With one eye on my phone sitting next to me as I followed news notifications pop up on the latest prime minister, I was typing away yesterday at more of the new manuscript and in particular writing some of a woman character. A certain real woman does not know she forms the basis for that character. I had been wanting for years to “use” her “for” a character (and you will never know who that real woman is because that is my authoring secret and I will take it to my grave).
Amidst doing that I recalled this too I had seen last week and screen-grabbed because I had thought it was worth addressing eventually. I figured this morning was as good a time as any. The authoring “debate” about writing characters who are “not like you” as an author will probably never be resolved to some people’s satisfaction, but in this case it is presented from a perspective from which we rarely hear: What if you are “more than one thing?”:
That quoted Gabrielle Zevin is absolutely correct. “The debate” is often sourced from largely fixed notions of identity. Yet “identity” is rarely as fixed as we may think.
Hers above is clearly not “neat.” However, as she is “mixed” in a way that is rarely seen and yet must produce on the pages only those “just like herself,” how does she possibly write any character other than someone “mixed” like herself? It is a reasonable question.
That is also to an extent a rhetorical question. Because no one out there has the right of character “veto.” She has the absolute right to author whatever characters she wants.
But that right comes with the need to be willing to stick your creative neck out too, of course. I concluded some years ago a big reason we see so much fantasy writing out there is because authors are then freed from having to justify writing those who are “not like themselves.” After all, if no one on “Planet Zerg” is a human, and fantasy generally allows for “unlimited” character possibilities, that largely sidelines that debate and the author avoids an irate Twitter mob that seizes upon something or some character claimed to be “unrepresentative.”
As I also no longer use Twitter, I don’t care what anyone writes on that platform. I take a simple view: No one – and I mean NO ONE – will tell me who or what to write. Only I decide.
And there is no practical way one character can “represent” everyone anyhow. After all, they are just a single person. So no character, to me, is meant to be “representative” of anyone or anything aside from that character:
Now, some may demand: “What gives you [as a man] the right to write her?”
Given today is the seventh anniversary of my mother’s death, in remembering her and in writing this post I thought that above was appropriate as an example. As women authors, for instance, do not hesitate, and should not hesitate, to write men of their choosing, I have that same right to write women – and not merely a character based on my mother. Just like that new woman character I mention in the opening paragraph to this post, that one in that excerpt is also sourced largely from a woman I once knew and that scene from a lighthearted memory… because that is what an author (any author) may do and regularly does.
I am writing fiction to entertain and, yes, perhaps educate a little. I am NOT teaching a sociology class. So the only ones who matter in this “discussion” are my readers (who have spent some of their hard-earned money on that novel) and if they overall like what I have written.
If they do like it, I am entirely satisfied and do not care what anyone on Twitter or anywhere else thinks. That said, I do also attempt to stay within what I consider my knowledge “boundaries.” With the latter in mind, I write characters that I think I can best present to readers thanks to what I have experienced, witnessed, been told, and/or researched myself.
If someone does not like what they see in my novels, that comes with the territory. As much as any author may aim to “please” all readers, you must accept that you will NOT be universally applauded no matter what. Fiction-writing is not a craft for the faint-hearted.
With that, it is back to the new manuscript…
Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂