Writing, Reading, All Things YA

4 Considerations When Writing Outside of Experience

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My current work-in-progress is a YA contemporary, told in first person POV, about four male friends who take a trip together the summer before their senior year in High School.

So you can assume that I am already in over my head because all my main characters are male and I am female. Second, they are all teenagers, I am not. Third, they are all so very different and I can’t really relate to any one of them as a whole.

The biggest challenge, and what has turned out to be the most fun, is that one of my characters belongs to the LGBT community, and his story is my love story.

So with my beloved Mitchell, not only am I not male, or a teen; I am not gay.

Mitch also comes from an aristocratic upbringing with parents on the far right of the political scale –> also something I am unfamiliar with.

Mitch is everything I am not but with a few precautions and a bit of pre-planning I feel that Mitch is real, he is well rounded, he is flawed and most importantly he has a real conflict.

I didn’t sit down and say to myself “Allie, I want you to write a novel with a MC that is gay…”

What happened was I created my character sketches and that’s who he ended up being. From him came his partner Jason and that’s when I said to myself, “Oh boy, Allie. How are you going to do justice to these two characters who just love each other to pieces?”

Below are the four things I did to make sure that I wrote accurate, real, living, breathing 3D characters.

1. I was neutral on the subject matter – Whether you are writing about a culture, an orientation, a race or a religion that you don’t belong to, it is important to approach it without bias. As soon as you bring bias into your characters or plot it becomes preachy, cartoonish or could be flat out hateful. In my opinion fiction is not a place to lay out your intolerance onto others. If you are intolerant of a certain group of people, don’t write about them. However, fiction can be a place to explore intolerance but it must be the characters judgments, not the authors.

2. I did my research – There are certain things that are common knowledge about different groups of people. Just remember that information gets distorted as it passes from person to person and unless you speak with someone who is directly involved in the lifestyle, fact-check and cross-reference everything. Also remember that there is good and bad in everything… everything. Make sure your website and book references are credible and show both sides.

3. It’s all about balance – I admit that stereotypes had to come from somewhere but not all gay men like glittery tight shirts; just as not all women like make-up and fashion; as not all Christians are bible-reciters; as not all poor people are uneducated, as not all African Americans listen to only rap music; as not all nerdy people are socially awkward etc., etc., etc. But that being said it is important to note that flamboyancy is part of LGBT culture; that fashion is a female dominated industry; Christians read the bible; being poor means living in neighbourhood that have poor public education and post secondary isn’t always an option; African American’s make up the majority of the hip-hop and rap industry; and sometimes being nerdy comes from already being socially awkward and communicating better through video games and online.

As with ALL your characters regardless of their background or lifestyle they must be whole people, they must have believable personalities with strengths and weaknesses. There are many sides to everyone, everyone is unique but also similar and as a writer it’s up to you to find the balance.

4. I found our common ground, while respecting our differences – Even though Mitch and I are worlds apart, we’re really not that different emotionally. I remember what it was like to be insecure, to love someone and try to come to terms with it, to be scared to express myself for fear of judgment or rejection, and to try and reconcile who I was, with who I was becoming. However, I recognize that Mitch’s stakes are higher, he faces a lot of conflict in his life that I will never experience and the only thing I can do is respect that, stay true to his character and try to stay balanced, just like I do with all my other characters.

So now to clarify to any who think I am saying I believe only in well-adjusted shiny-happy-caring-fluffy bunny characters I say this:

I believe in rocking the boat. I believe in controversy. I believe that no topic is off limits. Just wait until my soon to be published story about Satan’s daughter comes out… I believe in hard-edged and intolerant characters.

What I don’t believe in, are intolerant authors.

What I am saying is be true to the characters, stay balanced in your approach, make sure that ALL your characters (whether good, evil or somewhere in-between) are balanced and driven by a believable motivator and do not push your own agenda onto your readers.

How do you stay balanced when writing about people, places or things that you are unfamiliar with?

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One thought on “4 Considerations When Writing Outside of Experience

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