Well, it’s November and time for NaNoWriMo to begin again in earnest.
This year, and for the foreseeable future I shan’t be participating – it did my writing more harm than good, but for some it is the incentive and push needed to actually get their story written. For those people, good luck.
Still, the forums can be amusing, interesting, fun, frustrating, and many other things. So I’ve got this notion to take topics of interest and provide my more in-depth, blogpost length vs forum reply length thoughts on the matter. How often? Don’t know. Daily seems overly ambitious and too likely to end up driving me mad. I’ll aim for weekly and see if I can’t do a bit more than that.
Well, most recent to catch my attention was more than one thread on the subject of writing characters different from yourself. Men writing women, heterosexuals writing homosexuals, black writing white, etc.
This harkens back to my favourite Gore Vidal quote, not to mention various other things and wholes posts of my own wording.
“Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect!”
~~ Gore Vidal
Humans are humans. Whether we have a penis, vagina, more or less melanin, freckles, red hair, blue eyes, big nose or little we’re still humans. Write the character who fits the story, or write the character the story fits – whichever way around you feel works best. Men are no mystery, nor are women.
Stereotypes help, they communicate certain societal expectations. At a loss for something about a Western culture male? Either he does or doesn’t like sport is a good place; and if he doesn’t, then you can pick and choose from geek social norms for some inspirations. But never mind stereotypes, if you want a rugged all American boy whose as broad at the shoulder as he is tall, with neck and waist of the same circumference as each other, etc. Just because he’s blonde, blue eyed, built like John Carter, Warlord of Mars doesn’t mean he has to be a football or track star. He can be a ballet dancer, or he could be a champion chess player, he could be gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide, he can be a genius or idiot … it doesn’t matter! In the end it’s up to only yourself and your narrative.
If we stress over much about “Well, how do I write a convincing …” we end up with a cookie-cutter template. We wind up with something unimaginative, unalive, and flat. We get characters who are caricatures. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, hidden deep within the Russian steppes, in a convent or monastery, or otherwise lived an incredibly sheltered and isolated life you will have met other races, other creeds, other colours, other genders, other sexes; you’ll have seen TV shows or movies, read books, and so on with them. Women may not have a penis, men may not have a uterus, but we can draw from our life experiences.
You’ll never please everyone. Heinlein is cricised frequently – sadly by those proclaiming themselves feminists or in support of the feminist cause – of having unbelievable female women who are too competent, and capable (especially given that they want to actually be mothers at some point in their lives! ~gasp~ what a horror!) to be real. He based his female characters on, first and foremost his wives, and to a lesser extent his female friends. Virginia Heinlein and … I can’t seem to recall nor find the names of his prior wives were, by all accounts I’ve ever encountered, brilliant and capable women. It was Ginny and Robert’s greatest sorry, according to many of their friends, that they seemed unable to have children. So, a very real human being is unbelievable? And worse, despite being strong and educated, capable and competent, she is anti-feminist for wishing to be a mother.
We could move on to other examples like Teddy Roosevelt and Jack Churchill, but I think I’ve made my point: Your character is real to those willing to believe, so long as you believe in them yourself. If this weren’t true Fantasy, as a genre, would have died long before the birth of Professor Tolkien’s great-great grandfathers.
The key, as I say again and again, to writing any character is to believe in them. If they are real to you, they’ll be read to someone else. Everyone? Probably not. Even as wildly popular as Terry Pratchett, J R R Tolkien, and J K Rowling are, there are still those who can’t take their characters. No matter how well acted and written the roles of Richard Gere and Julia Roberts … people believe what they’re willing to believe and you’ll never get them to change their minds – but believe me, someone will feel the same spark you feel, the same attachment and bond to the characters, etc. For them the story will come alive. It’s for them you’re writing, well they and yourself, so enjoy their wonder and belief, and don’t stress too much about those who elect to listen to a different voice and refuse to hear yours.
- Robert Heinlein’s Rules (gdkonstantine.wordpress.com)
- If Gore Vidal was right, how come my friends are still alive? (antoniahoneywell.com)
- Gore Vidal’s Secret, Unpublished Love Letter To Anaïs Nin | Kim Krizan (gorevidalpages.com)
- Catching Up and Robin Hobb (thinkinginfragments.wordpress.com)
- In Bed With Gore Vidal (huffingtonpost.com)