Story Question


I've been tinkering on and off with this original novel idea for a while. It would, of course, be science fiction, but the main issue I've been having with is about the main characters. Not their personalities or their story arcs or anything like that, but what race to make them.

This seems kinda stupid I know. One of the main characters is an alien. That is fixed. But the other I had intended to be an Australian, and I'd kinda been tossing around the idea that he be a redhead, if only so I can use the uniquely Australian nickname for redhead, "Blue," for him. I had also intended for him to be gay or bi.

But just before I sat down yesterday to actually write some of it, I read an article about POC and the relative scarcity of gay POC in media. Which led me to question: since it changes absolutely nothing for the story for the main character to be a POC rather than a red-headed Caucasian (except the nickname), why not make him a POC?

The only problems I have on this is: 1) I am admittedly a white female. What do I know about being a black man? Would being a black man be that different in a futuristic society from a white female? Could I pull it off? I like to think that I could, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe my characterizations of the male mind now are already way off base and adding a racial issue to it would just be pushing the issue. And, more impotently, 2) Would it be viewed as pretentious and cause-serving for me to make this change? I reiterate: The only thing it would change would be the character's nickname. His story arc, personality, etc would not change. Only his physical characteristics would change. But would making him a POC just for the sake of the main character being a POC be, well, wrong? Or insulting to anyone? Or, hell, worse?

::bangs head against the wall::

Does anyone have an opinion, or am I making mountains from molehills?
You should write what seems best to you, but here are some questions for you. What would you enjoy writing? What would sell (it has to be asked)? Of course, the cliche is "write what you know", aka white female....

Good luck with this project - I'm looking forward to reading it.
It'd be a long time in coming, if I ever were to finish it.

As for what would sell, as the article pointed out, white gay couples definitely appear on TV far more often than lesbian couples or POC gays. But I figure, anyone reading science fiction has to have a pretty open mind to begin with, so that's not so much of an issue. And I'm reasonably sure I could pull off writing a gay POC man, as I can't see how much harder it would be than writing gay white men, but...

I think it's the pretentiousness of it that worries me the most. Would having to justify myself as a white woman writing a gay POC man detract too much from the story itself?
Random person chiming in:

I think you're the only person who can say whether being a black man be that different in your futuristic society from a white female. Is it mostly white? What sort of cultural background do most black people have? Is racism a historical curiosity or still relevant? The background makes the person. A white female from a society without sexism or racism is going to be pretty different from you, too.

Which is my way of saying it might be a good idea to research before writing, but don't be afraid to try.

I think it's a little silly to worry about making the main character a POC for the sake of the main character being a POC, though. I expect you decided most of the details of the main characters for weaker reasons than wanting more gay POC in fiction. (I don't mean that in a nasty way, there's just only so many characteristics that can be plot-relevant or thematically-relevant.) Representation's pretty important to groups that don't get much.
(nod) I've this idea that racial history will never stop being unimportant, but it will be less important in the future. Or, at least, in this future I'm imagining.

And research is always a must. As I'm fond of saying, I once researched the Top 40 songs for a few particular weeks in that particular region for a fanfic I once wrote, just to have the right music on the radio. I tend to overcompensate in that regard.

I get what you mean though. At this point, I simply can't decide if it would be a good idea, to get more representation, or if I'm overstepping my bounds in some way.
I don't think you are. Most under-represented groups prefer being included for the sake of political correctness to another book that reinforces the message they're not worth telling stories about.

If it bothers you, try asking the people running a website which looks at racism in fiction.
Just because there's a lack of something, doesn't mean you have to do it unless it fits your story. I think part of the problem is, that most of science fiction writers are white, so they write about what's familiar to them, and there's nothing wrong with that as such. Plus writing a POC always seems to come attached to the issues of racism, and it's hard to ignore them, yet it would be best to write as if it made no difference. (unless racism is a theme you want to explore)

On the other hand, doing science fiction gives you a lot of freedom, since you can design your own future, cultures, etc. And how you make these, reflects on how your characters are, how they are treated, and so forth. Things are co-dependent.

I can give you an example from what my boyfriend and I have done. We don't have much black people in our scifi stories (yet at least) because of the history in our created universe. There are two main branches of interstellar colonization, one mainly of European descent, one mainly Chinese descent. Also, we're white too, we probably stick to familiarity of that too. It would take special effort to write differently.

We don't have a lot of gay characters either, because they come with issues too. But there is a gay couple in the book we're doing now (our troublesome second that's been in the works for years...)not the main main character, which we had in the first book too, but still main characters, and we try to write it like it's something normal, but even then, there had to be a small scene that at least refers to how gay people are seen in that society.

So, there's nothing bad in not writing a POC, if it doesn't feel natural to you, or to the story.
I've been thinking about it, and now that you phrase it that way, considering I want to explore caste systems with the alien's culture, human racism might be an interesting/good way to mirror that with the other main character.

Let's just see if I can make it work.
Sounds like a good idea, you'd have to angles to look at the theme from, two different aspects of it. Glad if I could be of any help, good luck with the story!
I remember watching the movie A Time to Kill with Matthew McConaughey as the young lawyer where he describes the horrific crime to the jury of the beating and attack of a young girl then his last remark was "Now imagine she's white" and the reaction of the jury said it all. (the whole quote is here Sorry I know its not a pleasant instance but its one that stuck in my mind.

If you are ambiguous with the race, creed or colour then the reader themselves will picture whom they want in mind.

Here’s the rub though, Just because of your nationality and accent doesn’t mean that you are or are not a Person of colour. Say for instance you are Scottish then you can be black or Asian not just white but they stereotype idea of a Scottish person is white Caucasian as with an Australian whereas you can have a range of people of different colours. Eye colour isn’t just predetermined by skin colour neither is an accent. So be ambiguous, refer to eyecolour, acent, nationality but you don’t have to refer to skin colour let the reader assume what they will.

Edited at 2013-11-06 12:50 pm (UTC)
(nod) I was intending for the character to remain similar in every other respect (nationality, accent, training, etc), merely to change the race. Again, does very little, but as much as I'm all for ambiguity, I don't think the type of story I intend to write lends itself to ambiguity of that kind.