Monday, August 13, 2007

Curious Cat Question

Just a question for you people: when you read, what is the stand-in person narrator in your head? Is the narrator caucasian? Brown-skinned or black? Is he male? Is she female? Does it depend on the race and gender of the writer?

I ask this question after coming from reading two of SF writer John Scalzi's posts about writing color-blind stories. Ironically, I came away from reading these two posts wondering if there's really a point to having gender-or race- issues to a story (unless its required) or its more of the reader's bias being brought to the table.

For example, Scalzi's influence to his novel Old Man's War was grandmaster of SF Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Ironically, when I read this, I never knew Heinlein's protagonist Rico was a Filipino until the end of the story, especially with the mention of Ramon Magsaysay as one of the starships going to battle. But while I was reading it, it never mattered what nationality Rico was. Fast-forward to now: while reading Scalzi's book, I obviously knew most of his characters were Americans or male/female (depending on the character). However, whether or not they were black or white didn't matter for me-- unless the story's situation required that it be noted.

This in turn led me to realize the idea of gender in stories while reading Claire Dudman's "Eczema" in Logorrhea. In the story, it's not clear whether the protagonist is male or female and for a while, I made a guess based on the thinking pattern of the narrator that it was a male (it was in the 1st-person narrative).

What do you think?


Charles said...

It mostly depends on the author. Usually it's just a male or female thing, or alien on certain extremes (because we read SF), depending on the writing style. Some writers I mistake for female even when the narrator is male and vice versa. Aside from that no other details seem necessary really (i.e. race, skin color), unless they're talking with an accent or it's integral to the story (somehow, you know Solomon Kane is a Caucasian for example).

banzai cat said...

Too true. Still, it makes me wonder if I'm missing out on something when others make an issue of this thing.

JP said...

More importantly, what's the default narrator in your head when you *write* a story?

I think, notable exceptions aside, it's very hard to really write as someone of a different race or culture, or to write about them without consciously meaning to. I am not sure how useful it is to strive to work against this unless it is somehow integral to your story.

banzai cat said...

jp: Me? Depends really. Before I write any story, I try to create the character of the narrator/protagonist beforehand. So even if I don't make it clear to the reader who or what is the narrator/protagonist at the onset of the story, hopefully as the reader reads, they'd get an idea already.

As for writing about different race or culture, that's true though I remember Kameron Hurley lambasting those who would try not to. But yeah, meself I think it all depends on the story.

JP said...

Well, I think part of the problem with Hurley's point in this instance is (and I'm sure she would be horrified to think so), a sort of blithe white assumption that they can actually try to write about another race than their own and succeed at it. It's probably morally improving for them to *try* it, but their strike rate is going to be a lot worse than if they simply write about what they know.

What's even more arrogant than assuming your race as a default in a setting that doesn't demand it, is assuming you can write convincingly about everyone else's race.

banzai cat said...

I agree. Ironically, the thing about the whole issue is that all these people arguing about reading/writing and using white protagonist templates yadda-yadda-- and I cannot relate a damn thing to it. My skin hasn't turned pasty-white as far as I know.