Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Step one to broaden my scope

With racefail '09 surging back into life again (if it ever really died) with MammothFail (I link to Leigh Dragoon's blog because she's keeping up with the whole thing and adding links to that post), I've noticed something happening in my writing.

When I describe a new character, quite often now I mention their shade of skin. As in these two lines from the new project: "A small, round woman with brown skin appeared from behind a rack of coats" and "Justin was talking to someone new, a slender man with pale skin and dark hair." The second I do that, I signal the reader (and me, the writer) that this is not a world in which everyone has the same color skin. And hurrah for that!

For me, this actually started with my in-depth revision of The Weredeer. I'd always imagined Kristof as having brown skin (to me he looks sort of Greek), but somehow I'd never put that into the book. I guess I never thought of it until the whole racefail issue came up, and when I went back in to revise, it was on my mind. That book's told in first person, so Kristof started describing people who didn't look like him as having either lighter or darker skin than he does. I guess I just got in the habit of thinking about it.

I'm really happy about this turn of events. For one thing, I feel oddly that I've made Kristof's voice truer with that one little change, and for another, my fantasy worlds are now that much richer. In Little Sparrow, for instance, I know why Hildy is very pale-skinned while most of the people in her city are either mid-brown or dark brown (it's because there are three different regions people immigrated from in the recent past), and although that detail may never come up in my writing, it subtly influences me as I write. Anything that makes worldbuilding stronger, and characters more interesting, is a good thing.

I'm not saying this is a solution to racefail, but it's got to be a step in the right direction.

9 comments:

Aaron Polson said...

Hurrah indeed. Any time spent analyzing one's work is good time. I'm glad you've discovered extra layers in yours...

(how about this word verification for a character name: uthugar--wait, wasn't he in Beowulf?)

Jamie Eyberg said...

I am mentally going through the books I have read lately and I don't recall any description of skin color to speak of. Or hair color for that matter. I remember characters builds but nothing else. Interesting. . .

K.C. Shaw said...

If Uthugar wasn't in Beowulf, he should have been. :)

K.C. Shaw said...

Jamie--yeah, once you start thinking about it, things sure start to feel...monochromatic, I guess.

Catherine J Gardner said...

I need to stop writing death pale characters into my stories.

softestbullet said...

"Justin was talking to someone new, a slender man with pale skin and dark hair."White not being the unmarked default is always good! :)

K.C. Shaw said...

Cate--Only if you don't want to scare me. :)

Sofestbullet--Precisely! And honestly, I know it's stupid, but I feel like I just opened a door onto interesting new writerly realms.

Carrie Harris said...

I don't think it's stupid at all. Good for you!

K.C. Shaw said...

Thanks!

And I just got a partial request from the new query you helped me with. :)