April 15th, 2010


Race in Novels


I've been working on an article for Let The Words Flow in which I discuss planning books vs. letting them happen 'naturally'. It got me thinking... back when I was on FictionPress, writing Antebellum for the first time, I had no idea how the story would turn out. I didn't even have any ideas for a sequel, much less a trilogy. And then a reviewer said this to me:

"I love your story, but there aren't any black people. Could we maybe have a black character? :-)"

Her comment distressed me, firstly because she had assumed that all of my characters were white, when in fact I had been very careful to describe everyone in as general terms as possible so that their appearance could be super-imposed by the reader. (Actually, we find out later that everyone is pretty much descended from a mix of white and hispanic people, so they're all varying shades of color).

Secondly, I was forced to confront my own inherent racism when thinking about main characters. I don't mean racism as in believing badly about one race or another, I mean that I was conditioned to assume a character was white until told otherwise, and part of that had bled over into my writing. Frankly, all my characters looked white in my head, even though I knew their technical ancestries.

So after that reader confronted me about the inherent 'whiteness' of my characters, I decided to add a few black characters, mostly to please her :-)

Enter Charoleen, and later Mercoush. For those unfamiliar with my stories, Charoleen is a friend of my main character who went into politics and is now the Representative for their region. Mercoush is an Equal (a man held on an equal platform with women) from their world's equivalent of Washington DC. Char and Mer are involved romantically :-)

Originally I created these two characters to please my readers, but then something unexpected happened: Char and Mercoush revealed that they were part of a pro-equality movement, and wanted my main character to join them.

And from that revelation, I developed enough plot line for a trilogy.

Having just finished editing the book after Antebellum, Apostasy, (I cut 20,000 words, hooray!), I was reflecting on the origins of my story, and remembered where I got the idea for Charoleen and Mercoush in the first place.

So while I'm a fan of outlining now, if I hadn't have written Antebellum on the fly, with input from my FP reviewers, I probably would never have gotten those characters, or my series out of it.

Thank you, lone reviewer, wherever you are. :-D