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Wow, that was helpful.  I have one more question that is very important and that is how do you descrive a character that is African-American in a story set far in the future (it is a Scifi based story).  It is easy for me to describe all of the characters to give a mental picture, but this one can be an iffy one and I don't want to offend anyone.  

Before I offer something for this, Ed, I want you to ask yourself something:

Generally speaking, how much does your reader actually NEED to know about a character's appearance?  I mean, beyond the basics of gender and age, what's really vital?

I think that in 99 cases out of 100, the answer is going to be, "Well... nothing, really."

Even race, really, isn't vital to know in most cases.  If race is going to be an "issue" in the story, then sure, it's probably important to reveal.  But beyond that, it's not particularly relevant.  

I remember once I read this book (can't recall which one, now) where it was revealed something like 2/3 of the way through that the protagonist was black.  It was something of a surprise to me.  I had no reason to think this before it was stated, and I remember thinking at the time, "Geez... you'd think something like that would be clear."  But then I realized, "No, why SHOULD it be clear?  No reason at all, really."  And I think the writer may have introduced this fact so late in the story specifically to jolt the reader out of his/her complacent assumptions.

So.  Now that I've gotten you thinking on whether or not it's even necessary to reveal much of anything about appearance, let me tell you how to reveal race in a non-offensive way.

Personally, I think the best way to do it is to work "offense" into it.  MAKE race an "issue" in the story.  Have a racist character make a disparaging remark.  That's one way.

Another would be to have a really prejudiced butthead shown in a scene, and then have your character think something like, "This is the kind of guy who, 200 years ago, would've forced me to sit at the back of the bus."  

There's also the humorous approach.  Jokes about tanning parlors or something.  Use your imagination.

Lots of ways to pull it off without being offensive.  Again... provided it's really necessary at all.

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Vincent M. Wales


I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.


For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

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