What Should You Consider When Writing Characters Who are Have a Different Race, Religion, Gender or Sexual Preference to You?

Book characters are amazing things. They drive the story and they invite the reader to journey with them. As readers they can become friends. As writers, they can be anything we want to be, however they are often, in part at least, a reflection of ourselves. But what if you want to write a character who differs from you in a significant way? What if the character you’re writing doesn’t share your gender, race, religion, sexual preference and/or nationality? In this case, I believe there’s some extra considerations you should make.

 

Character Hierarchy:

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The image above shows the hierarchy of characters. Because the protagonist is the most significant character and the one you need to know the most about when writing you’re characters, that’s the character I’ll be focussing on here.

 

Authenticity:

When we say something’s authentic we mean it’s the real thing or as close to it as you can get without it being the real thing (my husband once told me that the lamb curry I made was too authentic – is that a compliment?). As writers, we strive to create authentic characters living authentic lives and to do that we need to understand our protagonist and his/her life as well as we understand our own.

This can be trickier when our protagonist is significantly different to us. I’m a white, heterosexual, woman (I know, I know. I’ve got it made.). Understandably, it’s going to be more difficult for me to write an authentic black, homosexual, male character than a white, heterosexual, female character. While there are experiences all people share (love, loss, fear for example) our race, culture and sexuality alters our perceptions of them and how we express those perceptions. That’s not to say you can’t write an authentic character who differs to you, my protagonist for All My Father’s Secrets is a boy, but you may need to do more work to ensure they ring true for your reader.

 

Respect:

I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s. For a while in the 90’s there was an influx of sitcoms that featured sassy, black, women. They were there to tell the main character “how-it-was” and they said “mmm-hmm” a lot. These women were always strong, no-nonsense and independent – on the face of it, a positive image. Also a stereotypical and two-dimensional image.

Don’t be lead astray by stereotypes or media-images of a group of people. If you don’t know enough about the life and culture of the protagonist you want to write, think twice about writing them. And if you’re writing your protagonist as being a member of a certain race/culture/sexuality etc. so that you can shine a light on the failings of those people, take heed, you are asking to get decked.

 

Rights:

Just because you can write a story, doesn’t mean you should. Some stories are not yours to tell. No writer has the right to appropriate the stories and experiences of another group of people. I would tread very carefully with anything that is culturally or historically sensitive. I, personally and as an Anglo-Australian, wouldn’t write a protagonist who is Aboriginal and experiencing displacement due to the colonisation of their country. Not only would it be insensitive to the reality of Australian and Indigenous history, it’s not my story to tell. There are Indigenous-Australian authors who are far more qualified and capable of telling that story, the story of their people and their ancestors. That’s not to say I couldn’t write the story from the perspective of a white settler in Australia, even one who is sympathetic to the Indigenous people, but I would be appropriating someone else’s story if I did it from another perspective.

 

There is no rule that says you should limit yourself to protagonists that share your gender, colour and culture. But you should be careful that you can do the character, your story and the real people who may see themselves in that character, justice.

Everyone has an opinion

How to Know Your Writing is More Than a Hobby

Here’s the thing about writing. It can be a lot of fun. It can also be a lot of work. But these are not the things that determine whether it’s a hobby or not. After all, hobbies can be work sometimes (for example training in a sport you enjoy. I defy anybody to tell me that they love running laps, in the rain, around a flood-lit oval, in the middle of winter. Or hitting endless balls across a net on a scorching day when the sun is reflecting off the court, into your eyes). And work can be fun (a great discussion with a colleague or a hard-won success can be awesome). So what is the difference?

Here’s my five clues that your writing has become more than a hobby.

  • You know what ‘platform building’ is:

You’re aware that if you want to get published, it’s probably a good idea to get your name out there, even before a publisher casts their eyes over you precious written-baby. You may not have a platform yet, but right now, as you read this, you know what I’m talking about.

  • You write, regardless:

You write whether you want to or not. You write through writer’s block (or google, ‘how to get rid of writer’s block’ and then write). You write when your muse is AWOL. In short, you write like it’s your job (says it all, really).

  • You participate in professional development:

You aim to get better at what you do and to that end you read blogs and websites, attend conferences and seek out writing how-to books and texts. You read books within the genre, and for the audience, you write and you read the books of great authors regardless of genre to see just how they perform their magic.

  • You share your work with other writers for their feedback:

You’re either part of a writers’ group, a writing association or have a mentor (or any combination of those). You’re actively seeking feedback from others in your field in order to improve your work.

  • You are actively working towards being published:

Whether you plan to self-publish or find someone to publish your work for you, you are actively looking towards ways to get your work off your USB and into the hands of actual readers. You’re researching you options, writing submissions and sending your heart and soul manuscript, into the world.

 

If these five things ring true for you, I believe you can call your writing a career.

Everyone has an opinion

How to Tell People You Write…Without Blushing.

Do you tell people you write? That you’re a writer? That you’re an author, even?

Without blushing?

Well, then let the rest of us in on the secret! How do you own up to ‘being a writer’ without…well…this:

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I’m not good at it. This year my youngest will be starting school and people are full of advice and curiosity about what I’ll be doing with all my “free time”.

Pfft, as if.

The easiest and truest response would be to say that I’ll be working on my business, that of writing. But I don’t because quite frankly it makes me feel…like a fraud.

So, if you have the secret then be a mate and let the rest of us know what it is.

How Should Writers Reflect Social Issues?

Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke late last year Pinterest, Twitter and even traditional news carriers have been full of stories, commentaries and revelations about sexual misconduct, the abuse of power and the roles and rights of men and women. Despite being the type of person who has an opinion on everything, I feel there’s nothing I can add to the conversation here (and the world breathes a sigh of relief). However, it does raise the question of how we as writers should reflect social issues within our work. Continue reading

Five Painless (And Effective) Ways to Improve Your Writing

Whether you write for the love of it or because you want to make a career of it, you’re probably interested in how to improve your writing. If you’re like me, you don’t always have the time for courses and working through resources. Sometimes, you want the results without the pain.

Here are five ways that I use to help me improve my writing and which might be helpful for you too: Continue reading

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How I Use My Childhood Rape in My Writing

When I was eight I was raped. It feels strange to write that here. It’s not something I’m in the habit of sharing although it does come up now and then with the mums I’m close to because as mothers we discuss these issues in relation to our kids. I was lucky that my parents were very practical and straight forward about getting me help to deal with the experience and, after 25 years, it doesn’t have a strong hold over me. Continue reading

Why the World is a Dark and Dreary Place (Sometimes)

As a writer you have the opportunity to make the world, any world, and it can be as filled with rainbows or as dark and depressing as you want – so long as your characters see it that way. Scene setting is a big part of writing. Without it your readers can be lost as to where your story (or even just a scene) is taking place and without this context they may find your story difficult to follow. But setting isn’t just influenced by the time and place in which your story takes place but by the emotions of your POV character. Continue reading