Representation in Fiction

Yesterday was the 27th of April 2017. That probably isn’t important to many of you out there but here in South Africa, it was also Freedom Day 2017, the anniversary of the first truly representative democratic election in 1994. We’ve still got a long way to go (obviously) in terms of representation, but it was a great step forward. If I wanted to use that thematically, I’m a day late, but whatever. I suppose it’s better late than never to discuss representation and how I go about dealing with it. I’ve written about the portrayal of genders already, so I’ll skip over that one this time.

1. Race. I’ve never really placed too much emphasis on race and it’s really a tired trope to do so in this day and age. It ends up being a more incidental thing than important to the core of the character for me. Race shouldn’t really define how a character acts unless the context or plot specifically call for it and then it should be dealt with very carefully. Stereotypes are a bad path to wander down, unless you want to be metaphorically mugged.

Communities are more nuanced and subtle than stereotypes allow. As always, research into different sorts of contexts and situations allows one to portray one’s characters of colour more sensitively. If you get something wrong about a community, that’s fine as long as it’s not offensive. The thought of including different kinds of communities goes a long way.

2. Sexuality. Gay is not a character trait. Unless your plot or special context calls for it, I wouldn’t place any emphasis on someone being gay/bi/pan at all. Queer romance is practically identical to heterosexual romance, with the distinction of potentially bigoted characters getting in the way. Unless your aim is to show this facet, I suggest identical treatment for all romance. Normalising things is good.

3. Religion. Please, please, please do your research on this one. No one appreciates having their beliefs, organised or otherwise, ripped apart by some fool behind a computer screen who didn’t bother to get any of the fundamental facts straight. No person’s faith is identical to another’s: atheists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus etc all have different individual details among themselves. Try not to make anyone upset if you choose to depict any given religion in a light that isn’t strictly neutral.

4. Politics. I’m not brave enough for politics nor am I brave enough to depict them. Many writers make their political leanings extremely clear when they write and this is bound to upset someone. The fact of the matter is, there’s no right answer for politics. Some people will like any political sentiment in your work of fiction, some people will absolutely hate even the faintest sniff of politics. I can’t help you with this one.

I hope the above points help at all. Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

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