About a week ago, my wife and I were talking about my writing. Nothing too serious, but then this comment came out of the blue.
“You need to stop writing about white women.”
It was strange. I wondered if she had read anything recent. But then, I started thinking about some of the stories I’ve written. With the exception of one or two stories, most of my protagonists come off as being white, whether they were male or female.
When I heard that comment, it was kind of like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I took it as a compliment. As a writer, I want to craft worlds and characters that are different from me. And I like to think I am doing a good job. At the same time, it stung because there is a perceived notion that I’m ashamed of my culture because my characters are not of the same skin tone or some variation.
It got me thinking. What if someone picked up my book? What if the reader didn’t know anything about me or the characters I created? Would the reader be quick to visualize the main character as white?
I say maybe, unless I described the main character as black or whatever creed I chose. But that’s only an assumption. In the same sense, I am assuming that the reader has no imagination. So it is possible that the reader may not see my main character as white. He may form his opinion based on the tone, dialect, mannerisms. Anything that makes the main character stand out. And how the reader forms his opinion of a character may be based on experience with interactions with people. Ultimately, it falls on me to show the reader as much as I need to about my characters.
Like the stories we tell, characters are an extension of ourselves and the people we interact with on a daily basis. So naturally, we’re going to create characters who share some portion of our livelihood. Being someone who works retail, I come across a hodgepodge of customers who, if I really applied my observational prowess, would make fascinating characters. Not every one I meet will make it into a story. But there is comfort I take in knowing there is a well I can tap into when creating diverse characters.