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White, Male, Hero: Cultural Diversity In Fiction And In Movies by Mira Alexander at

White, Male, Hero: Cultural Diversity In Fiction And Movies

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  1. Why are the most heroes in film and fiction white-male-strong?
  2. Why should you avoid character appearance description in your fiction?
  3. How to describe characters without too much appearance details?
  4. When to describe appearance?
  5. What do you gain if you choose to forgo appearance description?
  6. Update

Just to let you know: Blame yourself if your last book did not succeed. Your protagonist should have been a white, male, strong hero. Whereas your antagonist should have been an ugly non-white man, or at least a blond female 90-60-90-vamp.

Full stop. End of the post. Shit storm on.

You are still here? Wow! You are good. Thank you very much.

In my previous post a couple of days ago I told you about online courses, specifically Digital Storytelling. I could not resist myself so I took the class.

Why are the most heroes in film and fiction white-male-strong?

The course states multiple times that most heroes in the Hollywood dominated western film business are white, male, strong.

At first I didn’t think a lot about it. After all it was a commonly known fact in our western society. But then I linked film and fiction (where I’m coming from) together.

I thought about the discussion about the cast of Hermione Granger in the play „Harry Potter And The Cursed Child” or of the eleven-year-old girl who was searching for child books where the hero was not „a small white boy or a dog”.

Why should you avoid character appearance description in your fiction?

I was astonished by these discussions. Until then I didn’t realize, how little I was concerned with the physical appearance of the fiction characters in the books I read. Even worse, if I ever noticed such a description it was almost always because it disturbs me! Good books hardly use them. And I don’t have time for the bad ones.

I thought about my work in progress. I guess I used appearance description only six times (my WIP has more than 500 pages).

Three times I restricted myself to the hair color because it turns out to be more or less important for the story flow. That’s all. I do not specify any further details about these characters. It isn’t significant for the story after all. So I let it to the imagination of my readers to see these characters the way they want them to be. I even do not state their ethnic background. It does not matter. No cultural diversity issues so far. After all it is a matter of minutes to change the color of your hair.

One time I mentioned the kind of clothes my character wears because she belongs to a sub-culture which describes her way of life.

The other time my POV-character notices the bright blue eyes of her counterpart. Why is it of any importance? Because this detail fits neither the rest of the counterpart nor the behavior of the POV-character herself. So this detail is a break in the story flow which rises the tension within this scene.

What does the reader know about the counterpart at this moment? Nothing. Based on his current appearance one could deduce his current emotional state but not his ethnic background. Even his bright blue eyes could be a result of dyed contact lenses. Remember, even afghan girls could have green-blue-yellow eyes.

The last description I use is a little bit special one. I even give a hint about the ethnic background. Is it important for the story? No, not at all. Why do I do it then? Because I was fascinated about this special case of ethnic appearance deviation since I heard about it for the first time.

It is our right as a creative writer to create fiction world at our will, isn’t it? I think you agree with me: Yes, it is!

How to describe characters without too much appearance details?

I can almost hear your pleas: Why is it bad to write about a hot blonde with endless legs and the bust size of the former Pamela Anderson?

Well at best your reader will ignore it like I do when I am in the gracious mode. At worst you prevent empathetic bond between your reader and your character because for him/her a sexy woman is not the blond one but a flat-chested redhead. Finally (s)he could assume you have no idea what’s important in your own story. Not good.

Ok, you forgo the appearance description as far as it is possible without breaking your story. But how do you characterize your characters then?

Please, read the last sentence again. Did you get it? Your description should characterize you characters. How do we characterize a person? Well, we describe his or her character traits. Your readers appreciate intrinsic values, too.

Give your readers details about:

  • the behavior of your character
  • his/her motivation
  • his/her emotional wounds
  • his/her wants
  • his/her needs

Don’t get me wrong! Appearance can be important. If and only if it is of any importance for your story. If not – get rid of it!

When to describe appearance?

The appearance of the character is important for the story if it causes issues, conflicts, and complications for him/her or for anyone else in the story.

Suppose you are reading a story and you stumble across a hot blonde who is entering a room. Is it important for your readers or for your story? Not at all.

Now suppose, the author spread some bites of information before so you know already that our protagonist who is on a dangerous and world-shaking mission cannot resist blond vamps.

So it’s for sure that our protagonist will try to flirt with the woman causing a lot of complications. Does he jeopardize his mission? Will the world go down because of his overwhelming drive?

Then you learn that this vamp is not only blond (per se a danger for our protagonist) but a girl-friend of a very dangerous man who our protagonist should not challenge. Or is she a contract killer? Has she plans of her own?

You see, the description alone is of no value. Only in the context of the story could it became relevant.

Ask yourself every single time you want to describe the color of hair, eyes, the taint or anything else: Is this detail of any importance for the story? Should your reader really bother about it?

What do you gain if you choose to forgo appearance description?

You gain emotionally bound readers if you abandon any unnecessary appearance detail. You bypass any issues with the missing cultural diversity in your fiction because you didn’t specify it at all. Every single reader can build your characters in a way meeting their own inner world. It is of no importance for you as an author if your reader prefers your protagonist to be tall or small, skinny or corpulent, blond, brown-haired or anything else. Your story does not suffer from it. But your reader will have a much intensive experience reading your book.

Thank you very much for your company for the last few minutes. I appreciate your comments in the comment box below.


P.S.: I am not an English native speaker. So please forgive me all the errors I spread all over this post. Be gracious, enjoy the content.


Here a few links considering diversity in literature and/or films:

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