Monday, September 23, 2013

I Solemnly Swear You are Up to No Good: Transitioning Tokens

You've all heard of the token black guy, right? You know, he's in movies and sometimes books to add diversity. "We may be a group of white heterosexuals, but look, look, we know a black person!" Riiiight. And if it's a horror movie/book, we all know who's going to be the first to get axed.

We've come a long way from the token black guy. It can be a chick, an Asian, an Indian, or the more recently popular, the token gay guy. I'm all for diversity in books, no matter what form it comes in, but it's a little disheartening when the diversity comes in the form of the token: clich├ęd, quiescent, and apparently useless.

My current WIP is diverse, but it isn't multicultural. I wish it was, but that's just the nature of the beast and I feel no need to change it. They're all American teens, even though I have two biracial characters (Black/White and Iranian/Black) and a Polynesian. My southern sweetheart is a lesbian. Am I going overboard? Maybe. But I don't think so. This is how the world is now. Some settings call for an all white cast, but more often than not, that isn't the case.

If your story is set in a NY city high school, is there a reason all your characters are white and as straight as a raw spaghetti noodle? You may be tempted to write what you know, but trust me, there's no magical information you need to know to add diversity. I've been friends with all different types of people, and although their parents may be a little unique (coming from a YA standpoint), and some of their customs a little odd, on the day to day, they weren't some mythical creature to learn about and study. They were just as typical and unique as blonde haired, blue eyed Jane down the street.

Multicultural stories are awesome and take a little research, but diversity can come in all shapes and sizes and shouldn't be shied away from just because it's in the realm of what you don't know.

Now that that's out of the way, there's another token that's making his way on the scene and it's driving me crazy! I read a lot of YA because that's what I write (and bygum it's frickin' entertaining!) and in a number of books I've read recently, there's a teenage genius. Don't get me wrong, I love a smart character (hello, Hermione Granger anyone?) but the smart character is starting to serve a different purpose. The I-am-smart-and-have-a-big-vocabulary-and-this-is-the-only-way-I-can-show-you purpose. Ugh. You know typical teenagers don't use words like panacea or equanimity, but you want to show that YOU know those words. What do you do? Throw in a character who uses big words and says smart things all the time. Oh look, now you know I'm smart. Riiiight. No. Now all I know is you're a grandiloquent (I can do it to) ass who threw an inconsequential character in the mix just so you could toot your own damn horn. Stop. Now. We all know what you're doing and it's annoying. If you can't help yourself, don't be so obvious about it and for the love of Godiva Dark Chocolate, give them a purpose! Don't make them stand around the entire novel prattling away about how it's so hard to be so smart and use such impressive vocabulary.

Thank you and goodnight (actually, it's noon, but yeah)! 

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