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Writing a black protagonist

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Fri Mar 27, 2020 10:28 am
KaylaM says...

I'm writing a YA fiction story, and my main character is a black girl. I'm not convinced I she should be though. After reading some blogs on the matter, the overall advice seems to be to steer away from writing a first person PoC when you're not one yourself. I'm concerned I may unknowingly cause some kind of harm or damage should I release it as is when, as a white person, I haven't lived the same everyday experience as my character would have.
If anyone has some advice on whether she should remain as she is or not, or helpful tips on how to sensitively and accurately portray her would be a huge huge help

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Sat Mar 28, 2020 11:52 pm
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Hattable says...

Hi there, long post coming up:

Rather than give up because you don't have firsthand experience with whichever background your character comes from and debating whether or not to scrap them altogether, I'd recommend doing some research on the cultural aspects you're concerned with. You can always make a thread asking about specific things in the Research forum. There's also other places off-site that could be helpful to you - Writing with Color for example.

As for just regular basic character stuff, your character being a person of color isn't going to change the fact that they're a person- we're all humans! So my advice would be to just write them – same as you would any other character – and then look for beta readers from the same/similar backgrounds to help with culture type stuff and all.
(I recognize that people's backgrounds may affect how they interact with the world or handle certain things but this goes for any character of any background and I'm trying to avoid obvious basic character building stuff).

One reason I can think of that people may suggest steering away from writing characters of colors when you aren't a person of color yourself is that you could end up unintentionally doing more damage than good in your attempt to have diverse/representative characters. Oftentimes, people mistakenly play into negative stereotypes and stigmas about the groups their characters come from. But they're people, too, so just write people!
With cultural type things, if you go into it respectfully, and do the research, and do your best to ensure you aren't crossing any lines, then you should be good. You'd have done your due diligence? (Obviously if you end up with a character who's still a horrible caricature or stereotyped or whatever you may want to take another look at things, but you'd have to be pretty dense to do that after researching and talking to people and all).

Basically what I'm trying to get across is that, like... If people only ever wrote about characters that were the exact same as them, there'd be no diversity in any of our stories. And that's something you want to avoid as a writer? And then think of all the fictional stories with a non-human protagonist. If someone can write an elf or orc or alien protag they can write another human being. Just do your research, listen to criticism/advice, and be respectful.

(A note from my friend that,,, honestly could've been this whole post now that I read back: "people of color are PEOPLE -- write 'em like you'd write a person with realistic motivations and try to stray away from negative stereotypes")

Oh, and keep in mind that this is something that comes with practice, just like anything else in writing. Your first attempts at characters that differ from you aren't going to be perfect, but what matters if that you try and keep trying.

Hopefully this wasn't too winding or repetitive – I have a PRETTY hard time getting my ideas across concisely. Best of luck with your writing!
"I remember I posted Klingon and it made the mods super hard" -Willard

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Thu Apr 30, 2020 2:46 pm
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Noelle says...

What Hattable said.

Fiction stories always have a sense of reality to them, as I'm sure you know, but are overall fiction. You are in control of the story no matter the outside influence that comes your way. I can understand why you would be cautious to write from a person of color's point of view. However, since this is fiction, you shouldn't have to worry about it. Make your MC your own. It doesn't matter what color her skin is. My boyfriend is African American and so is my best friend. They both live completely different lives and act completely different. They grew up in polar opposite households and went through nowhere near the same experiences. Not all people of the same skin color are going to be the same. I'm sure you know that already ^_^

As for causing harm or making someone upset, there's always going to be someone who's upset. If we as writers took the time to make sure our writing pleased everyone we'd never get anything published. Or write anything for that matter. You have an image of what you want your story to be. Don't let it lack something great.

When writing your character, my advice is don't think about the color of her skin. Like Hattable said, it doesn't change the fact that she is a human. She is going to have her own experiences specific to herself. It's a plus that she's a person of color because hooray for diversity! Make her specific to herself and her experiences and life. It's going to be different than anyone in real life.

I'm not telling you to throw away all of the other advice you've found while researching of course, just giving you something else to think about. Good luck with your project!
Noelle is the name, reviewing and writing cliffhangers is the game.

Writer of fantasy, action/adventure, and magic. Huzzah!

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