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!
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