Writing the Underrepresented character

A couple of interesting posts:

Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds wrote about writers needing to go beyond stereotypes, referencing a blog by Kameron Hurley about invisible women

A commenter on Wendig’s blog brought up two additional blogs about the newest Star Trek and it’s lack of women characters. Felicia Day’s post, and then a discussion of her blog here.

(The discussion at IGN.com is ugly stuff. Seems the boys there don’t like mouthy women, think we should all shut up. The hate is bad, but the illiterate posts are almost as disturbing. If it truly is all about giving the audience what it wants — and because guys are the only audience that counts with these bozos — we don’t need to consider the wishes of this group. They aren’t capable of writing a complete sentence, and don’t appear to be great readers.)

Rightfully a lot of the comments focus on the need for diverse main characters. But Felicia Day raises an interesting point that is easy to overlook. We need to see women and minorities in the rest of the world as well. She points to a number of scenes where there are no women that make no sense. A boardroom of star fleet leadership with no women? Get real. Wouldn’t be true today, and we hope it wouldn’t be true in the future. Given that Star Trek has always led the way in portraying women and m oddities, this backsliding is troubling.

But back to writing. The world as we know it, is 53 percent female. In the U.S. a typical crowd would be 13 percent black, 14 percent Latino, 6 percent Asian. 10 percent roughly would be gay. 70 percent would be overweight.

That isn’t true, I suspect, of the backdrop of most books. Characters default to white men, unless there is a reason for a character to be other. Characters become women so the male can have a love interest or a hostage to fortune — someone to rescue. They become Black as a code for criminal, or these days Middle Eastern.

Several well-meaning commenters called for a world where it doesn’t matter — a code for leave ’em white males, I’m afraid. As writers, we choose the gender, sexuality, race for each person that walks across the page. Given that we can’t leave them sexless or raceless, we need to make diverse choices. And not just the stereotypes.

So, I’m thinking about my book, Everybody Lies. Good diversity in the lead roles. A bi-racial male lead, a woman second, a woman antagonist. But the background? People of power are men. The police captain and all the other officers. The doctor. The owner of the flight service. There are women, but they are all in traditional roles: nurse, mother, teacher. I could defend it saying that it s realistic and accurate for Alaska. But the truth is, I didn’t think about the characters in the backdrop. I just let the stereotypes do their thing. And I know better!

So a pledge: to be more deliberate in choosing the demographics of my backdrop. My books deliberately deal with issues of race and gender. But it isn’t enough to just look at the explicit messages, the implicit ones are equally important.

P.S. Kameron Hurley’s book, God’s War, is a great read. It is one of the recent crop of bio-science speculative works that makes you think about genetic manipulation. Read it a couple of years ago. Gender was in the forefront of the book — be interesting to go back and look at it again to see how the backdrop fares. Pretty well by my recollection.

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