Representation Matters Pt. II: “But why don’t you make your own characters?!”

Here we go, everybody. I’m thankful that there were bloggers who liked the first blog post in my Representation Matters series on the Ospreyshire blog. I wasn’t sure how people would take to my thoughts and personal experiences, but I’m glad there are those willing to read about them.

Let’s get to part 2 of this series.

I mentioned this in passing, but I remember seeing/hearing this quote which I see as a retort for those who have legitimate gripes with either the lack of (positive) representation or racial stereotypes: “Make your own characters!”. Those same people who say that are those who don’t have to deal with being derogated by their complexion en masse, let’s be honest here. It really shows an entitlement which inadvertently proved that study about TV watching in that previous post right if you really think about it.

Oh, I decided to heed those words, but not for the reasons that they would expect.

Some of you know this, but I have written multiple books. I have covered multiple genres and book formats such as novels, novellas, novelettes, and cell phone novels. One of my goals when I started writing the first Revezia book back in 2014 was to come up with multi-ethnic casts. With that particular series, it deconstructs and inverts so many tropes and cliches associated with fantasy, fairy tales, and one might argue a certain “canon” of sorts. The main character of the first book Terminal Rescue is Shamakani. He’s a black prince who leads a search/rescue operation for various healers in the area, is a talented swordsman, and he has a serious attitude even though he can be too serious at times to his detriment (I’m not going to write a Marty Stu character). In that series alone, I have protagonists of all ethnic groups and walks of life and that’s also the same with Hollandus Landing which is the first part of my cell phone novel series (It’s also free if you want. Just saying.). It was exhilarating creating these characters, but even then, I still had to be respectful. I’m thankful to have grown up in a multiracial city and I’ve talked with my friends to see if something was okay or not when it came to writing characters outside of my ethnic persuasion. This may sound cheesy, but I wanted to have that sense of humanity by having dynamic characters who are a certain ethnicity instead of just having their race define them. Trust me, there’s a difference.

Recently, the character I created who really helped increase my self-esteem a bit is Kasamba from Revezia: Sika Uvira Chronicle and the Revezia Electrum trilogy (Sika Uvira Chronicle is also free). Kasamba is a DIY inventor who can create various gadgets. He’s very intelligent, but also self-loathing and underestimates his own genius. Instead of being some muscle-bound freak, he is on the thinner side and uses his smarts and inventions whenever he is in a bad situation. I gave Kasamba some quirks like being really into indie movies while giving internalized snarky commentary on the state of mainstream films in a wink wink nudge nudge kind of way. His name is actually Tshiluba (a Congolese language) for “To Console” because writing him was a consolation to me and he’s able to do so for others in ways he doesn’t realize. After finding out I was of part Congolese descent, I thought I would incorporate that into this character and even his environment. He’s from a modern city on planet Revezia, has lots of decent technology equivalent to what we have on earth currently, and there’s not an ounce of poverty porn in his hometown! Not everything in Africa looks like mud huts, war zones, jungles, or the Pride Lands, GOT IT?! I’ve never even been to the continent and even I know that.

I guess by me creating my own characters, stories, or even art, this was therapy of sorts for me. I felt empowered by making some wonderful characters that I hope others could appreciate. If one person tells me that they really liked this hero or that hero especially if it’s someone like them, then I’d be beyond blessed. I would encourage you to give it a try even if it’s just a short story or drawing your own original characters if you ever felt that way. Mainstream media wasn’t going to placate me, so I have to take things in my own hands through my fiction, music, poetry, etc.

Hope you enjoyed reading this. What are your thoughts on representation? Have you felt like you had trouble relating to so many fictional characters? How do you discuss the concept of positive representation to others?

10 thoughts on “Representation Matters Pt. II: “But why don’t you make your own characters?!”

  1. Well said!

    Even if writers loathe the terms ‘diverse’ and ‘representation’ and continue write stories about people who look and act like them (and this is ANY author), the simple fact is the very people excluded–those of different cultures and ethnicities, physical and mental challenges, personality quirks or traumatic life-journeys–read books too. (And watch TV and movies.) They deserve to see honest depictions, not half-ass caricatures or stereotypes, and are walking away more from books and other mediums which don’t provide that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Felicia!

      Yes! That was so on point and I couldn’t agree more. It’s part of the reason why I started writing my own stories years ago. It’s frustrating seeing insulting depictions of certain groups even to this day. Some of them try to be slick by incorporating those stereotypes on non-human characters, too. I do my best to ask people of different ethnic groups I know to see if something is good not that I would stereotype them in any way. I’m overjoyed that you care about this issue as well. People who have been and are excluded deserve to be represented well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish my writing could contain more accurate, inspiring representations. But it can’t.

    It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I can’t. I grew up in southeastern Ohio. On a farm. Our idea of diversity was raising both sheep _and_ goats. Or livestock _and_ grain.

    But I dearly want to inspire people through my writing. Not _my_ people — there is no such thing. Just people.

    The characters in the novel I’m writing now have names representing a wide variety of backgrounds: Melchizedek Conrad, Matsushita Sachi, Zhao Kun, Linda Southfield, Helmine Stein, and Atticus Porter, for example. Yet, I lack the experience to represent their perspectives, if those perspectives are significantly different from mine.

    Interestingly, taking theology in college helped me be more open to different perspectives. It was almost like viewing humanity through a meta-layer. I could see how humans were human, regardless of their age, location, or any other factors.

    That being said…

    “Not everything in Africa looks like mud huts, war zones, jungles, or the Pride Lands, GOT IT?! ”

    This is a fantastic point. I might lack the experience to convincingly portray a perspective that’s very different from mine, but there’s no excuse for lazy research. If I portray a place, I should research that place. I mean, we have Google Maps satellite view, for heaven’s sake!

    “Have you felt like you had trouble relating to so many fictional characters? ”

    One of the great side effects of loving science fiction is that it’s helped me accept a wide variety of viewpoints. I was enthusiastic about Children of Time, and the main characters were spiders who had been uplifted to sentience — while keeping their spider view of the world.

    Another human’s perspective seems kinda relatable by comparison!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand. Granted, I didn’t grow up in a rural environment, so that’s foreign to me, but I can kind of see where you’re coming from. It’s not your fault when it comes to your environment growing up.

      That’s great how you want to inspire people. I certainly want to do the same, too.

      Very nice! I like using ethnic names for characters as well. Behind the Name is such an awesome website for example. Those sound like great names. Here are some examples of characters I’ve written so far in some of my books. Yamikani Mtendere, Seiya Mizuno, Cyrilla Zakarian, Liliwen of Providence Isles, Koralo Zomaya-Malkea, Pilar Reynosa, Benesha “Benny” Ngondu, Durdona Babayeva, etc.

      That’s very good. I don’t think I knew you took a theology course. I went to a Christian university, so I took multiple theology/bible-based courses even though I didn’t major in anything involving that field (it was just a requirement). That’s great how you want you see humanity in others. I do wish some of my classmates had that kind of dignity back then.

      “This is a fantastic point. I might lack the experience to convincingly portray a perspective that’s very different from mine, but there’s no excuse for lazy research. If I portray a place, I should research that place. I mean, we have Google Maps satellite view, for heaven’s sake! ”

      THANK YOU! Seriously, there is no excuse for this with Google Maps or at the very least a basic image search for cityscapes and everything. I based Kasamba’s hometown on Brazzaville and Pointe-Noir in Congo-Brazzaville. Check out these images and tell me they look like the imagery they shove in mainstream movies/TV shows based in Africa.

      Pointe-Noir: https://images.app.goo.gl/itYM59iB6ZgYKG9v5
      Brazzaville: https://images.app.goo.gl/TBo8rEK69VrTgKw26

      Interesting points about relating to different characters. Sci-Fi when done right can certainly lend that effect.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you very much. Most of the characters I mentioned are from either the Revezia or Hollandus Landing series.

        I know, right? I even saw a couple of tourism videos in Brazzaville and that looked like a city I want to visit. There were so many modern landmarks, tourist sites, and they even showed a mall that looked like something straight out of America or Europe. The imagery alone could shatter many stereotypes of what people think an African locale would look like and I know there are other cities similar to that in the continent.

        Liked by 1 person

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