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Snitchcat
01-20-2014, 07:41 AM
"I will only read..." sparked a long, rambling essay. And I got to thinking about reading while I grew up.

A quick analysis shows that all the main characters never resembled my experiences, my viewpoint: the MCs were predominantly white, golden-haired and accepted by their society by and large. Frustrating. Disappointing.

What are your experiences with growing up reading about main characters who didn't resemble you?

How have you used those experiences in your writing?

Kim Fierce
01-21-2014, 03:59 AM
Well, I didn't see many lesbian characters in teen novels, that's for sure. Probably zero. That really has sparked my passion to write LGBT young adult. But I also include racial diversity in every story, because even though I'm white, a diverse and accepting world which celebrates our differences is the one I'd like to see!

ellio
01-21-2014, 06:28 AM
I realised the other day watching Friends that I always related to the characters in Friends despite being nothing like them. I didn't relate to Charlie, that one black recurring character they had that one time, but I could relate to Monica and Rachel and even Phoebe in all her eccentricity.
This followed suit in pretty much every television series or book where there was a predominantly white cast. Even if there was a black character I'd relate to the white main characters and not the token. Because they read or watched like tokens, and despite growing up in a fairly white town I've never seen myself as a token. I related to the fully fleshed out 3 dimensional white characters because I'm a fully fleshed out 3-dimensional person with character.

That was quite a cool (if not sad) realisation for me.

kuwisdelu
01-24-2014, 03:19 AM
It's unsurprisingly difficult to find books written from the half Native American perspective.

Morri
01-24-2014, 03:31 AM
I realised the other day watching Friends that I always related to the characters in Friends despite being nothing like them. I didn't relate to Charlie, that one black recurring character they had that one time, but I could relate to Monica and Rachel and even Phoebe in all her eccentricity.
This followed suit in pretty much every television series or book where there was a predominantly white cast. Even if there was a black character I'd relate to the white main characters and not the token. Because they read or watched like tokens, and despite growing up in a fairly white town I've never seen myself as a token. I related to the fully fleshed out 3 dimensional white characters because I'm a fully fleshed out 3-dimensional person with character.

That was quite a cool (if not sad) realisation for me.

I agree with this. I've never had any problems relating with characters that don't look like me because that's mainly what I grew up reading and seeing on TV. Now I'm hyper-sensitive to PoC characters and I overanalyze their roles instead of letting them be, because they're usually the odd one out in the cast. I get anxious about their actions being attributed to their entire race instead of the individual.

Sam Argent
01-24-2014, 04:38 AM
I was lucky growing up because during that time there were always shows with a decent amount of PoC. A Different World, Ghost Writer, and New York Undercover were the norm for me. Movies were pretty diverse too, but I never got that from my fantasy books. The latter didn't bother me until my twenties because PoC started disappearing from tv and movies. Today, if I want to depress myself all I have to do is look at the box office and try finding any main characters who aren't white. Writing-wise, I'm trying to put the diversity I grew up with into my stories so I can drown out the people who believe knights of different color/gender aren't historically accurate but dragons make perfect sense.

KateH
01-24-2014, 05:51 AM
I never really thought about it too much when I was younger, probably because it's what I was used to.
It did bother me that fantasy, my favourite genre, was predominantly white. I remember thinking that if there was ever a Hobbit adaptation my chances of being an extra were slim, despite living in New Zealand :tongue (As it turns out, there were POC extras. Still missed my chance at being an extra, though...)
I'm now very aware of diversity, or lack of it, in books and films. Including diversity in my writing is very important to me. The protagonists in the two novels I'm working on at the moment are both POC.

Kim Fierce
01-24-2014, 06:37 AM
When I was a kid the shows to watch at night were Full House, Family Matters, and Fresh Prince. :)

Marian Perera
01-25-2014, 07:26 AM
I agree with this. I've never had any problems relating with characters that don't look like me because that's mainly what I grew up reading and seeing on TV. Now I'm hyper-sensitive to PoC characters and I overanalyze their roles instead of letting them be, because they're usually the odd one out in the cast.

Same here. Plus, I read a lot of SF and fantasy as a kid, so there were a lot of main characters who didn't look like me.

Conte Remo
01-25-2014, 07:48 PM
There used to be less redheads in the books I read growing up (not so much now, though). There are still hardly any lesbian characters. I read fantasy, and I have an easier time finding [decent] books with male homosexuals than with female homosexuals. I'll read about homosexuals of either sex, but it gets frustrating having to read about men all the time, whether straight or gay.

I personally want more well-developed black characters. When I go through the aisles in the bookstore, almost all the people pictured on the covers are white. I also want more "non-idealistically attractive" people. I get grossed out at all the idealistic people I see on book covers, doesn't matter whether they're male or female. I know covers aren't necessarily representative of what's in the book, but most of the books I read have people described like that too...

aruna
01-25-2014, 07:53 PM
I can relate to any character, if he or she is well-written. Like the OP, I grew up relating to white, blonde characters and never questioned it. Isn't that the point: that we can get inside another person's skin and feel with them, no matter what they look like? It's only once I realized these were the ONLY characters on offer, that I began to look further.

Putputt
01-25-2014, 08:32 PM
Hmm, I noticed the lack of overweight MCs more than the lack of PoCs when I was growing up...probably because I was all chubby and weight was always an issue. It was only after I moved from Asia that race became a more prominent issue for me, and that's when I started noticing the lack of PoC in popular media.

Roxxsmom
01-26-2014, 01:46 AM
Hmm, I noticed the lack of overweight MCs more than the lack of PoCs when I was growing up...probably because I was all chubby and weight was always an issue. It was only after I moved from Asia that race became a more prominent issue for me, and that's when I started noticing the lack of PoC in popular media.

This is still true. And if a character in a novel is heavy, you can almost guarantee that he or she will be portrayed as either villainous or comical in some way, or that (if a sympathetic character), he or she will lose weight as part of undergoing an "ugly duckling" transformation by the end of the story.

To my shame, I realized that in the first draft of my novel, the only person whom I described as being heavy was an unsympathetic character. And while I was pretty slim as a kid and young adult, I'm definitely fighting the "battle of the bulge" in middle age. I mean, yes, I'm evil. But I was before I gained 30 pounds too.

I think some of it's because most people in North America and Europe who are overweight fantasize about losing weight, so that story arc is a sort of wish fulfillment, and fat is seen as the enemy. Still, it would be nice to see more sympathetic, lovable characters who happen to be heavy and stay that way.

I'm white, so I never had the issue of noticing that most protagonists were of a different race from myself. I do remember some stories I really loved that had characters from different cultures, religions and ethnicities, though. I think, in hindsight, my mom made a concerted effort to find books for us that portrayed people from different cultures as sympathetic with as few stereotypes as possible. But the overwhelming majority of books still had and have white characters.

The biggest thing I recall from my childhood and young adulthood (and I know, it's a tiny violin) was the way blue or green eyed blondness was portrayed as the pinnacle of white beauty (I have dark hair and eyes). It was oh so rare for heroines in stories to have hair and eyes that were both dark. That bugged me.

I'd guess that this is even more galling for people who aren't white.

J.S.F.
01-26-2014, 11:36 AM
I think Roxxsmom took what I was thinking and articulated it much better than I could. I'm white and straight, so I guess that I identified mostly with the default characters in most SF/F or dramatic novels back then. I can't remember if there were any PoC as the MC's at that time although I'm sure there were a few...but unfortunately, I don't remember any except one SF novel where the main villain happened to be black and a sentient android, sort of like a walking, talking HAL. His character was so well written, though, it stayed with me.

Where I got off the identification boat was on matters of religion. The MC's were all Christian of one sort or another, and being Jewish (although not religious) I just couldn't understand why you didn't have more MC's with names other than Smith or Jones. When writers wrote in Jewish characters (or characters with Jewish sounding names) they were often portrayed in a very stereotypical manner, almost denigrating but not quite. It disappointed me, but not every writer did that, just a few. Still, I understood quite early on that things were like that in the writing world. It changed...but not for everyone (i.e. blacks or Asians) and that is a shame.

Snitchcat
02-01-2014, 10:02 AM
Was thinking more on this topic. And the one thing that turned me off almost all Western-written fiction was David Eddings. I admit that his formula works. For a while, I was also a fan of what he wrote. Then I finally read The Mallorean.

My viewpoint of it comes from the way that world paralleled the real world. Down to the map and cultures. The portrayals were typical fantasy, but more than that, I noticed that they were also stereotypical of the cultures of this world.

By the time I'd finished that series, the one thing that stuck (and still stands out to this day) is one overwhelming message, regardless if he intended it or not: Everything bad came from the East; everything good came from the West.

The series made me feel that I should be ashamed of being Chinese, or being from the East. That I should worship the West. Le Sigh.

I pretty much gave up with Western-written fantasy after that. Only kept up with a few Western authors (e.g., Terry Pratchett, Eoin Colfer, Valerie Griswold-Ford). I've had a difficult time finding other authors (ethnicity not considered) that I like enough to stick with. Even Chinese authors aren't holding my attention.

In my own writing, however, I rarely describe a character's physical appearance unless certain traits really matter. Even then, I keep it to a minimum. I'm more likely to describe their personality, their actions, thoughts and reactions. Perhaps this is an unconscious reaction and manifestation of what I'd read and was made to feel while growing up.

Although, I do admit: the background culture is definitely Chinese-influenced. Else, I hope that the character(s) I've written is (are) identifiable with any ethnicity.

LupineMoon
05-27-2014, 07:03 PM
Most of my reading was books with mostly if not all white characters. Much of it was what was available to me, but also, on a subconscious (though perhaps more consciously than I thought) level of trying to distance myself from my Asian heritage and be only white.

I've slowly (though not completely) gotten over that and am including bi-racial characters in much of my writing. I'm also writing a couple of short memoirs as a form of (very cheap) therapy, which has helped immensely.

That being said, most of what I still read is about white MCs, though I'm gravitating more toward bi-racial characters as well.

Alidor
07-12-2014, 04:43 AM
I'm autistic, and there seem to be very few autistic characters in literature (though they are becoming more common). Most of them are children, and their lives are treated as super-tragic. I wasn't even aware of the negative aspects of autism until I was in high school. I'm sick of "Rain Man" type characters - I don't consider myself a savant, and I'm nothing like that movie. I have several stories/story ideas with autistic protagonists. Still, I'm probably guilty of having like 90 percent of my autistic characters being male. I read the dreaded Babysitters Club book "Kristy and the Secret of Susan" and I thought the little autistic girl's portrayal was unrealistic. She had every possible trait of autism, which isn't even possible. Kristy's approach to helping her make friends was even worse. It was one of the fictional works from that time period that gave people the wrong idea about autism.

ScarletWhisper
07-12-2014, 05:48 AM
Interesting viewpoint, Alidor. I'm glad you mentioned it. My son is autistic and I recently wrote a short story with an autistic character inspired by him. I didn't label him that way, I just gave him his personality and depicted it. Readers will either recognize his autism or find him very intelligent and socially more-than-awkward.

I think that as more writers are affected firsthand by autism, that interaction will inspire more autistic characters in literature. Though they may not walk around carrying the "autistic" banner (for example, Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory).

Chasing the Horizon
07-12-2014, 06:35 AM
I related to the fully fleshed out 3 dimensional white characters because I'm a fully fleshed out 3-dimensional person with character.

That was quite a cool (if not sad) realisation for me.
I had a similar realization about why I never related to female characters in stories when I was growing up despite being female myself. Of course they often weren't fully fleshed characters, but even when they were they always seemed to either define themselves by their relationships with men or be fighting constant marginalization by the patriarchy around them. I'm sure these were both totally valid experiences, especially for women who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s like most of the authors of the time had. But for a girl in a liberal feminist household in the 1990s, this was completely foreign. Instead I gravitated to the men who defined themselves by their actions and weren't constantly fighting society. It was the mental and emotional aspects that mattered, not what they looked like.

These days there are some stories with female characters I really like and identify with, but the idea of finding one with an overweight and/or bisexual MC has never panned out. The number of horrific portrayals of mental illness I've seen have left me unwilling to even look at new works with mentally ill characters because I don't want to be totally offended again.

The state of diversity in fiction really is pretty sad.

Keyan
07-12-2014, 02:38 PM
I grew up in India on a diet of Enid Blyton. It didn't occur to me that there were no Indian kids in the books, because they were all set in England anyway. (Actually there was one Indian kid in one series, but he was a caricature and read as one.)

Nowadays, Blyton isn't considered acceptable (and many of her books have been edited to remove objectionable sentiments).

But I remember George, the girl who often dressed as a boy, had a lot of guts, and a wonderful dog named Timmy. I think she was the standout character in the Famous Five series.

Fatty, who was the leader of the Five Findouters and Dog, was nicknamed that from his initials (F.A.T) - but he was depicted as stout. He was also as smart and resourceful as a young Sherlock Holmes.

At the time, Indian children's books in English were mainly collections of folk tales, fairy tales, and mythology. Which wasn't bad. Someone gave me a collection of Folk Tales from Bengal that I loved so much I re-found a copy on Amazon a few years ago.

But it was Enid Blyton's books that were central to my childhood.

Kitty27
07-15-2014, 09:31 PM
I've always related more to male characters than female.

I grew up reading Anne Rice. Y'all should have seen me in all my Gothic glory dancing to Cannibal Corpse in my room.


Wait,not really. I was quite insufferable with my angst and whatnot.

But the vampires were outsiders and that was a theme in the characters I related to. Regardless of race,any character that existed outside the mainstream did it for me. I think it was because I am Black and being Goth to my soul,I felt like an outsider to my culture. Blacks folks back in the day tended to be very strict about that. It was the kiss of death to be called "Oreo" or "white acting".

Reading about characters doing their own thing and not caring thrilled me to no end. I wanted to be like that.