Writing People who Aren’t You

Happy Sunday, Everyone!

This week I’d like to share a few of my tips and techniques for writing characters who aren’t you. Those characters who are outside of your experience. Who have a different skin color, a different religion, a different sexual orientation, or identify differently than you do.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of things, I’d like to ask you to stop for a moment and ask yourself one question:

Why?

Why does this character need to be outside of your experience?
Why are you the person that has to write about these characters?

There are a bunch of other questions that you could ask yourself. Suffice it to say that if your answer is something about how trendy it is, how this will show everyone how “Woke” you are, or how you can shine a light on the issues and struggles facing these folk, do yourself a favor and just don’t.

This isn’t about you.

It isn’t about how much you know about a particular culture, how much of an ally you are, how much of anything *You* are.

This isn’t about you.

Does your plot hinge on your character, being of a particular culture? Identifying a specific way? That’s not a good idea either.

Your characters should triumph or fail, react to situations both mundane and extraordinary because of who they are, not because of what they look like, or who they may or may not be attracted to, or anything else like that.

We all on the same page here? Cool.

Where to begin?

The first thing you need to know, before you try and tackle anything else, the very first thing you need to have a complete grasp of is that these people are…people.

That’s it. That’s your baseline. No matter how far removed you are from the folk you’re writing about, you’ve got this one thing in common: Your humanity.

You’ve got shared feelings: Happiness, anger, love, heartache, sadness, and a whole slew of other emotions. The expression of these feelings may be vastly different, but they are there.

Use your own experience here. You remember your first kiss. You remember what it felt like to almost succeed at something, only to fail. You remember succeeding when you thought you might fail.

It’s all there. Put those feelings on the page, filter them through the lens of your character’s experience.

How do you do that?

Know your characters. This doesn’t mean that you have to have pages and pages of character sheets (although, that sounds pretty good to me, it might not work for you). But you have to know how they are going to react in specific situations, react to specific emotions. Feelings are messy, they get everywhere, but they make for relate-able – if not likable – characters, and that’s what you want.

Next?  DO YOUR RESEARCH. if this character is outside of your experience in any way, you want to research that difference. Get the details right. You’re already asking your reader to swallow quite a bit. You will make it easier for them if you can demonstrate that you know what your talking about. Get the little things right.

Have someone who is a part of that group of folks that are outside of your experience read what you’ve written.

This is called a sensitivity read. You hire someone to point out where you’ve mis-stepped, fallen into chiche, or plain gotten stuff wrong.

I say hire because this is a commitment of time – especially for a novel length work and there is the very real possibility that you may insult, or upset that reader. They need to be compensated for their time.

You’re going to want to do a bit of research here too. Get opinions about folk you’re looking to hire. Ask for a client list, talk to those folk. Yes, it’s a lot of “Not Writing” when you could be actually getting words down on paper (or, more likely, revising), but it’s necessary.

Finally, LISTEN to what these folk tell you about what you hired them to look at. These are the subject matter experts.

One last thing to remember:

You won’t please everyone. Not everyone’s experiences are going to be the same. You just have to make sure that you’ve done the best that you can. Don’t dismiss anyone’s experience, listen, learn, and move on.

 

Until next time,

Be Safe Y’All.

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Be sure to stop by the Freebies page for story Excerpts.

 

Time: 2:48 Pm – ish.

Music: Sabaton – Swedish Pagans

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