If any of you have ever spoken to me at length, you’ll know I have one key project weighing on my mind and my soul. We all have that one monster, don’t we? Mine is a project on which I was once collaborating with a friend. We have since experience a great falling out (girl+boy=byebyebestfriend), and after many months of initial fallout, my thoughts turned to our book(s). I’ll spare you the details, but in the end she told me to go ahead and run with it and agreed to sign legally binding documents when the time comes. Fine. So now it’s mine.
At first I was a little bitter. So, what? Now Cheyenne does all the work? It took me a period of adjustment to realize that having free reign meant I really could make the changes I’d tentatively suggested before. Now, I could really accept her blessing and do what I feel is necessary. She’d always said, “If you think it’s right, do it.” I never did because I didn’t want to step on her toes, but now…
About a bundle of things, I was dissatisfied. This is my legacy we’re talking about, you know? But it wasn’t so much the little things, in the end. What routinely bothered me, above names and back stories and unreasonable character traits, was race. Now, don’t reduce this immediately to White Guilt. What it came down to for me was not a question of appearing to be liberal; it was more a reasonable realization that the entire world is not, in fact, White. Somewhere along the way I looked at our main cast of characters (three men and four women) and realized they were all White, and what’s worse, they were all the same KIND of White. One compromise was made on the behalf of a character who should likely have been Native American, but it still didn’t feel like enough for me. Additionally, whenever we discussed adding a cameo character or a background influence or a new enemy or ally, the default was ALWAYS WHITE.
Why do we think this is? Not just for White people (although if we weren’t the most common perpetrators, maybe there wouldn’t be lists like this?), for anyone. Is it merely because we are what we are, and so our brains default to that easiest option? Does seeing white, brown, black, red, tan, gold, copper, or cream in the mirror every day make it difficult to imagine something different from nothing without first dedicating some thought?
In the end, I acknowledged that I default to tall, fit, beautiful Irish people because I myself am tall and Irish and damn if I don’t wish I were those other things, too. Though I have seen many beautiful people in my life, my preset for beauty is what I wish I was. It might be safe to say we all see the world that way, but can we all say that, if denied of our defaults, that our runner up would be much different? If I couldn’t be tall and Irish, would my second choice be taller and Welsh? Or would my genuine next choice be tall and Indian? Or short and Black? Average and Korean?
I, as a White writer in a country where people assume all authors are White unless their names are racially or ethnically distinct, did not want to be another link in a long and W.A.S.P.y chain of authors who whitewash their main cast without even considering how boring or short sighted that might be. This exercise in artistic growth has also taught me about my other biases when creating characters as well, but we’ll tackle that another time.
*While writing this Chatter, I found some links relevant to the idea of expanding one’s library. The world is full of wonderful writers of color. Click here for Black authors of note, or here if you’ve never known where to look for Native American or Indigenous writers, or here and here for Asian and Middle Eastern authors, respectively.
For you, do your characters typically default to what you are, or what you consider most aesthetically pleasing? Do you apply effort to the diversity of your cast of characters, or does this rank low on your list of priorities when developing the cast? How important do you assert this idea to be?
Lost & Found came to a close in the wee hours of this morning — keep a sharp eye for this month’s reading list!