On Characters and Colors

Downtown Santa Barbara

peaceful Afternoon in Downtown Santa Barbara


Rachel Renée Russell is the author of the bestselling Dork Diaries book series for children. I knew nothing about her and her books until I read her story in an issue of Writer’s Digest magazine.

The interviewer noted that Ms. Russell is a black woman and the protagonist in her stories is a white girl. From her responses, I can tell that the author answers questions often about her choice of skin color for the main character. She explained her take on crafting characters of races and ethnic backgrounds, and asked “Why is it that as a black author I have to be limited, but other authors are not?”

That is a good question, one I had not considered as a writer who happens to be black.

God knows that I love my skin color. Yet, when I became a Christian, my identity moved from being a black person to being a child of God. No longer do I feel less than others because of someone’s pitiful ideas about my color. A racial insult shouted my way doesn’t crush my spirit as it did in the past.

Not that this happens often. It’s been a while since another human being treated me in a hateful way because of the color of my skin. You can read about that time here.

No, I don’t think about my skin color much.

Santa Barbara is far different from Ferguson, Missouri. In a city population of 90,000, I am one of the estimated 1,500 black people who live here. The day after the Ferguson decision and aftermath, as I walked through the streets of Santa Barbara, and passed through the shopping mall crowds and into a restaurant, I felt the looks — in that awkward, color-filled way.

It’s an interesting life, when you’re black and all you want is to be.

Ms. Russell’s books have sold in the millions, and you’ll find articles written that criticize her decision to have a white main character. In the Writer’s Digest interview, she seems to be at a place where she handles the criticism well.

As I write my stories, I don’t want to be hindered by what people expect me to write. My goal is to write stories that touch the heart, the soul, the emotions, the spirit. Those areas have no color.

(Read my poem about racial reconciliation.)

The skin colors I choose for my characters will sometimes enhance the story and sometimes lead it. That’s what makes story writing so exciting for me. I never know what my imagination is going to offer. For example, here are several of my main characters and their skin color:

  • Lena – brown (pre-teen)
  • Chanadh – lavender (young adult)
  • Jim – white (adult)
  • Netta – black (teen)
  • Vanessa – skin color not disclosed (senior)

God’s creation includes an endless array of color. Click here for a beautiful example — a cosmic cloud called the Orion nebula. (You can find more amazing images at NASA’s image of the day webpage.)

As a child of His, I want to create like Him and be like Him: color-full and color-blind.

Now, it’s Saturday morning and I have some reading to do. First up: Dork Diaries, Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life. (For fun, and for encouragement, too. Ms. Russell was in her late forties when she had her first book published.)

What are you reading this weekend?

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

8 Comments Write a comment

  1. I read the same article, Darla. And now, reading your response, I’m again thinking that you, your values and writings, should be featured in WRITER’S DIGEST!


    • That is one high compliment, Marylin, and that would be one fine day if it ever happened. Thank you for being the great encourager that you are to me.


  2. You mean we’re supposed to read this weekend?…………..LOL
    I read books and magazines throughout the day, taking one of each to the post office, the grocery store, the doctor’s office………..anyplace where I might have to wait in a line doesn’t bother me because I just pull out a book or magazines and do a little reading while waiting.


    • Have you ever been so immersed in a read while you’re waiting that you don’t hear your named called or see the line move? Ha! That’s happened to me. I don’t leave home without a pad of paper and a book or a magazine stuffed in my purse.


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