1. jmh105
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    jmh105 Member

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    How can you make a character more than the conflict?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by jmh105, Jul 24, 2016.

    Hey, everyone! In my novel, one of the broader conflicts is my character's insecurity about his being transgender. He tries to present himself as "masculine" as possible and feels, based on his experience with his parents and peers, that being trans is somehow a shameful thing that people must not know.

    So with that in mind, I don't want his defining feature as a character--or even a person--to be that he's trans or that he's insure about being trans. I don't want to end up stigmatizing transgenderism overall by the end of the novel, or give off a feeling that being trans is a "bad thing." In the end I'm hoping that my character learns to appreciate himself better or something slightly more optimistic to that effect. I want him to think of himself as being more than just his "weakness"--but at the same time, I'm afraid of coming across as a writer that is claiming that simply being transgender is a weakness.

    I don't want to cast a negative light on transgenderism, but at the same time, I want to be realistic about the social anxiety that may be heightened by such circumstances in our world today.

    How would you write a transgender character? What are some dos and don't about writing a transgender character so that although my character's anxiety is a big part of the internal conflict, he can be seen as more than a label? Is simply having his anxiety being highlighted a damning feature of his narrative/the plot in general?
     
  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I'm not sure I totally get what you're asking. If you present him as a fully-realized character and don't just reduce him to his anxieties (give him other motivations and thoughts and such), I don't see how there'd be a problem. It's not unreasonable for a trans person to worry about their presentation; it's something that's likely to be in the back of your mind a lot. But it's not going to be the only thing. You call this one of the broader conflicts in the story - let him mull over and engage with whatever else is going on, as well. Just don't make being trans his only note and I doubt there'll be any real issue with him just seeming like a 'label'.

    The trick is to just write a good character :p

    As for inadvertently making it seem like being trans is a "bad thing", I'd advise making it clear that his anxiety stems not from being trans itself, but from how people treat him and talk to/about him and people like him. Internalized shame is a thing that plenty of trans people genuinely go through, and it could be part of his development: realizing that the anxiety comes from how other people have made him feel rather than how just innately how being trans feels. Or he could've already realized that at the beginning and just still be working on really internalizing it.
     
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  3. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see much of a problem either.

    Mainly because something like "his defining trait" isn't something you really control.

    I could watch batman and say at the end of the movie that hsi voice was the defining trait I remembered. Different people will zoom in and focus on different things. So my tip in this department is for you to focus on other thins. I mean, like. what else does he do or like? If you can't answer that question, than perhaps you were focusing too much on one thing.

    In relation to weakness. It is similar. A frind of mine pointing out something really great. In which in my book, I have a strong character get nervous. Chapters like 1-5 are pretty much her being awesome, then chapter 6-7 she is a mess. Which is my point. I asked a friend the name of the trope for a bad ass getting weak in the knees. His reply was beautiful.

    "It isn't a trope. It is a reader falacy. As your girl is seen as the tough girl, so any aspect that detracts from there view is seen as some sort of error when if they really looked, it is perfectly reasonable for her to be nervous in the situation. She is a human, she can be tough, and get nervous."

    Though, as a general tip? Link weaknesses to strengths. Someone that is over critical of themseves might be really good thinkers. The idea being they are good thinkers because they are constanting thinking about their own faults, but as a result thy got good at spotting faults. So, that aspect became both their best skill and worst aspect.

    Does that make sense?
     
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  4. JhanaJunkie
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    JhanaJunkie New Member

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    "How would you write a transgender character? What are some dos and don't about writing a transgender character so that although my character's anxiety is a big part of the internal conflict, he can be seen as more than a label?"

    I would write a transgender character loosely based on a conglomeration of patterns I notice in those I've met. That being said, there are certain sensitivities I've noticed in addressing transgender issues in personal discussion, so I'd advise to tread carefully, though perhaps it's possible my experiences are just due to the trauma victims subset rather than transgenders as a whole. How does anyone breakout of a label? It's not a problem intrinsic to transgender's alone. Getting in touch with who they are on a deeper level is a pretty standard way of breaking labels, finding that point of inner strength that helps propel one to push beyond their own previously known limits, just thinking aloud here....
     
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  5. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Tell us more about him.

    Cause at the moment, all we know about him is that he is transgendered.

    What is the story about?
     
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  6. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm confused:
    By saying that the character tries to act masculine so no one realizes the character is transgender, do you mean that the character is a male-to-female transgender who tries to go along with society's expectations because they think the character is male?

    The whole point of transgender is that the second gender on the one-to-other label is the correct one, that a male-to-female person is a "she," not a "he." A "he" being transgender would mean that we were talking about somebody being female-to-male.

    Are you saying that your character is a female-to-male transsexual who everybody thinks is a woman, but who is trying to sneak in some of his actual male identity by portraying himself as just being a woman who happens to fit into some of the masculine stereotypes better?
     
  7. Romana
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    Romana Member

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    Transgender characters are hard, but characters are people. Transgender people who are insecure about their gender identity are more than just people who are insecure about their gender identity. They can be obnoxiously arrogant about their overwhelming intelligence and still be insecure about their gender identity, but their defining trait is their intelligence. They can be quiet and softspoken and have social anxiety and be insecure about their identity, but their defining trait is their fierce loyalty to their friends.
    My do's would be:
    • Make a well-rounded, dynamic character.
    • Give him a strong defining characteristic beyond his anxiety and transgenderism. Both of those things are internal, and defining characteristics need to be something other people notice.
    • Realize that characters are people, and people have more than one characteristic
    • Highlight the good things about being trans (the happiness a person feels when they are true to themselves and are accepted and loved for who they are). People have a negative bias, so they will remember the negative things about situations more than they will remember the positive; you will need to highlight the positives so that people don't think you're bashing trans people.
    My don'ts:
    • forget that trans people have more defining traits besides being trans
    • depend entirely on his anxiety to drive the plot (angst gets boring).
    That's it. Go, write, be inclusive, have fun.
     
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  8. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I took the OP to mean that the character's a trans guy nervous about being perceived as a woman. Could have misunderstood though, now that I think about it.
     
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  9. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hope that's what the OP meant too.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't really understand the question. Is the novel totally and entirely ABOUT the character's transgender status, or does it have some other plot?
     
  11. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I think what you need to do is have a secondary conflict going on that has nothing to do with being transgender. Maybe he's worried about getting into college or a big test or making a team or winning a debate. Show this character wanting acceptance, but just don't forget there are going to be other things he wants too. No two transgender characters are going to be the same just like is true of any characters or people. Make your character a character first. Then you can add all the trouble in his or her life. One more thing. Watch the pronouns you choose. I am guessing from your post that "he" was born female and identifies as male. It would be the other way around for someone born male identifying as female. Transgender people and there loved ones are pretty picky about using pronouns of the gender one identifies with and not the one they were born with.
     
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  12. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    The writer has all the control. You are building them and presenting them. If this is something you don't feel like you control, there is probably a problem.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My concern here is that this character just seems to be a blank page with the word "transgender" taped to it.

    Who is this character?

    Does he play tennis every other Thursday? Does he go to a favorite French restaurant every Saturday and choke down the awful stewed chicken because he's too embarrassed to order the fantastic souffle without having eaten a main course? Is he on a first-name basis with the local librarian, who puts his name down on the waiting list for every single Tom Clancy novel without even asking? Does he wear all his clothes 'way oversized because he hates feeling constrained? Does he have a Siamese cat that he has to beg his neighbor across the hall to take care of when he has a migraine, because he can't handle the yowling?

    Who is he? Tell us something.
     
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  14. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was referencing how different people view material differently.

    Like you could watch a movie and mainly only remember the cimenatography, or only remember the characters bad ascent.

    A writer could wannt me to focus on the social dynamic of the situation, but I could be more interested in a side character. Point being a writer cannot force me be interested in any particular plot aspect. You can try to focus on an aspect but that doesn't me I will. So my suggestion was that they try to have multiiple interesting situations or aspects and not bank on one being perfect.
     
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  15. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    Transgender is a label. You do not want make your book about the label, transgender. Focus on him, who he is what he likes or doesn't, how he lives his life, fears, worries, his dreams and nightmares. How he handles himself in various situations. What he tolerates or doesn't. What are his boundaries with people. A person is not defined by their label. Labels are how society defines a person. That is how you have your character shine regardless of how they are labeled.
     
  16. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I'm confused too. It depends on the point of the story.

    Is the story about someone struggling with social acceptance of being transgender, then it's a major deal and should be treated as such

    Is the story about someone who happens to be transgender fighting an evil corporation that has poisoned the local water in order to sell more napkins? Then it's incidental and simply supports the character's flavor and should be treated as such.
     
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  17. jmh105
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    jmh105 Member

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    Hey, everyone,

    Thanks for your thoughtful discussion. Don't worry; I have a plot in mind, and as of now he is NOT a blank slate with the transgender label. I should have clarified a lot, here!

    First of all, most of your assumptions were correct. My character is FtM, and is such a trans guy anxious about being perceived as a woman or otherwise feminine person. As much as I understand, I am not misusing any pronouns. He identifies as a dude in spite of being assigned female at birth, so he uses and prefers he/his/him.

    In the story, he is a homeless kid living in an abandoned warehouse (and later a house) with other homeless young adults. They steal things for a living (and later, some get jobs). My character, Nolan, uses hormones (that he was administered before he ended up on the streets) in the utmost privacy, so a part of the plot involves someone else discovering the testosterone--and thus the label Nolan was hoping everyone could ignore/not know.

    As far as plot details go, Nolan strives to, well, care for his friends. A shy new guy joins the gang, so Nolan tries to "toughen him up." He encourages him, but kind of gruffly. On the side he takes care of his dog and supports his girlfriend with her PTSD. Basically he tries to be an anchor for those he feels needs him, so right now his main quality is that loyal/caring friend, but not overtly "gushy" about it.

    However, when he makes what he considers to be "mistakes" when helping his friends (personal conflict/guilt) and when his friends discover and react (some negatively) to his transgenderism, then the rest novel focuses much more intently on that "label" and his lack of self-worth in relation to his friends.

    I have an idea for stuff he enjoys doing (hobbies) as well as professions he thought about going into before he quit school. So he has interests, but some of these interests can be tied into coping mechanisms, personal trauma, or his gender. For example, he wanted to be a BOY scout and later forest ranger (he likes nature and stuff). He played piano, but he did so more often when he was stressed out.

    Because of these things, I fear that the main thing is STILL his anxiety and how he expresses it in his daily life. What do you guys think? Does this new set of information change any part of your advice?
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel as if you need more plot--unless ther is more plot that you just didn't touch on?
     
  19. jmh105
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    jmh105 Member

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    There is more plot that I didn't elaborate on, but I could use more plot if the conflict sounds too repetitive.

    What I didn't mention earlier is that for the most part, the novel is split between two perspectives--of that of Nolan and of that of the "shy guy" I mentioned earlier, Jacques. Both narratives follow character interactions unique to their respective characters. This means that Jacques spends time with other characters in the gang and outside the gang in a different way that Nolan might interact with others. This is because not only are they different from each other as people, obviously, but also because Jacques is the new guy, so his perspective of the gang is different than that of vetern Nolan.

    There's more action in a couple of Nolan's chapters, but overall both narratives are dependent on characters and character relation within the sphere of being homeless and working to make ends meet--both physical and emotional.

    Do you need more plot specifics or is there anything else you could suggest in regards to thickening the plot?
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe I read too many murder mysteries, but I tend to feel that even a "daily life and interpersonal relationships" book nevertheless needs some sort of strong plot spine. It doesn't need to be a murder or an alien invasion, but...a pregnancy that leads to a birth or a tragic end, or someone surviving a course of study, or someone's illness and death, or striving to get a job and the conclusion of that striving, or something.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    An example, though I can't remember the title. I recently read a book about a judge who dealt with cases involving children. There were two main plot spines--the likely legal end of her marriage, and a case involving a boy who, for religious reasons, didn't want treatment for a fatal illness. The two plots provided a structure for the events and relationships in the novel.
     
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  22. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Like you've got to give us something that really shows us what this character is made of. I totally get this. I don't think it always has to be so dramatic, but it needs to feel important.
     
  23. jmh105
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    jmh105 Member

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    I agree that some more plot to give more structure to character interactions would definitely help! I do have incidences of near-death situations and injury that can be seen as dramatic, but they don't happen right away.

    Does something dramatic/plot related have to happen right away? Or could the narratives ease into general relationships/interaction before bigger things happen?
     
  24. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Crime and personal struggles can be pretty dramatic.
     
  25. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    It depends on how action-y you want it to be. There's a whole range from like Terminator kind of stuff to the King's Speech and other such actionless dramas. Whatever you do it will be interesting if you show what is interesting about it. If you want to tell a story, it will be because there's something entertaining, fascinating , meaningful, find that and use that to keep people interested.
     

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