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Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Best (Worst) Tips for Writing People of Color

A collection of the absolute best worst tips for portraying foreigners that will make your characters pop like the ears of the passengers in a 747 in free fall.  

Hi everyone,

Have you missed me? Well don't worry, I'm still here to tell you all the tricks to becoming a famous published author without all that inspiration porn bullshit about working hard and reading a lot that'll just drag you down. The tool/noobs (I call them toobs) at Writing About Writing might be trying to make it harder to hack their signal and boost my pirate posts on top of their boring old articles that you don't need, but because I love you, I will continue looking for back doors. I have a civic duty to be there to counter the bullshit that goes down on most writing blogs.

There are tricks to being a famous writer. And none of them are hard work. And I'm here to tell you what they are.

Well, a few of you have asked about portraying people of color–who I call minorities because I don't go in for all that P.C. bullshit. (Seriously, if it was good enough for the 80's, it's good enough for me.) In fact, today Chris was going to answer a question about it for The Mailbox, but I got to it first. So while I offered a bit of advice about this when I told you how to incorporate the best tropes into your writing, today I will talk specifically about how to portray minorities in a way that will make you rich and famous.

Small disclaimer though: if you want to be rich and famous, you don't want these to be the POV character. Your POV character should almost always be a cis heterosexual white male. That's what sells. If your character is anything else, work extra hard to incorporate the advice below so that your reader doesn't feel too uncomfortable. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it should get you started.

  • Remember to compare anyone who isn't white to food. Caramel skin. Chocolate complexion. Butterscotch thighs. Almond shaped eyes. Even if your POV character is the minority, they should always be on the cusp of devouring themselves. But don't do this for white people. No one thinks marzipan thighs or meringue shoulders sounds good. 
  • If you're writing an indigenous person, have them be a complete physical badass, though with a strange affinity to anachronistic weaponry. Especially tomahawks. Indigenous peoples are always very warlike, unlike the cultures that have genocided them, and this makes sense. Give them mystic powers no one can explain if they aren't bad ass enough. Transforming into animals is good.
  • If your character is a minority, that should literally be the focal point of their existence. Like if you have a latin character, everything they think or feel should start out with "Because X was latin, he thought....."
  • If you your narrative is taking you into contact with another culture, they should have a chief. And that chief should have a sexy daughter....
  • Though if it's the daughter of an Asian dude, he better know martial arts and be a criminal mastermind. She can either join the heroes or seem like she joins the heroes only to betray them. 
  • Hispanic dude? Better be dashing.
  • If you're doing something with supernatural powers, remember that the black guy always does lightning/electricity. I don't know why, but it is what it is. Deal with it. 
  • Do you have a black person who is kind of a mentor character? You should give them mystical powers and make them extraordinarily wise, even though they only look like a janitor or a golf caddy or something. Make them have no desire for fame or rewards but simply want to help lift up the main (white) character. That makes sense, right?
  • You should probably make that black woman overweight and maternal towards everyone. But with some sass, of course. 
  • That or go the other way and make her an angry bitch who complains a lot about racism but using silly examples like the choice of album covers or the number of times K appears in a book instead of something like the prison industrial complex....because that will just make white people uncomfortable.
  • Make all your minorities be racist towards each other and especially white people. This reverse racism makes white people feel better about their own prejudices that they don't examine.
  • Need a sex interest for the main character while the love interest is in the tragic disconnect phase? Try a sexually liberated kinky character with an indeterminate European accent. That or obviously Scandinavian because Scandinavians are all total sex freaks. For reals.
  • French guy? Always an asshole. Always.
  • If you have an Asian character who doesn't know martial arts, you're just asking to fail. I'm pretty sure that's not even a stereotype. It's just true.
  • Time travel back to the 19th century? Don't worry about having your characters panic and refuse to get out of the time machine. I'm sure the wonder of it all and a couple of jokes will make everything okay.
  • Tech support and cab drivers are always Indian. Always.
  • If you're worried about the diversity in your story have the sidekick/best friend/partner be a minority. Instantly above reproach.
  • If people think you're too racist, have one of the white characters tell the minority how great they are and how they are a fine, upstanding example of their race. That makes it all copacetic. The more white people tell your minority what a credit to their race they are, the more everyone will realize that everyone can become viewed as fully human when they succeed at upholding the cultural values of white people.
  • If there's internalized racism where a minority believes some of the stereotypes about themselves, make it into a big joke or it will make your readers uncomfortable. Don't actually have them examine it in a serious way. Like have a latin guy be pro Trump because he's tired of his people being rapists or something. That's hilarious! Hahahahahaha! If you're unsure how to do this, check out Ben Carson. 
  • Character from a small southeast Asian island? They should be big and friendly and say almost nothing. If you can have them talk in grunts and offer the white people fish, that would be even better. Bonus points if they only smile and carry around a stick all the time.
  • Speeches that are uneducated but strangely wise are vital to the proper portrayal of a minority character. Especially if they are dispensing wisdom to a white person who will actually go and deal with the problem.
  • If you feel like you have a minority conforming to too many stereotypes and you might have some readers label you as racist, pick three or four and have the character do exactly the opposite. You can't just ignore them; you have to have the character subvert the expectation in a way that draws attention to how bold and daring you are to challenge stereotypes. Now you are totally inoffensive. 
  • You have a Muslim character who isn't a terrorist? What are you doing? Literally what the actual fuck are you DOING?
  • Really, honestly, if the minority doesn't die to teach the white people a valuable lesson, you're just not even trying. 
  • Have your white characters be unrepentantly racist, and then when the jokes that, in the real world, would end most friendships and tear apart social groups are uttered casually as edgy jokes, you can take the curse off of it by having your minority character say "You know I'm [black], right?" Big laughs and all is forgiven! That's the most reaction a minority should ever have towards blatant racism: "You know I'm [black] right?"


  1. Dear Not-Evil Chris,

    Well, isn't this a fine how-do-you-do? Evil Chris went and riled Andi up and I've spent the evening trying to stop her from writing a lengthy counterpoint to his... whatever this is. I've been unsuccessful in getting the keyboard away from her until now. My only hope at this point is to keep her from hitting the Send button. Unfortunately, I have a feeling she's going to sneak back in here after I fall asleep and email this thing off to you. So the best I can do is warn you. (And she doesn't particularly like Evil Chris. He might want to move out of the basement and head to... Hmm, where would he be safe? Antarctica? Possibly. Mars might be better, though.)

    Your pal,

    1. Evil Chris just likes NaNo. No one knows who Evil Mystery Blogger is, but this is definitely terrible advice.

    2. I don't think it's Evil Chris. Evil Chris is kind of cute, and is basically Chris as Chris would be if he narrowly escaped with his life then discovered it wasn't his to begin with.

      I do sometimes wonder if Chris's enthusiasm for groupie threesomes would be the same with 1 groupie and 2 Chrises... not that I'm offering or anything...

    3. That would be weird. But I didn't say unwelcome....

  2. I see Andi didn't send the email while I was sleeping. And I'm pretty sure I left her at home (she only thinks she knows the password on the computer). Evil Chris still might want to stay out of Denver; his advice is worse than dubious. I can't really fault Evil Chris for liking NaNo. It's not for newbies, though, that's for sure. I'd been consistently hitting 50K+ words a month for a year before I tried it. And I STILL thought it was going to kill me that first year! (Ok, only because my co-author got slammed at work and I had to forge on without her... that was the first and ONLY month I've ever topped 80K words.)

    Two Chrises and a groupie? Well, there's an idea that never occurred to me. Also not offering anything, by the way. Life is already too complicated! :-)

  3. Crud. I leave the room for FIVE MINUTES to talk to the contractor, and she went and sent the email. Darn her. (Hmm. I'm reading the bit she added before sending it. Seems like Leela has a fan.)

  4. Remember to compare anyone who isn't white to food. Caramel skin. Chocolate complexion. Butterscotch thighs. Almond shaped eyes. Even if your POV character is the minority, they should always be on the cusp of devouring themselves. But don't do this for white people. No one thinks marzipan thighs or meringue shoulders sounds good.

    Is this a thing that is exclusive to people of color? I had never heard this one before in that context. Food comparison are something that I've heard in relation to women, but not just women of color: "Milky white skin" "Checks like apples" "Strawberry lips" "Honey colored hair" "Chestnut hair".

    This blog http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/post/95955707903/skin-writing-with-color-has-received-several seems to think that the main problem is that it uses consumables, and worse yet, consumables that drive past and present slave trades.

    This particular writer seems to think that food-based descriptions for white people are okay, but later says that food-based descriptions are cliche. Do you have any more thoughts on this one in particular?