- by Gitabushi
In this post by author Jon Mollison, he says:
My current work in progress, tentatively titled Adventure Constant, features a hero of undefined race (character insert vagueness for the win!)
Is undefined race/vagueness a win?
Personally, I think it is, but I’m not sure how strong the foundation is for my view.
One thing that often irritates me in fiction is when the author feels the need to describe the character. It seemed like there was a string of books I read in the 80s where every character managed to look in a reflective surface within the first few pages, to give an excuse to provide a description of the viewpoint character’s appearance. Maybe it was just a temporary fad, maybe it was just luck that I ran into a string of them, or maybe it was merely an artifact of memory adding coherency where none actually exists (meaning, I remembered a string of stories simply because the ones that lacked that mechanism didn’t stick in my memory).
But as irritating as that was, it was even more irritating when a character was introduced without any description, and then the author would provide an attribute later in the book that contradicted the image I had independently developed in my head.
To me, then it is better to not provide a description at all.
In the story I’m working on now, a major plot element is that the Chinese martial arts skills the protagonist acquires are restricted to Chinese only (by the police elements of the secret societies formed around the martial arts skills). That means the main character cannot be Chinese.
I could make the character be indeterminate. Although I don’t believe a reader can only enjoy a story about a person of the same race, gender, orientation, etc., as themselves, I do think a character of relative indeterminate identity can be less jarring to the reader, making willful suspension of disbelief easier.
On the other hand, I could make the main character explicitly Sub-Continent Indian. The location of the story (the Cupertino section of San Jose, California) has a significant Indian presence (from the top high school population, about 40% are Chinese, about 40% are Indian, and about 20% other). For both geographic and historic reasons, there is some additional rivalry and even animosity between the Chinese and Indian peoples. And, Life of Pi notwithstanding, there aren’t many main characters of the Indian race. If I have a story that intimately involves the two largest national races (about 1.3 billion each), it seems like that could be a nice way to reach a potentially lucrative market with up to 2.6 billion possible readers.
What are your thoughts?