This post is a bit mathematical, but more about writing, along with being a cry for help.
But let's start with a relatively simple question. You're writing, so will your main character be a male or a female? Or for that matter, neither of the above? (I'm not talking aliens here, humans can and do diversify beyond those two simple categories.)
|He is also gender flexible|
Then again, your main character(s) might be a given, depending on your personal experience and how you see your plot progressing. Or perhaps you were picturing fanfiction, so those roles become predefined for you. So let's look beyond that. Let's talk about the more secondary characters you create.
The wise mentor. The henchman (henchwoman?). Even the clerk in the store for that one scene you need. Why is that guy male? Or is he? Now, go further. What race? What religion? Do those things matter too? I think they do.
But maybe not for the reasons you think.
The problem, frankly, is that I'm a white male. I like to think I have enough of a feminine side to be able to write female characters, but I can't say I really understand what it's like to be a woman. So when we progress to race, or religion, we've gone right outside of my comfort zone. It feels like too much of a stretch for me to be able write about those differences properly. So I don't.
'It doesn't matter!' you might protest. 'We're all human! Deep down we all have the same passions and desires! Colours, beliefs, they don't matter!'
|How would this look be for a man?|
Don't answer that.
Which is also a reality that I'm not sure I can address. This seems to leave me with two options as far as the fantasy goes.
Either (A) I write a story including diverse types where "it doesn't matter" - not realistic, potentially offensive - or (B) I write a story where everyone looks white and acts like a liberal with only minor religious ties - which in some ways seems more offensive, but tends to be my default.
Quick aside: If you risk the third option, and write for realism, I applaud you. Do it. And if as a reader, you find yourself highly offended by an author's interpretation, take a second to ask yourself if they offended intentionally. (By which I mean a genuine misinterpretation as opposed to believing that some archaic stereotype is actually valid.) Because constructive criticism could be the difference between an advocate for your cause, and someone who decides they'll never write again.
Okay, back to what I've been personally struggling with.
CROSSING THE LINE
Here's where I need your help. I write a web serial about the personification of mathematics. (Yeah, I bring it up constantly. Sorry.) Gender, at least initially, was nicely covered off in that XX=1 is female, XY=1 is male, and from there functions and their inverses were branched to opposing genders. When I first started out, I also hand waved the all white cast as "this is the caucasian branch of a much larger canvas". Implying there's other versions of these characters out there.
But the story is evolving. My canvas is growing. My hand waving is starting to feel like, well, hand waving.
Thing is, while my serial is a fantasy, it's is based on mathematics. On reality. As I generate new characters and situations, the fact that I'm still working with an all white cast is starting to unsettle me. The last thing I want to do is exclude demographics from mathematics! So I think I've got four options. Which of these do you think is the best?
1) I keep going as I am. Someone once posted that they hadn't thought about race until I pointed it out. And maybe I'm the only one truly unsettled by the general lack of race or religion in the serial. It's just a story, right? I'm often overthinking things. Perhaps I just need reassurance.
2) I start to mix it up. Some new characters are black, or latino, what have you. Heck, I've already started taking liberties with gender, to the point where "Gaston Julia" and "Karl Weierstrass" might be rolling in their graves. And from the very beginning, I did make some of the characters left handed (anyone notice that?). Trouble is, I don't want to pigeonhole a mathematical construct as being "a black function" or "a native american function" - in fact, how would I even decide? Also, it feels like maybe it's a bit too late to pull this off elegantly.
3) I actually pull in a set of racial counterparts. White Para meets Black Para, et cetera, due to some plot convenience. Space-tearing convoluted parallel-world track, whatever. My main problem with this one goes back to my earlier feelings of them not being the same individual, even though mathematically, they are. There's fundamental differences here, ones that I'm not sure I can properly express. But maybe I can attempt it as a short story arc within a series? Is that worthwhile?
4) I create an allegory in my mathematical world. I've got a bit of a wedge for religion there already, in that most of them worship TPTB (Transcendental Pi-Type Beings), while others could prefer a single deity. For race, I'm not really sure - continued persecution of the step functions? As they are immigrants into the standard world of high school math relations? Or is that idea even more wildly offensive than option (1)? Contrarily, perhaps a story arc where Root magically becomes oriental, and functions start treating him differently... worse idea? Better?
|Admittedly, somewhat more boring as well.|
Two additional things to keep in mind here: First, the fact that I illustrate my own work. So not only do I have to get characters' motivations right, I have to draw them reasonably too. My anime-style cramps that, but since it's what I know, there's no going back now. Do you think that limits me? The second thing to bear in mind is the fact that I am a teacher.
As a teacher, I feel the need to be careful about what I'm broadcasting. If I were to write anything perceived as racist, some jerk out there might find a way to twist it back at my day job. Related to that, I grapple with mental diversity in my classroom all the time, so deliberately adding in personal thoughts on physicality and spirituality feels less than advantageous to me. Oh, and teaching doesn't allow for a lot of spare time to do the proper research. But maybe now I'm simply making excuses?
Race and religion. It feels like a controversial line to cross.
Am I wrong?
I know, I know, I've put WAY too much thought into a serial that only a couple dozen people actually read. But I'd appreciate any insights or thoughts about my concerns, along with which option you think might be best. Or least offensive. You can comment below. For those of you reading who are fellow writers, maybe this is also something for you to think about, if you're planning a long-running work, with an ever-expanding storybook universe.
Let me leave you with this final thought: Our world is diverse. It feels to me like our writing should reflect that.