I usually avoid describing the race/ethnicity of characters so readers can immerse themselves in the story-world and ‘see’ the characters in whatever race/ethnicity they expect based on their own cultural surroundings.

How does this affect your interpretation and mental image of the characters?  Did you even notice this before I brought it up?  Do you ‘see’ a mix of characters that matches your own cultural surroundings?

27 thoughts on “Colour-Blind?

  1. I noticed it, but I haven’t really thought about it. Mostly, I just appreciated the opportunity to let the images build as the story developed. Personally, I prefer the ‘just barely enough detail is just right’ approach. The ‘I must describe every molecule of every character in every situation for my readers so they won’t get it wrong’ approach is not my favorite.

    Ayn Rand, for all the good things about her writing that I liked, drove me flaming berserk with her endless descriptions of EVERYTHING. I suspect that she was paid by the word. Or maybe by weight. The typed, double-spaced, single-sided manuscript for A/S must have weighed three hundred pounds.

    I don’t need nearly as much time to read Atlas Shrugged as I used to. I can skip whole chapters at a time now and just skim much of the rest of the book…and never miss even one important detail. Too much is definitely too much.

    I do like some sort of clues about characters, though. If a character ‘had to duck to enter a doorway,’ I know right off that the character might be somewhat taller than average. If the same character ‘had to turn sideways and squeeze through the double doors,’ I get a subtle hint that, perhaps, a shipment containing several cases of Nutri-Systems products might be a nice gift item…from an anonymous benefactor, more than likely.

    I like enough info to discern a bit about how the author sees a character, or at least a ballpark idea. Again, some wiggle room is good. However, if my mind’s eye tells me that a particular person is, say, tall, slender, male, and African American, but a conversation with the author indicates that the character was, in fact, a short, pudgy, female Scandinavian albino, then maybe we have a disconnect somewhere. Just sayin’…

    The images I get from the Never Say Spy series are quite vivid. The stories and the style just work for me. They are, quite simply, the new standard by which other such works are judged.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I tend to picture the main characters in my mind’s eye and to me they are Caucasian, mostly because Aydan most assuredly is and because in my mind’s eye Kane looks a lot like Paul Gross at the same age. (I was a fan of Due South and several of his movies.) It probably is also because other than Native Americans and a very few Japanese there was no other race than Caucasian in the place where I grew up. Since that place was so similar to the Calgary area it is what I picture when I read. Actually, I just don’t think about it as the action keeps me busy.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Honestly I’m colour-blind in life, I really don’t care if someone is black or white.

    I found out today not only does my boss have metal pins in his spine he also has a false leg. Ok I work from home so I have never met him but still. And i can say I ‘see him’ no different.

    I like having artist licence to see the characters my way. On occasions the change depending on my mood. Oh and the dreams image I have of the characters can change too.

    I do have this thing in life where I picture someone before I meet them just to see how accurate my mind’s eye is. Sometimes I’m right

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I am Caucasian and the majority around me are also Caucasian, with that said unless otherwise noted everyone in the books tend to start out what I know, Caucasian. Then the author begins his/her magic. This can be spelled out in black and white the race of the character or in the description or even the name of the character. Sometimes the author slowly leaves little clues through out the book as to the race of the character. I like this because having a monochromatic cast of characters is dull. Just like personalities and mannerisms a persons race adds to a character.
    There are times the author leaves it up to the reader but even then they tend to steer the reader in a direction. Could be subconsciously but somehow the characters get formed with a distinct race/ethnicity. Rarely do I finish reading a book that is all one race even if the author left it up to my imagination. As I said I live in a mostly Caucasian area and interact with mostly the same but am able to have the characters in a book be a multi race cast. Therefore some where in the book the author led me to come to a conclusion on what race the person is….even if it is different for others who read the same thing.

    As for the NSS Series. I never noticed the lack of race description until you mentioned it. I do have in my mind the main characters in the book mostly Caucasian but there are some minor characters that are not.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Like @Laurel, I’m a Caucasian surrounded by Caucasians so I tend to unconsciously project my worldview on fictional characters when I’m reading, too, at least until the author gives me cues to the contrary. (And it’s nice when they do – I like a colourful world!)

    As @Janet pointed out, Calgary and the small towns around it are still predominantly white even though they’re more diverse now than they used to be. But like her, when I’m caught up in a story I’m not thinking about how the characters look; I’m just gobbling up the action!

    And now that I think of it, I don’t really hold a mental image of characters while I read. When I consider the hundreds of books I’ve read, there are only a very few characters I can visualize with any degree of detail. Hmmm. Is that just me? Does anybody else read without visualizing characters, or do you hold a strong mental image of characters while you read?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I let the characters and the story tell me. When I start a new story or series, I just go with it. If the author gives specific details, they stick, and so that’s the foundation I build the rest of the images on. If not, then I’ll have my own take on everyone after a while. Not a large deal with me either way. If the story is good enough, the characters will take care of themselves. And from the other direction, strong, well-written characters can carry a weak story for quite a while…but the story still needs to pick back up again and pull its own weight.

      In my stuff, I’ve tried to give the most important impressions or hints up front for the characters I’ve written about. One of the major characters is a young lady who is quite a bit smaller in stature than her contemporaries. Her parents haven’t really let her grow up, either, so she’s having to prove herself every step of the way. (And she does, by the way. She is a lot of fun to write.) For the other majors, I’ve tried to tell the reader (or imply) enough to get them started in the right direction. And for others, I just sort of let it be a surprise. I guess we’ll see how that works out. 🙂

      Bottom line for me is the story. The characters then become whoever they need to be for the story to work. Yep, it’s all about the story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This just in. Just received the preliminary feedback from the two authors who read my submission for the writers’ conference I’m attending this weekend. (Drum roll, please…)

        They liked it! A lot, apparently. But then from each came the, “So now you need to do this and fix that and this and that and all the other…”

        It’s all good. I remember the design review meetings in my early days as an engineer. We’d be looking over someone’s design for some sort of widget, and when someone said, “May I offer a small suggestion for a change in this area right here?” the designer would always hear it as, “May I axe-murder your firstborn child?”

        That won’t be a problem for me. Or not anymore at least. 🙂

        Wish me well, y’all. And call for backup. I’m goin’ in!

        Liked by 2 people

              1. I hope the popcorn was better than the drama, Laurel! 🙂

                Lots of good classes, panel discussions, and Q&A at the seminar. I learned a lot of new stuff and reaffirmed some stuff from the fiction-writing class I took long ago. I didn’t ‘pitch’ my story this time because there were no publishers or agents there who dealt with ‘epic fantasy,’ as I have found that my work is now termed. Also, I’ve got both feet in a bucket because I don’t have a clear-cut and carved-in-stone outline for the next two books in the trilogy that such work pretty much has to be these days in order for anyone even to consider.

                I still have some work to do, or so it appears. But, I am neither bummed nor discouraged.

                As one of the presenters said, “The FIRST draft belongs to you, the author. So just go for it. Pour it all out on paper, every idea, every word, every emotion, every tiny nuance; let it all hang out. Get completely crazy with it. It’s all yours. Enjoy every ounce of pleasure that you can derive from it; soak up the entire totality of the experience. But remember: The SECOND draft and all the others through the final, published product BELONG TO THE EDITOR AND TO YOUR READERS.

                “When the first draft is complete, the fun’s over and the work begins. Write for yourself; work for your readers.”

                Makes perfect sense that way. Doesn’t sound like much fun, though it does make sense.

                But Hemingway might’ve been on to something, too. He said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”

                I’ll try it both ways and let y’all know. 🙂

                Liked by 2 people

                1. We’ll expect a detailed report! 😉 I’ve discovered that the only thing I do well when drunk is… drink more. And eat. And shoot 8-ball, but only for that magical 10 minutes in which I achieve OBSL (Optimum Beer Saturation Level).

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. I suspect that out of an eight-hour drunken writing binge, I’d probably get about that same ten-minute period of magic–and a two-day hangover.

                    Hm. I may have just talked myself out of that whole “write drunk” thing. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I just did. 🙂

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Never tried writing drunk…must put it on my bucket list. Problem with me is my “drunk” does not hit gradually…more a sober to oblivious with no partial in between. One should never get on a device that has internet access when in that type of oblivious state and writing on paper is not even in the scope of reality by then.

                      Liked by 2 people

                2. Even though the drama was missing, sounds like it was a productive time. Interesting, the first draft being yours thing. That would have been a golden nugget to pass on to my boys when I taught them writing. It was PAINFUL for all of us, especially when the red pen came out and the corrective surgery began. My daughter gets it though, she has mentioned loving writing but only the first draft.

                  Liked by 2 people

  6. You brought this up months ago in reference to Blue Eddie. My bias really shows here. I assume unless the race is mentioned, that the person is caucasian. I have made assumptions about Calgary being very white. I know that Toronto has a huge immigrant and mixed race population, but I’d have guessed that a small town 2 hour’s drive from Calgary would be almost entirely white.

    I can’t explain why I would make such assumptions since I live in a neighborhood that has more blacks, Hispanics, Asians, indigenous people and immigrants than Caucasians who’s ancestors been in the country for generations. My own siblings are married to or living with people from around the globe and of different races- only one of the seven of us has married someone from his own race and region. My own history has had me dating men of a variety of races too. The very white suburb where I get most of my students from is very white, but has a lot of people who are visiting or have immigrated from India.

    I tend to be a bit colorblind to race. I had a lighter-skinned African-American student for more than a year before I realized she wasn’t fully caucasian. My best friend was my best friend for a number of years before I learned she was born in Puerto Rico and that English was her second language. She likes that I don’t think of her as anything but a fellow artist, another woman, and someone who likes the same movies I like. My brother-in-law is an opera singer who is African-American. Before my sister and he had their son, he was so ignorant of his own race’s music and culture that I was a bit shocked. I think culturally he was was whiter than I was then. Now their son keeps him more in tune with contemporary music and urban life.

    I do like that you’ve given this some thought and leave many descriptions vague enough that perhaps a person of another race or from another culture would be able to make their own assumptions about the characters you haven’t described in detail.

    As far as imagining what a character looks like- I don’t form a strong picture, but whatever I do imagine, it is NEVER like the stupid photos of some model on the cover. The models don’t look like normal people, and romance novels are the worst of all. The models all look like there are no thoughts in their brains, and couldn’t solve the mystery of why there is no ice in their glass, just water.

    I especially hate it when the author’s description of the hero/heroine has nothing in common with the cover illustration. I appreciate when the book cover designer just puts an evocative landscape or a silhouette, if they must have a figure. Even then, you can tell the figure is over-groomed. I really like your new and improved covers. No more baby girl pink lipstick and nail polish and pouty lips.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The disconnect between story and image has always been one of my pet peeves about covers, too. I know designers have to use some artistic license, but when the cover image is not even close to what the author has specifically described, it drives me nuts!

      Interestingly, I haven’t been bothered by that issue since I started reading e-books – I only see the cover once, in a small black-and-white version, and then I’m into the story without ever seeing the cover again. That’s one thing I miss about paper books – with them I always remember the cover, title, and author’s name. With e-books, I can gobble up the whole story without ever being reminded of the author’s name, so I have a harder time remembering who I’ve been reading.

      Progress… *sigh*

      I wish they’d write the e-reading programs so you’d get a flash of the cover/title/author each time you resumed reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You need a kobo, lol, when in sleep mode you get the cover art. And I’m pretty sure I get the name of the book at the bottom as I read but I could be wrong, it needs to charge and I’m currently in a power cut no power for at least another 2hrs and my tablet is rapidly running out of power and its starting to get darker still its time to dig out some candles, pity I’m alone really

        Liked by 1 person

      2. One of the presenters at the writing workshop expressed that same pet peeve, Diane. She wanted a button to push on the e-screen to recall the cover picture, title, and author. “Just because it needs to be done,” was her justification. Works for me, y’all.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow…I must be the odd one out. I have strong images of the characters in the series. If I think about it, I can even add a to them.
    Aydan: Caucasian; Irish & Norse Ancestry with a healthy does of Canadian blood mixed in.
    I’ve always seen Aydan with a strong Norse heritage, the whole “what you have, hold”
    which includes protecting your “folk”. Of course, Irish, for the temper and the red hair
    and a healthy dose to the Canadian heritage she is very loyal and steadfast to.
    John: Caucasian; full on Scottish Canadian. Why??? Mainly the build…tall and bulky…
    handsome. (Plus…maybe I wouldn’t mind seeing him in a kilt??? To Scottish Canadians
    do that?)
    Arnie: Caucasian, and although I know it isn’t right….Texan!!! LOL I bet that is totally due to
    my hearing a southern drawl when he speaks to Aydan…and that he looks and sounds
    like Sam Elliott!!!!
    Carl: Mixed Race; darker skin, and tight curly hair. Thoroughly blended to be uniquely
    himself and thoroughly Canadian.

    Pretty much everyone else would be Caucasian….mostly because, like was mentioned above, I am a Caucasian surrounded by Caucasians!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Now that I’ve given it some thought, the names given to characters is a big clue to their ethnic heritage. You read some author’s books and everyone has a name that places them from England, Ireland or Scotland. John Kane- Caucasian, father’s side from England probably. Arnold Hellman-of German extraction, again, more likely than not, Caucasian. If the last name ends with -son as in Peterson, Anderson, Jorgensen, etc. they are probably Scandinavian, and Caucasian, if not blond. I am familiar with the sounds that are common in most European countries, Polish, Russian, and Greek names, common Islamic names, Hindu names, Asian names and differentiate between Chinese and Hmong, for example. There are certain first names that are common to African American children a generation or two younger than I. Those parents often name their children three syllable names that end in a vowel or sometimes a Y that is pronounced. (Unlike Isabelle where the last E is silent.) Often these names are absolutely unique. Black people from my generation or older had more “normal” American first names unless they used a name more associated with a grandparent or great-grandparent’s generation, although plenty of white kids were also named after a grandparent or an old aunt or uncle, so with older folks you can’t be as certain what race a person is by their name. However if a character’s first name were Takisha my mental picture would be an African- American woman younger than me by at least 20 years and a man named Omar would be most likely from a country in the Middle East or Northern Africa.

    I’ve never run into a woman named Aydan before, and if I had to guess, it is either Irish or you feminized the male name pronounced the same. Kelly seems either Irish or English, but with the red hair and princess skin it reinforces the Irish stereotype. We’re we ever given a last name for Blue Eddie? Edward is so British, unless it is spelled differently, but still it is a rather Caucasian name.

    When you come up with a new character, does the name come immediately, or the personality? Do you have a mental picture of the character’s appearance/ behavior and then name him/her? Did Skidmark come first or the aging pothead?

    I picture Charles Stemp as Caucasian even though he could just as easily be Hispanic or black or mixed race, but if he were mixed race it might be easier to pin down his biological father, since I imagine any old Hippy holdouts to be Caucasian and non-Hispanic. Maybe they Jewish by birth and culture, not affiliation. (A lot of Jewish hippys from New York ended up in Minnesota, but the California Hippies stay on the West Coast) I just can’t picture a black Moonbeam Meadow Sky wearing tie-dyed caftans with dreadlocks or a big ol’ Afro from the ’80s. Skidmark I picture as a tall skinny white guy with long grey thin hair in a tiny scraggly ponytail and an untrimmed beard who would have poor skin color due to his breathing issues. I can visualize him wearing a tee shirt and worn out jeans or overalls and a faded bandana. I can’t remember the other hippy partner’s name just now, (Karma Wolf Song?) but he seems to me to have been described as being in prime condition for his age, but race/ethnic origin not specified nor apparent with a hippy name. What great characters!


    1. Thanks, El Tea! Usually the character comes first and then a name just pops into my head, but (uncharacteristically) the name “Skidmark” came first – I thought it was such a fabulous nickname that I had to write a character into it. Originally I had planned to make Skidmark one of Weasel’s cronies, but then there was a perfect place for a Skidmark at the commune, and in he went!

      “Aydan” is Irish and the loose Gaelic translation is “little fire”. It can be spelled Aidan, Aiden, Aydan, Ayden; and I’ve met both male and female Aidans of varying spelling. Aydan is the only name for which I researched the origins – I wanted a good fit for her personality!

      Eddie’s last name is Carlson, so I guess that puts him into the Scandihoovian category.

      The origin of the surname Helmand is undocumented, but I’ve always thought Arnie might have a bit of Métis heritage, and I always hear a soft Newfie twang in his “voice”. That’s just my cultural bias, though, because as @Julie points out, she can “hear” Arnie perfectly as a Texan! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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