Wilde_at_heart did, that the further the place is from the observer, the more they are bound to generalize.

*Nothing useful to add, just thought I'd share that story :D*


I have a character in my fantasy novel who is of a different ancestry than most of the other characters in the part of my fantasy world the story takes place in. When one of my pov characters sees her for the first time, he notices that she had dark, glossy hair, delicate features and light brown skin, so he guesses she's of [insert made up fantasy name] ancestry. In my mind's eye, I see her as looking like some people from India, or possibly south or central America do in our world. If she were the pov character, I might possibly have a scene where someone's reaction to her makes her aware of how she looks a bit different from many of the people around her.

This is a great idea. I was having a problem with compare/contrast because the first book takes place in a village which is pretty remote, so the characters don't come across anyone from outside of the village. But I just realized that they could tell stories about other city-states across the continent and I can do a compare/contrast that way.



I read a book while back where the protagonist saw her first "white" person and thought his skin was the color of a maggot with hair like dirty straw. Not flattering, but it was a nice change from the assumption that white people often have that people with darker skin always think their skin is like milk, their eyes like sapphires, and their hair like spun gold (anyway, milk, sapphires and spun gold were not things this gal had likely seen yet in her childhood).

Heh, in Indonesia, the Indo word for Caucasian is "bule", which literally means "faded". It's often used to refer to clothes that have lost their color in the wash or sun-faded pictures, so there is a slightly negative connotation to it. Of course, this hasn't stopped the market for whitening creams, but that is a whole other can o' worms...

Polenth
10-15-2013, 12:12 PM
Please don't mention the size of the nose. I don't have to tell you about the stereotypes. This isn't directed at you, just a general comment. It's one of my pet peeves.

I wasn't talking about nose stereotypes, any more than I'd suggest almond-eyeing everyone. It's about the noses that are really there. Which you get by looking at pictures for your chosen group, rather than assuming. It's rather like drawing... you need to describe what's there, rather than what you think will be there.

I mentioned noses specifically because people often launch into describing eye colour at twenty paces, rather than more obvious facial features. We don't figure out a person's race based on skin colour and hair alone. The face is important. In a situation without cultural markets, it also may be all you've got.

RichardGarfinkle
10-15-2013, 02:43 PM
I wasn't talking about nose stereotypes, any more than I'd suggest almond-eyeing everyone. It's about the noses that are really there. Which you get by looking at pictures for your chosen group, rather than assuming. It's rather like drawing... you need to describe what's there, rather than what you think will be there.

I mentioned noses specifically because people often launch into describing eye colour at twenty paces, rather than more obvious facial features. We don't figure out a person's race based on skin colour and hair alone. The face is important. In a situation without cultural markets, it also may be all you've got.

There's always a problem when using a particular feature (or job or skill or any other characteristic) that is embedded in a stereotype. Even if the attribute is common in the group, bringing it up risks invoking the stereotype in the reader's mind.

If the reader accepts the stereotype, then the invocation will overshadow the actual character the writer is trying to portray. If the reader rejects the stereotype, the reader can be thrown out of the story, because the reader may now be wondering if the writer accepts the stereotype.

Wilde_at_heart
10-15-2013, 05:01 PM
I have an interesting story about this...Mr. Putt (he's hapa -- Caucasian and Chinese, but looks more Caucasian than Chinese) and I got married in Indonesia. A few of my friends from Cali came for the wedding, a couple of them white. Even though Mr. Putt had stayed with us for weeks, my family still kept mixing him up with the other guys. When I scolded them about it, they said, "Argh, you white people all look the same!" which my friends and Mr. Putt found hilarious.

I was pretty surprised by their inability to tell the guys apart, but I came to the same conclusion Wilde_at_heart did, that the further the place is from the observer, the more they are bound to generalize.

*Nothing useful to add, just thought I'd share that story :D*

Heh, in Indonesia, the Indo word for Caucasian is "bule", which literally means "faded". It's often used to refer to clothes that have lost their color in the wash or sun-faded pictures, so there is a slightly negative connotation to it. Of course, this hasn't stopped the market for whitening creams, but that is a whole other can o' worms...

LOL at that story. Then the Cantonese slang for a white person is Gweilo which translates as 'ghost'...


There's always a problem when using a particular feature (or job or skill or any other characteristic) that is embedded in a stereotype. Even if the attribute is common in the group, bringing it up risks invoking the stereotype in the reader's mind.

If the reader accepts the stereotype, then the invocation will overshadow the actual character the writer is trying to portray. If the reader rejects the stereotype, the reader can be thrown out of the story, because the reader may now be wondering if the writer accepts the stereotype.

True. Nearly all the Indian people I'm related to are Catholic, for instance. Even in Toronto, which has a huge Goan community (Goans are mostly Catholic), non-Indians are surprised when this 'brown person' turns out not to be Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist.
So if I were to put an Indian character in a novel and his mum is nagging him to come to mass? I'd probably have to set it up elsewhere first that it isn't actually that unusual.

Either that, or a writer might come across like they're trying too hard to avoid stereotyping to where it feels like 'tokenism'. 'Fetishism' is also something that sometimes happens. Again, a (usually white) person walks up to Indian person in a bar and is all, ooh, I'm soo into Yoga and see my Shiva tat? :rolleyes:

Rachel Udin
10-15-2013, 06:22 PM
Siberia and Kazakhstan aren't terribly populated. Hence the emphasis on South or East.
Phillipines, Laos, Thailand, Hmong, Indochina... should I continue? Also Russia--which, BTW, has East Asian looking people. (the country is split, because it's technically Euro Asia... but that's another political discussion for another time.)

Then there is the South West, but Middle East is a misnomer. Middle East of where? Go East enough and it's West.

I think challenging base assumptions does us good. Internalization and racism is difficult to start with, so I, personally, prefer to overturn it.



Obviously. Not all white people wear jeans and tshirts either. Don't assume ignorance on my part; I have a large number of Indian relatives btw (mostly from Mumbai or Goa). Enough of them do wear the scarves, etc. - IF what you are looking for are relatively easy ways to clunk the reader over the head that this character is 'Indian'. Not all Muslim women wear a hijab either, but plenty do and when a writer mentions one, most people will assume that person is Muslim.

I don't--I know there are regions of India that wear palla, etc. (depends on the region). Not everyone who uses a head covering is Muslim.

Sihks... (who use turbans). (caveat, some)

I don't play to the ignorant masses. I try my best to overturn it in myself and if others are willing I share that too. 'cause everyone has a right to be seen as human rather than a symbol.



Also, a Sari is something else entirely and closer in size to a tablecloth when unwrapped than something you can put around your neck. The most common 'streetwear' in a lot of India, and even among *some* Indian people living abroad when they don't dress Western, is the salwar kameez. The scarf that accompanies it is sometimes called a dupatta and that is the sort of scarf I was referring to.
There are variations where you use the loose end to put over your head. Then there are other styles. One with (simplified for the peanut gallery rather than you and because of the regional names.) a long loose cloth to put over the top of the head. And then there is the long scarf, but often worn around the shoulders. And then there is a variation where it's just the long cloth narrow cloth put over the top of the head.

Bengali, for example don't use any head covering with the sari. And I did *not* say Sari was street clothes either. Sari does show the variation of India. And the way the West erases it. (usually into Nivi style)

When I said there isn't one style of sari, I meant it. Also not all Indians wear sari. And there are Muslim Indians too.

I'm pointing out the variation that there isn't "one" way. That's the point. Dominance erases the variation.


So is Italian but nobody gets that bothered about it.
There isn't quite the equivalence, but I know that too... and I know people who do.

See India has a different history with race relations than Italy. (In the US). While there was prejudice against Italians for a while and still is to some extent, it's not the same kind of outright prejudice that Indians get on both shores.

Sounds a lot like the "What about the white people?" line... and I mean that in an examining way rather than saying you're ignorant about privilege and internalization.



A lot of people paint 'Europeans' with an equally broad brush, or even the English for that matter - the more remote any place is geographically or experientially from the observer, the more they are bound to generalize in broader terms.

Two wrongs don't make a right.

Plus if you know some world history, definitely not equivalent here. (And I'm *not* pulling some victim card).



However, 'dominance' has nothing to do with what grows or is available in particular areas, which is then what people tend to eat (getting back to 'stereotyping'). In cities where it's economically viable to do so, various fruits, vegetables, packaged foods etc. get imported. Recipes and cooking methods are typically passed down within families and while people often modify what they eat when moving abroad, some dishes (or their variants) will stay relatively intact - particularly ones for holidays, etc.

Oh, I need to mention Ireland, then. The potato famine. That was entirely cultural dominance. Sure it was pestilence, but there is political motivation behind it.

In fact, the majority of the famines have been shown to be politically motivated, especially with industrialization. Not to mention the growing of cash crops, including sugar up until the 21st century. Abolition movement said that one should use things like honey rather than processed sugar.

Dominance goes farther than you know. It dictates things like who is the consumer, who is the producer. How makes food, who consumes that food, where the imports go. (Jared Diamond went over this a lot).

Other things also dictate food, which can take religious connotations. It's not just region, but political and socio-economic factors that make what appears in one country not appear in another. And sometimes governments will enforce a food lifestyle to suppress a peoples.

If you look at the imports to Europe, where the sugar went and got imported and who was growing the cash crops around the time of slavery, it's pretty clear who has the cultural dominance to say what should grow where.

Cultural dominance gets to dictate a lot of terms and that's pretty much a boil down of what privilege is.

For example, much of Itailan food is of the Northern kind in the US. Southern styles don't usually come here. Northern cuisine from India, is also dominant, though crossed with Great Britain flare. That tells a lot about the history and the dominance of the people who participated in the food. (Much of Indian cuisine as known to the US and Great Britain was imported or created much later, mostly with the Mughal empire. Though the majority of the dishes themselves are British Indian...)

China's cuisine was mostly invented in the US and the style that it was invented from is Southern. (Mostly Cantonese, but not all)

Food definitely tells the story about who conquered whom, who was kicked out, which countries accepted them, which regions. It not only tells about the geography, but how it's used, because food itself is not a story of just the land, but the people who live there. (How much time, preparation, methods, what kind of government they most likely have... etc.).


There's always a problem when using a particular feature (or job or skill or any other characteristic) that is embedded in a stereotype. Even if the attribute is common in the group, bringing it up risks invoking the stereotype in the reader's mind.

If the reader accepts the stereotype, then the invocation will overshadow the actual character the writer is trying to portray. If the reader rejects the stereotype, the reader can be thrown out of the story, because the reader may now be wondering if the writer accepts the stereotype.
I think you can get past the second problem by being specific--using a photograph or a combination of photographs to figure out what your character looks like. And then you can use celeb pics a bunch of them to figure out the intra-country ideal.

For those who default to the stereotype and won't let go even when told they are wrong, there is nothing you can do about them. *cough* Rue *cough*.

This was something N.K. Jemisin said she did with one of her characters by using the Korean Pop Star Bi... (Rain).

Roxxsmom
10-15-2013, 10:49 PM
I'm still wondering about how to sensitively handle stereotypes as they would occur through the eyes of a pov character in one's world. People do stereotype one another, and whichever culture is dominant in a given area will likely hold more assumptions (and possibly dismissive or exoticizing ones). It's not a pleasant aspect of human nature, but it's there.

The way I'm thinking is to have the character be presented with evidence of his or her misconception, and experience a reaction to it which will be dependent on the type of person he or she is. Embarrassment and contrition? A reasonably open minded person who wants to learn about other people and not give offense. Indignation and denial? That says something else about an aspect of a person's nature or how entrenched his or her cultural assumptions are. The thing is, I think, to make it clear that it's the character who is thinking or reacting, and not the author.

There are some writers who will break away from the narrative and start "lecturing" the reader about prejudice, or possibly about how people are too sensitive about it or see it where it's not intended. That's pretty annoying, whether or not I agree with their point.

One thing to consider is that in the "real" world, there's worldwide media that peddles US/European standards of appearance and beauty to everyone. And there was European colonialism. So people in other parts of the world have, to some extent, internalized those images and stereotypes about their own culture or appearance, even if they've consciously rejected them.

This wouldn't necessarily be the case in a fantasy world that does not (yet) have movies, television, mass marketing, or one that never had one relatively small group of people exploring and colonizing many others in remote parts of the world and exporting/imposing their cultural norms and standards. A world that did not lend itself well to colonialism won't be free of prejudice or conflict, but it might have a different flavor and be more symmetrical.

I agree with Putt that it can be especially hard to describe appearance in a setting where the people have never seen anyone with markedly different "racial" features. When writing in a setting where people look and act like they're from Northern Europe, many writers and readers tend to assume that this is the norm. So all those little things that go unmentioned end up being assumed. So if you write a story where the people all have brown skin, but you never mention it because it's so much the norm in that setting that no one notices or remarks on it, there's that issue of many "Eurocentricized" readers assuming the characters are white. They don't necessarily do this because they're horribly racist--more a reflection of what they've been exposed to in fantasy stories in the past.

Case in point, I was reading a first-person story a while back where the protagonist was female, but I didn't figure this out until a chapter in (and someone called her by name). I am female myself, and I consider myself a feminist. I'm thrilled when fantasy stories have female protagonists and it's not "a thing," but I'm still conditioned to think male characters are the default in action-heavy adventure tales.

Ergh.

fourlittlebees
10-17-2013, 07:16 PM
I think challenging base assumptions does us good. Internalization and racism is difficult to start with, so I, personally, prefer to overturn it.

And yet, with this one post, you somehow manage to exacerbate it.

For starters, if you look at the sociological history of the United States, there has been an ever-changing movement in the prejudices against cultures and races. Pre-World War II, at which point Asians became "suspect" due to Japan's involvement in drawing the U.S. into the war, Italians WERE the group that was most likely to be prejudiced against. Many Italians changed their names not because they were made to at Ellis Island (which has actually been debunked) but to try to blend in with the northern/western European population.

As for the claim that "most" Italian fare in the U.S. is northern-based, where exactly does that idea come from? Marinara? Southern. Pasta fagioli? The whole country, although the Americanized "pasta fazool" comes from Naples, which definitely isn't northern. Pizza? Also Naples. Spaghetti? Sicily, and you can't get more southern than that.

While I realize you are trying to make a point about assumptions, the tone of your posts is rather off-putting, and instead, seems geared toward telling other writers they will never get it as "right" as you deem it, which isn't something that will encourage writers to include POC characters. Inclusion is what will begin altering groupthink. The more POC characters appear, the less "white" is the norm.

But discouraging people from writing characters unless they get it perfect and detailed and including every single sector of a population will have the opposite effect.

lolchemist
10-18-2013, 07:21 PM
Yeah, unfortunately for me, I'm working with a fantasy world where earth and earth cultures don't exist, however, I'll be damned if all my characters are just defaulted to white by readers when I'm not even white myself.

Most of my characters look (what on planet earth we would call "mixed race") but some of them do look like they could just be singled out as predominantly one race. Their range in skintone can go all the way from paper white to darkest, as black as humanly possible, brown. They can have any of the natural hair colors and textures and eye colors too.

And then I have \to take out my frying pan and start beating *THIS CHARACTER IS NOT WHITE! NOT NOT NOT WHITE* into reader's heads by going into describing physical and facial features. Eyes are an obvious one when you're trying to describe an East Asian looking character: You can go about describing narrower, single lidded eyes (which, actually any race can have but in America we tend to think that only East Asians have eyes like this) and larger, double lidded eyes, and almond shaped, heavy lidded eyes (my own Middle Eastern eyes look like this... so yeah call me "lazy" if you must.)

In my story, I have race and culture set up differently. Race is a social construct so in my world, my planet's societies never constructed it.

Basically there are no races, the same way a blue eyed brown haired person and a green eyed blonde person wouldn't be considered different races on earth, a brown haired brown skinned person and a red haired beige skinned person wouldn't be considered a different race in my world either. They might even be blood relatives.

People living in different regions of the world have developed different cultures from each other though. For example, in one region you can walk around in a bikini and flip flops and no one would even blink and in another country/culture, you can go to jail for rolling your shirt sleeves past up your elbows or taking your shoes and socks off in public and showing your feet. The difference is, BOTH countries have the same amount of diversity so it's not a 'Red haired people with medium tan skin and brown eyes' thing. It's a 'People who live in County X' thing.

Going back on topic, it sucks that it's so hard to actually describe people who don't look white because our English language has such a limited trove of words and most of them are offensive and rude. Even the word 'white' is wrong as most white people are shades of beige and tan.

lolchemist
10-18-2013, 07:39 PM
---

Please don't mention the size of the nose. I don't have to tell you about the stereotypes. This isn't directed at you, just a general comment. It's one of my pet peeves.

Apologies for the derail.

I have a big nose, thanks to my Middle Eastern genes and if someone omitted the size a Semitic person's nose it would definitely get on my nerves. Don't pretend my big nose doesn't exist to spare my feelings. Just don't.

If an Asian character looks at a Jewish character and goes "HOLY CRAP, LOOK AT THAT THING! I bet she can smell Russia from here!" It MAY be offensive, for like two seconds, but it's the honest reaction of the character and we're not really going to start censoring characters thoughts now, are we?

For many of us, our noses are a big honking badge signifying our ethnicity like a medal of awesome right in the middle of our faces. Don't commit erasure for the sake of political correctness especially when so many of us are rushing to plastic surgeons to fix a problem that only exists in the eyes of strangers.

Instead let the Jewish girl character have the big nose, and let her get the sansei Japanese boyfriend anyway because her big nose is awesome and beautiful. Not that hard, is it? Don't make it seem like only Jewish girls whos noses aren't significant enough to be mentioned get the guys.

ap123
10-27-2013, 06:29 PM
I have a big nose, thanks to my Middle Eastern genes and if someone omitted the size a Semitic person's nose it would definitely get on my nerves. Don't pretend my big nose doesn't exist to spare my feelings. Just don't.

If an Asian character looks at a Jewish character and goes "HOLY CRAP, LOOK AT THAT THING! I bet she can smell Russia from here!" It MAY be offensive, for like two seconds, but it's the honest reaction of the character and we're not really going to start censoring characters thoughts now, are we?

For many of us, our noses are a big honking badge signifying our ethnicity like a medal of awesome right in the middle of our faces. Don't commit erasure for the sake of political correctness especially when so many of us are rushing to plastic surgeons to fix a problem that only exists in the eyes of strangers.

Instead let the Jewish girl character have the big nose, and let her get the sansei Japanese boyfriend anyway because her big nose is awesome and beautiful. Not that hard, is it? Don't make it seem like only Jewish girls whos noses aren't significant enough to be mentioned get the guys.

I think this is a super important point. References will/should be made in a way that's true to the POV character, and if the point for any given writer is to specifically include PoC, then references should be made. IMO, to do otherwise is (using a charged term here, but it's the only one that comes to mind, sorry) whitewashing--and, I assume, the reason Putt began this thread in the first place. Because many readers tend to assume every character in a novel is white.

I also think these descriptions are an opportunity to point out the differences in appearance among the various ethnic groups, that so many aren't aware of.

And then sometimes there's a complete lack of experience/exposure. Story: I'm from NYC, can't think of too many ethnic groups I haven't been exposed to, but that isn't true of everywhere. At one point in my life I was living across the country, I went to lunch with my boss, and ethnic backgrounds came up, I mentioned that I'm half Greek. She was shocked. She had never met anyone of Greek descent before, and imagined them all to be tall and blond with light eyes. I'm, um, not any of those things. Her only exposure had been to Greek mythology. (This was before My Big Fat Greek Wedding.)

Sunflowerrei
10-28-2013, 11:49 AM
And then sometimes there's a complete lack of experience/exposure. Story: I'm from NYC, can't think of too many ethnic groups I haven't been exposed to, but that isn't true of everywhere. At one point in my life I was living across the country, I went to lunch with my boss, and ethnic backgrounds came up, I mentioned that I'm half Greek. She was shocked. She had never met anyone of Greek descent before, and imagined them all to be tall and blond with light eyes. I'm, um, not any of those things. Her only exposure had been to Greek mythology. (This was before My Big Fat Greek Wedding.)

This struck me. I'm half Japanese and half Irish and from NYC. And even in diverse NYC, I didn't know many other half Asian, half white kids growing up. I'm petite and short, pale-skinned to the point of transparency, with dark uncontrollable wavy hair, small dark brown eyes (with a double lid), and a nose that is a bit larger than I'd like it to be, but oh well. I would love to have more books out there featuring characters like me, of the Unidentifiable on First Sight Race. I'm not really sure what ethnicity people think I am, but they're never right. They usually get as far as "You're mixed...you look kinda Asian..."

For the OP, I would say be specific in your descriptions. The way you describe your characters is your choice, obviously, just be as precise as you can.

Us mixed folk come out looking all kinds of ways, so you have to describe us. And in case the reader really doesn't get it, you have to state it two or three times.

Rachel Udin
11-01-2013, 04:47 AM
And yet, with this one post, you somehow manage to exacerbate it.

For starters, if you look at the sociological history of the United States, there has been an ever-changing movement in the prejudices against cultures and races. Pre-World War II, at which point Asians became "suspect" due to Japan's involvement in drawing the U.S. into the war, Italians WERE the group that was most likely to be prejudiced against. Many Italians changed their names not because they were made to at Ellis Island (which has actually been debunked) but to try to blend in with the northern/western European population.

And yet, Italians never got internment camps. They never went through slavery. They were excluded through immigration laws, but it changed and Italians kinda made it to the inner circle since there were larger "dangers".

Chinese were excluded for much longer than Italians were. (Italians were lumped with Irish for a while Also Eastern Europe).

First, I wrote the posts mostly to putputt, who is Chinese, so she would be in the know about variation within a population.


As for the claim that "most" Italian fare in the U.S. is northern-based, where exactly does that idea come from? Marinara? Southern. Pasta fagioli? The whole country, although the Americanized "pasta fazool" comes from Naples, which definitely isn't northern. Pizza? Also Naples. Spaghetti? Sicily, and you can't get more southern than that.I kinda trusted Mario Bertoli on this one. Spaghetti and Meatballs. Also Southern Pizza, as found in Italy, such as Rome is nothing like what you find in the US. The Northern version wins out. The majority of US immigrants came from the North, I was told. But I'm fine with being wrong. Still misses my point.

I never said Italians never got prejudice, I said that they are more accepted into the fold than say PoC groups and most of the prejudice was out of religious intolerance, much like Irish rather than because of skin color. But as other groups came in this was less the case.

Prejudice makes a pecking order. Italians aren't in the inner in-group, but they aren't in the out-group either. It's not likely these days you'll get fired for being Italian. But you are likely to get fired for being say, gay, or arrested for being a person of color and driving.



While I realize you are trying to make a point about assumptions, the tone of your posts is rather off-putting, and instead, seems geared toward telling other writers they will never get it as "right" as you deem it, which isn't something that will encourage writers to include POC characters. Inclusion is what will begin altering groupthink. The more POC characters appear, the less "white" is the norm.What is that? I mean I gave specific examples of how to overcome it. Are you saying write in stereotypes? I don't think you are. I'm saying the basic Darwin philosophy: Variation in every population. Don't buy the stereotypes wholesale.

Here: I'll quote myself.




I think you can get past the second problem by being specific--using a photograph or a combination of photographs to figure out what your character looks like. And then you can use celeb pics a bunch of them to figure out the intra-country ideal.

For those who default to the stereotype and won't let go even when told they are wrong, there is nothing you can do about them. *cough* Rue *cough*.

This was something N.K. Jemisin said she did with one of her characters by using the Korean Pop Star Bi... (Rain).

Solid example:
1. Research a photograph of a non-celeb.
2. Find the ideal by researching celeb pictures.
3. Here is an example of an author that did that and did well.

Yup, I see so much hopelessness by saying that you can deviate from the majority vote stereotype.

Here: I can give you a run down...

(Excuse this and trigger warning):
The stereotype of say Asian women is they are skinny, have no breasts, have a single lid and are slanted eyes. (Saying this as an Asian woman). They are subserviant, except for the Korean women who are crazy female dogs because they never listen to what men say. Straight black long hair and wear robes (of which Westerners can't tell the difference. *fist shake* And before you start, I do put in effort in telling different regional clothing apart.) Oh, and they are short, and soft spoken.

So, I said find a person who is not a celebrity who is from the specific group.

1. http://www.gettingaroundinchina.com/gaic_photos/extra_pix/people/lui_yinghong3_copysvga.jpg

Describe her.

Double eyelid, though we don't know if she got surgery for that. She's Chinese with a medium skin tone for someone of that origin. The ideal (since I looked it up through research) is that the skin should be pale. So she may be unsatisfied with this. She has a full bottom lip. Her nose is not tall... but that's ideal for women in China. She's shaped her eyebrows.

Her eyes are level and a little long. She has medium length hair pulled back in a ponytail.

Her father may have a tall nose, since that's an ideal in China...

She does not fit the earlier described stereotype, though we have no idea how tall or short she is nor her cup size.

2. Find the ideal.
The ideal changed over time from what I read. There were time periods where modesty was more important than others, thus the ideal of beauty changed. In an old text, I did read and hear about how women from China should have lighter skin and freckles were not ideal, as these gave way to how the woman was viewed by men and what their personality was. This still has an effect, because I watched a bunch of behind the scenes on Chinese language dramas and women still worry about freckles and keeping lighter skin, most of the time and when they don't have it, will comment directly on it, while the people with the lighter skin do not.

i.e. I researched the variation and found the ideal.

Based on this, this character may have some insecurities about her skin tone and wish to lighten it. She wouldn't worry about a double eye lid, unless she is faking it (stickers exist for that) and she definitely cares about her looks since she shaped her eyebrows.

Finding a real person and being specific is better than finding all the stereotypes of a group and just thrusting them forward, especially on groups you don't know. If you only have one character that is PoC in that ethnicity--I think there might be an issue that goes much, much deeper than what they look like and describing them.

Variation is not that hard to pin down. Some things will and won't fit stereotype--as does with everyone. But putting some ideal made up by the dominant group from a foreign country as your guideline is not going to do you service.

If you aren't willing to put the time down and research when writing the other (which is not the case for putputt... since she is Chinese), then I don't think one should be writing diversity at all. We are inundated with the dominant group's culture and ideals, but it doesn't go the same for minority groups.

I said research and find the range, play with that range when building your characters. Showing diversity in the diversity takes more research, but it definitely is not impossible and doesn't take vast amounts of time.


I'm still wondering about how to sensitively handle stereotypes as they would occur through the eyes of a pov character in one's world. People do stereotype one another, and whichever culture is dominant in a given area will likely hold more assumptions (and possibly dismissive or exoticizing ones). It's not a pleasant aspect of human nature, but it's there.

The way I'm thinking is to have the character be presented with evidence of his or her misconception, and experience a reaction to it which will be dependent on the type of person he or she is. Embarrassment and contrition? A reasonably open minded person who wants to learn about other people and not give offense. Indignation and denial? That says something else about an aspect of a person's nature or how entrenched his or her cultural assumptions are. The thing is, I think, to make it clear that it's the character who is thinking or reacting, and not the author.

I think this as well. You can also show variation in the background while they are spewing their nonsense. I think there is a difference between the characters being prejudiced and the story coming off so.

So they say something like All Jews have big noses. And then someone in the background can talk about the Argentinean Jew they met last week and they don't notice. Someone talks about how all Jews are white, you can talk about Sephardic Jews in another conversation.

Or the Jews and money bit, you can always show this is not true through plot events.



This wouldn't necessarily be the case in a fantasy world that does not (yet) have movies, television, mass marketing, or one that never had one relatively small group of people exploring and colonizing many others in remote parts of the world and exporting/imposing their cultural norms and standards. A world that did not lend itself well to colonialism won't be free of prejudice or conflict, but it might have a different flavor and be more symmetrical.Definitely true. Religion used to be the big issue.



I agree with Putt that it can be especially hard to describe appearance in a setting where the people have never seen anyone with markedly different "racial" features. When writing in a setting where people look and act like they're from Northern Europe, many writers and readers tend to assume that this is the norm. So all those little things that go unmentioned end up being assumed. So if you write a story where the people all have brown skin, but you never mention it because it's so much the norm in that setting that no one notices or remarks on it, there's that issue of many "Eurocentricized" readers assuming the characters are white. They don't necessarily do this because they're horribly racist--more a reflection of what they've been exposed to in fantasy stories in the past.

Case in point, I was reading a first-person story a while back where the protagonist was female, but I didn't figure this out until a chapter in (and someone called her by name). I am female myself, and I consider myself a feminist. I'm thrilled when fantasy stories have female protagonists and it's not "a thing," but I'm still conditioned to think male characters are the default in action-heavy adventure tales.

Ergh.I think the NPR link kinda describes this phenomena. I posted it a while back. I'll re-summarize.

There was an experiment where they wrote up a list of symptoms of what the patient could have, and gave it to a bunch of doctors. The doctors gave a diagnosis and so on and all they changed was the patient's skin color. The diagnosis changed as well as the amount of time the doctor spent with them. After finding the results, they were horrified and had thought they had treated the patient fairly. Here is the rub: a bunch of the doctors were people of color.

Internalization is really, really difficult to fight and overcome. Culture sets up defaults in order to make the world easier to cope with. But you are bombarded with that every day. The thin skinny woman. The man with a six pack. I became aware of it recently. For example, little things such as all the wedding photos include white people when you buy the photo. The person selling make up is usually not a person of color unless you go to a specifically targeted program in that direction.

I admit I'm really gung-ho on diversity, but I still catch myself having to correct the "default" setting to a question rather than an answer. I'm working on it by consuming more things that aren't that default. Also when I come up with an answer, rewrite it with a question.

Still really hard since it's so subtle.

Captcha
11-01-2013, 05:07 AM
1. Describe her.

Double eyelid, though we don't know if she got surgery for that. She's Chinese with a medium skin tone for someone of that origin. The ideal (since I looked it up through research) is that the skin should be pale. So she may be unsatisfied with this. She has a full bottom lip. Her nose is not tall... but that's ideal for women in China. She's shaped her eyebrows.

Her eyes are level and a little long. She has medium length hair pulled back in a ponytail.

Her father may have a tall nose, since that's an ideal in China...

She does not fit the earlier described stereotype, though we have no idea how tall or short she is nor her cup size.

2. Find the ideal.
The ideal changed over time from what I read. There were time periods where modesty was more important than others, thus the ideal of beauty changed. In an old text, I did read and hear about how women from China should have lighter skin and freckles were not ideal, as these gave way to how the woman was viewed by men and what their personality was. This still has an effect, because I watched a bunch of behind the scenes on Chinese language dramas and women still worry about freckles and keeping lighter skin, most of the time and when they don't have it, will comment directly on it, while the people with the lighter skin do not.

i.e. I researched the variation and found the ideal.

Based on this, this character may have some insecurities about her skin tone and wish to lighten it. She wouldn't worry about a double eye lid, unless she is faking it (stickers exist for that) and she definitely cares about her looks since she shaped her eyebrows.

Finding a real person and being specific is better than finding all the stereotypes of a group and just thrusting them forward, especially on groups you don't know. If you only have one character that is PoC in that ethnicity--I think there might be an issue that goes much, much deeper than what they look like and describing them.

Variation is not that hard to pin down. Some things will and won't fit stereotype--as does with everyone. But putting some ideal made up by the dominant group from a foreign country as your guideline is not going to do you service.

If you aren't willing to put the time down and research when writing the other (which is not the case for putputt... since she is Chinese), then I don't think one should be writing diversity at all.

But this is a fantasy world.

The original question was how to describe someone without referencing existing cultures, because those references wouldn't make sense in a fantasy world. So all of your ideas about "the ideal" and how the character may feel about herself are useless, because they presuppose a contemporary Earth culture.

How do we describe someone WITHOUT referencing cultural norms or ideals?

How would we describe a white person? Hair colour is helpful... if an author mentions that a character is blond or redheaded without commenting on any anomalies, we can assume the character is white. But how about a white person with black hair? ETA: Not that the OP was related to white people! But it's hard to describe ANYONE, regardless of their race, in a vacuum. And a fantasy world would be a racial vacuum, wouldn't it?

So many of our descriptive terms for people are comparative. Someone is "pale" or "dark" or "midtoned", but that only makes sense within a context. Eyes are "round"? Without the context and comparisons to tell me that some people's eyes are rounder than others, I'd think round eyes meant an alien.

I think there are serious challenges to writing contemporary Earth ethnicity/race into a fantasy world. We can research the crap out of our OWN world, but that's not going to do much to help describe things in an alternate world.

lolchemist
11-01-2013, 01:20 PM
But this is a fantasy world.

The original question was how to describe someone without referencing existing cultures, because those references wouldn't make sense in a fantasy world. So all of your ideas about "the ideal" and how the character may feel about herself are useless, because they presuppose a contemporary Earth culture.

How do we describe someone WITHOUT referencing cultural norms or ideals?

How would we describe a white person? Hair colour is helpful... if an author mentions that a character is blond or redheaded without commenting on any anomalies, we can assume the character is white. But how about a white person with black hair? ETA: Not that the OP was related to white people! But it's hard to describe ANYONE, regardless of their race, in a vacuum. And a fantasy world would be a racial vacuum, wouldn't it?

So many of our descriptive terms for people are comparative. Someone is "pale" or "dark" or "midtoned", but that only makes sense within a context. Eyes are "round"? Without the context and comparisons to tell me that some people's eyes are rounder than others, I'd think round eyes meant an alien.

I think there are serious challenges to writing contemporary Earth ethnicity/race into a fantasy world. We can research the crap out of our OWN world, but that's not going to do much to help describe things in an alternate world.

Yeah this is a HUGE problem for me as well. I also avoid using the words "black" or "white" when describing skin color at all because let's be real NO ONE actually has skin that color not even Albinos. As looks-obsessed as our society is, we really really suck at having ACTUAL WORDS to describe all our differences. And most of the words we DO have are freaking offensive. I hate having to do a verbal bellydance every time a new character appears but I'm willing to do it for the sake of my characters not being whitewashed.

One good thing though is that, in this day and age, most authors have blogs and websites now and I think publishers wouldn't mind if we were to put drawings or photos on our sites saying 'I imagine character X to look like a 12 year old Usher Raymond and character Y looks sort of like if Manny Pacquiao and Halle Berry had a lovechild.'

If I get published, I will definitely do this because I don't want *RUE* happening to any of my characters.

Kaarl
11-02-2013, 08:43 AM
Are most of your charcters Asian ? If so a note from the Author might be easier.

Unless stated or inferred otherwise everyone in this novel is Asian.

*Edit* Or if it fits with your story you could have a racist passerby say something. If / when groups of Asians in your story meet up their shared displeasure at the discrimination would quickly show their race without resorting to chopsticks and stereotyping.

Captcha
11-02-2013, 04:56 PM
I guess a fantasy author also has to question whether Earth-races would even exist in their world. Some of our differences developed because our ancestors adapted to different physical environments, right? So in a fantasy world, the author would have to look at the physical environments and decide how they would influence the characters' physiques.

eg. If the characters have historically lived in a northern forest environment, they'd probably look fairly similar to Earth Scandinavians? If the characters have historically lived in a hot semi-desert, they'd probably have adapted in ways similar to Earth's north Africans?

So would there even BE "Asians" in the fantasy world? I'm not really sure what the geographic conditions were that led to different Asian features, or what effect immigration or other historic factors would have influenced things, but maybe it would make sense to research that, instead of researching the purely cultural aspects? Then you could describe the characters with reference to Earth environments, rather than Earth culture?

Although I'm not sure we really know the reasons for all the different physical types. And maybe the reason for at least some of them was just chance, not adaptation. The skin tone seems pretty clearly linked to sun exposure, but I'm not sure if the connection is clear for anything else. Grrrr. Possibly the ruin of my idea!