A way with worlds: 31 - Losing the Race
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
Years ago, someone told me
Star Trek was racist.
This, of course, stunned me.
The original series broke down barriers. It dealt with racism.
The Next Generation series dealt with issues too, and . . .
No, said this person, the
racism was directed towards aliens, many of whom were
stereotypical in some way. Humans were diverse, aliens were very
much alike, in this persons opinion, each having a set of
stereotypical qualities. In short, stereotyped by the writers the
way some people may stereotype ethnic groups.
This got me thinking. It
stuck with me for a long time.
Later, I heard complaints
that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace had racial stereotypes, using
classic stereotypes to define races. I heard arguments about it .
I thought some more.
Over time, I came to realize
an interesting fact: you could be racist towards your own
creations. You can make your races in your worlds stereotypical.
Fictional worlds were filled with this.
When this happens it can be
boring and glaringly obvious and limit people's ability to enjoy
the story as well as your ability to write it. It could clog your
mind with your own limitations.
So, of course, I decided to
write a column on it.
The problem is that when creating whole new races is
that people tend to make them stereotypical: "race X is
violent, race Y is wise, etc."
This, in the end, is often
just creating by stereotypes - I need a wise race, I need a
forest race, I need a villain race. Too often the stereotypes
applied to characters are applied to races - villain, brain,
warrior, miser, etc.
First of all, let's be
honest - this is just laziness. It avoids fine detail, it avoids
good explanations, it avoids really exploring the details that
enrich your story. When it happens to characters, it can have
negative effects on the depth and believability of your work -
when it happens to entire races, it amplifies these negative
effects. One character being unbelievable is understandable - an
entire part of your universe being unbelievable is quite another.
Also, it can become rather
boring for the reader "Oh, look, a Kurakian War Mage. Wow, I
wonder if he's going to be the villain . . . wow, another
kidnapped princess, what do you know." Stereotyped
characters are at least one person, but a stereotyped race can be
an endless source of potential stereotypes, giving you a crutch
that can end up making your story less credible and boring your
readers (and possibly you).
Now non-sentient races may be more stereotypical because
they're in an ecological nice. However, in dealing with sentient
races, races that are intelligent and adaptable, it becomes
harder and harder to explain.
Take a look at the one
sentient species we know: humans. We exist in every environment
on our planet. The difference between a New Yorker and a South
American native hunter could practically be the difference
between species. Our intellect, our sentience, gives us the
ability to adapt.Next Page
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