Onto the main question then. I was kind of struck by re-reading your The Moon is a Harsh Mistress review and seeing the fake multiculturalism critique in there. See, I’ve been getting back into the groove of wasting my time with writing for fun, and I’ve recently been really wasting said time on a silly story about four psychic barely-teenaged kids saving the world from an evil alien (yes, I’ll cop to the fact that it’s blatantly stolen from EarthBound, if only because that game is brilliant. I’m trying to mitigate the unoriginality by puree’ing in bits of other games/movies/series/etc that I like).

Said kids are kinda Author Avatar-ish in the sense that I just teleported my huge knowledge of pop culture onto two of them, and let one be the Straight Man, so to speak, and be constantly left out of the loop and confused by their quote- and reference-laden dialogue (this is kind of a joke at how I can come across as this when talking to other people). So, I wanted to ask: if I’ve made these kids British (well, okay, two Scots and a Sheffielder) but slapped them with a vast knowledge of pop culture, and a lot of it tends to come from the USA, am I also guilty of faux-multiculturalism? If so, will throwing more lines to reassert their, well, UK’ness, just feel like, er, tokenism without really fixing that problem? And, uh, is it that severe a problem?

—Chris

Tricky, as Deep Thought said about the problem of life, the universe, and everything.  The writing workshop advice I’ve hated the most is “Write what you know”— because what I know is boring.  I don’t want to write fiction about growing up as a straight white boy in the suburbs of Chicago and I sure as hell don’t want to read any.

So, if you want to write about Brits, go for it.  But do your homework.  Do you know how young Brits talk?  Have you read a few actual books from Brits, young and old?  Can you list some things they’d know or watch or talk about that aren’t also shared by young Americans?  Do you at least have a British friend who’d be willing to tell you if you’re writing bollocks?

Don’t overdo it, especially as you’re an outsider— a little local flavor goes a long way.  The feeling of tokenism comes in when a character feels like nothing but a collection of faux localisms.  The most interesting thing about a character shouldn’t be their nationality.

(There’s a subtler type of tokenism: making an ethnic character so inoffensive and normal that they have no flavor at all.  Valve kind of did this with the black characters in Left 4 Dead: it’s nice that they actually have some black characters, but they seemed to be afraid of making them memorable in any way.)

Advertisements