Thursday, January 03, 2008

Are you PC???

I was wandering around over at Redlines and Deadlines: and found a great post about what is and isn't PC when writing fiction. This is something I agnonize over many times when I'm trying to give a "feel" for a specific type of character. Does my description make sense? Did I give my reader a good picture of of the character? Did I offend anyone?
I have a character. I've actually made this guy from a blend of two people I've worked with. One was a very tall, intellegent man (a chef) with a great sense of humor (always playing practical jokes) who happened to be black. The other was an obnoxious slob who I could not stand and he happened to be white. So, for the story I needed a chef but the character was a sleeze...I blended the practical joker with the slob. So, now...tell me how to be PC and give a good description of this man???


Erica Orloff said...

This is a really interesting topic. I never (or rarely) tell readers whether my characters are black or white or Latino or Asian. Once in a while, I do. But . . . a LOT of my characters are black or mixed-race or Hispanic. And there are cultural "clues" I'll put in, based on maybe upbringing or favorite foods (like a lot of Mexicans, my significant other, for example, likes his eggs in a tortilla for breakfast as opposed to eggs and toast that I, as a white woman, grew up on). If readers pick up on it, fine . . . if not, that's OK too. In Knock-Out, my character was mixed-race, and I never said so. In Diary of a Blues Goddess, my character was mixed-race and it WAS important, so I had her talk about her feelings as a mixed-race person--and it was important because of her family history, which went back a century, so therefore her grandmother being African-American impacted her grandmother's life very much show, in terms of racism.


Aimless Writer said...

That brings up another topic if the putting certain cultural foods would be concidered PC??? My daughter loves corn tortillas and does have them any time others would eat bread. She does this for medical reasons, not cultural. (Celiac) When do you go too far in using food as a clue? Or anything else for that matter?
I'm off to Barnes & Noble now to wander through a few stories to see how others do this...I'll report back later.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Aimless:
The way I look at it . . . is sometimes people FIT a sterotype and sometimes they don't--and if you are sure to write well-rounded characters, then I think you are OK. A little of both. For example, my family is Russian. I believe my father embodies many Russian stereotypes--brooding, dark, pessimistic. But he's also a dry wit, which doesn't fit. And he drinks beer, not vodka. That sort of thing.

My Significant Other is Mexican. He loves the song Low Rider and he loves George Lopez and laugh uproariously at him--and Lopez's routine is TOTALLY about what's stereotypical about Mexicans. But there's a lot that is atypical too . . . he loves sushi and eats things his family would have nothing to do with. He isn't Catholic. Etc. SO . . . I think real people are a mix, often, of both.

Zoe Winters said...

Is fiction now infested with the PC? I don't really worry about offending people in fiction, it's fiction. If even fiction has to be so sanitized, I'm afraid for our culture's future.

I don't have any deep seated hatreds of any particular groups of people, but I don't intend to tiptoe and worry inordinately about someone thinking a character who happens to be in this group or that group and is bad is some personal affront to them. There are bad people in all groups.

Most of the books I've read that made a mark weren't concerned with offending. The last book I finished reading was "Good Omens" That book probably has offended several Pagans and Christians alike. (which when you get right down to it is a big ole segment of the population.) If the book had been all PC there would have been no point to writing it.

Anissa said...

Thanks for pointing me to the post. It is indeed an interesting topic. I agree with the authors that we need to be alert to the words we use in describing our characters. I think that's what it boils down to. There are racist people in the world, and there are racist characters in fiction. We, as the authors, just need to be extremely conscious of our word choice. Stereotypes are lazy words, lazy writing. If every word is the perfect word, then I think the issue isn't as significant. But then again, if the character believes in these stereotypes, it would make sense to use them--probably sparingly. I think as far as the PC thing goes, we need to be conscious of our own shortcomings and not let them stray into the work inadvertantly. (That said, please don't think I'm a racist! :))

D. Robert Pease said...

I am not going to claim I have the answer for this, because I know I don't, but to me you can slip into the realm of not being PC when you don't give all your characters an equal footing. I remember reading one of the Harry Potter books a while ago, and Rowlings described someone as "black". I'm white, I'm not into the whole PC thing, but this took me by surprise. And as I thought about it, I think one of the main reasons is that this was the only case that I noticed where she described someone using their skin color. She never said Harry was white. It did not seem to add anything to the story at all to say this boy was black. There was no point to it. Now if your Chef character is a jerk because of his race, because he was picked on his whole life due to his skin color, or something along those lines, then there is a reason to mention he is black. Otherwise what difference does it make? To me just mentioning out of the blue someone's skin color is a cop-out. A crutch trying to utilize the reader's stereotypical ideas of what kind of person that individual is based on their race. This really is the whole "show don't tell argument" when you think about it. Don't tell us he is black. Show us what that means.

Wow I didn't mean to have such a rant here. Sorry about that.

Zoe Winters said...

d. robert,

That's a really good point.

Aimless Writer said...

anissa; I don't think you're a racist! lol I wonder about this PC issue because I hope I never offend anyone but actually never thought about it before reading deadlines and redlines. Now, I look at my writing and go; hmmmm?

Aimless Writer said...

d.robert pease; Loved the rant! And you also gave me something to think about. I don't discribe my other characters as "a large white man with a mean look in his eye." So I can see why writing my chef as "black" wouldn't make sense either. I think I saw a picture of this man in my head and wanted to project that picture into my book.

Julie Weathers said...

I am not politically correct. Of course, most of the stuff I am working on now is fantasy and people don't seem to object to others being called a stinking elf.

In Dancing Horses, the protagonist narrowly escaped a child predator as a young boy. This leads to mixed emotions about his looks, since he thinks his angelic appearance drew the predator's attention. It also leads to some strong emotions later in the book, when confronted with a horse assassin, who is going to rape him before he kills him.

Yeah, I know, pretty yuck stuff. I might change things around if I decide to rewrite the book, but I won't do it to be politically correct. People aren't politically correct. Having a novel filled with perfect people wouldn't be natural to me.

Now, I think it is possible to simply skirt the issues if you don't want to risk offending anyone. I guess I just write my characters as they appear and don't worry about how correct they are.

Aimless Writer said...

Dancing Horses is sounding more and more interesting. I think its the books that rip the emotions from us-either the awwww or the ewww facter--are the ones that reach us. If we're brought into the story enough to feel it then the writer has done their job.
I think there's a fine line in the PC catagory where we paint a picture with our characters with words that show or words that tell.

Julie Weathers said...

Well, at the risk of sounding psychotic, most of my characters are fully formed when they are born. That's one reason I hesitate to mess with them. It's like I am watching a movie and they tell me to just shut up and take notes.

Other times they leave me alone to muddle through, then come back and fix it for me.

Once they come to life, I pretty much keep my hands off them. If they are lewd, crude and socially unacceptable, I just let them be what they were intended to be.

If your chef appeared to you as a black man, then perhaps that is just what he is supposed to be.

If you created a character with a certain profile so you would be all encompassing, then you are doing a disservice to your muse. Trust yourself. If it doesn't work out, you can always rewrite.

I know you will work out what is best for you. Listen to the inner voice. Well, unless it's telling you to dance naked in the street.

As for Dancing Horses, it is an interesting story. However, anything with Cajun cowboys can't be dull. Might not be marketable, but it isn't boring.