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Non-human characters with black skin

drygin

New Member
Hi all! I'm looking for some input on a fantasy novel I'm writing.

A large majority of the story is told through the perspectives of a non-human species that has purely black skin. They have humanoid features (limbs and facial shapes) as well as another feature distinct to their species, and occupy a town that is part of an unnamed realm separate from what would be considered 'the real world'.

The species is descended from a single member, their 'All-Father' so to speak. They're more or less carbon copies of one another with slightly different features (hair length, voice, personality, etc.).

Although I consider the species non-human and try to make this as clear as possible in my description of them, I think their physical features and behaviour will naturally make the reader associate them as human-like creatures.

Because they occupy a town separate from reality, their days mainly consist of hunting for food. With nothing much to do, they are prone to violence for entertainment.

I'm worried the species will perpetuate negative stereotypes of people of colour or indigenous groups. Although I have tried to emphasise their skin is different to human skin, and a shade darker than human skin is capable of, by referring to the species' skin as 'black', there is a link to the term used to describe people of colour.

All feedback is welcome. I'm keen to hear opinions from anyone outside of the story who doesn't have the bias of being its author.
 

pmmg

Vala
Well, black people are not actually black. If you've shown them to be an alien race, and that they are in fact actually black, I think you just write it and worry less. The black community wont care, and the story will only suffer from not giving it what it deserves. If you try to contain it, it will show, and it wont be the story it needs to be.

Maybe make up a word to mean the same thing. If they were drow, for instance, maybe say they had skin of drow, dark as the blackest oil. And then call it drow colored to avoid confusion.
 
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Queshire

Auror
Nah, you should change it. If they're so alien anyways then you shouldn't need to mention their skin color and you've already noted the potential problems. Not worth it in my opinion.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
Do you even need to mention what colour they are? If you're telling the story form their point of view then the characters won't give much if any thought to what colour they are. After all, how often do you even stop to consider what colour you are? Personally, I'd remove all reference to their colour and make the story work without it.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I was prepared to say that pitch-black skin isn't really Black skin, which is more like brown, but then you said a "shade darker" and I had doubts. So I would suggest going super dark, but a shade of something other than brown, like "a green that's nearly black." And give that color a name. Super-dark green is apparently called "black evergreen" or "dark hunter green," neither of which are smooth in a narrative, so you'll have to get creative.
 

Vaporo

Inkling
Perhaps rather than just black, specify something along the lines of "midnight black," or describe them as looking like a silhouette or shadow from a distance. Perhaps avoid limit or avoid the word "skin" when possible since I've noticed that word in particular seems to draw commentary. I think you're fine so long as you use sufficient tact. Someone may still object, but thinking readers shouldn't have an issue.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
As soon as you mention black skin some people will make the leap of assuming that the non-human characters with black skin is a commentary on what the author thinks about black people.

Unless it's relevant to the story avoid references to black skin.

For example,

"From a distance they appeared to be dark shadows but, as Asgoth got closer, he saw they were human like creatures he had encountered on previous journeys.
They were dark. He would've said they were black but they seemed darker than that, if that was possible."
 

Avery Moore

Troubadour
Well, black people are not actually black. If you've shown them to be an alien race, and that they are in fact actually black, I think you just write it and worry less. The black community wont care, and the story will only suffer from not giving it what it deserves. If you try to contain it, it will show, and it wont be the story it needs to be.

Maybe make up a word to mean the same thing. If they were drow, for instance, maybe say they had skin of drow, dark as the blackest oil. And then call it drow colored to avoid confusion.
Pretty sure the term "drow" is copyrighted, but "dark elf" is up for grabs! 😁

Alternatively, you could just get a bit more descriptive to make it clear that their skin is actually black. Like, "their skin was black as coal" or "black as night" or something else distinctly black. Also, bring up the name of the race a lot to make it clear that they aren't human.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Welcome to the circus! I'm a teacher and I love homework. Here is some of reading that may help. There is no single answer to, "No, no, it's okay. We understand you mean well." There are literally thousands of posts and arguments out there on both side of the aisle. The trick is to be respectful, to listen carefully when called out (and it will happen, it's just part of the process), and to never over speak those who may sound a little aggressive, but after 600 some-odd years folks of color have a right to their frustration.

https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com%2Fpost%2F94840198717
How to Write Women of Colour and Men of Colour if you are White

Wee bit dated but still excellent information.

Report from the Field: Racial Invisibility and Erasure in the Writing Workshop • VIDA: Women in Literary Arts

Yes, in my novel, the Ancient Egyptians are Black - K. Tempest Bradford

25 Stunning Portraits of Black Women in Ethereal Fantastical Photography

Also, when describing darker skin, don't forget that there is a radiant quality to it that movie make-up artists struggle with. Do you know why?
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
Go for it. To me it would be weirder to place a cordon sanitaire around the term "black" than to just allow your audience to go through a possible misjudgement. If this species is sufficiently different from humanity, it will become clear. If not? Is that a big deal? I don't see why, unless there's something specific about this setting that would make it so. As for specifying what type of black, you can just thrown in an "onyx black" or "oil black" when first mentioning it.
 
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drygin

New Member
Well, black people are not actually black. If you've shown them to be an alien race, and that they are in fact actually black, I think you just write it and worry less. The black community wont care, and the story will only suffer from not giving it what it deserves. If you try to contain it, it will show, and it wont be the story it needs to be.

Maybe make up a word to mean the same thing. If they were drow, for instance, maybe say they had skin of drow, dark as the blackest oil. And then call it drow colored to avoid confusion.
I'm liking that idea. So far, I've described the species' skin as "darker than shadow", "ink-black", with a "dark pearlescence", etc. to try and detract from their similarities to humans. The problem is, the species has a strong physical resemblance to humans due to their human-like limbs/faces, so the single unique physical feature I've given them (my lips are sealed on that one, sorry! Don't want to give too much away) does little to blur their connection to humans.

It's excellent to get so much feedback from this forum, though. I'm working on adding more of a uniqueness to the species' physical features to further differentiate them from humans. Thanks for the reply!
 

drygin

New Member
Do you even need to mention what colour they are? If you're telling the story form their point of view then the characters won't give much if any thought to what colour they are. After all, how often do you even stop to consider what colour you are? Personally, I'd remove all reference to their colour and make the story work without it.
Interesting idea! Unfortunately, I don't see it working out so well since several chapters in the story are from other characters' perspectives who would look upon the species and note their appearance. It might come across as odd if I skip over describing what the species looks like. So far, I've used descriptors like "ink-black limbs" and "skin darker than shadows" to describe the species' appearance. Appreciate the feedback, though! It's excellent to get so many replies.
 

drygin

New Member
I was prepared to say that pitch-black skin isn't really Black skin, which is more like brown, but then you said a "shade darker" and I had doubts. So I would suggest going super dark, but a shade of something other than brown, like "a green that's nearly black." And give that color a name. Super-dark green is apparently called "black evergreen" or "dark hunter green," neither of which are smooth in a narrative, so you'll have to get creative.

That's a logical idea. I've actually thrown my original post up onto a few other forum sites, and the suggestion to change the species' skin to another dark colour is very popular.

Because I've been writing this story for a while, I'm reluctant to change the physical appearance of the species so thoroughly. Of course, refusing to make any changes to the species' design simply because of my overattachment to it would be wrong.

Right now, the species only has one stand-out physical feature that distinguishes them as non-human. I think a good starting point would be changing specific parts of their appearance and giving them more features that distinguish the species as non-human instead of splashing them a different colour. The species is born out of the ground, so I could say their skin is dark because they come from such deep earth, but that feels like a poorly thought-out reason.

I appreciate the feedback! Thanks for the reply.
 

pmmg

Vala
I notice this users replies do not show up in my 'latest activity' screen. Maybe a bug?

Anyway...

That's a logical idea. I've actually thrown my original post up onto a few other forum sites, and the suggestion to change the species' skin to another dark colour is very popular.

On this, I know there are sensitive readers out there, and I am not one to share those sensibilities. It may be that you are too close to the edge of what an audience will accept as appropriate, but I personally think you will be far from it. And while this advice means well, I think it mostly stems out of a set of values, that some have, and others don't. Its really up to you how close to the edge you think you are, how true to your story vision you wish to remain, and what you wish to project to others through your writing. For me, I would find no reason to change or pull a race of black colored alien creatures, I would just try to tell them true. If other things start lining up, I might become a little more concerned, such as cultural similarities, or such, but for this, no.

My advice remains write the story inside, and write it true.
 
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