Before anything else, I need to point out a major difference between fetishes and fetishizing in the context of writing. Fetishes and fetishizing, while basically the same on a superficial level, generally refer to two quite different concepts. Especially anything like romance where you’re describing people in detail, including sexually.
Fetishes are obvious, basically everyone knows what those are, and huge numbers of people have them. They’re perfectly normal and not something anyone should really be worried over or ashamed of. Alas, society often disagrees, but here on my site at least I’m entirely open-minded on the subject. Fetishes are also fun to write.
Fetishizing is a whole other ballgame, though. The reason I’m separating these is simple: fetishizing is the act of making something or someone into a fetish. For example, focusing on dark skin or large breasts. It’s perfectly fine to be personally attracted to someone with these or other physical traits, everyone is different and people all have their own tastes, no problem.
However, when writing you should be aware of this as a potential issue. I don’t want to linger too long on this so I’ll make it as succinct as possible: describe your characters equally and leave your personal tastes at the door when you write from a neutral narrator’s point of view. Keep your prose as objective as possible, and avoid letting your own interest in dark skin or large breasts or whatever other tastes you have seep into the work.
A couple of examples:
If you’ve read my tips post for euphemism, you’ll remember I mention a girl who likes large breasts, and how I altered the prose to match this taste. That’s a-okay, because the prose is being written specifically to accentuate her tastes. Likewise, go nuts in dialogue; have your character fantasise about nice breasts or petite asses or whatever she likes. That’s not you speaking, it’s your character.
(Note: you’ll get people who’ll accuse you of all sorts because they can’t separate the writer from the writing. You can’t win with people who refuse to listen to reason so do your best to ignore them and move on. And try not to be discouraged. It hurts, I know, but just try and think of your real fans, the ones who love your work and actually understand the separation of teller and tale. Will likely write a post on this one day.)Uncomfortable subjects can often be your best story hooks, make good use of them. Click To Tweet
Now for a bad example from my early writing days. My own tastes tend to run towards a particular skin tone found in India. Sepia is a reasonable approximation, though naturally there are all sorts of interesting variations. The beautiful Poonam Pandey, for example (see how my own taste just came through in what I wrote?).
This led to a situation of my own taste seeping through where it really shouldn’t have. In a descriptive passage I used something like ‘her gorgeous dark skin glistened with sweat’ (paraphrased, but you get the idea). That’s not my character speaking any more, it’s me, the narrator. I let my own tastes come through in something that should’ve been objective and unbiased.
Now let’s look at how I changed that to be more appropriate later on when I rewrote the entire work in question: I didn’t even mention her skin tone again after the initial description when the character was introduced. Easy, right? The new version simply read, ‘her skin glistened—’.
Two example sentences follow, using two of my characters from Aida: an Indian-descended girl called Mira, and Lisa, a half-British, half-Japanese girl:
Mira’s skin glistened with sweat as she writhed in pleasure. (Narrator’s point of view.)
Sitting up, Lisa took in Mira’s beautiful sepia skin, glistening with sweat as she moaned in pleasure. (Lisa’s point of view.)
Both of those are fine, despite describing Mira’s skin as a beautiful sepia colour in the second example. Because now it’s being written from Lisa’s point of view.
This is no different to the example I cited above regarding the euphemism page. TL;DR: as long as your narrator (that is, you) stays unbiased – assuming you’re using third-person omniscient PoV like I mostly do – you’ll be pretty sorted.
That said, people do forget details, sometimes even really important ones like how a character looks. It’s therefore worth occasionally dropping a little hint or a brief reference to a character’s skin tone – regardless of what that tone is – as a reminder. This is especially true of a serial work like Aida, I sprinkle brief descriptors into the follow-up books to remind the reader of how characters look, plus it’s helpful for new readers.
There are of course exceptions to these general tips. For example, if you’re writing a fairly homogenised setting (Japan, for instance) then describing a new character who has a skin tone outside of the cultural norm is perfectly fine. Likewise, a girl from the southern islands (Okinawa region) might have a deeper, more tanned tone, again necessitating a bit of additional description.
Digging into this further can yield interesting results, too. Does she stand out? Is she accepted by her peers? Does her skin tone (sexual orientation, religion, whatever) cause her problems? And so on. Uncomfortable subjects can often be your best story hooks, make good use of them.
So what does this mean for my writing these days? All in all, not that much. I tend to put various people from various countries and ethnicities in my works in any case. I describe every character equally, whether that be skin tone, hair colour and style, body shape or type, or their eyes. There is a massive variance of skin tones in any race; do them the courtesy of a proper description, no matter their ethnic origin.
Include your own tastes and interests when creating a new character if you like (Mira is very much based on my own tastes, and Lisa is also based heavily on my musical tastes, among other things), but keep your descriptive prose objective and unbiased as much as possible, unless being written from a specific character’s point of view.
You only need to describe something once, and always describe every character, don’t single darker skin or other traits out for special treatment (use your discretion, though, as noted above this can actually work well dependant on setting).
If you’re going to describe one particular girl as having large or small breasts, describe the rest of the characters in similar terms. With fanfic this is less a problem since you’re working with pre-established characters, but definitely do this if you introduce originals at all.
Likewise, if you have, say, an Asian character and you describe her eyes, do the same for all other characters regardless of where they’re from. Similarly, if you’re sticking to simple description like ‘she had green eyes’, you don’t need to add specific description for an Asian character beyond ‘she had hazel eyes’ or whatever. There’s more to a person than how their eyes look, or their body, or their skin, or their sexual orientation.
Find other ways to get details across. Sprinkle additional hints through the work. An initial description of skin tone and colour, hair, features, and so on can be followed later by adding cultural indicators (religious icons or particular hairstyles, for example), clothing choices common in certain regions, and other such hints and clues that reinforce the original description while remaining subtle.
The long and short of it is this: treat all of your characters equally. What you describe for one, describe for all. Describe specific features of interest from the point of view of your character (‘Kim had always had a thing for petite girls, and Elena’s sexy and lithe body had very much caught her eye…’), but keep your narrator neutral.