Thai Adventures Pt. 4 – Majesty

Another picture-heavy post.

Because I was a tourist.

And while this is not a travel blog, what I’ve seen is relevant to fantasy writing.

Seriously, though. As an American, the concept and of royalty is something distinctly foreign. I only know kings, queens, princesses and princes from story and history books, most of which are based on people and places “Over there.” You know, as in across a large body of water.

While a quick, respectful bow is nothing strange to me, I’ve found that as a former Jew, I find it difficult to kneel before anyone. My ancestors kind of had a problem with that since the Ancient Egyptians.

You are welcome, world.

But experiencing majesty, like the presence of real royalty, is something I never before experienced. I imagine very few people the world over in fact have.

While I won’t go into huge detail about King Abdulyadej, I will mention that he’s got quite a collection of interesting trivia to his name. Born in America (Cambridge, Massachusetts, which I suppose makes him technically an American). Involved in a rather unfortunate incident where his older brother (heir to the throne) was killed in an accident involving guns, when the two were alone. The longest-currently-living monarch (born in 19827) – he’s been ruling since 1950.

As a foreigner, and a brief traveler, I can’t be expected to understand to full breadth and scope of his influence from a reading Wikipedia. I defer to others when it comes to this area of expertise, but it’s my understanding that the king is rather well-received by most Thai folk.

The legacy of the monarchy, however, might be a bit different.

In any case, I, like most people, did not get to see the guy himself, but what I did do, like many travelers, was visit one of Bangkok’s major tourist sites: the Grand Palace.

A dress code is enforced at the gates. This would not be the first time I came upon one of these signs…

…nor was it the first time I did so unprepared. After exchanging my shorts for a pair of billowing trousers, I entered upon the palace grounds, and decided nearly everything I saw was nothing short of majestic.

I recalled visiting palaces in South Korea, some restored after Japanese occupation blasted much of that country’s cultural heritage to ruins, and there was a certain modernity to their construction. Much of what I saw there did not compare to the palace in Bangkok, for no living monarchs live in Korea (and haven’t since 1910 when the Japanese took over), and as such the palaces served as little more than tourist destinations or cultural heritage memorials.

For that, they served their purpose well. The modernity of their restoration/reconstruction, however, could be seen in other places as well; something I’ve seen in a variety of places throughout Asia – the whole “quickly and inexpensively built in order to maximize profits” thing.

While walking across courtyards or between buildings at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, I found myself continually reminding myself that no, what I looked at was not some ancient representation of monarchy. “This is how we think they lived.” What I saw was not hastily or cheaply built structures as might be found around the world when trying to lure tourists.

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I’m not an architect, and while I can appreciate the so-called “exoticness” of foreign architecture, I have no doubt that the finer details of such a craft are lost upon me. I was, however, able to awe-stricken at some of constructs I walked around, under, or through.

I was able to peer inside one of these smaller doors on the ground level, and beheld a massive collection of ancient arms from around the world.

I was able to peer inside one of these smaller doors on the ground level, and beheld a massive collection of ancient arms from around the world.

When we read about palaces in fiction, often enough we have our own definitions of what it means to be part of a royal family. We expect servants, lavish cushions, food on a whim, and personal bodyguards.

Authors don’t usually get into detail about the architecture, in my experience. Perhaps we can learn from this.

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The entrance to what was apparently a sort of royal temple. Pictures inside were forbidden. The walls were gilded with gold paint and meticulously placed reflective shards of glass and stones.

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I couldn’t understand half of what I was looking at, but I knew it was important.

 

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As I’ve said, royalty is something I’ve always had a little difficulty wrapping my head around, both on the simple grounds of being a secular American, and even on a philosophical level. Kingliness, royalty, regality, whatever you may choose to describe it, exists on the concept of divine right, that is, the gods chose that person (or family) to rule, so therefore it must be so.

It takes a significant amount of brainwashing, I think, to really get the idea into the heads of anyone that someone deserves to rule simply because everyone else says so.

It’s something I encounter often when reading and writing fantasy. The simple question of:

“Why would anyone follow that person?”

Fear helps, I’m sure.

But its things like this that make me question how monarchies manage to stay stable, and how dynasties manage to keep from crumbling. Truly, the idea of divine right is a strange thing.

Concept: Markets and Trade in Fantasy

Something often overlooked in a lot of fiction, fantasy or otherwise, are the economics in place that allow a writer’s world to exist. When it comes to worldbuilding, the writer must take all things into account if they wish to really weave a believable setting.

It’s serious labor of love. When was the last time you thought about the how your hero’s village makes its clothing? Where they acquire the cotton/wool/linen etc. for their textiles? Do they produce the raw material themselves, or do they trade with neighboring communities?

How about the infrastructure between villages? Is it sophisticated enough to allow weekly, monthly, or annual runs between villages?

Or does the story take place within a city, where doubtless everything is acquired from beyond the city walls? Or, conversely, like in the Hyborian Age, or as might be found in any otherwise swords & sandals-type fantasy … where the idea of civilization is usually more concerned with guarded cities and villages, while everything else in the world consisted of patches of hazardous wilderness between towns.

The fact of the matter is that most communities, even today, are largely agrarian. Producing food through farming and animal husbandry is sorta kinda what makes the neolithic era so important, and a large portion of the world’s population is, to this day, still largely concerned with the production and acquistion of food.

So in a fantasy realm, only prosperous trade cities or otherwise similarly-run commercial centers will have little do farming, whereas the “quiet village our hero called home” is, nine times out of ten, some kind of farming community.

Now, the readers need not know the intricacies of your world’s economics, unless of course the economics play a direct role in the plot (such as the story for the tremendous game Baldur’s Gate, which had an iron shortage). I’ve touched on the importance of economics in the past, and I thoroughly believe that it is the responsibility of the writer to consider some of these thing when fleshing out their world – even if only briefly. A great way to do this is to simply look at your character – better yet, if you have a sketch or character sheet of some kind, ask a pile of questions about what they’re wearing.

This is the female knight class from Final Fantasy Tactics. Gods, that game was so good.

Looking at the above artwork, we can ask a variety of economic questions largely separate from the character herself.

What metal is her sword made from? Where was the metal mined, refined, traded, and forged? Same for her armor.

How about the dress? Cotton from her home town, or fibers traded from a distant land? Perhaps the cape was woven from a rare, material acquired from mountaintop flowers that symbolize her devotion to whatever faith to which she might subscribe.

The leather of her gloves – that of common bovines, or an animal more exotic, or is it not even leather at all, but a fantastic material impervious to weather?

The dyes in her clothing would have to have been produced somewhere, as did the cords holding everything together. Even unseen things, like the lining of her boots, the oils along the blade of her sword, the perfume used to mask days marching on the field, or of course whatever obscured jewelry she might possess.

These are all things that, if presented with answers more interesting and complicated than “she got them when she enlisted,” or “found them in some hole that a trio of trolls called home,” or – especially – the cliche “they were passed down to her from her father.”

Like I said, the reader need not know the intricacies of everything, lest the writer fall into a Tolkien-esque level of description, but the more the writer knows, the more subtleties can be embedded, enriching the world.

When I was in Thailand, a day after the unforgettable experience with the tigers, I took the time pursue a newfound hobby: perusing the markets and bazaars. Chiang Mai is a city known as much for tourism as anything else, and with tourism there come markets geared especially for foreigners looking for souvenirs.

A shot of one of many of Chiang Mai's Sunday markets, set up near the Tae Phe Gate

One of Chiang Mai’s many Sunday markets, set up near the Tha Phae Gate, on the east side of the Old City.

The Sunday Market of Chiang Mai was nothing short of fun for me, because I was on a simple mission of looking for interesting things to send back to my home country as gifts.

I was also able to practice my haggling skills, which – to my surprise and growing delight – makes the whole process all the more enjoyable. As a foreigner, prices are of course inflated accordingly when I ask the price of things, but the very fact that the prices are flexible means that bargaining for trinkets and clothing becomes essential.

Besides, who would you respect more: the person who simply accepts the price you tell them, or the person who is a bit more shrewd and puts up a fight?

Learning from the example of the Chatty Swede from earlier days, and drawing experience from conversations with Firebeard in days of yore – not to mention simply reading about stuff all the time – I gradually learned what various items were actually worth. As well as the whole haggling process. I do not claim to be a master haggler, of course not – but I am something of a penny-pincher, which comes off as a hard bargainer anyway.

I bought a dress for a friend back in my Old Hometown, initially something in order of 180 baht ($6), but talked the teller down to 150 or so (so, $5). At that price, I decided to buy two – much to the joy of the merchant. Small successes fuel bigger ones, and I found myself haggling for even minor items – a hairband-like thing, initially 90 baht ($1), I talked down to something like 60. We’re talking the difference between dollars and quarters here, which to them is of course a big deal, but from my perspective, it’s not necessarily the amount of money that makes acquisition of these things so special. Rather, the fact that I haggled, drove down the price to even lower than what was already reasonable to me, makes the cloth and bracelets (and even a lamp) feel really worth that much more.

In once instance a more brazen merchant, with very good English skills, did most of the talking. He was selling chopstick sets, which I found interesting enough to look at, but had no inclination to buy – however in the markets, even the slightest bit of interest (or even showing the slightest politeness by stopping to address someone who tugs your sleeve or shouts for you to look at them – politeness which can easily be misinterpreted as interest) is like the scent of blood to sharks.

The man proposed his price – something like 400 baht ($12.50-ish). I kept silent, nodding my head as I calculated the amount in my head.

“Okay,” he said, seeing that I was not leaping on it. “I will give you a discount. 350 baht!”

I nodded, looking at the plastic-wrapped set, admiring it’s beauty and wondering to myself whether I actually needed this. After all, I had about two-dozen chopsticks at home already. The merchant proceeded to demonstrate the toughness of the included mat by stretching it taught multiple times.

“It cannot break, or your money back,” he said, and informed me that the chopsticks themselves were made by his family. Very special, also very strong, and they’ve been making chopsticks for decades. I offered compliments that the things did in fact seem quite nice, but made to place the set back down. No doubt he could see that I was interested, but not interested enough, and in truth I sought means to politely escape.

“You are the first customer of the day,” said the merchant, “so I will give you first-buyer price! 300 baht!”

Not bad, I found myself thinking, especially since I didn’t say a thing. I tried to leave, but he handed me a calculator. “Name your price!” he said, “Tell me what is reasonable to you.”

I took the calculator and entered 250. Or perhaps 280. I can’t quite remember. ($7.50 or $8.50).

The merchant hastily agreed, no doubt glad to have made a sale.

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And here it is. A pair each of chopsticks, chopstick “holders,” placemats, napkins, and cup mat things.

Not only that, he proceeded to ask me questions, seemingly showing an actual interest in me as more than some walking white-skinned wallet. He seemed to be especially intrigued that I lived in SouthEast Asia, that I wasn’t his typical customer – the usual clueless tourist.

That or he had practiced his act well.

In any case, I complimented him on his English, on his skill at selling (he did win, after all, since I confess I had no intention of getting the chopsticks in the first place), but they felt special, and more than the money spent or the value in the item acquired, I got the memory.

And the experience.

Who knows how much this was actually worth. I probably over-paid regardless.

Markets like this can be found also in Viet Nam. The legendary Ben Thanh Market, the central hub of Sai Gon – which I have experienced only once, during my first few days after landing – is a veritable nest of hagglers and merchants. I actually look forward to returning there to practice bargaining with peddlers, arguing over $5 garments and trinkets I don’t need.

Yeah baby, this was the backbone of Sai Gon, and remains strong !

In fact, I rather look forward to the day I can acquire clothing, textiles, objects, whatever, and perhaps sell them abroad. Such a thing would be more of a pet project than a real source of income, as the process is new and fun to me.

And it all contributes to writing. It’s all connected to the economics of the settings of our myriad stories. Production of goods is just one chapter in a book of economics in fantasy – how about trade? Haggling and bargaining in bazaars and markets has been a long-standing tradition of cultures around the world for… probably about as long as the idea of “trade” has ever existed.

 

Cilantro

Apparently there is a growing body of research regarding the apparent nastiness of cilantro in certain people. To a number of folk – and I have no means of providing numbers here, except that the number is growing – cilantro tastes like soap. Or, at least, has a nasty bitterness to it. It’s apparently a genetic thing.

Perhaps the research is over, and as usual, I’m late to the party in discovering this, but I first learned about this whole concept while listening to the Stuff You Should Know podcast many months ago. I can’t remember which episode, but you ought to check them out if you dig trivia.

But this aversion to cilantro got me thinking. You know, about food, about life, about changes, and heck, yes, even about writing.

Cilantro is the Spanish name for coriander, also known as Chinese parsley or dhania – and no doubt you’ve encountered it at some point in your life. It’s nearly indistinguishable from regular parsley – especially when it’s a little wilted, or cooked in a dish – and can be found in a variety of Hispanic and Asian dishes.

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Courtesy of BetterRecipes.com

Normally I wouldn’t care for this sort of thing. I’m not what people would call a foodie, though I do love my guacamole, but still, this blog doesn’t really concern itself with food.

Except when it does. As typical as human behavior as it gets, I went and did some reading on cilantro only after having experienced this phenomena myself. I was at a friend’s house in Brooklyn, and she brought a variety of groceries home from a local market, among them a huge bundle of cilantro. Seeing this, I was seized with the memory of the above-mentioned podcast, and decided to put myself to the test. After all, I’d seen these things in grocery stores all the time, but herbalism is so off my personal radar that I confess I never really had the opportunity – or drive – to experiment. Having expressed my current goal to those present, I went about chewing a few freshly washed leaves.

They tasted awful.

And not only awful, but familiar – I remember tasting this, in the past, in what I considered to be the worst guacamole made. There could be something to this.

So it was that I found myself quite possibly in yet another minority category. But what has this experience to do with writing?

The question all writers must face: How can I use this?

Well, the way I see it, food is one of the most distinct cultural traits to be found. I think it’s a safe bet that there’re two major factors that go into identifying a culture: the language they speak and the food they eat. Sure, things like music, art, customs, how they treat their women, economy … all those are distinguishing things, but on a foundational level, you can really tell a lot about a person – a culture – by the food they eat and how their language works.

Cilantro is positively adored by millions of people around the world. Some cultures use it often and frequently. But what if there existed cultures that utterly despised the stuff? Traditional cultures, as might be applicable to a fantasy setting, I mean. I’m aware there exist modern communities (arguably a ‘culture’) of cilantro haters, such as might be found at imaginatively-named websites like this.

I’m not talking about something like in the movies Signs or The War of the Worlds, where extraterrestrial creatures are found to be susceptible to things we as humans count as commonplace. I’m not talking about a race of dog-people that will die if they eat a bit of chocolate, as might be readily consumed by any human culture.

I’m thinking more for the sake of variety. There’re plenty of foods on this planet that an American might find disgusting, and visa versa, but most of that food is still edible. It’s for cultural reasons, the way you were raised. It’s all in your head. You may not like the taste of cornsilk tea because it’s weird and different, but you can still at least drink the stuff.

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Those couple of weeks in South Korea had me tasting some of the most unusual things I’ve ever had in my life, but corn silk tea was among the most memorable.

I think description of food and flavor is an excellent opportunity for enriching your world when writing, whether it’s Fantasy, Science Fiction, or what-have-you. Creating your own exotic spices and dishes is one thing, but consider also the reactions that “normal” characters would have to these things, or how “others” would react to the so-called normal stuff. Cilantro is just one herb – imagine what else we might discover in our own world that is scientifically repulsive to certain people?

Imagine what certain groups of people, or even non-human races, might find physically incapable of considering edible? Genetic predispositions toward certain foods is in fact nothing unusual; we consume sweets because our brain, through the tongue, tells us that it’s a source of easily gathered energy. Fatty stuff is so satisfying because our brains tell us that fats are great sources of long-term energy.

Similarly, repulsion towards smells, such as that of decaying flesh, are like ringing dinner bells to animals like vultures and flies. To us humans, that stench is repulsive for a reason: dead things love company, so steer clear.

If you don’t know already, go ahead and do yourself a favor and try eating some cilantro. See if you’re among the majority of people who love the stuff, or like me, find it to be pretty much abhorrent. Whether there’s a genetic reason for this remains to be seen, but taking this idea and expanding it to one’s writing could serve to enrich your worlds. Give it a shot!

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Today’s track is from a recently discovered OST, and packaged with it you’ll get a quick impression of the movie Gravity (2013).

In short, I dug it. I did not have the opportunity to see it in the big theaters, as it was reputedly made to be seen, but even while watching it at home I found myself engaged and interested – despite hearing some sort of spoiler long ago. In terms of scientific accuracy, well, okay, I’m aware there were some flaws. Niel Degrasse Tyson is quoted as saying the movie should have been called Angular Momentum and not Gravity, heh. But he confesses to enjoying the movie; and so did I.

When you consume a story, there is a need for characters to grow and change. This is especially noticed in its absence, such as the book Ready Player One, in which the protagonist hardly changes at all. In Gravity, the protagonist goes through growth, and coupled with the action – and not to mention the delightful and appropriate soundtrack – I rate the movie as most definitely worth seeing.

 

 

 

Why I Hate Elves

The only reason to see the movie Elf was to watch Will Ferrel get drop kicked by Peter Dinklage.

So this is not so much a post designated to convince you of why you should hate elves as it is a simple rant. Let’s start with the basics.

At the very least, I despise the word ‘elf.’ Variations of long-eared humanoids are nifty, but for the most part they all follow the same Tolkienien tropes that are so overdone that I, personally, tend to lose interest very quickly. Along with Orcs and Dwarves, Elves are not what make a fantasy story a fantasy, yet all too often they make an appearance, as though there’s some recipe out there that says the formula is incomplete without a healthy dose of elf powder.

Fantasy is about imagination, about exploring worlds new and arguably familiar. To have your own world populated with carbon copies of what we’ve already seen in Faerun, Azeroth, Dominaria, Thedas, and countless bloody others doesn’t say much. They always have long lifespans, possess superior proportions, are almost unerringly attractive (so I hear), and are always better than you at everything. I get it, that’s what modern society seems to think elves are.

And it’s boring. I find hyper-sexualized characters to be irritating, however pleasant they are to look at and imagine.

Elves are more often used for fanservice than anything else, I’ve seen. They appear to have been fetishized, with effeminate men and blindingly attractive women. Practical armor optional (though, to the credit of some sources, they at least depict the men this way as well, so, yay for equal rights. I guess). Not that I have any particular problem with “effeminate men” or “scantily clad woman warriors,” rather, it’s just how those tropes appear to be what the world ‘elf’ means.

I get it. Fantasy. Exploring and/or depicting things we fantasize about. But since when does fantasy mean more of the same? I like looking at the shapely charms of well-defined female as much as the next guy, but what I don’t dig is when the woman’s body is essentially her primary (only?) asset as a character. Like, at the full expense of my willing suspension of disbelief.

Think Legolas would be as well-loved if he wasn’t some Aryan wet dream?

Maybe I should just accept that elves are just too nimble to actually get injured.

Originally, the word ‘elf’ was associated with something quite different. There’s quite the body of research behind the etymology and folklore of the old Germanic meaning – which has sorta been distilled from over a thousand years of folklore into a generalized understanding these days – and while I understand that language is a living, evolving thing, especially English, there’s something about the word elf that just bugs me.

Whether it’s the tiny little bell ringers at the north pole or archer princes sliding down the trunks of oliphants, I find myself over-saturated with the generalized and yet highly varied umbrella term of ‘elf.’

They come most often in three primary forms: we have the High Elves, the Wood Elves, and the Dark Elves (the most famous of these being the Drow. Don’t get me fucking started on Drizzt). They’re all essentially the same though, much like humans are all basically the same, with just a few tweaks of color and secondary physical features like ear length or height. I’ve always felt like usage of these, without distinguishing them in some form OTHER than slapping a different name on them, is just plain lazy.

And I know this because I used to be a much lazier writer.

Maybe certain writers love elves the way they are – and the market has told us what people like, so these depictions of elves aren’t going anywhere. I used to dig Blizzard Night Elves for awhile, because at the time they were new, and at the time I had my head stuck in the world of Azeroth. Once I actually began reading other sources and learning more, they lost their charm, becoming tropy as the rest of them – however I still dig their dress of quilts + feathers + antlers.

Honestly the most interesting elf variations that I’ve come across were the “City Elves” of Dragon Age (who were, in a drastic twist of events, depicted as petty and subhuman, rather than superior in every way possible), the elves of Lorwyn (which were cool because the creators A) hyper-expanded the trope by making their culture obsessed with superficial perfection and beauty – to the point of seeing themselves as natural “hunters of all things ugly,” and B) They actually possessed physical traits that made them unique – very satyrlike, with goat-legs and horns), and the Wood Elves from the 1977 Ranklin/Bass animated depiction of the Hobbit.

Get a load of these fair-haired bastards. Very fae-like, long before the explosion of D&D elves, followed by Blizzardian elves.

Now, with all that said, there are stories in which the common elf tropes have appeared that I have, in fact, very much adored. There have been numerous occasions where I totally dug the elves or elven characters of various mythos encountered. But as I grow older, I keep encountering the same things over and over. It gets kinda stale.

So what does this mean? It means that one must adopt the philosophy of “Writing What You Wish You Could Read.” After reading Dune, among other works, this is the story-writing philosophy that I’ve decided to adopt. I confess that I’ve fallen into the same pitfalls of writing elves the way everyone else does, which meant that for some bodies of work previously written, I had to rework quite a bit of the worldbuilding and lore. But it all came out for the better. What resulted (and admittedly, is still resulting, as more changes must be implemented) are cultures, creations, settings, and story elements that are mine.

That, I think, is more valuable than writing the same stuff you already see on the shelf.

What of you, dear readers? Tropes you see again and again that you’d rather have changed? Shaken up? Do you like elves the way we keep seeing them, or do you disagree with any of my point? Would love to hear it.

Today’s music is brought to you by Terraria, the track played when entering a Jungle zone. It hasn’t much to do with elves, exactly, but if you equate the usage of the word elf with anything lush or foresty, then there might be a connection in there somewhere.

 

Worldbuilding: People of Color in Fantasy

Not long ago, in search of help for describing one of my own characters, which I learned would be called a PoC or CoC (Person of Color / Character of Color) – yay for learning new terms – I came across the author Nora K. Jemisen, who wrote extensively about describing PoC’s. I found it fascinating, for she goes into detail – citing examples of other authors as well as snippets of her own – on how PoC’s are depicted in fiction.

And not just any old fiction, oh no, but Fantasy and Science Fiction as well. This has been something I’ve had a fun time learning about and exploring, as much of the subject matter regarding my own work involves characters descended from a multitude of races.

Now, to any fantasy reader/writer, this ought not to be anything unusual. Of course there are humans (we need characters we can relate to, so I’ve heard), and there’re often elves, dwarves, fae-folk and all sorts of humanoids. But the real topic of today is about describing “normal people races,” and Ms. Jemisen makes some excellent points.

This is essentially me shining my humble spotlight in that direction, you really should read each of her three blog posts: part one, part two, and part three.

As a white-guy writer, one could say I’m a little self-conscious when writing characters of color, as it’s all-too-easy to try too hard and dance around descriptors for race, or make some assumption about the language used. Alongside an example of another author’s work, Jemisen states:

  • “…As he narrates this passage in which he meets the protagonist’s mother, I feel like he uses the typical modern white American technique of tiptoeing around the word “black”, as if just saying it is an epithet, because he’s probably been raised to believe that it is.”

That being said, race in Fantasy means different things as it would in our (arguably) enlightened 21st Century consciousness, and as such it’s important to recognize how peoples of your world regard each other, as well as themselves. Chances are slim that in a fantasy realm, there won’t be any “African-Americans” or “Asians”, and probably won’t be “blacks” or “whites” either. There’d likely be slurs and less-than-flattering descriptors of peoples from and among different races (just as there might be beautifying terms) but that’s yet another part where the writer must get creative. Heck, they could be downright fun, such as “knife-ears” from Dragon Age, a derogatory term for elves.

Personally, I think that calling out the skin tone of a character is lazy writing. A large portion of Nora K. Jemisen’s posts deal with skin-tone labeling, and offers imaginative alternatives. However, there were a number of points I wanted to outline in addition.

First (in Part 2), is the concept of “Defaulting to White.” This is when a character lacks any description in regards to their race/skin color, and the reader assumes them to simply be white on account of … well, the reader being white, and the writer (also white) assuming that they have only white readers. As far as I’m concerned, if a character is kept vague enough that we can’t picture them in our heads, it generally means that their race really doesn’t matter, at least in terms of plot. It’s normal behavior for humans to project likeness to ourselves, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

Oh yes, there always is, whenever it comes to race. To shamelessly copy (but lovingly attribute it to) Nora K. Jemisen:

  • “Having seen American writers (white and PoC) go through agonies trying to figure out how to describe kinky hair, or the various shades of brown skin, I’m reminded of this discussion on the unmarked state in anime/manga and how Americans habitually resort to exaggerations of PoC physical features in their art — exaggerations which people from other cultures don’t see or employ themselves. I’m beginning to wonder if the emphasis American writers place on black hair texture and skin shade is another example of such exaggeration. Or maybe this emphasis is simply necessary in a multiracial society, and not in monoracial societies.”

You really ought to check out the discussion she linked.

I do have an issue with her use of “coffee” here; I get really tired of seeing African-descended characters described in terms of the goods that drove, and still drive, the slave trade — coffee, chocolate, brown sugar. There’s some weird psychosocial baggage attached to that. – See more at: http://nkjemisin.com/2010/02/describing-characters-of-color-3-oppoc/#sthash.FS1lYggs.dpuf

Another bit, for good measure, is Jemisen’s thoughts on the use of “coffee” as a descriptor for skin color as per another author’s example:

  • “I do have an issue with her use of “coffee” here; I get really tired of seeing African-descended characters described in terms of the goods that drove, and still drive, the slave trade — coffee, chocolate, brown sugar. There’s some weird psychosocial baggage attached to that.
I’m beginning to wonder if the emphasis American writers place on black hair texture and skin shade is another example of such exaggeration. – See more at: http://nkjemisin.com/2010/02/describing-characters-of-color-3-oppoc/#sthash.FS1lYggs.dpuf

She goes on to say that that particular author gets a pass on account of the character in question receiving several other descriptions; it’s not just “…with skin was the color of roast coffee…” and that’s it.

I think that these are all things to ponder when writing any character, not just PoC’s. And again, if anything, you’re better off reading it there, there’s much more than I could fit.

Happy writing, dear readers!

 

I’m beginning to wonder if the emphasis American writers place on black hair texture and skin shade is another example of such exaggeration. – See more at: http://nkjemisin.com/2010/02/describing-characters-of-color-3-oppoc/#sthash.FS1lYggs.dpuf
I’m beginning to wonder if the emphasis American writers place on black hair texture and skin shade is another example of such exaggeration. – See more at: http://nkjemisin.com/2010/02/describing-characters-of-color-3-oppoc/#sthash.FS1lYggs.dpuf