22 July 2011

Racist Characters in Fiction

Everywhere I visit on the internet, looking for interested readers of fiction, I find more and more would be writers asking this odd question, "Is my main character a racist?"

What?!

Or, "Is my secondary main character being sexist in this scene?"

Again, what?!

In fiction, you're not going to write a believable story if you (the author) tip-toe around social problems, trying to keep your characters politically correct. Besides, no character should be without flaws. The world…bad, hero…good. That's just boring.

My heroes are more anti-heroic. Give me someone flawed and give me that opportunity to make their character arc believable. Let me redeem that character in some way, show the reader that this flaw can give more depth to the story and develop my character more than any 6 foot 2 Adonis with the moral code of a Saint.

I don't want to read about perfect characters who love people regardless of color or creed. I want that atheist, gun toting, racist bastard of a character of mine to go on a journey and discover things about him that end up changing his life for the better.

I don't want the God loving, Kumbaya singing, save the world from its own demise characters making me draft a story around them and their perfect little selves. Does this make sense? Why am I finding so many writers mulling over this? Are these things paralyzing today's young writers? I hope to hell it isn't.

We build characters that kill and maim. We build characters that cheat on their spouses, rape their neighbors, commit blasphemy, but oh wait...my character is a racist. Really? Oh my goodness, she made that white soldier character call that Vietnamese girl character a gook. May as well put down that pen now and end your writing career before it even got started.

Do you think this is a normal reaction from readers of fiction? If so, you shouldn't be writing fiction, because your work is probably not going to feed the family, you know? I'm not saying all your characters must be flawed, racist, bigoted assholes. But entertainment is entertainment and you should stop worrying about possibly offending someone.

Truth hurts, yes, but it has to be present in fiction or you'll never make your stories believable.

And, everyone lived happily ever after, right? We all know that's not true.

What are your thoughts? Do you hold back on your character flaws when it comes to racism or sexism? Why or why not?

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