Privilege is something thrown around a lot these days, and mostly, for good reason.
We all have it.
If it’s not the colour of your skin, what’s in between your pants, your sexual orientation, your wealth or your health, it’s one of the other hundreds of things I could list.
I am extremely privileged, I’m white, my first language is English, I can talk and read, I have a roof over my head and many others things.
But I’m also at a disadvantage in a lot of other areas, my hearing and sight are both pretty bad, I constantly struggle with metal health, I’m fortunate enough to have a job but it isn’t well paying enough to remove the stress of money, my health is in constant ruins and, well, many other things.
The same goes for every character we make.
I read a lot of books where the author focuses in on the disadvantages a character faces, and it makes sense, that’s often more a cause of conflict, but they rarely take but a second to acknowledge that which they do have. A family that loves them? A stable job? Good health?
I always find it weird when people say something then do another. Reflect your values in your work, in your art, if you believe in the philosophy where we should take a step back and be aware of our place inside society, do so in your art too.
This also goes the other way, feel free to take a priviledged character and show the disadvantages they face. It’s a pretty common trope to show the rich kids with absent parents. That’s a disadvantage, it’s usually shown as though related to the privilege but I don’t think it’s necessary for them to be related.
Why do people always choose absent family for the rich kid as their disadvantage? There are so many good ones out there! Health problems, both physical and mental, discrimination of any sort with the added bonus of it always being lessened due to their financial status, disfuncional relationships because nobody is completely free of the risk of an abusive dick, being incapable of passing at school despite the expensive tutors, having an ill pet…
If you like that trope there’s nothing inherently wrong with it of course, I just yearn for some more variety.
So, how can we incorporate privilege and disadvantages into our stories? As so often happens, I’m going to go over a quick example from my own book because it’s easy.
Itazu is the main character in my series Dear Dragon.
Relevant Privileges: Her father is both loving and wealthy having a good job, because of this there is no true expectation from her, she’s pretty free to do as she wishes. She’s a dragon and thereby more physically durable than humans.
Relevant Disadvantages: She’s a dragon, one of the last of her species with all the social issues that entails. (I’m simplifying so as to avoid spoilers for second and third books, sorry).
The relevant disadvantages obviously move the plot forward at many points. But that doesn’t mean her privileges are ignored. In fact, they are bought up often, sometimes more obviously than others. It’s bought up through reminders like: “Your Father won’t let that happens.” “Henry will take care of it.” “You’ll always have a place to go”. And from her father himself: “You can count on me for anything.”
This is a treatment many other characters in the book (specifically the male lead), don’t get. And it is something that sticks out.
My intention when showing this is several:
1.- Make sure the audience understands that all the accomplishments in the books are not the protagonist’s alone. She has a support system and that does a lot for her.
2.- Show that it’s not all or nothing. You can are both in a situation of privilege and disadvantage. A good character reflects reality.
3.- Split the audience. And this is the most complicated to understand. Mostly because the goal isn’t truly to split the audience, but to understand that a good character, a realistic character, will not be liked by everybody. We all know somebody who was absolutely charming and did nothing wrong! Except for some weird reason you can’t explain, you hated them. No character is 100% likeable to everybody (except for some atla ones but I mean there had to be some kind of dark magic in the creation of that show, too perfect), and I don’t want anybody to hate my character’s because they’re boring. I want them to be hated because there is something about them you don’t like.
I’ve got a whole post coming out shortly about this last point that goes way more into detail so stay tuned!
From what I’ve tested Itazu can sometimes be disliked because, “She complains about her disadvantages while having more privilege than other characters”. A perfectly valid critique. If not one I personally believe in. I and many readers find Itazu’s willingness to acknowledge both her disadvantages and her privileges not letting either one get in the way of the other is a perfectly enjoyable character trait.
Itazu is bullied at one point for who she is, and she doesn’t treat this any less seriously because she gets to go home to a loving father.
She receives plenty of love from her father, even though he isn’t a dragon and can’t fully understand her. And she at no point sees her father as less loving due to this lack of comprehension.
And I seriously hope I got the point across because I do now know how ot express these thoughts why now.
Please, I’m begging you if you made it this far, did any of that make sense to you? Please tell me.
As usual, check out my book, stories I’ve written plus other social medias: here.
Hey, it’s Christmas Eve on Friday, I hope all the students out there are holding in! Remember, not long left! I hope all of you have amazing holidays, and some extra time to read!
Also, I did a post but my ebook is currently on sale in the US and UK! It’s about dragons. YA Fantasy. Anyway, that’s all! Sorry for rambling, love you all!