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Fair and Dark creatures - Any thoughts?

Discussion in 'Research' started by snabjorn, Dec 19, 2013.

  1. snabjorn

    snabjorn Dreamer

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    Okay, so, I'm basically creating an image of my group of characters and then suddenly something hits me;
    I have the good ones on one side and the "bad" ones on the other side and look-wise (is that a word?) the good ones are caucasian/pale/fair creatures and the "bad" ones have dark skintones, eyes and hair and stuff, and then I was wondering what people might think or say if all the bad creatures have dark skin? Because it's obviously not my intention to be "racist" or whatever; it's only to get a clearer image of who's who and it works very well with my story. I just dont know. Any thoughts? :confused: :(
     
  2. Noma Galway

    Noma Galway Archmage

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    Okay. The whole black and white thing has worked on numerous occasions with numerous different authors in the past (may I cite Tolkien?). However, I would like to point out that even Tolkien with his dark-skinned orcs and fair-skinned elves has even gotten a little bit of criticism for doing the black-white thing. I don't know what to tell you. I don't typically have clear-fut good and evil...as groups or anything like that. I have two guilds of assassins.
     
  3. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Why does skin color have to be the characteristic distinguishing these creatures' moral alignment?
     
  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I think that this is probably something you will want to be careful with. You can probably pull it off if you want to, but there's always a risk the reader will get more hung up on a detail like skin-colour instead of more important things.
     
  5. Codey Amprim

    Codey Amprim Staff Article Team

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    The problem is that you want to use the light vs dark as good vs evil, and that it will be taken in a racist context. I'd say this is mostly unavoidable, however, unless you give a specific reason as to why the two groups are the colors they are. Is the dark toned race that pigment due to being underground or something of the like? Or has their evil nature had an effect on this?

    It's hard to sweep something like that under the rug because so many people can and will take it in the wrong light. My suggestion is that both races be subjected to good and evil. That would take it from a racial issue to something of a judgment of individual character.

    Good luck
     
  6. Dragoncat

    Dragoncat Minstrel

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    I would switch things up a bit...if it works for your story, that's fine, but having a dark skinned character be with the good guys or vice versa would really add a touch of realism. Looking at the real world, there's no rule that says every white person will be good and every black person will be evil. Hitler was white, and we all know how evil he was...in contrast, the recently deceased Nelson Mandela was black, and one of the world's greatest and most caring leaders, pretty much a saint. There are plenty of good people and bad people in every skin color.

    But, maybe it's a species trait, like the orc example...either way I would make all races/skin tones be able to be either good or evil.
     
  7. TrustMeImRudy

    TrustMeImRudy Troubadour

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    snabjorn is using the differing colors as any easy way to show their alignment, just like light is aligned with good, darkness is aligned with evil.

    Personally, I never liked it not because of racial patterns, but because evil is rarely so out and open.
     
  8. snabjorn

    snabjorn Dreamer

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    That's actually pretty much it; because they stay underground, yes :)

    It's not the real world though :) it's a story of fantasy and fiction, but I see where you're coming from.

    Thanks for all the replies. I actually didn't think about it at first, and then suddenly I figured that some people might take it the wrong way. I guess I will have to mix it up a bit or just not mention it at all :)
     
  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Going with a real world analogy, most things that live underground aren't necessarily dark. Rather, the lack of light means they're often pale or lacking in colour. Beings living on the surface and subjected to sunlight will have some kind of colouration to their skin - the more light they see the darker their skin.

    What you could do is consider that in choosing skin colours. The underground folks, could have pale white, grey, or blue-ish skin tones, while those on the surface have warmer tones.

    A person's skin tone can very depending on if they've been out in the sun all day or if they've stayed indoors in the dark all day.


    NOTE: None of the above checked for scientific correctness.
     
    Butterfly likes this.
  10. Dragoncat

    Dragoncat Minstrel

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    Svrn is right. The dark skinned African tribespeople are that way because Africa sees a lot of sun, so their skin will be darker to prevent sunburning. And, they tend to be outside all day, roaming from place to place, hunting etc. If they lived underground they would be pale.

    Even fantasy fiction has to have some realism...
     
  11. snabjorn

    snabjorn Dreamer

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    But then I will be doing the same thing - just in reverse/opposite :) and it's kind of essential that the "good" ones are pale in this story. But I guess I will just have to not mention anything about the undergrounders' skin tones at all. Though I totally understand what you say about the sunlight giving more color than no sun at all - I had planned to make the ons underground even paler then, but then some people might be like: why is there NO dark people at all. You can always twist it into something bad I guess :) so better just be on the safe side.
     
  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    There's a difference between pale and pale though. On the one hand you have the sickly pale with red, blood-shot eyes - maybe a bit like gollum.
    [​IMG]
    Ok, maybe he doesn't have red eyes, but you get the point.

    On the other hand you have someone like Roberth Smith:
    [​IMG]
    Okay, so he's also pale and sickly, but he's different.

    The point being that even when you have characters of the same or similar skin colour you can have big differences between them.


    I wouldn't worry too much about readers asking why there aren't dark people around. There may still be, they're just living in another part of the world. You may or may not have to mention it as some travelers from that part pass through - or something. A world is a big place and and all of the things that exist in it will not be common in all parts of it.
     
  13. Codey Amprim

    Codey Amprim Staff Article Team

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    Svrt has brought up good points. If you want to keep the dark tone theme, you could describe them as looking like stone or statues. Almost gargoyle-like. Otherwise, I would stay make them ghastly pale or avoid describing their tones altogether and let the reader come up with their own idea.
     
  14. AnneL

    AnneL Closed Account

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    This whole trope (black = bad, white = good) was one of the things that got me to do scholarship about race in SFF 17 years ago. No one was even asking the question then. Now it is a topic that raises a lot of hot feelings and anger. A lot of people of color feel very marginalized and excluded by other people in SFF. In all likelihood using this trope will make an author come across somewhere on a spectrum between racist and clueless. If you want to see some samples of how it is discussed, check out the Twitter #DiversityinSFF hashtag.

    Even if there were not a racial issue, characterizing any group of people as good or evil based on any one trait such as skin color removes a lot of complexity from the story and probably makes it less interesting.

    If you want to see an example of underground bad guys, check out H.G. Wells' Morlocks in The Time Machine.
     
    SineNomine and Jabrosky like this.
  15. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I have this exact issue with my WIP Tenth Realm. On the good side, the majority are Caucasian humans (Vikings and Celts), and pale-skinned Fae and light-elves. On the bad side, the majority are the Drow-like black-elves. The villain is actually a light-elf/black-elf hybrid, with an intermediate grey skintone. Her leading henchman is an evil light-elf, her half-brother. Also, there is at least one black-elf on the good guys' side, and possibly more if she succeeds in inciting a rebellion against the villain. There are also Fae characters who are antagonistic toward the MC and his friends, while not serving the main villain. I like to think I'm doing a decent job of subverting the "light = good, dark = evil" dichotomy, though I may not be the best judge of that for my own work.
     
  16. AnneL

    AnneL Closed Account

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    It's really hard. I'm pretty sensitized to such issues (at least for a white person) and my book is still pretty much all white people with a few token non-whites. I did consciously make my invading evil army a bunch of Teutonic/Nordic types with red or blond hair, and I tried to tackle gender and class, but I feel pathetically undiverse.
     
  17. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    In my own major WIP, the characters are mainly either Black African or Middle Eastern (the setting is based largely on ancient Egypt). Unfortunately all the Middle Eastern characters I've written so far in this story have been unsympathetic while the main heroine is African (though the main antagonist is also on the African team), which makes me feel guilty.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2013
  18. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I think fantasy as a genre tends to rely heavily on white characters and "other races". Like... few books have true dark-skinned human heroes. If they're dark-skinned, they tend to be other than human. Now, I'm not trying to say that's in every case, but just a sort of standard thing I've run into. I think there are probably a lot of reasons for that and I'm not sure many readers are terribly offended by it. I mean... if I were dark-skinned, would I feel more strongly about a hero because they looked similar to me? Or would I feel I couldn't relate to a dark-skinned hero because I'm white? Probably not. I'm thinking about my kids, who constantly color people in their coloring books with dark skin... probably because crayons offer better shades of brown than... um peach or whatever. And my little daughter is wearing Princess Tiana underwear rather than Cinderella. The point is, I think most readers would feel comfortable reading about characters not of their race.

    Now, to get back to the original posting... is there a problem with making the evil races dark and the good races light? Kinda. I think back to Othello and Iago and know that in Shakespeare's time, race was perhaps a funnier subject than it is now. I don't know. But, now, we have to be respectful and aware. Is there a way to establish and acknowledge racial characteristics from the real world into fantasy without opening the can of worms? I'd like to think so... but this might not be the best way. If those dark-skinned evil people live underground, it's going to feel odd because cave animals have no pigment and their skin is translucent. So.... that sticks out as an oddity to have highly pigmented skin in a place with no sunlight. One solution might be to do a mole rat kinda thing. Mole rats live in underground burrows and are naked, wrinkly, weird little blind animals. They live together in large numbers and because all their waste stays with them deep underground, they have evolved an interesting adaptation... they do not feel the pain of acid burns. So... mole rats' skin can feel pain if say, you pinch them, but acid doesn't burn them at all because they live in a technically poisonous place. Could you perhaps create a reason your underground dwellers have evolved in a way that their dark, maybe thick or special in some way skin protects them from environmental conditions?

    Just an idea.

    I put some dark-skinned people into one of my novels. They live on a chain of tropical islands and this MC guy married a girl he grew up with. Her father was a rich trader from the islands and he described her as a rare, exotic beauty, praising her dark skin and hair. I can't imagine how people would feel it's racist at all to simply include dark-skinned people in stories, I think it's more when they're equated to evil/darkness. I'd just think of a rational reason they have that feature and make them believable.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2013
  19. AnneL

    AnneL Closed Account

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    Umm, there was a huge upset in the SFF writer community recently when someone posted on the Amazing Stories blog that striving for diversity was like taking selfies. There are A LOT of POC writing who started writing partly because they could not identify with white characters. I don't want to go into that discussion here, because it generates a lot of anger and hurt all around and isn't helpful to the thread, but I think people who want to publish in the SFF field need to be aware of how much of an issue this is.
     
  20. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    wow... I'm kinda surprised. I of course meant no offense. I guess it's hard to relate, since I grew up in a diverse place. In our home, we're pretty open with our kids about why people look different (in all ways, not specifically skin color) and we tend to be rather scientific, talking about regions and why adaptations exist. I mean, white skin, after all is an adaptation to maximize Vit D production for creatures that remain clothed and indoors half the year because it's snowing outside. So... Anne, seriously, I'm not trying to downplay anyone's right to feel differently... but I can only say, if I read a book from a POV of a MC not my race... I'd have no issues at all. I'm rather saddened other people feel differently.

    You've opened my eyes (shut because I really don't consider race as a factor in my life). I'll try to be more aware of how people sometimes feel very differently and even when I can't personally understand why, they have every right to feel the way they do.

    Okay... I have some questions but as you said, it isn't helpful to this thread. I'll PM them to you. Thanks.
     
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