Every now and then a character decides to blindside me with a piece of the truth that I was oblivious to. I am not a big one for endless character description – I generally give a few sparse details and rely on the imagination of the reader to create the visual.
Partially, this is because I find too much description tedious to read, but mostly because I don’t look at people as a collection of physical characteristics, but rather, as a dynamic bundle of changing expressions and moods. My kids used to accuse my husband of becoming Jaffar when he got mad, and it is true, he does turn red and grow VERY large when he is angry. It is this alchemy of the human appearance that interests me, and that cannot be captured by a simple catalog of physical attributes.
Occasionally, I am caught out by this lack of focus on specific appearance. For example, in my WIP, The Arc Riders, Trouble with Mexicans, I describe a secondary character as having black hair and eyes and very smooth skin. I had it in my head that he came from a troubled background, but as he only occupies half a dozen pages and most of those are action scenes, his background and specific lineage/history were not all that important.
Until today: I have decided to write a short story about this character for an anthology my writing group is putting together and in the process of beginning that story I discovered that he is black. Of course my subconscious brain said, “Well, DUH!” and promptly supplied the complete visual. I felt like an idiot. If anyone had asked me exactly what this character looked like, I would have told them he was 6’1″, black, with close-cropped hair, sporting razored knot-work lines at the nape, full-lips and dramatically high cheekbones. He comes from South-Central LA and was in foster-care and suffered terrible abuse in his childhood. All of that information was there, just waiting for me to bring it to the surface. No one asked, and worse – I hadn’t asked myself.
On the one hand, I am pleased that a black character didn’t stand out to me as remarkable – I would love to live in a world where the color of someone’s skin didn’t matter. On the other hand, I might need to learn to put just a bit more information into the physical descriptions of my characters so that my readers don’t feel blindsided. He’s black?!?! What do you meant, he’s black?!
What do you think? Is colorblindness as an author a good thing, or a bad thing?