Sunday, September 17, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Just Tell Us Their Age and Race Already
I also read books that could be one or the other because they never bother to specify the age of the hero. Of course, there are clues: Are they in middle school or high school? If that’s not clear, do they have a cell phone or not? Are they driving or not? I also read books that are clearly MG but it isn’t clear for the first hundred pages whether the hero is 8 or 13.
Don’t do this. Don’t make me search for clues. When I pick up your book, one of the first things I need to do is picture your hero. And no, that doesn’t mean I need to hear about their one lock of hair that won’t stay tucked behind their ear, that means I need to know their age, and their race.
Writers are even more coy about race. There’s starting to be a shift on this, but for a long time writers considered it politically incorrect to come out and tell us the race of their characters so they would only use food comparisons. “My skin is cashew-colored, my best friend is almond, and her sister is peanut.” Ugh. No more food, please
One book was set in a fictional metropolis in a fictional country in a post-Apocalyptic world, but a character was still referred to as African-American just to avoid saying black, although this was the only reference to America in the whole book.
When the Hunger Games movie came out, some racist moviegoers were pissed that Rue was black, but then others pointed out that she was black in the book, too, but Collins had skirted using the word.
Yes, the terms “white” and “black” are problematic, but they’re the terms we use in our own minds, so just use them already. And let us know right away, so we can picture who we’re reading about. It’s hard to identify with a hero we can’t picture.