Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Monday, January 21, 2013

Racism in novels

Art is supposed to imitate life. That said, a lot of what passes as realistic fiction must first of all be realistic. It must be believable and it must have believable, logical or even very possible explanations for why things happen. It has to be like the real world. The same goes for characters. They have to be realistic, like a real person would be.

And while as I write fiction, I try to make my characters as realistic as possible, there are certain things about my characters that I would not like or that makes me cringe. But I leave them there, because that is just the way my character is.

Even if my character is a racist.

That is the problem I ran into with the novel I am currently revising. My antagonist is a racist. He calls certain people certain names (though he doesn’t use the n-word for a black guy). This bothers me, of course, because I respect people of all colors. I am not a racist. I would not think such things or say such things.

But this particular character does. And it troubles me.

Now, this is one of the reasons why I’m sending the manuscript off to beta readers. I want to know what THEY think about my character’s racist attitude and comments. If it was up to me, I’d take that stuff out. But I understand that this is the way my character is. He is a racist. He is not a very pleasant man at all. I don’t think I would change my bad guy's character in any way if I removed the racist stuff, but maybe I could lighten it a bit. Make it happen just once instead of a few times.

In any event, I am going to leave it to my readers to decide. Then, of course, my editor then publisher will both decide. I’m not trying to be PC and I’m not afraid of a backlash from readers who don’t like that particular thing about my character. You can't please everybody, so I don't try to. I just want to be true to my characters – the good guys and bad guys – and let them be who they are, even if I don’t like that particular thing about them.

So that’s why I kept it in the manuscript when sending it off. We’ll see if it will be kept in the story when the book gets published.


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