April 25, 2012

Writers, race and fiction

In the early days of this blog I covered the basics of writing a novel. No one taught me how to do this so I built the process myself from the ground up, and wanted to share what I'd learned. I approached it cleanly -- there would be no givens, no sacred cows. I wasn't going to try to write like others did. I'd make it up from whole cloth. This post is about where I landed on one of the issues I encountered as a writer.

One of my characters is African-American. (There are several in my books but I'm talking about one here, for sake of argument.) When it came time to write the first scene where he played a role, I wondered if I should reveal his race. I mean, if the character was white I probably wouldn't, right? So why did I have to do it for an African-American character? It seemed offensive to feel a need to state that this character is African-American. Why was that necessary? The character is a person.

So I didn't mention it. Later on in the book I alluded to the character's race in another way. But he appeared in earlier scenes that contain no racial reference. I think I like this way of doing it. If the reader is surprised later on in the book, perhaps they'll wonder why they're surprised. I like that, too.

I may not do this in every book and with every racial group, but as a writer it was an interesting issue to think my way through. As I say, I think I like where I landed.

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