The Finest Lines

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Lately, the big thing in fantasy writer advice blogs and articles is about not stereotyping.

It’s always been a trenchant criticism – writers, especially writers new to writing, tend to add in cardboard cut-outs, rather than fully fleshed-out people. It’s almost unavoidable with very minor characters (innkeepers as fat slobs with no brains to speak of; prostitutes with hearts of gold; bribable city guardsmen; the list goes on) but, as we are all aware, unforgivable for those constructs who play more than a one-liner, walk-on role.

And that’s as it should be, because it’s lazy. Even for those peripheral characters that exist only to get the protagonist a hot meal or hide her from the villain in some squalid back room, it’s pretty boring. You know what? An innkeeper could be lean and hungry, prostitutes occasionally are unfeeling, and at least some soldiers have more morals than an alley-cat.

I’m not going to harangue people about writing women as whole people, because no matter which side of the question you fall on, I’m pretty sure you are at least marginally aware that a) women are humans and b) they read fantasy novels and so are part of your prospective market, whether you like it or not.

When it comes to nationality stereotyping, well, much to many people’s chagrin, people of every race and creed are not remaining silent. Weirdly enough, nerdism and geekery are not the especial preserve of white boyz, and – like everyone else – people of colour want to see themselves represented in the books they read.

Oh, but not just that. They want to see themselves represented fairly. Realistically.

Asians would like to see themselves – not “math whiz shy girl” or “kung fu master”.

They’d like to be real.

Black people want to be more than athletic tokens or sassy bitches.

I know. Mindboggling.

Or not.

Here’s the exercise for today, children.

Write your whole story as completely white and male, but leave out all but the most minimal physical descriptions. Make them all – every single character – as real and fleshed out, as rounded and complete as you can. Go all the way: give them the talents, skills and attributes – and give them the flaws – that all human flesh is heir to.

Then go back and mix it up: change the genders and the pronouns around. Assign random racial designations. Change only what is absolutely imperative about their physical descriptions to accomplish this.

Heck: throw someone onto permanent crutches, and rewrite their part to make that a damned advantage.

See how it shakes out.

I’m guessing you’ll have just written the best book you are capable of, bar none.

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