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"A Note On Reader Inserts" by JThistle


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Earlier this morning, I was reading a Reader-Insert for one of the fandoms I’m in and enjoy. It was the kind of reader-insert that is a proper reader-insert, that is to say: it’s written in second person, and uses descriptive name blanks.

I do not consider OC stories written in second person to be reader-inserts, because they’re OC’s written in second person; second person is a POINT OF VIEW that tends to be utilized to great effect in the literary world, and is not, inherently, inserting the reader. . . but this isn’t the point of the article. It’s just clarification on why I’m being so specific.

I stopped reading that story before I got to the end; and then, because until then, the story had been on my favorites list, I removed the story from my favorites. I know that’s a little specific, all things considered, but I’m not going to specify the story.

I will specify what the issue was, and hopefully this will make it clear why I also brought up the distinction between OCs written in second person — amid eye color blanks, name blanks, hair color blanks . . . were the lines “those soft pink lips” and “your pearly skin”.

In other words, everything else was up to the reader, but the reader’s skin color. They could have pink hair and gold eyes, or be named Cephelania, but they were definitely, absolutely white. Imagine all you like, but it won't change the words on the page.

This is not a necessary assumption. People who are not white read. Often, they read in English. Most countries whose official language is “English” are also home to people of varying skin color. It doesn’t matter where your story is set — it is absolutely always conceivable, that if a character is human, she or he can be of a skin tone other than pale, creamy, or pearly. There are other skin tones that are beautiful, even. Wow, alien concept, huh? Lips aren’t always pink.

Don’t believe me? Look around you. Don’t even look it up on the internet, look up from your computer screen, maybe go to Starbucks or somewhere where people gather, and look around.

I’m not saying you have to put in “[lip color]” or “[skin tone]” as blanks. But don’t automatically assume your readers are going to be white. Just . . . stop. It’s not as much of an issue with OCs, but it is really jarring when you’re reading a reader-insert, are supposed to insert your name and appearance, and suddenly are told that you have clear, smooth white skin.

But Murder-chan, you might say, everyone automatically assumes the reader will be a girl, right? And you don’t write genderqueer readers or male readers at all!

Yes, I do assume a female reader. I also generally assume a lady reader with lady parts. And I don’t really plan on writing male readers (although I have been considering MtF). Why? I don’t write a lot of girl/girl, either (although again, I’ve been considering it). So why? Why do I get to say anything on this?

And I guess it’s because things have to start somewhere? That’s really all I can give you. I mean, yeah, there’s also that gender is a lot more necessary to assume; it defines a lot more than it necessarily should, and it is a lot more prevalent.

Regardless of what right I have to say it, I’m saying it anyway:

Don’t assume the race or ethnicity of your readers.

If you want to write a story about a white heroine, then write an OC story. It can still be in second person. The most you’ll have to do is come up with a name.

If you want to write a reader-insert, then step back a moment and realize something really important: White skin is not a default. It is not an ideal.

That is all, thank you.




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