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I am a young author writing a fantasy series. In my series, the main character has two different eye colors and looks down on herself because she thinks she is ugly. If people who also have two different eye colors were to read my work, would that be considered offensive?

I also have the problem of another character in my story. One of the characters is an African American police officer who offers to adopt the main character. The MC hates the officer because the MC is kind of a bad person and always getting in trouble. She resents the idea of having an police officer for a mom. I’m wondering if because the person the MC hates is African American, if that would be considered racist. The MC’s hate of this character has nothing to do with her race though. I just want to be sure.

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    I would love to see the MC struggle with herself as to whether her feelings were influenced by race. Mentioning it and having the MC decide she really doesn't like the person personally is inoculation. It also shows that anger and negativity are human, not racial. As long as race isn't part of the issue, it's not an issue.
    – DWKraus
    Oct 26 '20 at 17:15
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    Anything you write can be considered offensive. If you want to be completely sure you're not giving offense, the only option is to never write anything.
    – Mark
    Oct 27 '20 at 1:05
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    Offence is in the mind of the beholder. You can't legislate for it.
    – Chenmunka
    Oct 28 '20 at 9:57
  • Maybe this is just me but I think heterochromia is really interesting and pretty cool
    – Tasch
    Oct 28 '20 at 20:59
  • I never meant that it wasn’t cool, I just meant that her parents are freaks and idiots for abandoning her because of it and forever giving her self doubt. Oct 28 '20 at 23:25
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How to not be offensive in a nutshell: Make the characters complex.

For a lot of people who care about making the right characters, they feel like they have to rely on tons of research. While research is a good thing to use, my best advice is really just to make humans and not to worry about being offensive. While yes, you may need research if their environment is different than yours, don't worry about having to break every individual stereotype or mold for your character. Sometimes, clinging onto stereotypes and twisting them in a good way for your character will make them better than just the opposite of what you heard about certain people. Somebody who does this so well is Jason Reynolds in Long Way Down. The book is placed in a setting that Black people are always associated with- "gang-banging" and "poor" and "projects". But the thing is, it feels real, because Jason wrote a COMPLEX character, and made the ENVIRONMENT complex.

If you want to know how to make sure nobody thinks she's being racist, and there are other reasons she is pushing him away, make it clear. Show/tell the audience the actual reasons and take race out of the equation. If you can't make it clear, the audience doesn't know, and it can easily be seen as racist.

So, what am I trying to say? Make BOTH CHARACTERS complex and have their motivations be complex.

If both characters obviously have another motivation other than "race", and they're complex and dynamic and open to change, then you'll be fine.

By the way, good on you for inclusion! I'm all in for that!

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    +1 one for the character and environment angle. A complex char. tells us who they are, a complex env't tells us why they are. It's that combination of traits and life experience that makes a human. And indeed what's racist isn't hating the Black character, it's making that character's only defining thing being Black. It can be part of their identity, but it can't be all of it. Oct 27 '20 at 10:13
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    +1, although I'd add that, in order to not be, e.g., racist, the stereotypes should at least somehow reflect reality and not be superficial. Taken to the extreme, if describing black characters, don't take colonial area paintings as a reference. This is difficult to spin positively, even with complexity :)
    – ljrk
    Oct 27 '20 at 10:17
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    Also a good tip for avoiding "Suetiful All Along"... tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SuetifulAllAlong Oct 27 '20 at 21:10
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Some people are insecure about their freckles. Some people say "I don't like my nose, it's too big!" This doesn't automatically offend everybody with freckles or large noses. If someone says they hate being short, that wouldn't offend me, a fellow shorty. We all have hang ups about different physical traits. Your MC can be insecure about her heterochromia, she can even be bullied for it. It doesn't mean that you, as the author, are calling heterochromia "ugly". You are representing a struggle that many people with uncommon genetics face. A reader with heterochromia might relate to her, and hope that she learns to love her uniqueness in the end.

In terms of the police officer, it's great that you're including an African American character. But it would be unrealistic if no one was allowed to dislike her. She's a human being, first and foremost, and no human is exempt from criticism. Delve into the reasons why your MC dislikes her. You can do this subtly, with exposition or through dialogue. When your MC insults the woman (whether in her mind or to her face), she can call her derogatory names for police officers. There's no reason to believe your MC is racist unless she actually uses racist language, or dislikes someone of a different race without reason or explanation. In this case, it sounds like your character has an interesting reason.

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looks down on herself because she thinks she is ugly

That's the difference. You as the author aren't saying that from the outside, the character thinks of herself as that from the inside.

Many readers have issues today with HP Lovecraft, who (in common with many people of his class and era) was profoundly racist. Various stories describe how ugly someone is, simply because they are black - not as the person saying it, not even as the narrator saying it (and remember we don't have to like the narrator), but as the author stating a fact. That's what racist writing looks like. In Lovecraft's day, these opinions weren't even controversial, but we know better today.

Conversely, consider the politics of Afro-textured hair. Women of African origin have frequently internalised feelings of unattractiveness due to not meeting European standards of "beauty" (and may still do so). For a character to express this is not racist; it is a reflection of the character and how she interacts with the society around her. Similarly, characters who resort to cosmetic procedures (whether surgical or non-surgical) may express feelings about their appearance which relate to the character and not to racist attitudes from the author.

Of course the author could still be biased, whether consciously or unconsciously. If you don't have a lived experience of African-American cultures (plural!), you might want to check with someone who does, just in case you've made assumptions in good faith which are going to get you into trouble. Ditto cops. Those are going to be your biggest issues.

I suggest you're not so much in trouble with the eyes though.

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As long as you play it right, it should be fine. Most people will be rather forgiving with this stuff, unless they had a bad day and just want someone to yell at. Definitely don't write with the purpose of being mean, else that will get people annoyed at you. I bet that just you writing without really paying attention to this kind of stuff will be fine, and you shouldn't need to do a whole lot of revising to stop things like this.

If you're really really really (add as many more reallys as you feel like here) paranoid, find someone who you're trying not to offend and have them read the story and then ask them what they thought. As long as they had an overall positive experience, I wouldn't sweat it too much.

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We sadly live in the age of snowflakes, where no matter what you write and how, someone somewhere will feel offended by it.

That doesn't mean you should stop caring. But you should realize that a lot of good literature is offensive, sometimes intentionally.

The questions to ask, IMHO, are:

  1. Are you trying to be offensive or not? If yes, is it for a good enough reason?
  2. Is this going to offend the majority of people, or just some overly sensitive ones?
  3. Is there an equally good but less offensive way to write the same thing?
  4. Who are you offending and how? Making worrying about eye colors is not on the same level as making slavery jokes about black people.

If you've made an effort to ask yourself such questions, made sure you aren't simply being rude, but that whatever is offensive in your story either serve a literary purpose or is clearly in the eye of the beholder, you've done all you reasonably can and should, and whoever still feels offended by what you write - well, it's a free country, they have the option to simply not read it.


for your specific questions:

If thinking of herself as ugly is a part of the story, then you have to pick something the MC feels ugly about, right? You can't just say "ugly" and leave everything to the imagination. That works for background characters, but not for protagonists. You didn't pick a skin disease or whatever, so I don't think there's any better ways of picking something.

If the mom being black is part of the story, if other plots depend on it, then the fact the MC doesn't like her isn't in itself offensive. Why would it? We can't write every black person in every story as a likeable, perfect human being. There are good and bad and likeable and not people everywhere. Especially black people probably know a bunch of assholes around them who also happen to be black. As long as you don't fall into stereotypes such as EVERY black person in your story being a bad person and every white person being a good person, you should be fine.

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The fact of offense is nothing ; the reason for offense is everything.

There are people who are offended when homosexuals are oppressed. They believe that every human being has an essential dignity that cannot be denied simply because their life choices displease us.

There are people who are offended when homosexuals are not oppressed. They believe that a person's essential dignity most surely may be denied on account of life choices (and if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that there are a whole host of reasons for which they will deny your dignity).

People can be offended for good reasons, or they can be offended for bad reasons.

Make sure you're not providing a good reason for the reader to be offended.

Don't worry about the wrong-minded people. As a now-disgraced comedian once said,

I don't know the recipe for success, but the recipe for failure is trying to please everybody.

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People with differing eyes can be extremely attractive (just like people with similar eyes). Some are employed as models for this very reason. Try searching for different coloured eyes

If this is a modern series then the person's friend could point this out.

If it is a medieval scenario, the friend could remind her of a renowned queen of legendary beauty who had differently coloured eyes.

Of course, no matter what the friend says, you main character will still make some excuse as to why she is ugly, even if those other people weren't.


See also this fantasy-related page Wolfkin typically have heterochromia where part of their irises are different colours. This can mean they have two different eye colours, or that one eye had another colour in it

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  • In summation, beauty is in the eye of the beholder?
    – hszmv
    Nov 30 '20 at 14:43

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