The Author’s Role in Representation
Diversity in representation has been something important to me for many years. My interest has only deepened as I grew up and became more aware of cultural diversity and how representation matters.
When younger, I first realized unbalances in representation in regard to female characters and how some stereotypes hurt female characters in books or especially on screen. I more easily identified with female characters than male ones, but their ethnicity was never an issue for me. One of my strongest role models while growing up was the comic book character Yoko Tsuno, a Japanese engineer. I also recall how one of my all time favorite characters in Star Wars is Lando Calrissian.
Diversity in stories, in gender, age, ethnicity, species (I have loved Science Fiction and Fantasy since I was little) and background matters to me. This is why I easily am drawn to female character study in my research as an independent scholar. Science Fiction isn’t perfect, but it still has given us some interesting female characters over time. Yet, there is still much to work on to improve representation.
I also began to ask myself questions about representation through my roleplaying experience, which has been my major fiction writing since 2008. I explore different aspects of writing in this universe in my blog series ‘A Galaxy of Possibilites: Discussing Character Writing, Diversity, Star Wars and Fandom’.
It made me consider how I pick my ‘image claim’ to give a face to the characters I write. While I only write human or near human types of characters, I decided to look at my list of characters. Out of thirty three characters, I use persons of color for eight of them. Yet fifteen of my characters aren’t humans, or only partially. So the question of diversity arises from different points of view. As for gender, I only write four male characters! Even in my original fiction, I only recently felt comfortable enough to have a larger number of male characters. I also have an intersex character to make their apparition in my Clairvoyance series in the years to come.
While the question of diversity is something on my mind on a conscious level, my characters generally come up in an organic manner, including when it comes to their looks. When I have a solid concept of character but am unsure of their ethnicity, I try to avoid using a white image claim. I had some of my roleplay characters switch from a latina actress to a white one, just as I had a character switching from a white actress to a black model. In the end, I go with what fits the character best.
When I returned to original fiction in 2014, I realized that while I had a generic idea of the Fantasy universe I was to write a series of short stories in, most of my characters were very open in terms of diversity and how they could look like and who they might love. I like discovering more about my characters as I build their story.
I can’t say that I create the character before the story or the opposite. It is a mix of both. Depending on the mood, the story and the character, the creative process can change a lot.
In my contemporary Fantasy universe Clairvoyance, several species coexist: Fae, Shifters, Weres, Anomalies, humans with supernatural abilities and regular humans. With many supernatural beings having extreme longevity, if not immortality for some, it brought some challenges. While most of the action, at least in the first volume, is between the USA and the UK, several characters come from other places, some going back as far as Stone Age Africa.
After years spent roleplaying, I attach an existing (famous) face to all my characters. I have tried to match the faces to the origins and background as much as possible, when it was an important part of who the character was. And even if I leave interpretation open to the reader in the way I write, I know in my head, that my imaginary cast look the part. Not only does it feed my inspiration, but it also makes me feel more responsible towards the credibility of said characters.
As writers, how do you approach diversity and its multiple forms? Is it something that naturally comes to you? Do you have certain guidelines to ensure that your gallery of characters is diverse enough?
Great post from Natacha! Now don’t wait. Go NOW and get A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars. This isn’t a fanboy thing. This is a highly educated person with years of research spent doing this the right way. And she had no idea I was going to advertise her book because I’ve had this guest post for a while now. So go get the book by clicking here! I did.
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