Because in the comments of this post right damn here I talked about the very sort of thing I’m about to talk about again. By way of Gail Simone’s Twitter feed I was made aware of Comics & Shit. My life would be easier if it wasn’t on a tumblr, which is why you’re reading this here instead of as a comment over there.
The way I begin telling a story is with the characters themselves. I lay the foundation of my protagonists and antagonists by determining individual personality traits. Then I connect characters together with any multitude of relationship types (close friendship, strained association, tentative love interest, mortal enemy, that sort of thing). After those two steps, I decide on the characters’ motivations, and then the story spools out of those three attributes; my stories are never about the event, they are always about the characters. It’s only after I’ve given a character these things do I determine their physical appearance (race, ethnicity, hair and eye color, costume, etc.), religion, and sexual orientation.
I liken beginning the character creation process with things like race, religion, and orientation to filling a quota. I’m just as much a proponent for diversity in comics, literature, and cinema as the next person, but, to me, creating this quota and filling it is disrespectful, not only to the story, but everyone involved: the reader, the writer, and the group which the character was meant to represent. I would even go as far as calling it exploitative.
As you might have guessed, this is a quote from the original post. The first comment that comes to my mind is to say that if this is how the original poster goes about creating characters those characters must be amazingly one-dimensional and uninteresting. Maybe putting this next bit in bold will finally help people get the point: Our personality traits, relationships, motivations etc. are not, by any stretch of the imagination, something that comes before things like our physical appearance, religion, and sexual orientation.
I don’t know anything about the original poster, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he’s writing from a position of relative privilege. The problem is that we are not autonomous beings. Who we are has been shaped from the day we come into the world, and continues to be shaped by our interactions with the world. Our socioeconomic class shapes us. Our sexual orientation shapes us. Our appearance shapes us. The list could go on and on. In each case each of these things affects the way we view the world. I talked about this in the cases of “Muslim Batman” and “Lesbian Batwoman” (Night Runner and Kate Kane, respectively). In both cases the respective religious belief and sexual orientation are not just tacked on as afterthoughts, but have changed the experience they have had of the world, and thus influences who they are along with why and how they do what they do.
If I had grown up rich, or black, or gay, or Jewish, or attractive my personality traits, relationships and motivations would all likely be substantially different than what they are. Obviously I can’t know that beyond any doubt, but I can make a pretty informed guess.
So once again I find myself calling bullshit on people claiming that religion, or sexual orientation etc. are always forced P.C. bullshit or yet another publicity stunt, and have nothing to do with making interesting characters. Once again I call bullshit on the idea that we are autonomous beings complete unto ourselves. Once again and forever I call bullshit on little whiny children everyone afraid to look in the mirror and examine their own privilege.