The first thing in my writing (or our writing, as I write with T.Trian), is to think what type of characters we’d like to write. My first characters in our first joint project were a twenty-something, white woman and a teenage boy, also white. Writing them was pretty easy because the gender aside, both characters were rather easy to grasp and relate to.
But after writing three stories with privileged white girls and boys, I realized I wanted to write something different. Someone(s) I’m really not --
Check your privilege. Like seriously, check your privilege.
Okay, I checked it. I’m hell privileged. I’m a young, white, straight woman, slim and reasonably cute, born and raised in a welfare state. I’m an aspiring writer and I’ve got money for a pretty good computer to write with, and, while not enough, I’ve still quite a lot of time to practice my craft. Hell… privileged. Why is this important? I’ll tell you in a mo.
Ok, back to writing.
I wanted to write something different for a change, put myself in someone else’s shoes, and started to look towards “the less privileged”, the marginalized (largely in the Western world at least): people of color, overweight people, people with disabilities, QUILTBAG, and wonder how I could do justice to writing a character who is very far from what I am (though not a different animal, of course, but I do have to be sensitive and take different experiences into consideration). I realized I have to do some research. Some? A LOT.
And boy, the internet, now there’s a bottomless well of research material available for ya, from all walks of life! Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, where to even start?
So I ventured on some writing forums and finally dared open my mouth in one. Oops, got burned. Turns out there are rules I have to follow if I want to write, say, a gay person. I left that place quicker than a black metallist from a Nickelback concert and returned to real life. By the way, I really hate the notion of ‘less privileged.’ It makes me feel like I’m some supremacist buttface spitting down on the poor and downtrodden, grinding my boot against their teary, gaunt faces. Gah.
Anymoo, I digress. So, real life with real people. I wanted to learn how they perceive their everyday lives in comparison to mine. I talked to friends who knew me well enough not to get frustrated if I said something stupid. I also read blogs, lurked (lurking is good, lurking is safe. No one will come and bite your head off or kick you in the ovaries with the might of the written word!). This seemed to work better, and I came to realize that the hardest thing for me to learn was (and is) how to write realistically while retaining a degree of sensitivity and respect.
A long while ago I’ve come to the conclusion that I do have the right to portray other walks of life than my own (this was actually a theme of a uni course I took a year ago called “Reading Other Minds” by an American professor Howard Sklar) and writing someone I’m (really) not is mostly a good thing because I have to learn to look at life from other points of views as well.
And why is checking my privilege important? For one, because I have to realize I’m an intruder in the safe places for people who are marginalized in our society. I have to know where I’m coming from before I try to write someone I’m not.
How do you “deal” with writing a character that’s very different from you? How do you go about the research? Feel free to share whatever thoughts you have!
***This is an intervention.
I'm suffering of something I’ve come to call "a reader’s block" (wowsers, how clevah, K!). Anymoo, it’s like a writer’s block in the sense that I have difficulties with starting or getting back to a novel I was reading, even though I’ve enjoyed the story.
So I started to dissect this little brain defect o’ mine.
I realized that there are at least three issues that keep me from fully immersing myself into a story other than the one T.Trian and I are working on (yes, I write with a partner):
I’m afraid of finding something familiar in another writer’s novel. A plot twist, a character, something that’s similar to one or few aspects in our WIP. As if me not finding it would make these possible similarities go away! I guess it’s a matter of accidental plagiarism. But why should I even care? Everything’s been done already ("you just have to put your own spin to it, hun"). I think I’m just afraid of that crushing feeling when you realize something you thought brilliant-er than a strobo-chandelier has already been done and “recycling” it would just make you look dumber than Paris Hilton in a power suit.
I seem to be going through a phase during which I’m over-analyzing everything, including this. I’ve become very anal about grammar, writing techniques, pacing, etc. so when I’m reading a novel, I catch myself (nit)picking the prose instead of enjoying the story. It’s pretty tiresome, and I guess, knowing how tiresome it is, I’ve avoided picking up novels. Especially in English.
3) Color Me Choosy
It’s been very difficult to find novels that I actually enjoy. I don’t often follow through with the recommendations from others, to be honest, unless they are really good salesmen. I use Amazon to browse reviews, but it's fairly time-consuming because you can't trust everything that's said there, thanks to the relative prevalence of sockpuppets, plus some people bash books for no other reason but personal grudge or perpetual hemorrhoids. So I find myself returning to the novels I’ve read a gazillion times (and that are also safe accidental plagiarism -wise).
Curiously enough, I have no problem beta-reading. It’s fun. Maybe it’s more appealing because I feel like I contribute to something even though many stories I beta-read tend to have more hiccoughs than a published novel -- which is understandable (our WIP doesn't have just hiccoughs, it has effing TB).
Still, it feels like not reading as much as I used to deprives me of so many things. Partly it feels like being the only absolutist at a kegger, partly like I was that asshole player who shows up to the band practice but never practices on her own at home.
Should I worry? Should I just wait for this to pass? (it’s a phase, right, RIGHT?) Maybe I should just force myself to read more. Promise myself I have to read something new (and preferably in English) at least a little bit every evening before going to sleep, and that it has to be a novel, not a comic or a children's book or a fitness magazine.
Yeah, maybe I’ll do that.
Truth be told, I hope I’m the only one with this reader’s block ‘cause it SUCKS, but on the other hand it would be nice to learn I'm not the only loser on the block and how others have dealt with it.
P.s. Anyone else overtly and ridiculously vexed over the typo in Global Categories? (Developement. Neat.)
P.p.s. Feel free to recommend me books. I like action and flat-chested female heroines.
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