Writing with Color: Description Guide - Words for Skin Tone
We discussed the issue of describing People of Color by means of food in Part I of this guide, which brought rise to even more questions, mostly along the lines of “So, if food’s not an option, what can I use?” Well, I was just getting to that!
This final portion focuses on describing skin tone, with photo and passage examples provided throughout. I hope to cover everything from the use of straight-forward description to the more creatively-inclined, keeping in mind the questions we’ve received on this topic.
So let’s get to it.
S T A N D A R D D E S C R I P T I O N
B a s i c C o l o r s
Pictured above: Black, Brown, Beige, White, Pink.
"She had brown skin.”
- This is a perfectly fine description that, while not providing the most detail, works well and will never become cliché.
- Describing characters’ skin as simply brown or beige works on its own, though it’s not particularly telling just from the range in brown alone.
C o m p l e x C o l o r s
These are more rarely used words that actually “mean” their color. Some of these have multiple meanings, so you’ll want to look into those to determine what other associations a word might have.
never challenge batsecretary to a game of crushing souls don’t do it save yourselves
don’t play with fire unless u wanna get burned
… but what about those of us who wanna get burned?
not gonna lie, that sounds awful and really troublesome
This is so true. I love this description so much.
And then one of them has some random ad playing noise on it and I CAN NEVER FUCKING FIND IT!
so is writers block when you accidentally close them all at the same time?
Forced reboot to install updates.
- "I just really need to have you here right now."
- "Didn’t you see what I did?!"
- "Oh fuck, oh FUCK."
- "Please come get me."
- "Where are you?!"
- "I’m coming, just sit tight!"
- "Look at me - just breathe, okay?"
- "I can’t breathe!"
- "You don’t have to stay."
- "It’s all my fault."
- "It’s all YOUR fault!"
- "Don’t fucking touch me."
- "Please I just… really need space right now."
- "I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere."
- "I’m gonna be sick."
- "Ever wonder if the world would be better off without you… ?"
- "I’m sick of being USELESS."
- "You’re not useless."
- "Shit, are you bleeding?!"
- "Please, put it DOWN."
- "Shh, c’mere…"
- "It’s okay to cry…"
- "Don’t listen to them. Don’t you EVER listen to them."
- "I’m not cut out for this."
- "Just leave me ALONE."
- "Please listen to me-"
- "You can trust me."
- "Don’t trust me."
- "What happened doesn’t change anything."
having to use your own art as reference cause you forgot how to draw
having to go back to reread previous chapters of your own story as a reference because you forgot how to write
when you and Asneeze’s son, Achoo, finally return to your castle after being captured during the Crusades, only to find it being towed away by Prince John’s Royal Accountant, Sir Blockhead, for failure to pay taxes
… and all I can think is, I met that guy.
I’d like to emphasize that when a reader finishes a great novel, he will immediately begin looking for another. If someone loves your book, it increases the chance that he or she will look at mine. So there is no competition between writers. Another writer’s success helps build a larger readership for all of us.
Want more writerly content? Make sure to follow maxkirin.tumblr.com for your daily dose of writer positivity, advice, and prompts!
modern day icarus with burns on his back and full of bitterness and throws out cynicism but sometimes he just looks at the sun like it’s the best thing in the world (◡‿◡✿)
That AU which I’m writing. For the record. And it’s awesome.
Queer identities are gaining more and more ground in written and visual media. While this is splendid, portrayals often seem limited to gay people. Bisexuality is, in many ways, still an “invisible” queer identity. Way too often, I hear people who don’t know what it is, doubt its existence, or just plain don’t consider it when telling a story.
About the author: I am a bisexual woman in my mid-twenties who has studied gender and queer theory non-professionally for a few years. I’m by no means an expert on anything, but I do have an interest in seeing my sexuality represented well.
Let me start with a disclaimer: There is no one way to be bisexual. This doesn’t describe everyone by a longshot. The best way of learning is to go out there, listen, ask and listen some more. This article is just a starting point for knowledge and questions.
With that in mind, let’s start!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is bisexuality?
Being bisexual means you are able to be sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to more than one gender. Some people make a distinction between being attracted to both genders (bisexual) or being attracted to all genders (pansexual), but for most intents and purposes, bisexual is the term you want.
For some bisexuals, gender is a factor in the attraction, some are genderblind, some fluctuate between genders, some have a preference, etc. Point is, there are many different ways to be bisexual. The one thing they all have in common is the sexual attraction to more than one gender.
Isn’t it just a phase?
While it’s true that some gay people identify as bi before coming fully out, and that some straight people identify temporarily as bi, bisexuality is a completely legitimate orientation. Bi adults tend to stay bi.
Part of the “phase” idea comes from the fact that most bisexuals indeed settle down with a person of a specific gender. This doesn’t make them non-bisexual though. It just means that their perfect match happened to be male/female/whatever.
How and when does a bisexual person know that they are bi?
That differs a lot. Some have known all their lives, some figure it out through experimenting, some only realize when BAM they’re in love with someone unexpected. Personally, up until my early twenties I just figured everyone was a little gay until I realized that hey, maybe it’s just me.
How do bisexuals choose?
The same way as everyone else. We meet someone fantastic, and we decide that we want a relationship with them.
Aren’t you just greedy?
No, no and also no. Bisexuals are not attracted to everyone. We can be attracted to anyone regardless of gender, but we still have taste and standards. The specific standards depend on the bi individual, just like libido, faithfulness, etc. - all things that have nothing to do with the orientation and everything to do with the individual.
Writing a Bisexual Character
The top 6 most important things to remember while writing a bisexual character are as follows:
“Bisexual” is not a personality trait, nor does it say anything distinctive about the character apart from their shipping potential. Sexuality informs personality, sure, but just like you can’t base a character around their hair color, you can’t base a character solely around their sexuality. Flesh ‘em out.
Bisexual people face discrimination from both straight and gay communities. Bi girls are seen as flaky teases or “drunken straight girls”. Bi guys are seen as equally flaky, unable to settle down, or as gays in denial. All bi people are seen as more promiscuous and less trustworthy. Many people will avoid serious relationships with bi people because of this.
Since bisexuals are regarded as more sexual, bi characters (especially female) can skirt the line of Mr./Ms. Fanservice. It’s not fair, but know that a same-sex couple kissing will often be seen as shocking and/or pandering.
Most (Western) bisexuals live happy, well-adjusted lives at peace with our sexuality. The media has a tendency to depict queer characters in a very dramatic and traumatised light, and there is some truth to this (e.g. the suicide rate among bisexual teens is higher than for both straight and gay teens), but the angst is currently overexposed in media. The angsty queer story needs some spotlight, but it isn’t groundbreaking or edgy anymore.
Related to this, be careful about killing off one half of a same-sex couple. It has been done. A LOT. I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but it leaves me a bad taste in the mouth to see just how many storytellers don’t believe I deserve a happy ending.
If your bisexual character is the only non-monosexual person in the story, be prepared for extra scrutiny and criticism (as this character will stand as ambassador for your view on bisexual people). Avoid this by having a broader selection of LGBT+ characters.
How to Out a Bisexual Character
It can be tricky to out bisexual characters, especially if they’re uncoupled by the time of writing. Here are some easy ways:
Casual outing. Mention same-sex partners/exes in passing. “Yeah, my ex always did so-and-so. S/he was crazy!”. Date stories are also good fuel here. This is the most casual way of coming out.
Sexy outing. Let the character join in on “that person is so hot!” conversations, or have them hit on someone of the same gender. This type of outing may be at little ambiguous, at least to the other characters, and it emphasizes the sexual aspect of the identity. But it can be a fun way.
Explicit outing. Let the character explicitly and directly out themselves. This may be in response to some bigoted speech (“whoa dude, you know it’s me you’re talking about, right?”), during a relevant conversation point (“Actually, since I’m bi, I know so-and-so”), or it might be a bigger gesture (“Since you’re my friend, you deserve to know”). There are lots of reasons one might bring it up.
Forced/accidental outing. Someone else outs the character. This might be an enemy throwing it in your character’s face, a friend who slips up and mentions it, someone who comes across old love letters, etc. Depending on setting and other characters, this can be quite the drama fuel.
In real life, most bi people are acutely aware of how we mention our dating lives. We have made active decisions about whether we’re out or not, and who we’re out to. Very few bi people are careless about this.
That said, please out your bi character to, if no one else, then at least to the reader. Representation only matters if it is, you know… represented.
Tropes and Caricatures To Avoid
There are lots of weird and harmful tropes and stereotypes regarding bisexuals. Namely:
The sex fiend. Yes, some people like sex a lot, and sometimes those sex lovers are bisexual. But there’s nothing inherently promiscuous about bisexuality, and the world doesn’t need any more sex-crazed bi characters.
The straight-then-gay. A person who has genuinely enjoyed sexual relations with the opposite gender, then starts dating someone of the same gender, is probably bi. Don’t erase their identity, and the genuineness of their previous relationships, by proclaiming them suddenly gay. Or vice versa.
Crushing on the straight person. While this can make a compelling story, and it certainly happens in real life, it has been done to death. It also tends to cast queer love as inherently more tragic than straight love. Maybe not avoid outright, but certainly tread with caution.
Too Good For This World. While it is a nice gesture, killing off your queer character to make a point about the world’s cruelty has been done. To death, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The Tease. Especially common with female characters. It’s a bisexual person, often very sexy, but her orientation is never stated outright. It’s played with, alluded to, flirted with, but she never crosses the line of plausible deniability. Almost always overlaps with the sex fiend or Ms. Fanservice. Just… just don’t.
The most important part is: It’s not hard! As long as you build an interesting, three-dimensional person not relying on stereotypes (the way all characters should be written), you can’t mess it up. And the world sorely needs good bi characters, so you will be doing both the queer and the writing community a solid by including us.
Also: Please remember that there are as many ways to be bisexual as there are bisexuals on this planet. Sexuality is fluid, and complex, and just a small part of one’s identity.
If you’re interested in reading more, here are some good starting points:
Diversity Cross-Check, a tumblr introducing writers to marginalised people that they can ask questions (find the “bisexual” tag)
I will also be delighted to answer questions through my own blog or this post’s notes.
Now go forth, and write great bisexual characters!
You know what you should do instead of just writing a woman who fights physically?
I appear to have, by some miracle, OCs that other people adore.
Cheiloproclitic - Being attracted to someones lips.
Quidnunc - One who always has to know what is going on.
Ultracrepidarian - Of one who speaks or offers opinions on matters beyond their knowledge.
Apodyopis - The act of mentally undressing someone.
Gymnophoria - The sensation that someone is mentally undressing you.
Tarantism - The urge to overcome melancholy by dancing.
Autolatry - The worship of one’s self.
Cagamosis - An unhappy marriage.
Gargalesthesia - The sensation caused my tickling.
Capernoited - Slightly intoxicated or tipsy.
Lalochezia - The use of abusive language to relieve stress or ease pain.
Cataglottism - Kissing with tongue.
Basorexia - An overwhelming desire to kiss.
Brontide - The low rumbling of distant thunder.
Grapholagnia - The urge to stare at obscene pictures.
Agelast - A person who never laughs.
Wanweird - An unhappy fate.
Dystopia - Am imaginary place of total misery. A metaphor for hell.
Petrichor - The smell of dry rain on the ground.
Anagapesis - The feeling when one no longer loves someone they once did.
Malapert - Clever in manners of speech.
Duende - Unusual power to attract or charm.
Concilliabule - A secret meeting of people who are hatching a plot.
Strikhedonia - The pleasure of being able to say “to hell with it”.
Lygerastia - The condition of one who is only amorous when the lights are out.
Ayurnamat - The philosophy that there is no point in worrying about events that cannot be changed.
Sphallolalia - Flirtatious talk that leads no where.
Baisemain - A kiss on the hand.
Druxy - Something which looks good on the outside, but is actually rotten inside.
Mamihlapinatapei - The look between two people in which each loves the other but is too afraid to make the first move.
lionheart191 said: How do you get over being over-critical of your own writing? I try, but sometimes I can't even put out a paragraph it's so bad.
I remind myself that no one day of writing matters all that much. A story is built somewhat like a stalactite - one little drip of mud and grit at a time.
I remind myself that the first few drafts are just for me. That gives me permission to let it be an ungodly mess, full of shit sentences and crap ideas, whipped into a creamy froth with the occasional bits that do work. Later I’ll winnow out the stuff that was no good. What remains will be (I hope) fun, economical, and lively.
It helps (me) to write longhand. I know no one is ever going to see my longhand draft but me. That’s a free pass to suck.
Also, though, I try and work small. If I think a scene blows dead rats, I’ll stop thinking about the big picture, and just think about the next sentence. If I can get down one sentence that really excites me, sometimes it will throw a spark powerful enough to bring a dying moment back to life.
WHAT HE SAID.
I think that may need more emphasis.
WHAT HE FUCKING SAID.
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