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What pitfalls should I look out for in the characters that I've laid out in the description below?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Jdailey1991, Nov 28, 2021.

  1. Jdailey1991

    Jdailey1991 Sage

    The setting: Europe, Alternate Earth 111, known vernacularly as "Great Lakes Earth"; date yet to be determined, but an intended descendant of a Silk Trade network that turned all of Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas into Bronze Age powerhouses (Full detail in this link)

    The species: Elves, a species of xenosimian primates who undertook the same evolutionary paths as humans (right down to the interbreeding with the dwarves; Full detail in this link)

    The characters:

    • An Asian-inspired bounty hunter with a (slightly) defective young daughter

    • A Caucasian-inspired changeling, an elf who can transform into every animal species, alive and extinct

    • A Native American-inspired Rapunzel

    • Snow White as a dark princess with a dark mother and a not-as-dark father (thinking Middle Eastern tone)

    Now before I could flesh them out any further, what sorts of pitfalls, stereotypes and tropes should I avoid per each character?
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    The information you provided is a bit sparse. First, where is this story set? Your characters include an Asian bounty hunter (China? SE Asia?), a Caucasian (Europe?), a Native American woman, and a Middle Eastern woman. That is quite the geographic spread, even with a Europe to China overland trade route or coastal trading from the middle east to SE Asia. That said...

    1 - Assuming he cares for her, the 'slightly defective daughter' of the Asian inspired bounty hunter represents a weakness that will likely be exploited by his enemies. Also relevant: is this guy a solo operator or does he have a team. The daughter implies additional family members or relatives who may frown on her being dragged into dangerous situations.

    2 - Shape changing elf. First concern here is 'what do other elves think of this character?' Do they see him as cursed? Or as the avatar of a deity? Also goes for others who know or suspect his abilities, Second issue - changing shape like that is bound to exact a toll on his body and mind. Eventually, to me, anyhow, I'd say he is likely to end up both crippled and insane, possibly 'stuck' in one of these other forms.

    3 - Native American inspired Rapunzel. Is she in North America? Was she brought to Europe/Asia somehow? If so, does she want to return to her homeland? Is she of social importance - a chieftains daughter, or related to some wizard or hero?

    4 - Snow White as a dark princess (African?) with a middle eastern father - I was under the impression that the common version of snow white was an orphan. Exact ME location depending...women didn't have a great deal of status, and were often counted as 'barely human.' Your character may have to deal with that mindset.

    Again, though, your information is on the sparse side.
  3. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

    I agree with ThinkerXThinkerX that the information is a bit sparse.

    From how I read it, it sounds like the white guy is the most awesome one of the four, which is a potential red-flag all by itself. Not that you're not allowed to have awesome white, male heroes of course. But it does paint the rest of your story in a certain light. (Though you never mention he's male it reads like he would be)

    Another thing is that with 4 characters this diverse you run the risk of only going skin-deep with all of them in terms of culture. Just giving someone Asian looks doesn't make them Asian, which is a pretty cliche stereotype to begin with. There's something like 3 billion people in Asia, and they're all very different. India Asian? Japan Asian? Chinese or Thai or Korean or Russian or ...? Going with "Asian dude" feels like you'll simply pick a western idea of what asian actually is and leave it at that. Same with the others by the way. If you make someone clearly native american then you'd better know a lot about them and their culture, how they act and feel and so on.

    You've got 2 male and 2 female character, which is great. However, the male ones seem a lot more awesome than the female ones. Both Rapunzel and Snow White in their fairy tales are mainly reactive characters. Stuff happens to them and they need rescuing by a prince. If they're anything like that in your story you might want to be careful. Again, nothing wrong with rescuing a princess, but it does play into how you portray women and that's a sensitive topic.

    I'm also curious why you're going with Snow White being middle-eastern / african. After all, one of the only things she's got going for her is that she's white. It's there in her name. What's the point then of either making her white in an african setting or not making her white?
  4. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

    As the descriptions 'Caucasian', 'Asian' etc communicate ethnicity but not culture, there is no reason to be bound by modern cultural expectations of such ethnicities.

    What is "Asian"?? That word for a North American would imply Chinese culture but for a Brit would imply the Indian sub-continent. Asian, of course, has had many cultures over the centuries. Perhaps an alternate Universe in which the silk trade became a primary catalyst for cultural development would have led to something like Achaemenid Persia becoming the dominant middle eastern culture rather than something like Islam? In that culture women had higher status, more independence and could own land and property in their own right. Women could also travel on their own (albeit they would undoubtedly take servants with them). This would lead to all manner of cultural differences. For example, face veiling would be a sign of high social status rather than of modesty.

    Perhaps the divergent nature of the history of such a world would lead to entirely different cultures and religions developing. However, if the trade route of the silk road was so important for the development of this culture then it is likely the silk road would have a much greater cultural significance in the world than it does today. There would be likely to be more culturally important stories and myths associated, perhaps even religions.
  5. Jdailey1991

    Jdailey1991 Sage

    I said "Europe" at the top.
  6. Jdailey1991

    Jdailey1991 Sage

    At the moment, it's just him and her, somewhat similar to Din Djarin and Grogu. Spoiler alert--her mother abandoned her the moment she was born because her defect and her sex has brought shame upon her Hannen heritage, an abandonment that has kickstarted the "Master Thief" to resort to bounty hunting and seek refuge in one of the "Hannentowns" that can be found in every city in Europe.

    At the moment, I can't decide on whether or not to keep the shapeshifting skills of one of his parents. I've been streamlining and streamlining and streamlining for months to reduce the headache I've had in writing and thinking of any desirable justification. Maybe he'd be better off as a regular fantasy Caucasian?

    No. She is of North American descent, but her parents were runaway slaves seeking refuge in Europe from the Hannen Empire.
  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    Implicit in your very thin descriptions is the idea that their skin colours would be similar to those we see now in the various parts of the world. But would that really be the case? The Bronze Age seems to have been warmer and generally drier for most of the period, and if your various people are mostly outdoors (in the way that the Same people are here in Sweden) then skin colours generally will be darker so you might not see much difference between them.

    I would perhaps think more in terms of how your culture would have shaped their view of the world and one another, and what impact this has on their culture, attitudes and beliefs. A world spanning empire with a lot of trade might not have the same attitudes to skin colour that we sometimes see in our world, and that might make their appearance less relevant than their background and occupation. Predjudices will exist, but they might be based on something other than skin colour.
  8. Jdailey1991

    Jdailey1991 Sage


    I didn't say it's set in the Bronze Age. I said the setting is set as a result of the Bronze Age.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I can see stereotypes all over the place. The question is whether you want to avoid them.

    When you say Rapunzel, I form a picture, and I'm sure it's the picture you intend by using Rapunzel as a shorthand. Which means you are relying on a stereotype. That's fine, if that's what you intend, but you did ask what to avoid. Same observation regarding Snow White. When you say "Asian-inspired" my first reaction is: what part of Asia? Did you mean to imply China? Do you have a sense of how other readers would respond to that stereotype?

    IOW, it appears from your very brief descriptions that you are *starting* with stereotypes. When you ask what stereotypes you ought to avoid, it raises the question of the degree to which you recognize stereotypes are your starting point. Because the list of possible stereotypes is long indeed, and the discussion of which and how to avoid or revise them is a whole bookshelf of possible.
  10. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

    These don't really tell us anything though. In Europe you can find anything from desert like places in Spain to tundra in Northern Norway, there's the West bordering on the Atlantic and the far East around Moskow. There's mountainous regions and flat lands and everything in between. Culturally it's the same, someone from southern Italy is very different from someone from Tallin or Scotland or Bulgaria. And it would have been even more so in the past. As for the result of the Bronze Age, that covers pretty much the last 4000 thousand years of history. You could say the Bronze Age collapse is the result of the Bronze Age, as is the Roman Empire, and indirectly so is modern day.
    Rosemary Tea likes this.
  11. Slartibartfast

    Slartibartfast Minstrel

    I agree with some of the other posters that the setting and the time period are not defined and neither are the characters beyond three (very) broad ethnic groups, an unspecified disability, one occupation, two fairytale characters, and a skin tone. Accordingly there is nothing really to critique. I can see that you have come back to correct the other guys, but I still don't know when or where the story is set or have any information about the characters. You've come here asking for feedback and perhaps your inadvertant feedback is that what you've said doesn't communicate what you seem to think it communicates.

    I don't have anything to add to what the others have said about ethnicity. However, regarding the 'defective daughter', the language you've used isn't particularly modern (in fact it's so not-modern that I'm not sure what you mean). It implies that they're like a 'normal person' but broken. This is not a productive way to think about individuals if you intend to design interesting and realistic disabled or neurodiverse characters.

    I can't comment more specifically because 'defective' doesn't tell me anything. What I can say in general is that it's very easy to write dull, poorly characterised people with disabilities because very often the 'character' is actually a walking disability with a few quirks and a bit of dialogue nailed onto the back of them. This is profoundly uninteresting. I think starting with a disability and then 'fleshing them out' to make the disability into a character rather than designing a full character from the start is more likely to produce this result.

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