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Writing And Representation

By Brian Cole

As a fantasy and science fiction fan, one of my favorite authors is Brandon Sanderson. Specifically, I really like his series The Stormlight Archive. There are a ton of things I love about this story, but the one I wish to focus on today is its representation of mental health.

We live in a representation-obsessed world. Though there is a lot of good that has come from it (I’m looking at you Black Panther), there have also been a lot of cheap representations in the media, which has caused some confusion in the writing community about how to properly represent. Some seem to erroneously think that a character must have the exact same demographic as a target audience to affect that target audience.

In my experience, the best storytelling doesn’t focus so much on what exactly a character’s demographics are. Instead, it focuses on how a character feels and views the world, then shows how the demographics a character falls into affect that world view. Sanderson is a master at this. He never specifically states that Kaladin has depression, or that Shallan has MPD, or that Dalinar is an alcoholic. Nor does he focus his character arcs completely on these issues. Instead, he shows us dynamic, compelling characters that are far more than their limitations.

I’m trying not to get into spoiler territory with this post, so I won’t say much more. But it is important to create a compelling character who readers can relate to and I think Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive is an excellent example of doing this while not conforming to fictitious stereotypes.

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