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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Part 2 of Worldscaping: Writing Race in the Fantasy World

Before we get started on today's fantasy topic, let's all take a moment to be completely relaxed. Take a look at this kitten. It isn't worried about writing. It's so cuddly and soft and sleepy. Be the kitty, reader. Be the kitten.

Shh, nothing scary happening here.

How are we feeling? Calm? Content? Practically purring?

Good. Now let's get started.

Looking at the real world, the schmantasy world, you may notice that there are certain physical types that tend to prevail in certain areas. This can include visible traits such as eye color, hair texture, face shape, body mass distribution, and skin color. Yes, my readers. I am talking, in part, about race.


No, don't run away! Come back and keep reading. Yes, I know this post seems scary, and talking about race is generally a no-no, and where did the funny go? But hey, remember the kitten? That was cute, right?

Despite what we're bombarded with on a daily basis -- the idea that race is a third rail topic that never ends -- well, race isn't scary. Discussing it is not going to leave you electrocuted and in the path of the 7:45 to the Loop (Yeah! Chicago reference!). Having concepts like race exist in your novel is not something that should terrify you. It is something that you should be thinking about, because your novel is set in a world that evolution probably had something to do with. But no, you say, your world is too progressive to care about things like race?  Fine. It's your world, you are the god there. You can create it however you want, and a racist-free society is part of your worldscape. But race can still exist -- it doesn't have to be a source of conflict, it can exist as observation.

(If your world is not just racism-free but is actually race-free, I encourage you to take a look at why it's race free. Off-hand, assuming a physical world that came to existence in a way not completely different from our own, I can think of two reasons for a raceless world. 1- All the races have blended together due to a long, long history of extensive immigration and stigma-free interracial marriage, and 2- Genocide and/or eugenics)*.

"Race" in the non-sociological sense is the prevalence of certain physical characteristics, and is typically identified by phenotype**.  Groups of people, particularly in a world without ready travel by plane or train or automobile (heheh), are going to tend to have similar traits due to the gene pool. Those traits may identify them as a race. Do the people around your character share similar characteristics? This is an important piece of your worldscape. I know from this hint that there world you've made either doesn't have a lot of travel or immigration, or that certain characteristics are selected by the people, etc. Or, perhaps there are a lot of different races represented in your cast of characters? I now know that your world, or at least where you character lives, most likely has a lot of immigration and travel.

And knowing this, you know what I want to know next? That's right. I want to know where your character fits into it all.

* I just thought of a third reason. Your world might appear to be race free because the world you're in is just a small segment of the world. You think this would have occurred to me sooner since this is the situation for my characters, but ... nope.
**Aka: looks. Why use the big word? Because we're talking about writing and race, which has sent me into college essay mode. Also, see above.

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