Hi friends! As I have promised, here I am with the dreaded DISCUSSION POST.
(I don’t know why it’d be dreaded. It just sounded appropriate.)
So today I am going to talk about something near and dear to my heart, as I am doing it right now and probably so are most of you. This is writing about OTHERS. Aka people who you do not have direct experience being. Aka everyone.
Wow Faith. So in this case you’re just afraid of writing at all, huh?
Well, that’s another valid point, but that’s not what I’m going for right now. I’m talking about writing characters who belong to a community that you do not fit into. That could be a different ethnicity, a religion you don’t observe, a nationality of a country you’ve never visited, an illness you’ve never had, the LGBTQA+ spectrum…the list is endless. It gets more and more specific right down to having a different Myers-Briggs type, which no one seems afraid of tackling for some reason. (Frankly I don’t think I’ve ever tried to write an ENTP. Super smart? Argues for fun? Not afraid of conflict? How do I deal with that?)
(Realizes that ironically enough the ENTP is only one letter away from the ENFP that I am. Oh, the difference a letter can make. You could say, it defines people…to a T.)
(Wow, I efF’d that up.)
(Slowly crawls toward the door)
The point is, acknowledging the existence of people who aren’t necessarily like us makes fiction richer and arguably better because it shows a wider scope of the world. It shows different worldviews. Etc etc.
The problem I (and hypothetically other people) are running into is that because we haven’t grown up in those worldviews and with those experiences, we are afraid of portraying them WRONG. Because as Sarah Hollowell says in “A Guide for Skinny Writers Who Want to Write Fat Characters”:
You’re going to say something that makes a person you’re trying to represent go, “Wait a second, that’s not how it feels. That’s not what it’s like to be me.”
I hate that! I want to be RIGHT. To know that after I’ve tried my hardest and done my best, no one is going to criticize me. My hard work will finally pay off. I will be, as they say, THE BEST.
Yes, I am talking to my therapist about this.
So instead of the usual spiel about how that’ll never happen yada yada yada, I’ll list a couple things that you can do to help you get closer to that. Not that you’ll reach it. Because you won’t. I’m still getting over that. But obviously:
This is also something that gets said over and over, but…if you don’t research I’m really not sure what you’re doing with your life, because according to MPS (My Personal Statistics), researching takes up 69% of the average writer’s procrastination time. So if you haven’t done any, you REALLY have a Pinterest problem.
But seriously, look for forums and look for #ownvoices blogs like Sarah’s, or the Writing With Color blog on Tumblr. One of the best things I ever accidentally did was find a men’s bodybuilding forum while trying to figure out how to dress a very muscular dude I was drawing. Certain threads were available to the public. I was enlightened on many things.
Also that time I looked up 5’ 4” males, looking for drawing models, and got a bunch of panicked questions about how to find girls who will date short guys.
Adventure is out there, my friends.
- Learn from your mistakes.
Problem with this idea being that you have to actually make mistakes to learn from them. But I’m sure if you look over anything you’ve ever done in your life, you’ll find plenty of material.
- Change things up.
So my own personal lack-of-research story (I know we all like stories in already-overlong posts) is the time I wrote an entire novella set in 1910 Kansas without doing any research whatsoever because I wanted a setting that would be similar-ish to Hobbiton. I’m not sure what I was doing with my life when I was 13, but I sure hope I’m not doing whatever it was today.
Case in point, I still kinda liked the story, but I wanted to go directions that didn’t really exist in 1910 Kansas. So I moved it to modern day. (State is uncertain. Pennsylvania probably.)
Wait wait wait wait wait wait, Faith. Are you saying we should solve the problems we have with writing different people and places to…not writing them?
Uh, no. No I am not. I’m not sure where you got that.
(Look, I never said I was perfect.)
What I liked about the terribly-written story of years past was not the setting but the characters. I started poking around and discovered that the cast is actually much MORE diverse than it was in the original story. And because I wanted to explore a culture that I actually did grow up with — the modern-day conservative Christian church — I did that. Different perspectives in a familiar setting.
So there’s my rant. I’m curious what you all think about this subject, so I’ve left some questions for you to answer. Just like we’re back in school again. (That’s a great incentive, I know.)
- Are you ever afraid of writing from another perspective?
- How have you tackled writing perspectives that you might not have thought about before this character jump-scared you in the night?
- Any #ownvoices recommendations? (Please, I need them.)
Stay crazy, my friends.