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World similar to our own but not quite - how to describe different nationalities

Discussion in 'World Building' started by saraliz78, May 16, 2013.

  1. saraliz78

    saraliz78 Acolyte


    My world is very similar to our own world, but the geography and historical events are different. For example, how do I describe appropriately a character who is Asian when there is no Asia? Or, describe a character who is black when there is no Africa? Can I describe the physical appearance of non-white characters in such a way that people will know what they look like without being too focused in a weird, possibly racist-y way about their appearance? I want my world to be diverse, but I want to make sure that it isn't accidentally off-putting to readers. I don't always talk about white characters in terms of darkness/paleness, eye shape, etc., so I want to be mindful of how I describe my non-white characters, if that makes sense? Any suggestions?
  2. Asura Levi

    Asura Levi Sage

    I think you can use the most visible traits, that is, nose/eye shape, hair color and type(curly/straight/thin/thick) as well as skin tone. Height, body-type.
    But you said you don't want to use that. May I ask why? Describing physical characteristics is the easier and faster way in discerning one ethnic group from the other. And unless the society is very advanced, that will always be some racism, either prejudicial to said group or putting then in higher stats. (I don't want to use real life examples, but I hope I haven't being that confusing.)
  3. Alexandra

    Alexandra Closed Account

    Just use good descriptive language and don't worry about the possible weird racist-y hangups of some of your readers, the hangups are their problems, not yours.

    The ebony skin of the barely-clad dancer proved a wonderful backdrop for the gleaming candle-lit dagger she held low, moments before she shoved it into my guts. See ... easy :wink:
  4. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    I'd say you want to mention both the obvious traits and the in-world term for them, paired so the reader thinks "Oh, ebony skin means an African look until I see different, and the book just called them 'Gorodans' so..."
  5. krunchee

    krunchee Scribe

    It's not racist to say someone has dark skin, or narrow eyes, black hair or any other racial trait. It is implying that these traits make them inferior to you because of these traits.

    In dating that, it is said that people of African decent have longer more explosive muscles meaning they can run faster and jump higher. It's not racist is science. It's evolution.
  6. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    If I understand you correctly, your worry is like this:

    Here's a Gorodan (to use the earlier term). She has black skin, curly hair, and a blunt little nose.

    Here's a Samatan. She has pale skin. There's no attempt to describe her hair or her nose, because it's assumed that she looks "like the reader" (that is to say, Western European.)

    This is something I see all the time, and I've seen arguments that it qualifies as racist. But if you know the problem exists, it seems easy to avoid. Describe your Samatan as having pale skin, straight hair, and a hooked nose. If you want, you can even mix and match, giving each ethnicity traits from two or more real-life peoples.
  7. Wanara009

    Wanara009 Troubadour

    Well, I like to describe how they clothes and carry themselves. Culture will have a bigger influence on distinguishing nationalities. I usually mention their physical attributes offhandedly when the view-point character had a reason to focus on them.

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