Balance: Gender, Race, Etc.

"The Amazing Extreme Equilibrium" © 2005 by Vitor Sá

"The Amazing Extreme Equilibrium" © 2005 by Vitor Sá

It’s been a while since I wrote anything, here. And I feel bad about that. Or would, if a lot of people read the site. :) (I’m grateful to all both of you that do.)

But there’s a reason I’ve been quiet. I’ve been writing and reading a lot. I don’t have a lot of new words all in a row to show for it, but what I do have are redesigned character backgrounds, re-imaginings of characters, new characters, societal development, a rather huge mindmap, background information, a framework and logic for magic . . . and probably about 4500 to 5000 new words. Doesn’t seem like a lot when I summarize it like that, but when you look at it from a certain point of view, all the stuff I’ve written down that no one will ever see will probably nearly double the size of the story when I go back and rewrite it from the beginning. I’ve got about 46,500 words of it written, but most of that will have to be rewritten with all this new stuff taken into account.

Which, unfortunately, means that my most favorite and best darling of all has to go: my first sentence, which is what sparked the idea for the whole novel, which then became a novel series.

The man Nick Damon had come to kill was already dead.

Unfortunately for that awesome first line, Nick is no longer the type to set out to kill someone in cold blood. He never really was, but I just couldn’t give up that line. <le soupir profond>1 “Kill your darlings” has never been so hard. :-/

Anyway, the whole purpose of this post was to ask a question.

My novel, tentatively titled Perdition’s Flames, takes place in modern-day Atlanta, only magic works, but there are no sexy vampires (that do or do not sparkle) or sexy werewolves. Specifically and purposefully, because I’m sick and damned tired of that overused trope.

I picked Atlanta for a couple of reasons. First, it’s where I live, and I’m familiar with it enough to set stories in and around it . . . with a little research. :)

Second, the other cities I’ve lived in have been too small to set something of the kind of scope that I want to write in (diagram that sucker). I have nothing against Tuscaloosa/Northport, Alabama, but the streets do have a tendency to roll up at 10:00 pm. And my hometown is just 1800 people. I think a maniac murdering people left and right would overwhelm the police and the inhabitants.

So, Atlanta. :) One of the great things about Atlanta: it’s a distinctly southern city, but with a lot of added diversity.

But I noticed that in my novel, three of the four main characters are white and three of the four are men (not necessarily the same three both times). Only one main character is a woman, and one is Hispanic2 (again, not the same character). I have a minor character who is Asian (I’m considering changing him to a her), another who is a black woman. A few others are of various races and genders. Picked basically at “random” as I wrote and needed a body to fill a role. And I’ve added a couple of new characters in my head who are both women and who may come back in future stories, assuming I ever get this one written.

I wasn’t intentionally going out of my way to try to have the novel reflect the racial diversity of the city it’s set in, nor was I attempting to gender-balance it. But then it occurred to me that I had no idea if other readers even noticed such things. Or cared, if they did.

I suspect that white, male readers — for the most part, anyway — pay little to no attention; white, female readers may notice the male-to-female ratio of the cast, but may or may not care much about the racial component; and members of other races may pay a bit more attention to race, but maybe not a whole lot.

Again, these are merely speculation, and I have no idea if it’s even in the ballpark of right.

Which brings me to my question. Do you pay any attention to that sort of thing? Does it take away from the story if the city is diverse, but most of the main characters are white guys? (Now, granted, I am a white guy, so I’m probably best at writing from that POV.)

I’m just curious. I don’t really know that I intend to “fix” it. I think I sort of subconsciously/unintentionally stumbled on a pretty good mixture of characters that I’ve grown to like (even though some won’t make it to book 2 <insert dramatic minor chord here>).

  1. Don’t ask me why I decided to ‘heavy sigh’ in French. Like I understand the inner workings of my mind any more than you do? We’re in this together.
  2. I’ve heard that this term may have become derogatory while I wasn’t looking. I certainly do not mean it that way. I just don’t know what else to use, if, indeed, it has taken on negative connotations. I just mean people whose first language is Spanish, but who are living in the US.

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2 Responses to “Balance: Gender, Race, Etc.”
  1. Marcia says:

    Speaking only for myself: Readers do notice. And they care.

    But what they notice more is if the book is well-written and if the characters ring true. I’d rather read a well-written novel with a great plot where all the characters are white, male, straight, and cis-gendered than a poorly written one with diversity. Especially if that “diversity” is so obviously pasted on so someone can say “look how diverse my cast of characters is!” Ptui.

    Of course, what I’d rather read over all of that is a well-written book whose characters just happen to be people of varied types, not because “oh, we need someone of color here”, but because, well, they just happen to be a person of color. Or female. Or gay. Or a yellow spotted alien with antennae and one eye in the middle of their forehead. Or even straight, male, and white. Because that’s the kind of world many of us live in.

    I know from my own author husband that writing characters who have life experiences that you don’t have makes it more difficult and requires more research, because getting it wrong is worse. But that’s kind of what being an author of fiction is, isn’t it? Getting inside someone else’s head? Someone who isn’t you? Someone who’s lived things you haven’t?

    It seems to come back to balance – how far do you go, what do you need vs. time available, etc. My opinion is put the story first, but don’t be afraid to stretch. If you’ve got a good mix of characters that serves the story, don’t apologize or meddle with it, just run with it. If you want to write other ones later, that’s what other books and stories are for. It’s a freshman error to try to put EVERY IDEA YOU’VE EVER THOUGHT OF into one work :).

  2. StoryChuck says:

    I love that opening line. Sorry you had to murder it, but I understand. Something like “The man Nick Damon had come to sternly glare at was dead” doesn’t have the same oomph.

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