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on writing > Describing a character's race

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message 1: by Sunila (last edited Oct 23, 2008 03:29PM) (new)

Sunila | 4 comments As a writer, how do you describe a character's race? Should we always describe race in our fiction? If race isn't important to the story, do we need to describe race at all? I've been pondering this heavily lately and researching it online; it seems as if many writers are in a quandary over this issue. There is a great discussion about this now over at Mitali Perkins's blog, http://www.mitaliblog.com/ . She is a YA author. I'd love to hear what others think. Any thoughts?

message 2: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Bushman | 144 comments Personally, I think if race is pertinent to the story, meaning that race plays some part in moving the plot along, then you must make a deal of it. Otherwise, leaving it to the reader's imagination is always the best course.

I wrote a book a few years back, the fourth in a series, where one of the characters was a proud strong black man joining an equally strong white man and partnering with a courageous and honorable Lakota Sioux to fight what amounted to a small war. I never really described any of the characters in concrete terms, but rather through their mannerisms and actions, ideas and dialogue.

Not easy, never is, but unless race is pertinent to the story, I think writers would do better to focus on creating 3-D characters true to what they envision in their minds and leave skin color to the reader to determine.

Just my two cents. Your mileage may vary.

message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) As a reader, I don't like it when a writer adds details that I don't need. They're distracting. Zelazny Roger wrote that he limited himself to 3 descriptions per paragraph, I think. If he needed more, he'd add it as the story progressed. He's my favorite author. I rarely read anything by Stephen King, so it's a matter of taste, I suppose.

When I read, I use my imagination to fill in the outline that the author draws for me. Too many details & I forget them or skip through them. I'm reading for a story, not detailed descriptions of things I already have a reference for. Tell me the woman is drop dead gorgeous or mousy - I already have pictures in my head of both. Skin color isn't one of the top few details that spring to my mind. If I want that kind of detail, I watch TV.

Race/nationality is important when there is a cultural background it includes/supports or there are societal biases & attitudes that are pertinent to the story. Sometimes it can be used as a shocker & a good one. Arthur C. Clarke did so in a short story during the Cold War. He makes you think 'The President' is the US president through the story & it turns out to be the Soviet president - that was the point of the story.

In Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein doesn't mention race or nationality except in a very few instances. Some characters are described or named so that you may have an idea as to their race/nationality, but that's it. It wasn't pertinent to the story so he left them out. It was a stronger book for it. That's my opinion, anyway.

message 4: by Shamset (new)

Shamset | 14 comments it depends on what and how the story is fabricating? if a character needs, he/she should be indicated the manners from where she/he comes? it might helps to give the character identity.

message 5: by A.J. (new)

A.J. I don't see any quandary.

There's no reason to describe any attribute of any character, whether it's race, eye colour, shoe size or whatever, unless it contributes directly to the story -- that is, unless it is important to define that character in relation to other characters and the overall story arc.

Example: Anne of Green Gables. Anne's red hair is important to her identity. Her sense that red hair is undesirable or inferior helps to define her as a character, and story incidents grow naturally from it. Naturally, red hair constrains her, racially, as a white character. Yet her skin colour is never mentioned, in part because of the time the story was written and the assumptions of that time, but more importantly because it is not relevant.

But you could have a similar character whose sense of inferiority derives from race, and then it would be important. Or, you could have an Anne-like character, recast as African-American, whose sense of inferiority comes not from her hair colour but from having hair that is coarse and frizzy -- something that derives directly from race and may be culturally unique to black Americans, as opposed to Africans.

If you had a character like this, describing that character in terms of race would become as natural as describing Anne's red hair. Race is about identity, identity is about character, character is about story.

So where's the quandary?

message 6: by Shamset (new)

Shamset | 14 comments i found the discourse of eurocentricity in your comments. in orieants, there are a lot difference among the people from the perspectives of anthropologically.
I found another discrepency in your comments that is the subject from globalization that might not be accepted by many.

message 7: by Kevin (last edited Oct 26, 2008 08:27AM) (new)

Kevin | 109 comments It is necessary.

People who refuse to address race of a character, specifically main character, shouldn't be writing. I find them to be as bad as people who use politically correct terms to describe race.

little rant:
Political Correctness has evolved into a monster that detracts from the story. Most of it is an outright lie. Indians are from the western hemisphere, a lot of indians (american style) now believe it is a name that originated from a description written by either columbus or one of the record keepers on the ship- "Une gente en dios"/un gente que vive en dios". Hindi and Shindi - those are people from India which used to be called Hindustan - regardless of what people might thing, India was not called India. Columbus knew he wasn't in the East Indies, was still searching for the western passage. There's no such thing as Native American, since everyone was the result of emigration. To top it off, the term was the result of the Department of the Interior census forms during the reclassification of the 1970s. If someone insists on being so PC they can't use the word "Indian" then they better adopt their research to include the character's/person's actual genealogical history (Sioux, Chippewa, Black Foot, etc...).

African American - can only be used to describe black men and women of America, and even then I only use the term if the character/person him/herself demands to be compared with Africa or is the direct descendant of an African native. Barak Obama, being of direct descent (within one generation) is, Chris Rock, on the other hand, has openly stated he is BLACK and not African American, while not a single black man or woman in Britain can be called an African American (they don't live in America).

Basically, if you make sure nobody knows what your characters look like, then you better be writing a mystery novel.

Even with fantasy or science fiction, you need to distinguish your aliens or your fantasy people, otherwise you wind up with a massive glob of faceless identity. It becomes a mass of homogenized and congealed forms that have absolutely no psychological impact on the reader. They're the faceless nazi storm troopers that you can't wait to see shot down, because they have no history, no life, no worth, no personality.

Now, that isn't to say you have to bring it up every single page, or every single chapter. But it does need to be brought up.

message 8: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Kevin, most serious writers nowadays actually don't bother giving physical descriptions of their characters, beyond a few important details. Some give no descriptions at all. "Psychological impact" doesn't come from knowing that a character is six feet tall and has blue eyes -- these traits are superficial. Similarly, skin colour is superficial unless it has some bearing on the story.

One good example of a serious writer who handles racialized characters well is Jim Harrison. Harrison's viewpoint characters may be Indians, but they don't wake up in the morning thinking that they're Indians; rather, we understand that they are because they live on reservations, because they refer to Anishinabe beliefs, etc. Race is naturally interwoven into character, but it only arises as important when characters perceive themselves as victims of racial injustice.

Another example is Jay McInerney's Brightness Falls, which features a black editor at a New York publishing house. Race is obviously relevant, both because of the character's own perception that he's a token and because of pressures put on him to play certain roles.

De Niro's Game, by Rawi Hage, is set in Lebanon and features Arab characters; no one is ever described as an Arab. Neither, in the third part of the novel, is anyone ever described as a white European. We understand that the French are French and the Arabs are Arabs without any need to resort to describing skin colour.

In short, we only become aware of race when we encounter other races. Race isn't relevant in a story set among members of a homogenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest, any more than it's relevant in a story set among residents of Prince Edward Island circa 1910. There is no generalized need to tell us anything about a character's race; it arises only when it has something to do with the story.

message 9: by Kevin (new)

Kevin | 109 comments Andrew, first you say that most serious writers nowdays don't give a description, then you talk about how they make it clear what race their characters are.

I'm sorry but you just argued against yourself. Either they describe who their characters are or they don't. Description means any means of conveying what they do and don't look, sound, or act like (by act, I mean such things as thoughts on society, politics, religion and heritage). Though, I do have to admit, that most writers nowdays are pretty piss poor, and quite frankly, I'm disgusted with a lot of books that have gone to print in the last 8 years.

By using race as merely a plot device, which you seem to suggest with your last paragraph, a writer loses him/herself into the objective of trying to "make a point". Writers that want to force themselves to only insert items into their stories that "make a point", tend to have the writing skills of an agent for their local high school newspaper.

With the latest rash of talentless plagiarists bought and sold through Harper Collins publishing, I really am not surprised that a lot of "serious authors" today don't see character description as a critical part of development and psychological relations between the writer and the reader.

That kind of argument really isn't a way to make me appreciate that style of writing.

It used to be that a skilled writer could write a "story" that had no plot, no antagonist, no protagonist - all it was, was the descriptions of a simple room. But the way it was written you could believe the lamp was a sinister object waiting in the shadows to attack the pillow if you blinked your eyes.

Now, when I pick up a book, they tend to be written by talentless hacks, who think they have to insert a double homicide in order to grab a reader's attention. Anyone who thinks like this, that description is never important unless used as a direct plot device really is never going to be a decent writer as far as I'm concerned. I honestly, and truly hate this kind of writing. And yes, I do hate a lot of so called writers who have been pushed through based off of corporate back door handshakes, money, and false book sales.

Now if you want to continue to argue about "popular authors" of today not using any form of description, I have this to say:
The whole industry in America is sick, and has suffered from talentless editors (such as Kevin J. Anderson), who literally pay rent to booksellers such as Barnes and Noble for floor space to store X books at each store, then claim "Bestseller Status" for H books which were ordered during week Z of month Y (and yes that's really how the bestselling industry works, it doesn't matter how many books are actually sold, just how many were shipped).

You read a real author's novel, such as Grisham, you usually get full blown character descriptions. You get fear, you get age, skin color, you get accents, you get character background. Now granted, it may not always be necessary to give the whole deal, but at least he gives something.

So, you know, do what you want, but try to consider the company you keep with your style of writing. Are they a popular author because they write well? Or is it because the daddy warbucks editor rents floor space at the bookstore in order to claim bestseller status based on transit receipts?

message 10: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Bushman | 144 comments Well, first of all, Kevin, to make a blanket statement such as those writers who don't address race to your specifications shouldn't be writing speaks a lot about your character. I don't ever take it upon myself to tell other writers they shouldn't be writing--even when they suck.

Andrew is right in that most writers nowadays don't TELL readers exactly what the character(s) looks like, even to color of skin--they SHOW them. They paint pictures and scenes with words, they show everything about the character(s) through interaction, mannerisms, thoughts, and dialogue. A good writer doesn't have to "tell" you anything about the character, nothing, and if he or she has done his job well, you'll know. You won't know how you know perhaps, you might not be able to point to a specific paragraph of pointless telling description, but you'll know.

Sure, writers might state upon the reader's first meeting that a man is six feet tall with brown eyes and black hair in dread locks, but after that, the skilled writer shows the reader who the person truly is. Setting and historical context may give the reader some clues as well.

Please, Kevin. No more blanket statements about writers. Just write your books and I'll write mine and others will write theirs and let's pray for all to succeed beyond our wildest dreams. This business is tough enough.


message 11: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Kevin, when you describe Grisham as a real author you lose any credibility you might have had. You need to read a better class of book.

I am not arguing against myself. I know what description is. As I said, most serious writers today give minimal description, limited to a few important details, and some give none at all.

If you actually read the examples I cited, you'd be able to argue credibly whether those authors use description to bring in race. Harrison and Hage use little, McInerney more. None of these writers is throwing in double homicides to grab the reader's attention -- again, I suggest you need to read a better class of book.

I note your repeated snarky remarks to the effect that I'll never become a decent writer with this attitude. Thanks for the risible ad hominems, Kevin, and the ranting about the industry ... did you actually have some argument to make here, or is that the whole deal?

message 12: by Kevin (last edited Oct 27, 2008 12:38PM) (new)

Kevin | 109 comments LOL
-----1205273 Kevin, when you describe Grisham as a real author you lose any credibility you might have had. You need to read a better class of book.-----

Compared to the crap I've read recently, he is willaim shakespeare.

Here're the top selling fiction authors in the USA Alone:

Connelly is first on the list
R. A. Salvatore is 8th on the list

This is into what American Readership has degenerated.

It is a living joke. And yes, compared with those, Grisham is a real writer.

If you honestly don't know what's wrong with those writers, let alone those books, well, you'll just fit right in.

PS: Andrew, before you accuse someone as making an ad hominem, look up the term first.
Everything I said was in direct relation to the discussion at hand, and they were perfect analogies.

message 13: by A.J. (last edited Oct 27, 2008 01:58PM) (new)

A.J. Kevin, I'm not talking the NYT best-seller list -- where, incidentally, Grisham is entirely at home. I'm talking about literary fiction, and I've provided examples. Evidently, you're not familiar with them.

You really do need to read a better class of book. If, "compared to the crap [you've:] read recently," Grisham is Shakespeare, may I suggest you stop reading crap? If you do, you may find Grisham slips in your estimation.

Finally, you have indeed argued ad hominem here, in your assertion that anyone who expresses my view "really is never going to be a decent writer," or "tend to have the writing skills of an agent for their local high school newspaper." Not that it cuts me up much; I know the score on that one.

message 14: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Bushman | 144 comments Kevin,

Is it possible that you're a disgruntled writer whose latest literary masterpiece has been passed over by New York? Lot of us like you in the world, if that's the case. So why attack all writers because they don't see things the same way as you? Isn't writing about freedom in many aspects?

I'm just trying to uncover the source of your anger. I agree with you that New York is largely publishing crap these days, when they're not publishing celebrities, but you shouldn't be attacking the writers, or all writers, or making blanket statements to that effect. I don't write to please you, or even to make tons of money, although it is a nice thought to consider. I write the way I write to please me, first and foremost. I write what I want to read because I am my book's first reader. If that doesn't work for you or even the world at large, I don't care. But it's not the writers' fault the publishing business in New York has gone to hell. If you were in their shoes, you'd take a spot on the NY Times best seller list, no matter if your work deserved it or not. Sure, you would. Any writer would be a fool to turn it down.

One thing you have to recognize, whether you like or not, or I like it or not, or anyone likes it or not--the trend in fiction nowadays is toward minimalist description, especially of characters, unless that description plays a central role in the plot. Why? Because readers of all stripes have begged for that, they want it that way. With a minimalist description of character, all caveats aside, the reader is left free to imagine, to put his or herself in the main character's role, and most readers nowadays will tell you that they want the story to move along at a snappy pace. Ask the readers, study the data over the past few years. I have. Even I, who love Stephen King dearly, will in frustration flip past his page after page of description to pick up the thread of the story. In Cell I noticed he'd returned somewhat to his earlier style of writing where there was less focus on lengthy description and more concentration on the plot. And to my way of thinking, that may be a direct result of readers and fans letting him know that he'd gone too far to the extreme, description-wise.

All I'm saying is relaxe, take a deep breath and quit alienating the people who would help you, who would listen to you and quite possibly agree with you in many respects, if only you didn't attack them and other writers just doing their thing.


message 15: by Kevin (new)

Kevin | 109 comments Ok before I begin, I wasn't attacking anyone in this writer's group, well, until Andy attacked me. But I wasn't attacking his writing skill.

Mari, I'm not attacking you, but I do speak rather bluntly. You can probably skim this message, I'm too lazy to edit it and I think I repeated myself at the end.


Is it possible that you're a disgruntled writer whose latest literary masterpiece has been passed over by New York? Lot of us like you in the world, if that's the case. So why attack all writers because they don't see things the same way as you? Isn't writing about freedom in many aspects?

Uhhhh, no? My bread and butter at this point is my patented board game :grins: I just write for fun.

I'm responding to you because you actually attempted to read my posts, while Andrew seemed incapable of realizing what I was saying.

I've got a much simpler source of my disgruntled nature than that:

I am a reader who has been burned by authors who betray the sacred trust established once their book is purchased.

I grew up reading Asimov, Clemens, Bradbury (eh...), Blume, Dahl, Verne, Howard, etc... -- all through my school reading requirements and reading programs. All of us did where I live (I say that because there were schools that bypassed required reading).

Description was everything.

Then I started picking up books written by authors who did such things as totally avoided description. These authors betrayed my trust as a reader.

Politically Correct authors, so ingrained in the idea that everybody regardless of skin color has the same history, same emotions, same experiences.

It's a total lie. Skin color and other descriptive qualities, means so much more in our society than simple racism. You can't just take a giant can of White Out, make everyone the same, and say "What a diverse and rich culture." I really have no patience for any author who has that kind of thought running through their head.

The entire methodology of the publishing houses in this country has devolved into this rather disgusting portrayal of the human condition. Even star trek, which is as bland as it can possibly be toward its main characters and their description, acknowledges the fact that Uhura and Geordi were black.

And as I said before in my "rant" (although I'll rephrase a little differently because I was convoluted), black is more than just black. White is more than just white. IF you write someone from the south who is white, you need to choose what other kind of descriptive qualities. What is their thought process. It is a psychological connection with their reader. White Southerner could mean someone who doesn't care about civil rights, a slave owner, someone who fought with the striking black protesters to insure equal wages, a farm hand -- this is all part of the relationship the reader expects to enter with each character to form their emotions.

Now, minor characters, characters which have so little impact on the story (they appear once then leave), probably shouldn't even be named let alone described.

But if you start naming someone, and you don't bother to build that relationship of who they are, what they look like, with your reader, then you will not be able to build that connection with the rest of your book.

I really am sick and tired of picking up books by so called authors whose entire capacity for description begins and ends with:
"The lamp was blue."
"Barry had black skin."

What shade of blue? Does it affect the rest of the room?
What kind of skin? There are over a hundred shade of dark on the human body. From what part of the globe?

There iss a difference between an attack, and getting fed up with paying $10 to read something written by an ultra-pc hack, who has no talent. And unfortunately, there have been a lot of "professional" people in the last 10 years (since the harper-collin's buyout), that have put author behind their last name without actually learning how to write. There've been 4 major cases of plagiarism in the last 6 years alone. That is far too much for this industry, and speaks volumes in support of my complaints toward how people have been writing books.
Description seems to be the hallmark of real authors. If you can describe the main characters, if you can use that to build a relationship with the reader - then you're a real author.
If you only use description as a plot device, you're a hack. Skin color, description, history, all that is more than a plot device. It is part of your relationship as an author with your reader.

I'm blunt, and coarse, and I am not going to apologize for that because I'm tired of seeing and paying for writing that has come straight out of highschool.

message 16: by A.J. (new)

A.J. "If you only use description as a plot device...."

You seem to be confusing story and plot. The advice to describe only things that relate to the story does not suggest that description is a mere plot device. Story and plot are two entirely different things.

Neither is that advice anything to do with being PC, a problem that you alone seem fixated on in this discussion. As I said in my first post, the same holds for any character attribute, be it shoe size, hair colour, height, weight, whatever. There is no reason to handle race any differently.

It's quite simple, really.

message 17: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) Sometimes it is important to build a character on a stereotype or basic human attributes & in that case I agree, I don't like it when an author gets PC. A pet peeve of mine is women that run around wielding a broadsword like Conan or barbarian mercenaries that comment on ladies' slippers, but
I don't see leaving large portions of the story to my imagination as the writer breaking trust with me. I appreciate it in many cases.

One of the things I dislike about many of the 'classics' is tons of description about things I have a solid picture of already. Why spend a lot of time describing a basic desert island when I've seen dozens of versions from Gilligan's Island to multimedia vacation brochures? A few, well chosen words can paint a larger picture today than it used to, I think.

I'm interested in the story. We read a lot more today than they did in years gone by, both for business & pleasure. We also have a lot of other things chattering for our attention. Quiet time to read is all too precious to waste on extraneous words.

message 18: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Show vs. tell is a bit of a red herring here. Despite the common advice to show vice tell, a certain amount of telling -- of narration and flat-out description -- must always be always present. If not, you're writing a screenplay.

Inappropriate attempts to "show" character traits will surely annoy readers far more than simple description. One common mistake is attempting to work into dialogue things that should simply be described.

But it is a valid point to an extent -- for major characters, you want their traits to have something to do with their personalities, their conflicts, etc., and this arises through showing, not telling.

Regardless, I don't think anyone here is saying description is a bad thing in itself -- only that you should avoid otiose description that has nothing to do with the story, and that race (like anything else) may or may not fall into that category.

message 19: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Bushman | 144 comments So, really, the bottom line here is that some description is necessary, and I agree, but too much is...well, too much.

Do I have that correct then? A writer should constantly aim for the fine line of clarity without boring the reader or slowing the pace of the story, but giving just enough detail to stand the test of time and the evolution of the language?

Well, I love a good challenge. If I didn't, I don't think writing would have quite the appeal it does for me now. Actually, I'm addicted to writing and giving me this razor's edge to shoot for is just another reason why. Oh, to find that sweet spot of balance.


message 20: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) Wittystar, you make a good point about readers in the future. There was a lot of dissension over 'Stranger in a Strange Land' because of how Heinlein discussed women, free love, the technology & some other subjects. The opinions were often divided by age - those who remembered the 60's & those who were born after. The latter didn't see the change, have the reference point & couldn't see how far ahead of his time the book was in many ways.

SISL was published just 47 years ago. A lot has happened since then, though. There was probably more change during this time than in a couple of centuries previous & the pace is accelerating. I think that makes your job as a writer a lot tougher. The hot topic today may not be relevant or even understandable in a century.

Look at how race issues have changed since 1961. Hopefully they'll be a complete non-issue in a century. With as small as the earth is getting, we might not have enough 'pure bloods' of any race in a few centuries to make the point real to anyone.

Some topics may be more or less timeless, though. Human nature doesn't seem to be changing very fast.

message 21: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) Mari, I think you need to base it on your audience. I read fiction books for an escape. I read technical stuff all day - lots of meaning. I want lighter fare during the breaks. I like Zelazny & his 3 descriptive words per paragraph, others like Stephen King & 3 descriptive pages. Different strokes for different folks.

I can't think of the book offhand, but I read one recently (1-5 years) where the author often wandered far afield from the main story & it was fun & interesting, rather than frustrating. His wanderings were only peripherally joined to the main story, but added a lot of depth & description that otherwise would have been boring to show or tell. I've seen others try this technique & fail miserably, though. If I recall the book, I'll post it here.

message 22: by Roy (new)

Roy (mplwdscribe) | 1 comments I've written a number of stories where race was completely unrelated to the plot in which I did not bother to reference/describe the character's race. I've also written stories in which race was unimportant, but in the process of adding descriptive elements to the prose I did inform readers subtly or otherwise what the character's race happened to be. In both scenarios it is IMHO a completely arbitrary decision that neither adds to nor distracts from the tale being told, making it the author's call dependant on his/her whim.

message 23: by Kevin (new)

Kevin | 6 comments I tend to agree with Roy, and would add that one of the pleasures of writing a story set in modern times is the ability to credibly "cast" principal characters anyway we please, or choose to leave it mostly ambiguous and turn the casting over to readers.

Younger characters have an additional advantage here, since I believe the naming conventions for children of different races might begin to overlap again after years of moving apart.

Incidentally, did anyone read chapter six in Freakonomics? It is all about names, race, class and expectations, and seems pertinent to this discussion.


message 24: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay (LindsayBetz) | 2 comments Sunila wrote: "As a writer, how do you describe a character's race? Should we always describe race in our fiction? If race isn't important to the story, do we need to describe race at all? I've been pondering ..."

I really enjoy creating a detailed character, including race and background. It is a part of a person, so why not a character?

Brigid ✩ Cool Ninja Sharpshooter ✩ | 47 comments Haha. I've met Mitali Perkins. Sorry, off-topic.
Hmm. Well, I don't really describe character's races. I just describe what they look like ... and then the reader can make whatever conclusion they want.

message 26: by Sunila (new)

Sunila | 4 comments ♥ Brigid ♥ I WON NANOWRIMO!!! wrote: "Haha. I've met Mitali Perkins. Sorry, off-topic.
Hmm. Well, I don't really describe character's races. I just describe what they look like ... and then the reader can make whatever conclusion they ..."

Hi Brigid, I think many writers are choosing to do that now. I've been noticing that a lot more lately. Writers will often give vague or subtle descriptions of a character's looks and let the readers draw their own conclusions about race, ethnicity, etc.

(On a side note, did you meet Mitali Perkins at a book signing? If you haven't yet, check out her blog--it's a really good resource for writers.)

message 27: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) I recently got all 4 seasons of 'Soap', a late 70's-early 80's sitcom that was a spoof on soap operas. 'Benson' got his start there. Anyway, I love the way they handle race & homosexuality. Both were done in a 'in-your-face' kind of way. I'm watching the 3d season right now & a bi-racial couple is facing a lot of trials, so is the gay guy, who is trying to keep his daughter.

message 28: by Candle (new)

Candle Alice | 1 comments Personally when I'm writing with my black character, Phoenix I like to simply not regard race, find a pleasing word to describe his skin color; Chesnut, Ebony, Mocha, Umber. Simply describe him as you would anyone else. You not only avoid any kind of racial pitfalls, but you also have more descriptive power over your character.

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Books mentioned in this topic

Stranger in a Strange Land (other topics)
Brightness Falls (other topics)
De Niro's Game (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Robert A. Heinlein (other topics)
Arthur C. Clarke (other topics)
Stephen King (other topics)
Roger Zelazny (other topics)
Jim Harrison (other topics)